Holdsworth Lodge to Otaki Forks – a middle crossing of the Tararua Range
15 to 17 November 2007
The weekend forecast was probably the most promising for the last 2 months. For a change (rather than drive) we caught the train to Masterton – leaving Wellington at 4.33 on Friday afternoon. I got on at Petone. I thought the $11 was a pretty reasonable fare and the train itself was modern comfortable and light with big windows. Taking a different route to the Wairarapa road, the travel was interesting. Surprisingly, ears popped as we exited the tunnel on the Wairarapa side of the Rimatukas. I was informed that this was due to increased air pressure which the train creates in front of itself as it compresses a wave of air while travelling through the tunnel.
Our taxi driver at Masterton waited for 15 minutes with a stopped meter while we bought diner, then drove us on Holdsworth Lodge. Trip cost from station to road end was $59 split three ways. He told us there had been lots of new snow during the week. Should we have brought ice axes for a trip with lots of tops travel? A steady walk took us to Powel Hut in misty damp conditions, with much of the track a small stream. We could hear other streams in the bush flowing strongly. There must have been significant rain that afternoon. As we entered the hut we were told off in no uncertain terms by an already resident for wearing our boots inside and making a noise when “people are trying to sleep you know!”. It was 9.45. Another party of 5 arrived half an hour later and just as noisy.
We woke early to a fine and most promising morning. With sunup at 5.30am and down at 8.30pm there was lots of day ahead. We were away by 6.30 am and quickly climbed to the top of Holdsworth (1430 metres) in clear conditions with a moderate and cold southerly. Views were spiffing.
On we went, down to the saddle between Holdsworth and Isobel and then up Isobel (1385 metres). The last time I was here we were climbing out from Mid-Wiohine after an aborted Putara- Kiatoke with Dave Reynolds. It was mid December and we were in 3 inches of new snow.
Next was a big, steep and knee jarring descent to mid-Wiohine Hut at 380 metres. We took a pleasant break on a grassy clearing by the river in the sun while Tom took a swim. Then down river on a track for 20 minutes before crossing the Mid-Wiohine Bridge and the beginning of the next climb onto Aokaparangi (1354 metres). The day was heating up and we were pleased to be in the shade of the bush.
Just at the bush edge we stopped for lunch, in the shade rather than the hot sun, next door to where the other party of 5 who had arrived at Powel Hut the night before also had stopped. We discussed our continued route, to Aokaparangi and then turn north to Anderson’s Memorial Hut. I hadn’t been to the new Mangahuka Hut, nor had I climbed the new ladder on the Tararua Peaks. So I suggested we turn south instead. We would still arrive at Otaki Forks but traverse more interesting country and spend much more time on the tops in great weather. Everyone agreed.
We climbed to the top of Aokaporangi and then headed south over Wright (1196 metres) and Simpson (1174 metres). The Tararua Peaks (1325 metres) came into view and we also had views of Mangahuka Hut (1330 metres) at times. The closer we got to the Peaks the more impressive/daunting they looked. In the late afternoon light they appeared huge and somewhat vertical. And we were to traverse across them in the morning.
We arrived at Mangahuka Hut. The toilet door had been whipped of its hinges during some recent storm as had the pipe taking water from the roof into the water tank. At about 1300 metres and on an exposed part of the range, this hut must get a real bashing at times.
I went photographing and also checking out the first part of tomorrow’s route. By myself, the route did look steep and exposed. But the views were spectacular. Unfortunately due to sun angle, most of my photographs were spoilt. However it was a great place to be as the sun set, the stars came out and without a shimmer of wind.
Snoring hut companions and excitement about the morrow gave me restless sleep. We were away at 6.40 am. It is so perfect to be walking early on the mountain tops in good weather. And it was. The early light casts shadows and edges and saturates to dress the country in her best. 20 minutes from the hut there is a junction, one track going down to Neil Forks, a valuable escape route in a storm, and our route heading down a steep face into a saddle and up onto the side of the peaks. For the next ½ hour it was the sort of travel where you are never quite sure what is coming next, what you will find around the next corner or over the next ridge. A climb up a steep ridge took us along a sharpish flake before sidling around a face, over a ridge, dropping down a face and a sidle around to the base of the ladder.
Up we went – about 30 metres – a fine aluminium affair – every rung reliable and trustworthy. As you climb there is some of the old chain that used to be used here, still attached to the face. I remember the old chain ladder use to have missing rungs! Exiting off the top, you sneak around a little ridge and then scramble up steepish rocks to arrive on the ridge top just south of the second of the peaks. I have been through here twice before and recently cables and ropes have been installed in various places to increase security, especially where there are big drops and small ledges or holds.
This must be the most exciting section of Tararua Tops, and it felt great to sit and rest and look back at the country just traversed. Difficulties were now over (apart from one other smaller down climb section a little later along the ridge). On we went. The ridge ahead looked pretty even until the final climb onto Bride Peak.
But it wasn’t. There were many ups and downs made more wearying by the increasing heat of the day. Over MacIntosh, Yeates, Vosseler, Boyd-Wilson Knob. The steam and water falls in the valley to the east of us under the Neil Winchcombe Ridge looked cool and delightful. Dave and I had been on that Neil-Winchcombe Ridge ten months previous and looking this way. We stopped for a long lunch on Bridge Peak where some were heard to sleep soundly.
It was a steady descent to Otaki Forks, arriving at about 4pm to meet Zita (Mike’s wife) who had driven up from Wellington to ferry us home. An ice cream bought in Waikanae finished a memorable weekend. Why can’t the Tararuas manage weather like this every time we want to go tramping.2007-10-17 07.45.54 013.jpeg