This article was first published in the Tararua Tramper in May 1998
Ten Idyllic Days In The Tararuas
27 December 1997 - 5 January 1998
This rather relaxed ten day Christmas trip had no fixed itinerary other than a desire to spend a bout half the time at two very special locations in the Tararuas, Arete Forks and Dorset Ridge. The intention was for a small party of about four or five but the unavailability of some of the interested members shrank the party to two.
After leaving Wellington about mid morning on the 27th we escaped the heat of the midday Wairarapa sun over lunch in a small tea rooms in Carterton. On our arrival at Holdsworth we looked up Chris Petersen, the Holdsworth caretaker, who had expressed an interest in joining us For a few days, but a recent hip injury sustained in a fall From his mountain bike was slow to heal and his visit seemed in jeopardy.
We decided to head to Mitre Flats Hut as high winds may have made the trip to Dorset Ridge difficult with our very heavy loads. We started as the sole occupants of Mitre Flats Hut until about midnight when we woke to the noise and torch light of a search party looking for a tramper missing on a day trip along the Barra Track. We had only seen a father and son tramping party heading for Atiwhakatu from Tarn Ridge. The party left to resume their search, returning abut 1.30am having found the missing tramper. The morning was still windy but not too windy for the chopper to collect the search party and the missing tramper. Having seen the chopper off we left for Cow Creek having decided to spend the first part of our trip at Arete Forks.
We arrived at Cow Creek Hut in time for an early lunch, over which we chatted to the sole occupant who was hunting and tramping his way from Kaitoke to Putara by way of the valleys. After lunch we were ready to tackle the ups and downs and ins and outs of the sidle track, which, like the track from Mitre Flats, had benefited from some cutting and clearing. Having arrived at Arete Forks we were both in need of a hot drink and a bit of a rest, after which Michael unpacked his very efficient collapsible saw, a must for every serious tramper. We collected a stack of wood which was soon reduced to a size which would fit into the potbelly stove.
Our first full day at Arete Forks was spent recovering From our trip. Between the showers we collected and cut more firewood and later in the afternoon we walked up the true right of Waingawa to see if we could locate evidence of the route from the old Tarn Ridge Hut. We found a mixture of an old ground trail, some cut vegetation and some more recent tape. We decided that a more detailed exploration could be postponed until the next wet or windy day.
Our first day trip was to go onto Bannister by a route which is marked as overgrown on NZMS 260 S25 and part R25 1994, joins the Waingawa/Bannister saddle in a little notch to the east of the bump 1513. We crossed Arete Stream a short distance up stream from the forks and located an old route on the true left of Arete Stream. We followed the route until it became lost in thick second growth and some windfalls but we had located the side stream which the route was marked as following. After travelling a short distance up the stream bed we found a better route on the true right until thick leatherwood forced us back to the stream. After a short distance of stream travel we found ourselves in an open area alongside a cairn from which we had a good view of Bannister and could see two trampers about to descend From bump 1513. The track once again did the disappearing act, so we followed the stream until it forked. The branch on the true left was a dry water course and it was this which we followed until at about 1100m when the watercourse ended in a steepish little rock face. Another water course was located offset a little to the east and our climb continued until our only means of progress was by a steep spur which we clung to inching our way higher and eventually reaching bump 1385. Once on the ridge we had a good profile of the spur we had followed, and this prompted several photographs to remind us of our adventure and that this route must rank as one of the less desirable routes onto Bannister. It had been our intention to explore the spur down to the site of the old Bannister Basin Hut. However, our adventures had been time consuming and we had to be content with a stroll a short distance down the spur.
From our vantage point it appeared that a round trip was possible by going down the spur of the hut site and then descending to a stream and then coming up the very prominent spur to bump 1537, the summit of Bannister. Both spurs appeared to be quite open but the travel between them may hold some little surprises. Our route back to Arete Forks was by a spur a little north west of Waingawa Peak. Travel through the tussock is straight forward but a sharp dog-leg west takes you down a steepish water course through thick leatherwood below which the spur levels out, but the route is a bit overgrown as are parts of the marked bush route.
Our second day trip was a straightforward tops trip, Table Ridge, Tarn Ridge and returning to Arete Forks via Pinnacle Spur. During the day we had noted some rather threatening clouds, but fortunately that was the limit to their activity. Less than a teaspoon of rain fell that night, but the first day of 1998 was a real ripper - no cloud and no wind.
The trip to Dorset Ridge started with a long climb of 778m onto Table Ridge. Once above the bush line the views were fantastic and as a consequence, our progress was slow as we had frequent stops to admire the grandeur of our surroundings. As we progressed a long Table Ridge we saw two trampers climbing the Girdlestone Pinnacles, and by the time we had reached Brockett they were in the Mitre Saddle. The large tarn on Dorset Ridge was a good lunch stop which was enhanced by the reflection of Girdlestone in the still waters. After lunch we made our way along Dorset Ridge and located several cairns, each offering slightly different routes to the hut. The cairn with the wooden hut sign propped against it seemed to offer the best route.
Dorset Ridge Hut is a typical six bunk hut with the best hut view in the Tararuas, a panorama from the Girdlestone Pinnacles to Shingle Slip Knob. The hut is protected from the norwester by a bush clad ridge which is also a source of firewood in the form of dead leatherwood and windfalls of beech. With minimal effort we were able to collect plenty of wood for our needs and for the next occupants. Michael's fire lighting and fire tending ability enabled us to cook all our meals on the fires at both Arete Forks and Dorset Ridge.
Our first day trip from Dorset Ridge was a circuit over Girdlestone and south along the "Kings Range" to Cairn Peak down a spur to Dorset Creek and then up a spur to the hut. While travelling along the "Kings Range" we did a distant recce of Dorset Creek with a view to following it to it's headwaters on Girdlestone the next day. The prominent spurs from North King and Mid King were also given some close scrutiny. Michael pointed out the approximate location of the Mid King Bivvy which is in bush to the south of the spur and not visible from Mid King peak. From Cairn Peak we descended to an elevation of 1000m from which point we followed an old blazed spur to just short of the creek from where we made our way directly into and across the creek and up the Dorset Ridge spur until we located the old track. This track is festooned with cutty grass but marked with some red tape. Care is needed at about 1000m where the track passes through some windfalls and long cutty grass to follow a sharp spur on your left travelling up to the hut.
The weather for our last day at Dorset Ridge was again fine calm and warm. This was our day in Dorset Creek and it turned out to be a fascinating day, tracing the substantial flow of water to a small trickle from an underground spring, the surface manifestation of which are small boggy areas. The creek has no major obstacles; the rocks offer secure footing, the log jams are for the most part small, and there is a minimal amount of leatherwood before passing into open tussock in the headwaters. The creek also offers some interesting and unusual views of the range towering above.
We decided that it was prudent to start our trip out on the 4th, one day before we were due out in case the weather turned against us. Michael suggested a very interesting route down Dorset Creek and just past the first major side stream on the true left, travelling up a spur which would take us to McGregor Peak. This spur offers very good travel after the expected steep climb from the creek. On reaching the bush edge we raged a brief battle with leatherwood and spaniard, but emerged victorious and were soon in open tussock. Gathering cloud, increasing wind and limited visibility for the first time on our trip.
By the time we were half way between Angle Knob and Jumbo Peak the wind had reached knock down proportions, and our progress had been reduced to crouch, wait and run. Conditions on the spur from Jumbo Peak to Jumbo Hut did not improve; in fact the wind was getting stronger to the extent that it was reaching severe gale force. Once inside the sanctuary of the hut which shivered and shook, we looked at the tussock laid flat by the wind.
Enter the hut warden, his son David and dog Ben, who sat obediently outside, returning from a bush walk. We spent the late afternoon chatting to them about our trip and about tramping in general, during which Michael had been rather poetic and quoted a line from a poem about having time to stand and enjoy the countryside. This prompted opinions as to the author. The warden suggested Keats, I suggested Wordsworth while Michael suggested W.H. Davis, and added that there was also something in it about cows and sheep. Not wanting the matter unresolved, the warden used his cell phone to call his wife, an expert in literary matters, and was able to report that the author was indeed W.H. Davis, and that there was a reference to cows and sheep and that the title was "Leisure". Well done Michael.
Our plans for the final day included optimistically, a Jumbo-Holdsworth, or straight down the rain gauge spur. Continuing high winds meant that the later option became a reality. On our arrival at the Holdsworth carpark we were treated to a delicious fruit mince pie by a couple about to head for Jumbo Hut for the night.
Many trampers would not consider a ten day Tararua trip to be a viable option, but as we discovered it has a great deal to recommend it. The weather was great, trampers were not falling over one another to get into huts, and there is a great variety of interesting tramping opportunities, to the extent that you leave the range with more ideas than you started with.
- The party members were
- Michael Bartlett and Dave Reynolds (scribe).