This article was first published in the Tararua Tramper in April 1998
Into the Upper Otaki - Anniversary Weekend
16-19 January 1998
For some time now I've been convinced that the only way to enjoy the region is to keep off the tracks - and hope for dry weather, for you'll certainly need to use the river valleys.
As the Friday forecast for heavy rain in the middle of the day was spot on, and the Otaki, as we drove over it, was a galumphing brown, we reversed the planned route. Instead of going up the Makaretu Valley, we'd start up Gable End. The old Ohau Shelter still stands - just - but is to be removed. I hope that the opportunity will be taken to improve the spot as a camping site - at the moment there is only room for a few small scattered tents. Gable End in the morning showed why tracks around here are to be avoided. They become every year, deeper and deeper in mud. It was a relief, then, just where the Dora Track swings a little to the north of east, to find and go down the spur that runs between the Otaki and the Waiopehu Stream - a spur which proved pleasantly straight-forward for our Medium group. By the time we reached the Otaki, it had had time to subside, and though full for January, presented no difficulties. In fifteen minutes or so those in front had found a lovely open campsite on a low terrace (created many years ago by the huge slip opposite which is still marked on my 1984 map though it is now well bushed). I had thought there would be more such spots, but though there were plenty of camping possibilities inside the forest, this was the only one in the open at least as far down as Murray Creek. The sun broke through the mist in the late afternoon and contributed to a pleasant evening.
It was still fine next morning, but as on the previous one, the mist soon covered the tops and shut out the sun. We reached Murray Creek in such good time we could spend a couple of hours over tea and lunch, before climbing the spur to Oriwa. It was once a blazed route, but almost no signs of that remain. But going up was of course no problem, and in due course we turned north along the rather more clearly cut Oriwa Ridge towards the open tussock of the `lost lake' basin and the Oriwa bivvy, an eerie place as the mist rolled across, intercut by shafts of late afternoon sunshine. The bivvy was in good order but holds only two comfortably. Tents were soon erected amongst the tussock. In wetter weather good sites can be found both north and south of the bivvy.
The next morning's descent down the spur to the north-west into the Makaretu was more demanding than the descent of two days earlier, and not only because it is considerably steeper. For though it must be used from time to time, there were only very occasional and fast fading red spots, and with mist obscuring the valleys on either side, it took care to keep to the spine of the spur. The lichen on the stones of the Makaretu was slimy at first, but the valley is really pleasant going, with no nasty surprises-bar one pool, well down, where last October's floods had probably scoured the bottom, and we had to let ourselves gingerly down from a rock-face into chest deep water.
The routes we covered were new to most members of the party, who agreed that a little willingness to leave the beaten, and very muddy, track, can provide considerable returns.
- Marie O'Leary, Alan Wright, John Russell, Dave Dyett, Robin Chesterfield, Heidi and John Thomson.