Anniversary Weekend, 19-22 January 2001
Wellington’s Anniversary Weekend is a great time to get into the Tararuas. Lots of people seem to think so, given the numbers we met there last January. After bumper to bumper traffic from the Paremata Roundabout to Waikanae – its getting worse at holiday weekends - we were never going to be first to arrive at Field Hut. But when our party of seven arrived on Friday night over thirty others were already there. So, with Bob Cyffers easy-medium Southern Crossing party, most of us slept outside.
The morning was still misty, but with hope of clearing. Bearing in mind the DoC consultation about replacing DoC hut tickets with short term non refundable passes, I asked those in the hut if they’d like to pay me the hut fees. There was an interesting response. Two had already filled out their tickets and put them in the box. Six had tickets, but had not filled them in, and were "happy" to do so. Twelve didn’t know about tickets or didn’t have them, but were happy to pay me, as a representative of the TTC. No-one refused to pay.
The seventeen TTC members, most of whom had annual passes, don’t have to pay at our huts. (Field, Kime, Cone). I explained to everyone that Field Hut was owned, operated and voluntarily maintained by the Tararua Tramping Club, as part of the Club/DoC Tararua/Aorangi huts system, and that hut fees were necessary to maintain the huts. I also explained that DoCwas proposing to put up the charge and institute non-refundable passes.
Alpine Flowers at their Best
On the track above Field Hut, thousands of white snap dragon ourisias were in flower, as well as an olearia (tree daisy); and the North Island eidelweiss, the TTC’s emblem, was everywhere above 1200 metres. Wellington Anniversary Weekend is when it flowers. Perhaps it should be the emblem of the province as well.
We pushed on to Bridge Peak, where the cloud cleared, and we got on the Southern Main Range track. Then a big drop down to Boyd-Wilson, and climb up to Vossler Peak, where we had a cool lunch with the wind and cloud. The name honours Fred Vossler, co-founder of the TTC, so it was an appropriate stopping point for us.
The track is well used, muddy in places. From Vossler it dips down through leatherwood, before climbing up over Yeates and McIntosh. We slowed over this stretch, with one member developing cramp. The remainder of the trip was in mist, and wind. The Tararua Peaks now have an initial sidle on the south-east side. This cuts out a gnarly bit with loose holds where Anne took a small tumble. The renowned ladder was also interesting. It presently has a slant that makes it swing, and a small abseil at the bottom seems required. It was still quite a way to the poles that showed we had reached Maungahuka Hut.
More people kept arriving as the evening wore on - 19 altogether, of which eight and a dog tented outside. The wind rose during the night, and could be heard roaring from time to time. Next morning we decided to take the escape route down to Neill Forks, rather than face the wind and mist to Mid Waiohine Hut, and risk not being able to cross Mt Holdsworth, if it was windy the next day. The other people in the hut, who were going on to Andersons, found the wind so strong they turned back, and followed us, so it was a good decision.
With four others who were also going to Neill Forks, we spent an hour trying to find the track off Maungahuka. In the end we went down a scree slope to get below the clouds. The wind was viscious, and we were relieved to make it down the east leaning ridge, with great views across to Neill and Cone, to the Concertina Knob bushline.
I found out later that the Neill Forks track takes off from behind the new Maungahuka dunny, up behind the hut. Apparently it has the best views of any dunny in the Tararuas, but we couldn’t check this out.
Neill Forks-Totara Flats-Holdsworth
We left the other four at the bushline, concertinaed, and travelled on down what must be one of the steepest tracks in the Tararuas, to the Forks. We met one lone tramper on his way up. A good hour’s lunch break was had initially in the sun, with the tent drying. Of course a shower arrived, but by the time we left the tent was dry.
Then we did the regulation haul out of Neil Forks to Cone Ridge, and along beside the Waiohine Gorge. The wind was exceedingly strong down the Gorge, making us glad we hadn’t gone on to Mid Waiohine. And the track was overgrown at the bottom. Totara Flats hut was almost full, but we all managed to get in. There is a ranger there who collected the hut fees. As the evening progressed, most of the people who had been at Maungahuka the previous night, rolled up.
One man from the party that had come down with us to Concertina Knob, turned up tired out at dark. He had been separated from his party and come down the wrong track, the disused track to Hector Forks, and then bush crashing down to the Hector River. He had no map, and had then climbed out, up the ridge to the Cone Ridge track, and down to Totara Flats Hut - a major off-track marathon. The rest of his party were at Neill Hut, not knowing where he was.
It rained overnight, but we left in brilliant sunshine, to cross a muddy Waiohine River and wander out to Holdsworth carpark to complete the not-quite-as-planned Middle Crossing, my third at Anniversary Weekends. I just had time to pay the collected hut fees before leaving. Incidentally, in spite of my receipt saying otherwise, I found DoC were going to record these as general donations, not as income to the huts concerned. Hopefully this has now changed.
At Totara Flats we also met a DoC track clearing team (two for safety reasons) armed with and using their scrub cutters. They were in to clear the tracks we had come down from Maungahuka. Good to see this being done, DoC.
Party: Cherrie Marshall, Anne Opie, Andreas Kubisch, Bernard Molloy, Paul Denton, Peter Shanahan, Hugh Barr – leader and scribe.