A Taste of History: Ohau - Deception Spur - Avalanche Flats - Triangle Spur - Dundas - Arete
16 - 19 February 2002 (Map S25)
In the early years of the 20th century, a group of adventurous minded people in Levin, led by Ernest Lancaster and Leslie Adkin, explored the northern Tararua Ranges. Since reading Adkinís accounts of their trips in Anthony Dreaverís book An Eye for Country, I have wanted to explore their country and follow their footsteps myself. This route over Deception Spur - Avalanche Flats - Triangle Spur - Dundas was their route of choice to get onto the northern tops. I started rather late in the morning of the 16th. My plan was to go over to Mangahao Valley via Deception Spur and camp on Avalanche Flats. Walking up the track to Ohau shelter site, I came across a group of three trampers. They offered some advice that the access to Deception Spur is up the North Ohau and that it is very steep! I soon found out for myself just how accurate this was.
The first part of Deception Spur was indeed steep and covered with tightly packed vegetation, ensuring very slow progress. I managed to find faint traces of a former track and followed it with the help of plastic ties that appeared intermittently. (Thanks must be extended to my fellow Saturday trampers for helping me develop navigation skills). The remainder was not as bad, but the going was still slow due to the vegetation and patches of ancient fallen trees, probably felled in the 1936 storm. It took over 3.5 hours to get to the top of the spur, at bump 865. Across the valley towards the SE, low clouds covered the top half of Dundas range.
The route recommended in Tararua Footprints by Merv Rodgers is to travel along the ridge further south then find a SE spur down to Mangahao. Soon I found that following the ridge was not easy, once again due to difficult vegetation. I also became slightly confused due to some venetian blind markers pointing straight down to the main valley. As I was making little progress following the ridge and there were no other markers nearby, I decided to give the venetians a go. Of course they very soon disappeared but I managed to follow a series of minor spur-lets down to the side stream forks at 142524. Following the stream down to the river was not difficult. It was just after 6.30pm; I had taken over two hours from 865. I went down river a little further and found a campsite near where the track crosses a creek east of Avalanche Flats.
By 9 oíclock that night I had put up my fly, consumed a big serving of couscous, and was preparing to settle in for a well-earned rest. Then without warning as I lay on my stomach writing notes of the dayís progress I received a whack on my head. Someone or something was aiming at the light from my head torch. My instant responses were to let out a mighty scream and shake the fly. Whatever it was, most likely a possum, must have been scared to death, and it did not come back. (Obviously the 1080 operation did not work in Mangahao).
The following morning broke bright and clear, although there was no dawn chorus. Had the 1080 killed off the birds instead? After breaking camp, I walked along the track back to the old Avalanche Flats hut site, then turned south to follow a series of orange paint that indicates the Triangle Spur track. Following the old track was not difficult in the bush. However, this morning my legs were feeling the effects of long hours of hard work from the day before and my progress was slow. Above the tree line, I was rewarded with great scenery and a clear sunny day.
However the scenery and the heat combined to hinder my progress as I often stopped to admire the changing views and gain respite from the heat. The track proved a little difficult at times in the scrub with the close vegetation and there is a rocky outcrop just before Triangle Knob that requires scrambling over. On the.right-hand side of that outcrop, I saw what appeared to be a rather large square sheet of metal. Does anyone know what it is and how or why it ended up there?
At the top of the range the conditions were somewhat cooler, with a rather cold southerly breeze, occasional clouds and mist obscured the views. However the visibility remained relatively good and travel between Dundas and Arete was easy. I was able to spot Arete bivvy from the saddle SW of 1434. I had thought of travelling further down to Tarn Ridge hut that day, but given the time and my level of fitness, it was more prudent to stay at the excellent bivvy. I made myself at home and consumed another satisfying couscous meal (different flavour) while admiring the view of Bannister from the doorstep. I turned in early, and had a good sleep with no possum to disturb my rest.
Day 3 dawned and it was a day to enjoy being on the tops and admire the magnificent scenery. My day consisted of an excursion to Lancaster and observation of the surrounding geography in the morning, with a tramp to Te Matawai hut in the afternoon. At Te Matawai I met up with another tramper from Palmerston North. It was nice to chat after not seeing a soul for two and a half days and this was of course accompanied by the inevitable couscous meal (they can be prepared in a variety of flavours).
Day 4 was rather misty and cool to start with becoming muggy and showery towards the end. My trip out via South Ohau was uneventful and my shorts stayed dry.
According to An Eye for Country it took 3 days for Lancaster and Adkin to get to the top of Dundas through untracked country. Having travelled the same route through overgrown tracks, I believe I have experienced a similar trip to that of Lancaster and Adkin some 90 years ago, the taste of their historic feat.
(Please note that this was not an official club trip, and we would not encourage solo travel.)