To the Snowy via eastern and southern Waiotauru Rivers
4th May 2008
Our trip to the Snowy in the headwaters of the Eastern Waiotauru was aptly named, as for three days before we headed up river, the southerly blast had done its best to chase summer away.
Snow down to 800m and a liberal dose of rain had made the rivers fast and cold. As we set out from Otaki Forks about 8.30am, the car thermometer was reading 4 degrees, but at least we had blue skies overhead. We reached Waiotauru Forks from the roadend in 1.5 hrs nicely warmed up for the bash on the overgrown logging track ahead. The eastern Waiotauru was cold and running thigh-high at the first crossing, not too bad, but not good either. Next, the struggle through wet toi toi on the logging track that leads to Tregear Stream was worse. Once we had crossed the stream, the going was much better as a neat sidle track takes you around the gorge and to the Elder stream confluence.
Normally it's just a doddle to Snowy Hut from here, but the fast running and cold river meant care had to be taken at the crossings. We reached the hut in 3.5 hrs from the carpark; the sun was out and it was nice to see the Snowy Hut looking good after some recent maintenance. We sat in the sun and it would have been nice to linger over a slow lunch but the job was on. Just downstream from the hut, a steep ridge gave us access to the long ridge that leads to Elder. We reached its crest and travelled south along it for a short way before dropping west into the Elder Stream (drains the Elder Peak area). Colin found a good sidle to take us down and it was an easy descent into the stream. Here the hard work of the day started with a climb to 700m onto the main ridge which separates the eastern and southern Waiotauru river systems. It was getting on to 2.30ish, we still had a way to go and there was muttering in the ranks that we would be needing our torches. Never mind - we would get to good tracks before nightfall.
We turned to the north and began down the long ridge which leads to the forks - good going with a well-defined footpad now that this route has become a popular access to Elder Hut. Down, along and down - it's a long ridge, but eventually we reached the logging track which would lead us out. It still had its smooth surface but was badly overgrown in places, but took us down to about 400m above the main track. Here we reached a crossroad. We hesitated to go straight down as the track seemed to head east, so took the sidle track to the west. After a short time it petered out but fortunately we were able to scramble down to the main track. It was 4.30pm but we were only a short way above the forks and were going to make it out. After a quick break for food and drink, everyone set a brisk pace out from Waiotauru Forks.
Darkness overtook us with 30 mins to go but we were in easy country by then and had enough torches to light our way. We arrived at the cars at 6.15pm, 9½ hours after starting out. An interesting trip through some seldom-visited country. We pushed the limits of daylight for this time of the year but made it out - not too late, I hope.