A visit to Nichols Hut
16-19 April 2009
Nichols Hut is nestled on a spacious ledge about 50 metres below the top of the Main Range of the Tararuas, overlooking the middle section of the Waiohine Valley. Access to the hut is from a saddle between bump 1276 metres and Nichols Peak 1242 metres. The hut was a typical six bunk forest service hut until it had a makeover by the Kapiti Branch of the NZDSA, who added a covered porch, installed a sleeping platform (increasing the hut capacity to eight), and insulated and re-lined the hut.
As delightful as Nichols Hut is, it is not easy to get to in a day, at least not now. The trip starts with the track from Otaki Forks to Waitewaewae hut. This track has probably had minimal maintenance since the forest service days.
There appeared to be a three day weather window from Friday to Sunday, allowing two days to get to Nichols and one day out. We left Otaki Forks about 11am, and after crossing the two bridges over the Waiotauru and the Otaki Rivers, we were sidling on a well-benched track above Waitatapia Stream. Before Papa Stream there is a large slip which seems to be getting bigger on each visit as the track is re-routed higher and higher above the undercut slip edge.(A lower option may be possible as the base of the slip seems quite stable.) On reaching Papa Stream we had both water and warm sun, an ideal place for lunch. A fly angler whom we had seen at the car park joined us for lunch; we shared a common short term destination - Waitewaewae Hut. The presence of a well-benched track dates from the days of Corriganís Mill, which was located on a terrace between the Otaki River and Waitatapia Stream. The logs, which were mainly rimu, were pulled out of the bush by the steam log hauler. This log hauler can be seen alongside the track past Papa Stream. The logs were then pulled by a Fordson tractor which had been adapted to run on a railway line. Soon after passing the log hauler, the track descends into Saddle Creek which the track now follows. Progress in the upper section below the saddle is only by the stream bed as the track has been washed away. The section across the plateau is flattish but a rather rooty sidle descends from the plateau to Arapito Stream. Once in Arapito Stream, a shallow crossing is reached where the main track climbs over a slip. It is possible to avoid the climb by following Arapito Stream to the Otaki River and to then follow the river up stream to the Hut. We opted to climb the slip and keep our boots dry for Saturdayís climb. On the descent from the slip there was a large fallen tree which exposed a rather steep little face to descend. Once on the flat, it is a short distance to the hut. The bush on the trip from Otaki Forks to Waitewaewae Hut is a real treat which would be enhanced by a more tramper-friendly track. Waitewaewae Hut is in a great bush setting alongside but above some large pools in the Otaki River. On our return from Nichols we saw two very large trout in a large pool just up stream of the hut.
After a comfortable night and a good meal we were well able to tackle the long climb to Shoulder Knob, Junction Knob and on to Mt Crawford on a calm, clear Saturday morning. The steepest part of the climb is the first 200 metres from the river. The track then has about three almost level sections separated by some steeper sections until a rather steep section just below the bush line. Once above the bush line, a short 100 metre climb brings you to Shoulder Knob followed by a 60 metre climb to Junction Knob on the Main Range. A little tussock basin below Shoulder Knob was a great place for a stop, a bite to eat and a drink. Most of the peaks of the southern Main Range were visible from our vantage point and, as we climbed a little higher, we could make out Anderson Memorial Hut in the distance. By the time we reached Junction Knob our view to the North was dominated by the bulk of Crawford. Although not one of the highest peaks in the Tararuas, it is one of the most bulky. From our vantage point we could see the dominant ridges of the central Tararua mountain system - Dorset, Tarn and Carkeek - and Shingle Slip Spur, with the massive slip at its western end was also a very familiar landmark. From the summit of Mt Crawford the Main Range swings briefly North West then North then East of North in a gradual arc. Nichols Hut is just beyond bump 1276 from the top, from which the first sighting is possible, a real birdís eye view. After dropping into a saddle, the track to the hut is marked by a well weathered wooden sign. Nichols Hut is not blessed with much winter sun and the temperature was already starting to drop. On a visit to Nichols in mid July I had found the ground frozen and ice on the inside of the windows. A quantity of dry, dead leatherwood was collected for the fire; the best pickings were found a short distance behind the hut and were surrounded by a sea of thriving spaniard. We had soon gathered enough wood for a comfortable night, leaving the hutís supply intact and even supplementing it. The Kapiti DSA have improved the track to the hut and have dug drainage channels to control the water run-off. Late afternoon or early evening mist now masked our views as the temperature continued to drop. Later in the evening, on a pre-bed sky inspection, the mist had cleared revealing a sky full of stars and an impending frost.
The morning greeted us with a brisk frost and cloud pattern which indicated that our run of cloudless days was about to end. The trip out from Nichols is still, for us, possible in a long day. The cloud patterns and the shafts of light that highlighted the features of the tussock top gave the trip to the bush edge a different dimension from the sun bathed tops of the previous day. On our arrival at Waitewaewae Hut, Bill treated me to some tasty fruit cake for lunch. To shorten our trip we selected the river option rather than the slip but, in spite of this short cut, we still needed our head lights for about the last 10 minutes. To revisit Nichols in such ideal conditions was a very special experience.