Old routes to Mitre Flats - (M/F)
13th Oct. 2010 and 30th Nov. 2011
Mitre Flats was my father’s favourite spot in the Tarauas. He took 6th formers from Wairarapa High School there in the 1920s and up Mitre and beyond. I don’t think he ever got there again: TB and then a young family saw to that. I always knew he went over Blake in the Blue Range – he couldn’t believe in the 1950s that Bert Barra’s new route above the gorge would be any good – and that he returned by crossing the Waingawa at the Flats before heading up into the bush. But it was only recently, looking at a sketch map drawn in 1929, that I realised that the track he used didn’t go straight up and down from Blake, but followed the Blue Range along for a kilometre to .865 and then dropped to the NW before swinging back towards the Flats. In 1930, S. G. M. McIntosh reported in the Tramper that it took four hours in to the Flats and that to get there ‘a good walking-track leads along the Blue Range’.
On 13 October 2010, Colin Cook led a trip to see if he could find ‘Barton’s other track’, the route to Mitre Flats in the 30s and 40s before Barra’s track came into use. Maps from 1936 on show a track which leaves the spur up to Blake at 722m and sidles down to Stoney Ck just before that stream reaches the river. No sign of a track was found, but the route was a good one, without sharp climbs and drops. Colin’s altimeter showed that the climb up towards Blake was equivalent to the sum of all the small (and often much steeper) climbs coming back out along the usual route.
Those old routes started from a little way up Blake Stream, climbing what would probably in the 20s have been pasture to the start of good beech forest on the crest of the spur. I haven’t checked whether the new scrub there is open enough yet to go that way again. Colin on his October trip followed the Barra track to near the top of its first rise from where the climb on up towards Blake is straightforward, and on 30 November we followed suit. There is bad scrub just before .588 (when I finally dropped into beech forest below the ridge top a voice from behind went ‘About time!’). Getting over the long flat top of Blake and on to .865, the understorey of scrub and the disconnected animal trails slow down progress a bit. But at .865 there is an assortment of markers and a stone cairn: this is the point to which Colin reports a good used route runs from the Mikimiki valley (see his account in this issue). Blazes of varying ages and occasional markers lead down a fairly clear spur to the NW through very pleasant bush, passing what must be the Lookout marked on many maps. A photo Colin took shows a mess of large logs with the new trees well under 100 years old – the windthrows could have made for a good lookout once. At about 380m is a wide saddle free of undergrowth with an arrow pointing left, i.e., downriver. I saw no more markers, but angled down towards the Flats, crossing a stream on a bench, and came to the river (to my delight) maybe 100 metres above the slip opposite the hut. Anyone crossing from the Flats and climbing straight up would arrive at .685, but an account I read of just that reported extremely steep climbing near the bottom. Whereas at no point did we have anything unduly steep and the bush provided quite acceptable going from below Blake on: the ‘good walking-track’ is easily imagined.
On our way in we had met a man returning from Mitre Flats, and told him of our plans and our uniform dislike of Bert Barra’s sidle. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘Bert always did say it wasn’t the fastest way in.’ Think of that next time you labour over the Barra track!
- Party members
- 13 October 2010: Colin Cook, Ken Fraser, David Ogilvie, Peter Reimann, Bill Stephenson, John Thomson (leader and scribe), Bill Wheeler
30 November 2011: Marg Conal, Colin Cook, Tony Crapper (from Melbourne), Trish French, David Ogilvie, John Thomson (leader and scribe), Bill Wheeler