Neill Forks and Tarahanga Spur
11 to 13 March 2014
There were long-postponed plans to explore the wild country on the true left of Hector River. Three of us made a leisurely start from Walls Whare and enjoyed the recently upgraded track along the TR of the Waiohine River until the improvements ran out before Clem Creek. We had lunch beside the new bridge at Makaka Creek, keeping in the shade out of the hot sun. We said goodbye to Dave as he set off by himself to do a day trip round the Cone Saddle circuit. Colin and I started up the long spur on the northern side of Makaka Creek and soon reached the flat section at Point 386. It was a brief respite before the long climb up to Cone Ridge. Some sections of this spur are steepish, so it was a relief to reach the more gentle parts of the spur above 700m; the scenery was superb with frequent views down into Makaka Creek and not a cloud in the sky. At the top we joined the Cone Ridge track for a kilometre walk to Neill Forks turnoff (which is well signposted but could still be easily missed among the closely-spaced trees). The track down to the hut is very steep and follows a spur all the way to Neill Creek. The hut has a great situation right next the Forks and the Hector River swing bridge with an attractive clearing next door. It was built by NZFS in the deer culling days and is looked after by NZDA these days. It's an excellent hut, the only criticism being the wire-frame bunks which sag in the middle making it more than usually difficult to get out of bed.
Next day there was low cloud in the valley but no wind and the signs were that sun would come out and burn off the cloud. The idea was to do the Tarahanga Spur – Maungahuka – Concertina Knob circuit as a day trip carrying a light pack. I contemplated the 1000 metre climb and decided I urgently needed to spend time reading articles in Wilderness and FMC Bulletins (the hut has a good library). Colin decided to do the trip clockwise climbing up Tarahanga Spur and descending Concertina Knob track – good tactics because it got the river travel out of the way early and avoided the descent of Tarahanga Spur, which would have been very challenging from a navigational perspective, especially given that Colin travels by map and compass and his GPS is only there as a back-up. I accompanied Colin about a kilometre up the river and we parted company at the foot of the spur. It was slow going among the slippery boulders although there wasn't very much water, only up to crotch level in the middle. As expected the cloud cleared away and it turned into a perfect day. I wasn't expecting to see him till after 5pm so it was a big surprise when he turned up back at the hut mid-afternoon.
Colin writes: In the bush the spur was open, devoid of windfall. Good going. Towards the top, abundant deer sign and a good lead through the small amount of leatherwood and dracophyllum at the bush line. The tops were still draped in mist so an early lunch and lo! cloud, crackers and cheese disappeared in unison. On the 300 m climb to the ridge near Maungahuka: ahead (north) two large stags dropped off the spur crest and later, close-ups of the south faces of the Tararua Peaks; behind (south) and to the south west expansive views of Neill and of the entire Hector massif.
On such a brilliant day a delightful walk back down the track to Neill Forks Hut - even with the unnecessary 100 m deep saddle that must be crossed to reach Concertina Knob. The entrance to the bush is well signed and there follows an enjoyable section of track along a narrow ridge line through gnarly forest. (Not so, I thought, for that first 1934 party travelling trackless up from the Waiohine to a hutless Maungahuka. See the May, 2010 Tramper, pp. 7, 8.)
On the final day we climbed back up to Cone Ridge via an off-track spur which runs parallel to the marked track but further to the south-west. This turned out to be an excellent spur and actually easier than the official route. Up on the ridge there was a stiff westerly breeze and mist covered the top of Cone. We picked up some water from near the tarns and found a sheltered spot for lunch down the south-east ridge leading to Cone Saddle with a view over the Wairarapa plains. As we descended the sun came out, the wind dropped and it turned into a stunning afternoon. At the saddle we speculated on why the old signs are nailed onto a beech tree nearly 3m above ground level, nearly invisible to ordinary mortals. One of the theories is that the tree has risen on its roots over the years, and that seems credible given the large spaces under the buttresses.
- Party members
- Colin Cook, Ken Fraser (scribe)., Dave Reynolds