Article TitleAnother way up Papatahi
28 October 2014
The Turnbull Library has a map dated ‘c. 1911’ which marks a route up Papatahi. There is little detail, but it seems to use the spur between Boulder Ck and North Boulder Ck. As it also marks an ‘Old Camp, with water’ just to the south of Papatahi’s top, the information may have come from surveyors, though no trig is marked on a map until some time afterwards. The same information is repeated on a Forest Service map of 1937. In February 2012, I led a trip starting a little way up Boulder Ck, joining that old route well up the spur. I doubt if there was ever a cut track, though you never know with surveyors. There’s certainly no sign of one now. The topographical maps I’ve seen from the 1970s show no track at all anywhere on Papatahi.
My first climb of Papatahi was back in the mid-seventies, when I chose the current DOC spur, probably because it seemed on the map to have the best bush cover. The first part was a struggle through rangiora up steep loose shingle, followed by a struggle through the usual entanglement that grows up through a widespread area of windfalls. The upper half was the good going through beech forest that has continued to the present day. Descending, to avoid the awful lower section, we boldly dropped northwards into North Boulder Ck. Fortunately, sidling out around the waterfalls worked all the way down.
So having tried four ways up Papatahi (the other two were from the head of Papatahi Stream and up the DOC track from the Wairarapa), and two down, I wanted to try a way which looked on the map to be, if a bit roundabout, gentler than the others in gradient. I’d been attracted to a semi-circular approach starting on the spur between North Boulder and the Orongorongo River for some time. On 28 October, eight of us were at the toe of the spur, ready to try it out.
Although the latest map shows the spur to be gentle, it proved to have a steep end to it, which as we sought a way up, we found is choked with kiekie. A slow and inauspicious start! The best solution is to go up North Boulder Ck to its first fork, where an easy short climb will put you on the spur. And what a splendid walk it is from there on up to a flat top at the 600m contour: a never-ending procession of tall mature rimus through which run (alas) well-used animal tracks.
Now, as occasional showers driven by gale force winds began to penetrate the bush cover, came the steep climb to .769. The ground was barely consolidated coarse shingle which, despite its steep angle, had been extensively rooted by pigs. The rich cover of tiny beech seedlings, so evident everywhere this spring, which once would have grown into dense thickets where the ageing trees above let in light, will be no more than a tasty green salad for the browsing goats.
Beyond .769, the gradient is gentler through open beech (it hurts to say ‘Thank you, goats’) until the flat peneplain is reached at the 860m contour. Despite the little ups and downs, this is featureless goblin forest, and in mist – or out of it – a compass is essential.
Somewhere hereabouts we had heard there was a lake. Bill Stephenson, who once camped beside it, has more recently put me on to its history. Steve Reid wrote an account in Heels (1962) telling how he and a friend walked 40 minutes along the main range to the north of Papatahi till they found it in a likely-looking hollow to their left. Reid also refers to Tararua Story, where on p38 BDA Greig mentions a University party coming across it in 1933. More helpfully, he briefly describes an undated Geoff Wilson trip which climbed to the main range via the spur between the Wharepapa and Dry (now Battery) Stream before they hurried down into the Orongorongo River via the north branch of Ryan Ck (not named on the current map but easily identified). That puts the silvery little lake (or slimy pond, depending on who’s looking) roughly 3 kilometres NE of Papatahi, or 750metres SW of .860. A GPS fix is needed. Anyone?
The rain, the high wind, and the occasional areas of large windthrown trees, all set about with pepperleaf, distracted us from any thought of lake-hunting anyway. Then came a gentle rise and we were on the DOC track. The open top of Papatahi – it grows smaller by the year – was very unpleasant in the driving rain, and no one lingered. It had taken us under three hours from the river, but the much more direct track down is so perilously steep in places that it was a good hour and a half back.
Bill Stephenson says that the route we used was the regular way up Papatahi in the 1930s. Although longer in both time and distance, it still provides an interesting off-track alternative to the present track. It would be great to hear from others who climbed Papatahi in the 50s, 60s or 70s. And for the record, the walk in and out from the car park to North Boulder Creek is over two hours each way.
- Party members
- Colin Cook, David Ogilvie, Wayne Perkins, Bob Stephens, John Thomson (leader and scribe), Bill Wheeler, Lynne White and Warwick Wright