New Year Jaunt
1st January 2015
We had the luxury of being able to wait for fine weather during the Christmas-New Year break. New Year’s day and the day after looked very promising for an overnight trip to Elder Hut via the Snowy river and the route up ‘666’ spur. We set off from the Fenceline carpark just after 9am along the track to Waiotauru Forks in bright sunshine, having passed a string of vehicles coming the other way, including a ute with a large overstuffed sofa on it – signs of a New Year’s Eve party at Schoolhouse Flats. Just at the top of the climb out of the forks, we found the old four wheel drive track heading above the Snowy (Eastern Waiotauru), not overgrown as I’d read, but clearly visible. Not far down it were signs of earlier habitation: several dogwood trees in flower, gold alstromeria, and blue hydrangea. Then the track did get overgrown as it led down to the Snowy River, just below the slip face on the map.
The Snowy was clear and warm, but flowing somewhat higher and faster than made for easy travel. Much of our walking upstream was in the river itself, crossing in pairs at times, with Bob scouting ahead to check depth and speed, and offering the rest of us a gratefully received secure grip and a stout staff to hang onto as we crossed, sometimes at chest height.
Young rata in vivid bloom on a slip face; a small black goat poised on rocks above the stream as we came round a corner. We were not far off the bottom of the ‘666’ ridge when we encountered one long pool that would have been chin-deep for some of us, and so we made the decision to leave the river and go up to Elder via the ‘925’ ridge. A decision that was questioned in hindsight as we first grappled with entwining supplejack, then scrambled over and under and around many windfalls, compass, topo50 map and GPS often to the fore. Footpads came and went, including an early one marked with pink ribbon – gin traps set beneath some of these ribbons, and not all rusted. Five kilometres as a tui might fly (though we heard few birds) took us about as many hours. We intersected with the Renata Ridge track around 8pm in a beautiful still golden light.
Our delight in reaching the track was somewhat knocked by the immediate descent we faced from bump 925 – giving us close to 300 metres rather than 200 metres to climb to get to Elder Hut, on what were now weary legs. Most of the group got to Elder without having to use head torches – the evening light lasted well, with clear skies and lovely orange-rusty bands to the south. A near full moon came out, too. And there were two different frog croaks from neighbouring pools along the way, and the leatherwood leaves folded up were like faint white candles. After a 12 to 13 hour day, we were pleased to find two bunks left in the four-bunk Elder hut; two slept on the deck in a tent under a fly. We were glad of Tricia’s delicious fish-ginger-citrus meal, and then to ease our legs out on a flat surface.
The breeze got up in the night and was reasonably stiff when we got out of the bush the next day heading for Aston. By the time we were stepping out upon the Dress Circle, cloud was funnelling over. The views ahead and around came and went as we pressed against the wind and wondered at the strength of the alpine flowers in full bloom around us. Stepping down from Hector, we were suddenly in calmness and sun again, and both of these accompanied us all the way back to Otaki Forks. We were also blessed with magnificent views of the Tararua ranges and peaks, so we took our time to savour them. A great start to 2015! CW
- Party members
- Colleen Davey, Tricia French, Bob White, Cathy Wylie (leader and scribe)