Waiohine headwaters and Carkeek Ridge
3 to 6 January 2019
The Ohau was unexpectedly high and brown although the overnight rain had stopped, so we headed up Gable End ridge instead of the river. At a misty Te Matawai we chatted to about 8 Te Araroa southbound trampers (TA SOBOs). The following morning was mostly clear and we also talked to three Parawai TC members, including Owen Cox, who is on the FMC executive. He laconically gave us excellent route information for the upper Waiohine – our destination for the day.
The track above Te Matawai remained muddy initially. Discussion ensued as to whether it is more muddy since the advent of Te Araroa. Conclusion – possibly, but I’m not convinced, not that I go up there much. Anecdotally, the people we met said the standard southbound full trip takes about 4-months, usually starting in November, so there could be a fairly brief peak in the Tararuas in January.
After a stop at Arete Hut we headed south towards Lancaster. At the cairn where the Northern Crossing route meets the ridge east of Lancaster we followed Owen's advice and dropped in to the tussock basin between Lancaster and Waiohine Pinnacles. Further down, this basin turns into a rougher creek with falls which we avoided by sidling down the tussock slopes on its TR. At the bottom we struggled through a dense, but thankfully brief, band of scrub to emerge on the bank of the infant Waiohine.
A little further down we reached the extensive, idyllic- looking flats visible from above. They are mostly waist-high tussock so we stayed on the river bed or banks where possible. This U-shaped valley head, along with that of the Park, is thought to be evidence of past glaciation depite a lack of moraine residue.
After lunch we continued down the river which became more bouldery below the treeline. We only swam one pool, because it was a hot, sunny afternoon, but it was not compulsory. Below the confluence with the main TL side-creek draining Tarn Ridge, where three old deer-cullers routes descend from surrounding ridges, travel became easier for a while. Then it got rougher again and it took us longer than we expected to reach Park Forks. The whole day was nearly 12 hours, with quite a few stops, but the river was still up a bit. We’d had enough of boulder-hopping and at the Park Forks campsite that evening (on the TR of the Park a few minutes above the Forks) we decided to forego the Park River and instead head up Carkeek Ridge the following day.
Markers behind the campsite indicate the start of the old route up to Nichols, with a cairn and a bit of tape marking the start of the track to Carkeek Ridge, just across the Park and downstream from the campsite. I had a brief look for any markers heading up Dorset Ridge, but could only find a single bit of yellow tape around a tree on the TL bank of the Waiohine - just above the Forks.
The Carkeek Ridge track didn’t have any DoC markers either but the unofficial tags were easy to follow. Carkeek Hut had been repainted in November and is looking great. Thanks to the ex-NZFS cullers group for another sterling effort. Soon we were out of the bush and following the series of tussock tops that led over Carkeek, Thompson and to Lancaster, with great views all around on a sunny, windy day. I still want to visit the Park but now realise it’s also probably not as easy as it looks from above.
Back over Arete to Te Matawai – 11 hours for this day, then down the Yeates and the lovely Ohau River the next day to complete a varied and most satisfying trip.
- Party members
- Franz Hubmann (scribe), Paul McCredie and Sarah White.