One Day Winchcombe Neill
16 January 2019
We headed off at 7.45 from Otaki Forks, reaching Kime Hut 3hrs 40 later. We ate lunch and filled up water bottles cognisant there would be no more water available until Walls Whare.
We were on Hector 40 minutes after leaving Kime in a minor mountain top mist that obscured our view of the Neill Winchcombe ridge. There were no footpads or cairns, but Merv Rodgers’ Tararua Footprints referred to the route running past a ‘good tarn’ and we took this to be a reference to an oversized puddle behind the cross. That direction was confirmed by GPS. The ridge to Winchcombe is open, windblasted and eroded on one side, and covered in long tussocky grass on the other. There are numerous ascents and descents and rocky outcrops to climb over. There is no continuous footpad although there are small sections - mostly around the areas of rocky outcrops. Progress through the long grass on the leeward side of the ridge was challenging due to the grass obscuring the ground underneath, or not underneath. There was little evidence of human use of the route but plenty of evidence of deer using it. We reached Winchcombe 1hr 40 after leaving Hector.
We descended off the east end Winchcombe into thick mist and guided by the GPS found what appeared to be the right ridge. We were reassured by finding a clear area of stones which we took to be the old biv site referred to in the guide. (Two cairns on this site do not indicate the correct downward route.) We reached the bush edge about 25 mins after leaving Winchcombe. It was not at all clear where we should enter the bush and we couldn’t see the ridge due to the mist. Several attempts to find an entry ended in a tangle of leatherwood. Closely following the track on the GPS, we worked our way down the north side of the bush fringe and eventually found an overgrown unmarked entry that took us steeply down into the bush. Surprise, surprise - in the bush were new DoC markers. The route was very well marked all the way in the bush to Neill. En route were the steep saddles and occasional treefall that complicated descent. It was a very up and down experience and it took us 1hr 50m to reach Neill. A second lunch helped energy levels somewhat, but water was getting very low.
At Neill we had similar difficulty finding where the route enters the bush. Again, guided by the GPS and following the route accurately marked on the map and some cairns, we skirted along the north edge of the bush line and found the unmarked entrance. From Neill the ridge drops down to its low point at Neill Saddle (just over 900 metres). Our spirits were high as we set off on what Merv Rodgers describes as a long gentle ascent to Cone. It was long but definitely not gentle. The markers on this section are sparse and the footpad indistinct from the many animal trails. Tired and finding ourselves off the route - thanks to checking the GPS - we headed up (of course) to find a marker. Eventually we got to Cone 1hrs 35m after leaving Neill. Back on to a track, we sped down to the Cone Saddle in an hour - then on down aiming to beat sunset. We crossed the Walls Whare bridge as dusk closed in - 13 hours after setting out.
In retrospect we think that doing the crossing east to west is probably better because it would get the demanding Neill Winchcombe ridge done earlier in the day and keeping on the route would be easier, particularly at the entries to and exits from the bush.
- Party members
- Gerald Leather and Tricia French (scribe)