The pleasures of Plan B
26 & 27 February 2019
Two days away from our trip to McGregor Biv and all three weather forecasts (Met Service, yr.no, and MetVuW) agreed on gale force winds and rain coming in early Sunday. But there are a range of good Plan B options in the Tararua. Ours was one of the less chosen, into the Waingawa Hilton (aka Cow Creek Hut), via the track above the Ruamahanga River and up to Cow Creek Saddle before descending to the Waingawa. It’s a two car option, with one car left at the Ruamahanga end and the other at Kiriwhakapapa.
The route starts on farm tracks, with a great view of Cattle Ridge (even the hut visible) as we walked through golden grass overlooking the Ruamahanga, and then through manuka and beehives. A little further on, the commemorative cross for Selwyn Pawson (deer culler, search and rescue radio operator, patron of the Masterton Tramping club) overlooks a lovely pool. Then into increasingly tall trees, mossy glades, and one creek cleft that meant spidering down one side before crossing, and hauling up and along a narrow ledge on the other side. We meandered along terraces that Robin aptly described as knobbly with increasing views of an enticing Ruamahanga river – sometimes deep pools, sometimes more rocks than water. A couple of side creeks to the Ruamahanga could present problems after heavy rain. But we had dry heat, and were glad to come down to Cleft Creek to replenish before the climb up to Cow Saddle.
We found that the route guide to Cow Saddle from Cleft Creek in Tararua Footprints is now out of date: DOC have marked a new track, somewhat confusingly at the start, with large orange triangles that seemed to fit with the Footprints description, and led us across Cleft Creek but not to any track. The smaller orange triangles that Fiona suggested were worth following were indeed the right ones, crossing Cleft Creek heading southwest and then a good track on a spur up through tall trees to Cow Saddle.
Then it was down to the Waingawa river, and hearing wind roar. Most of us crossed the river to get to the hut rather than go round and over the bridge to keep boots dry for the morrow. Luckily we’d brought two tents, since there were already three young people in the six bunk Waingawa Hilton. There was a good camping site nearby, and our tents went up in a large mossy clearing. More luck too that the young people moved their gear up to the top bunks and offered the three of us who stayed in the hut the bottom bunks (a relief to a short person especially, since though the Waingawa Hilton offers much, it doesn’t offer a ladder to top bunks).
We hadn’t had to contest the wind on the tops, but it kept the campers awake, sounding ‘as if we were at the end of an airport runway’. The bridge swayed and bucked when I stood on it to marvel at one of the blackest and starbright night skies I’ve seen.
The next day the wind came with us as noise rather than a force we moved through climbing up the opposite side of the Waingawa. Once on the ridge, it was still and hot. We flopped under the trees at the turnoff to Blue Range hut, and some went there to fill waterbottles and enjoy the signs. Then we romped down to Kiriwhakapapa and a dunk in the river, after stopping to track some titipounamu close to mistletoe in resplendent flower.
- Party members
- Lois Buckrell, Robin Chesterfield, Fiona Girdwood, Jane-Pyar Mautner, Tom White, Cathy Wylie (leader and scribe)