A Walk in the Park
17th-20th January 2020
There was a couple of sleeping bags on the deck and a tent pitched below South Ohau Hut when Paul and I arrived at 10.30 p.m., delayed by a torch malfunction in the gorge. People were heading for a variety of interesting destinations: Carkeek Hut via Thompson Stream spur, the upper Otaki, Oriwa Ridge…
In the morning we half overheard a hunter explaining how to get to Butcher Saddle, “Turn up left…the slip” and we think we ended up following his route. He also told us about a marked track that starts about 100 metres up Butchers Creek directly up onto Gable End ridge.
We followed our noses up Butchers Creek, good open going on streambed and gravel terraces. We didn’t notice the branch that heads directly to Butcher Saddle, so followed the true left (larger) branch with good travel up to about 640 m, just past the marked slip. There is a small fork here and we headed steeply left up a short open slope to reach taller bush. About 80 metres further uphill we sidled left to meet the Dora Track at about 800 metres and followed it down to Butcher Saddle.
To reach the Otaki River we headed straight down from the Saddle, sidling a little on the left initially then following the creek bed. An attractive cascade just before the Otaki required a sidle on the true right . On a warm sunny morning a trout swam slowly around one of the many clear green p ools as we wandered down the Otaki River to the two bunk Otaki Hut, on the site of the old Upper Otaki Hut. After lunch we headed up Kelleher Spur. A few old orange disc markers and intermittent footpad were all that remained of the track, but the spur provided fairly good travel. Steeper and a bit scrubby at the top though. From Kelleher summit we looked down into the Park River, the next day's destination, and hoped that the south eas terly mist and drizzle on the other side of it stayed there.
We joined nine others in a mist bound Nichols Hut that night; only three of us were on the floor. Most of the others were 'Te Araroa-ans' but one chap was a fisherman who had come up the Otaki from Waitewaewae then up an untracked spur directly onto Mt Crawford. He was intending to fish the Park River the next day and was concerned to find that we were heading there as well. Unfortunate timing, and he was quite polite about it. We agreed to leave as early as we could, and he delayed his departure a bit.
In the morning, still misty and drizzly, we headed down to Park Forks. We followed some cairns down through the tussock, but in poor visibility dropped into the bush a little too soon and thrashed around a bit before sidling left to hit some markers. We followed the old marked route down but lost it several times and needed the GPS. We missed the last 150 metres entirely. Just as well we hadn’t tried to come down here in the dark the previous night.
At Park Forks the mist had lifted and the rocks were dry. Finally heading up the Park! We had been trying to do this for several years. The sun came out and the river was very low (the Waiohine was under four cumecs that day). There were lots of beautiful pools and for the first couple of kilometres or so we made good
progress, assisted by easy boulder hopping and numerous easy crossings. We spotted a couple of trout and tiptoed carefully around them. After that it was a little slower but still mostly OK. I glimpsed a six pointer stag ghosting away into the riverbank bush. We passed under the lar ge bluffs below Puketoro. There were many bluffs on the western side of the river. A log draped sinuously over a boulder looked like the front end of a dragon, but the only significant obstacle to riverbed travel was a the start of the marked gorge section under Carkeek. An enormous boulder formed part of a large barrier with a small waterfall at its side. We wriggled up behind a log above a ledge on the true left to get around the boulder but probably should have sidled in the bush on the true left .
Without further obstacles above we soon reached the scrub line. Looking up Thompson Creek we didn’t envy the others who would have ascended the thick scrub of the spur on the true left the day before.
A little further and we reached the open valley head. As at the head of the Waiohine, what appeared to be easy flats were mostly covered in tall lumpy tu ssock interspersed with spear grass and scrub. It was easier to stay in the gravel riverbed. We turned the final corner and Arete came into view, a smooth pyramid with small gorges draining tussock basins on either side.
Heading for the saddle between Arete and Pukematawai we tried to follow the 'gorgelet' up through the scrub band. Initially this went well but waterfalls then
forced us to do an awkward short climb out on the true right to reach the tussock not recommen ded. Maybe the tussock/scrub leads a little further back down on the true right would have been a better option after all. Getting tired now we slowly continued up to reach the saddle, pausing to admire the views back down to the head flats in the Park, red gold in the evening light, with the bluffs of Lancaster and Thompson rearing up behind. We then wandered down to Te Matawai to finish a 14 hour day, feeling lucky to have been able to visit this remote Tararua valley.
The next day we met Peggy and Chris Munn, who were heading up the Ohau to check out the track from South Ohau Hut to Gable End ridge.
- Party members
- Franz Hubmann (scribe) and Paul McCredie