The boys went for a mission through the Tararua Forest Park recently. Here's the adventure as told by Stuart Mear (aka Dad). Photos by Mark.
Me - When are we doing the walk in the Tararuas? The one your mate did with the ladders and stuff?
Mark - How about when Ross (currently completing the South Island section of the Te Araroa Trail) finishes the SI and gets to Wellington?
Me - I'll make sure I’ve got time off then! Struth, I haven't done any tramping in ages. Not sure I'm up to it.
Mark - You'll be fiiine.
Me - Could be pretty cold, might get a liner for my sleeping bag. I'll make sure I take a mug, spoon and headlight this time.
So on a Monday morning in late May after zero fitness training, we drove 7 hours to Wellington to meet Ross.
Mark - Can we stop in Taupō, I need some socks.
Me - Really? You didn't bring any socks??
A quick visit to Hunting and Fishing and we were hungry.
Mark - Want BurgerFuel?
Dad - I had BurgerFuel a few nights ago
Mark - They're doing 2 for 1 burgers.
Dad - Righto burger fuel it is then.
Arriving in Wellington we ditch our gear and look for more food. Hey look 2 for 1 Pizza must be our lucky day.
Next morning we collect Ross and drive back up to Levin where the track we plan to take starts. We donned our packs loaded with food and head off. Who’s got the map? Shit! Back Mark goes for the map.
After a good half hour of tramping through the bush we reach the first junction. Left or right? I ask. If we go right it's a couple of hours to the first hut and then a big day tomorrow. Ok! If we go left it's a bit further today but less tomorrow. So which way then? I ask. Left. Lead on then boys.
After another half hour or more of relatively easy tramping we come across a small slip which we get around. Not much further on though it's a different story. Maaaassive slip. This doesn't look good. No way round this. Bugger. Going to have to go back. We tramp for another hour back to the junction and decide it's too late to go to the other hut as it will be well past dark by the time we get there.
So we head back to the car and then to Levin McDonald's for a milkshake and a map reading session. After finding a new route and our start point for the next day (Kiwi Ranch road end in Kaitoke) we head back to Wellington and spend the night at the Top 10.
This is a big day for me. 20km and a climb from 200m above sea level (asl) up to Alpha Hut which sits at 1120m asl. Its warm so no need for too much clothing. In fact I'm sweating buckets before we've got too far. The bush is awesome but some of these sections are bloody hard work. It's beginning to take its toll and i'm slowing down.
Me - How far have we come Ross?
Ross - 8km
Shit long way to go yet. We plod on and slowly tick off the Ks. I don't like to ask, how much further?
Ross - 5ks
Doesn't sound too hard I think. Food and drink gives us all a pick up and we keep going. (Mums Davy Crockett slice worth carrying). As darkness falls I'm really feeling it. Because we slowed down, I'm now feeling quite cold.
Ross - Only 1k to go
Shit boys, I'm feeling pretty crook. It's bloody steep in places and I have to keep stopping.
Ross - 900m to go.
Ross - 500m to go
Ross - Nearly there
To put it bluntly I’m absolutely fucked.
Arriving at the hut I'm suddenly freezing. Exhausted. Mark mixes electrolytes, Ross makes a hot drink. I get some warm clothes on but struggle to eat anything. It's almost an hour before I seem to come right.
Me - Sorry boys, bit worried about the next few days
Mark - Nah you'll be fine.
Day 1 Stats
I was fine.
Overnight we hear it rain, not much but the temperature drops as well. When we head out the next morning my legs and boots are soaked in no time. As we climb higher it gets colder. Emerging from the bush we're into the tussock.
Everywhere the tussock is frozen. It looks awesome, I was looking forward to this part. The wind is picking up and its lightly raining turning to snow now. This is challenging but fun. Glad we brought the right gear. This Sons of the South merino is doing the job.
As we climb up to one of the highest peaks in the Tararuas we traverse some narrow ridges with big drop offs on both sides. This is pretty hairy stuff. One foot wrong in this wind and we’re in trouble.
We finally reach Mt Hector (1529m). Its brutal. Only a couple more summits and ridges and we'll be at Kime hut. The coldest hut in the Tararuas.
They’re right about the hut. Outside is freezing and inside too. But we’re out of the wind it must be -5 outside in that gale. Someone could freeze to death just walking to the Loos, must be 50m+. We’re into our sleeping bags just to keep warm and have a feed. No-one wants to walk to the long drop but Ross braves the cold. He doesn't recommend the trip.
Day 2 Stats
After a cold night's sleep we make breakfast (I need a better sleeping bag I decide. The liner didn't cut it) The weather outside is worse and we decide it's too risky to attempt the narrow ridges and 70ft steel ladder to Maungahuka hut. We check the maps and decide to head for Otaki Forks. We’ll stop at Field Hut if we need to or head all the way to Parawai Lodge at the forks. We all brave the walk to the long drop and all return safely.
As we descend below the freezing level, and out of the bitter easterly, the ice covered rocks and tussock give way to soaking wet rocks and tussock and feeling begins to return to my feet. The views are spectacular and it's mostly downhill. At last.
The tussock finally returns to bush as we drop down the track and we reach Field Hut in good time. This old hut was built in 1924 and is the oldest in the Tararuas. The big fireplace makes it tempting to stop but we have time to get to Otaki Forks and spend the night at Parawai Lodge so we press on.
Thick moss covers everything in the forest around us. Feels like something out of Lord of the Rings. But I've never seen the movies.
Parawai lodge is empty but there's firewood so we get it going. Sort of.
Day 3 Stats
Just as we settle down in the dark there's a knock on the door. With a bright light and a good deal of commotion, somebody wrapped in a walking cloak and waving a reflector covered stick comes bowling into the hut. “Hi gents just passing through. Not stopping. Doing a night hike.”
Who the hell does a night hike? We all think. He then sits down at the table and starts to chat. “Thought youd have the fire roaring!” He says as he pulls a portable gas heater out of his bag that he seems rather proud of. Then it's a torch with a beam so powerful he can pick out the International Space Station! Then it's a stack of sandwiches and then on and on he goes.
Things we learn that night from our mystery visitor;
- Why Kime hut is so cold? (Its haunted and he's met the ghost that lives there)
- He's worked for Doc forever.
- He knows the Tararuas like the back of his hand
- He's 75 and done 67 hikes tramps this year. (not allowed to call them hikes he hates that)
- Powell Hut in the northern Tararuas is also haunted.
- Rats come out at 2am and eat your food here.
- He's cut a track in the bush to get around the slip we couldn't a few days ago.
- He’s a Bush poet.
- He’s cut a track over the slip that has closed the Otaki Gorge road.
After 2 hours with not one of us managing to get a word in, all the while picking at his sandwiches, he's off to hike tramp back to his car. What a whirlwind that was. Ross checks the logbook to see who he was. “He’s here regularly”, he says. “Just about every other night”. Hmmm. I'm not sure what just happened. Maybe he's the ghost?
Day 4 was an easy hike down the gravel road and over the slip to get out to the new road end. It was 11am when we got to the car park and our shuttle driver picked us up. Due to the changes in the route our car was still back at Kaitoke so onto the train at Waikanae we went. 2 trains, a bus and an uber later we had finally reached our car again and could unload and relax.
Although it wasn't our original plan, we ended up doing the route for the Tararua Southern Crossing. It was awesome. Brutal at times, though that's probably because I'm getting ever closer to drawing the pension. It really was spectacular and not for the faint hearted.
I'd highly recommend it. Just make sure to get fit and have a good sleeping bag and at least 3 Sons of the South merinos to wear to bed.