Flashback: Christmas 2012 recap 1: A modified Southern Crossing of the Tararuas (Dec 22-24)

Hey all!  The weather + sickness lately has prevented us from doing nearly as much tramping as we had planned this winter. In the meantime, I shall regale you with tramping tales of yore. Here’s a flashback from our Dylan and my first ever Christmas tramp (it has since become something of a tradition for us), when we were still very much tramping newbies, picking up experience as we went along…

Since we were visiting D’s grandparents in Otaki (about 1 hr north of Wellington), Dylan wanted to do a tramp in the Tararuas (literally just 5 min from Otaki).  He picked a modified version of the Southern Crossing – which is a popular route through the Tararuas.  Dylan’s Dad dropped us off near Greytown and we tramped for 3 days, coming out at Otaki forks.

The Tararuas are generally described as “rugged” and the tops are usually covered in clouds around 200 days a year.  We wanted a clear day on the tops (as you can see not only Wellington, but all the way to the South Island).  The weather forecast was constantly changing (as per usual NZ weather) but we just decided to go regardless!

Overall it was a great trip.  Day 1 was quite long – we did about 2000m total up and down over some countryside that was very aptly called “rugged”.  Our goal was Alpha hut.  We had lunch at the historic Cone Hut with had rough cut planks and a very interesting toilet.  Immediately after lunch we had to do the deepest river crossing I’d done to date (fortunately it wasn’t very wide).  Admittedly I don’t enjoy river crossings much.  This was hip deep and rather fast flowing.  Dylan and I crossed together (arms behind each others’ backs and holding onto each other’s pack straps as per proper technique).  It’s a good thing we did too, otherwise I would have definitely ended up in the drink.  Would I have drowned?  No, but I would have gotten quite wet, ended up a bit downstream and probably been very unhappy afterwards.  Thank goodness for having a big strong boyfriend to pull you across rivers!

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Toilet at Cone Hut – made of Punga (yes the wall is literally alive and growing)

We also made the mistake of not topping up our water at said river, and ran out soon after.  It was a hot day and had been raining in the morning (think jungle).  Dylan doesn’t do well in the heat – he needs about 1L of water/hr.  Fortunately, after a long climb in the heat we came across a tarn that actually had water flowing through it.  We filled up our drink bottles and used the water treatment tabs (I had bought just for this reason – having run out of water on past trips).  The tabs are great, you put 1 in 1L of water, wait 30 min and you are good to go.  It was the first time we’d used them and neither of us got sick so – that’s a win!

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The tarn that saved us!

Finally after another long up and down climb, through Hell’s gate and the goblin forest – we arrived at Alpha hut.  Much to our surprise, no one else was there. Dylan’s previous experience (from childhood) was the huts being absolutely chocka around the holidays. Not the case in 2012.

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The Goblin Forest

Day 2 we decided to get an early start.  It was another hot day.  Fortunately for us, the weather cooperated and we got some amazing views along the very steep and rugged ridgeline.  My knee also decided to pack it in after about 1 hour.  This was quite alarming as I’ve never had a knee problem before and I am way too young to have joint problems!  The next two days were quite interesting as my knee was screaming in pain anytime we had to walk downhill (which was the entirety of day 3).

We had amazing views of Upper Hutt (Wellington) and even the Kaikouras (on the South Island).  The clouds came in from the Northwest all day but stopped at the ridgeline.  It was a pretty odd effect – one side of the ridge you could see a few metres – the other side you could see Wellington.  After a lovely lunch at the top (Mt. Hector, 1529m) we had only another hour or so to get to Kime hut.  Another older hut which is in fact being replaced in 2013.

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Mt. Hector

 

Clouds along the ridgeline

Clouds along the ridgeline

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D relaxing in the sun at Kime hut

Day 3 dawned rainy, cloudy, and windy.  The typical Tararua weather!  As we descended closer and closer to Otaki forks (passing New Zealand’s oldest hut, Field hut, along the way), the wind died and the sun came out and my knee became more and more excruciating to the point where I was hobbling/limping along and Dylan kept asking if he could carry my pack (I stubbornly refused).  We finally came out at Otaki Forks – had no cell reception to ring Dylan’s Dad to come get us, so D hitched out towards Otaki while I waited with our gear.

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Field hut, built by the Tararua tramping club in 1924

And after a sweltering tramp, we ended the day swimming in the ocean at the Otaki beach.  Does Christmas Eve get much better than this?  [Only if there’s snow, of course.]

If you’re wondering how my knee fared, I went to the Physiotherapist in Tauranga on Dec 28th and it turns out my knee joint is fine, but I strained a muscle because my hip is week and the hip flexor wasn’t pulling its weight.  So I had a number of stretches and hip strengthening exercises to do.  And clearly I need to hit the hip abduction machine a lot harder at the gym!

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Mt. Holdsworth/Jumbo circuit (Xmas tramp #2) Jan 1-2, 2015

Hello readers!  Yes, we did manage to squeeze in a fair bit of tramping over Xmas.  Although our original plan of doing the Thunderbolt track in the Kaimanawas fell through due to slightly iffy weather (and a lack of confidence on our part to navigate along the tops in cloud), we decided to start our Tararuas trip on Jan 1.

We rang in the new year in our wee tent in the Holdsworth Lodge camping ground just outside of Masterton.  For several years now, I’ve wanted to ring in the new year somewhere in the backcountry (last year it was supposed to be Welcome Flat Hut.  Sadly, we were rained out and the track was closed by DOC).  This year it was supposed to be somewhere in the Kaimanawas and we were rained out again.  😦  But in our tent in a campground (accompanied by some Lewis Road Creamery Chocolate Milk) wasn’t too shabby of a way to ring in the new year.  And there’s always next year, right?

The reason we chose the Mt. Holdsworth/Jumbo circuit is that in 2012, we did a modified version of the Southern Crossing which was pretty stunning.  That was my first foray into the Tararuas (though Dylan had been in with his Dad as a child) and I absolutely loved it – the old huts, the goblin forest, the steep knife edged ridgeline – honestly amazing.  Needless to say the Tararuas warranted further exploration.

Our original plan was to stay at Jumbo hut on Jan 1, then go along the tops via 3 kings or the Baldy track and descend into Mitre Flats hut.  But of course, Jan 2 dawned quite windy and admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of wind, especially seeing as how exposed we would be (Dylan, of course, being of sturdier build than I am, isn’t bothered in the slightest by wind).  So instead we had a leisurely descent out back to the Holdsworth Lodge campground, and then caught up with our friends in Wellington.  Such is tramping – being flexible and willing to alter your trip depending on conditions/abilities/level of comfort of other party members.

Trip map

Trip map

The track up to Powell hut is of a “great walk” standard meaning…  Stairs.  So.  Many.  Stairs.  Yes, it makes it easier.  But it also takes a bit of the excitement out of tramping.

Stairs.  Stairs.  Countless stairs.

Stairs. Stairs. Countless stairs.

It should also be noted that DOC has recently changed the booking system surrounding Powell, Jumbo and Atiwhakatu huts, so if you’re planning on heading to that area soon, make sure to do your research and determine if you need to pre-book your hut or not.  There was certainly a great deal of confusion about the new system among the trampers we met in the area.  At the time of writing this post, Powell and Atiwhakatu were booked huts and even provided gas, whereas Jumbo did not need to be booked and the gas was going to be removed (although luckily for us, there was still some there at the time!  Bonus!).

Mt. Holdsworth Trig

Mt. Holdsworth Trig

I think the highlight for me was coming across a fabulous swimming hole in the Atiwhakatu river on our way out – which was a very hot day.  It was clearly visible from the bridge (as seen in the photo below) and there was a little steep track off the side of the main track which led to it.  We weren’t the only ones there, so it was obviously a pretty popular swimming hole.

Swimming hole

Swimming hole

Anyways, Dylan and I hope to continue to explore more of the North Island’s tramps – we are definitely planning to do some in the Kaimanawas, Ruahines and Tararuas again as well.

Happy tramping!