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Trip: Blue Range, Mitre Flats, Bruce Hill

Well since the last post, my knee has completely healed and I’ve completed six weekend trips. My boots have been damaged twice (I think it’s a design flaw), and I’ve had one serious fall that ended in a 10 to 15 metre slide, and was quite lucky to avoid serious injury. I thought it’d be worth writing down some details about trips, just so there’s a record. I might expand on some of the other things later if I have time. Meanwhile I’m leaving for Chile in a couple of weeks, so I won’t have any more (New Zealand) trips for at least a few months.

Dates: 20th – 22nd April, 2007
Location: Tararua Forest Park
Huts visited: Blue Range Hut (0 nights), Mitre Flats Hut (1 night)
[Photos [1]]

This weekend’s trip was in the Tararuas.

This post is a trip report. You can find other trip reports about other places linked from the Trip Reports Page [2], or by browsing the Trip Reports Category [3].

We started at the Kiriwhakapapa Shelter, where we camped on Friday night. Most people (4 of the 7 in our group, and all of the other group from the club) set out sleeping bags under the shelter, as it was quite a calm night. Dirk, Colin and I set up our tent flies next to a tree in the middle of the traffic island. The night was mostly uneventful, although I was up reading at about 10pm when a car pulled up a few metres away, and some people got it. It turned out to be a group from the Vic Tramping Club. After a few minutes of getting ready and talking about someone not having a torch (I think), they disappeared off up the hill. I found out later, when we checked the hut book, that they’d walked up to Blue Range Hut for that night.

The weather was quite mild for the whole weekend. On Saturday morning, we had a relaxing walk up to Blue Range Hut, except for when Matt was stung three times by a wasp. The short path off the side of the main track to Cow Creek was about the only time we went above the tree-line on this trip, which gave us a brief view of Mitre Peak in the distance — the highest point in the Tararuas. Blue Range Hut is a nice little hut with a sense of humour, that’s very blue. We’d been there for a few minutes when a helicopter started buzzing us. After about 10 minutes of wandering around outside trying to figure out what on earth the helicopter was doing, we finally found out. A hunter turned up, wearing a classic blue bush-shirt. Apparently he’d arranged some kind of pick-up at the hut, but there really wasn’t a chance, and he eventually ran off up the hill again, perhaps to try and find somewhere better.

We then walked down to the Waingawa River (almost to Cow Creek), which we crossed, and had some lunch. We didn’t quite reach the hut, however. I pulled out my tent fly in an attempt to dry it, but alas, the sun was not co-operating. The afternoon involved a further walk southwards on the track along the river, for several hours, before we finally reached Mitre Flats.

Mitre Flats was full, but not overflowing. There was one person, from another group, who slept on the floor. That evening, we finally figured out the rules for Rummy, or some variant of it, and we played a few rounds. I forget who won, but it probably wasn’t important. This was the first time I’d actually slept in a hut for a few weeks, as opposed to camping outside, and it was great not to have to worry about packing up the fly in the morning.

There was some very light rain on Sunday morning, but it was almost undetectable and didn’t last. There was also no wind to speak of — not at all common in the Tararuas. We walked slightly further south of the hut, and crossed the Waingawa River via the new bridge. Dirk’s plan was then to bash our way up a spur, and eventually reach the ridge along the top. There’s no official track up here now, but there was apparently a maintained track in the 1970s or so.

So, we started bashing up the hill almost immediately from the other side of the bridge. This proved very steep and difficult at first, although there were enough hand-holds to be able to get up without too much trouble. After a few minutes, we reached quite a defined track, which even had a slightly modern looking sign. It pointed down in one direction, towards Mitre Flats, and down in the other direction to Stoney Creek. In hindsight, having checked the map, I think we’d managed to come up the gully in almost the exact centre of two minor spurs which met at this point. The sign didn’t say anything about the less-obvious track that continued up the hill, but that was the one we wanted.

Climbing up the main spur to the point at the end of the ridge at the top was a fairly straightforward exercise, although with a group of seven people and a climb of about 550 metres, the group stopped for rests a few times along the way. Walking along the ridge was also quite nice, and very green. It was also very overgrown in places, and we found ourselves bashing through quite a lot of soft scrub. We stopped just short of the peak of Bruce Hill at about 11.30am, and everyone at me had some lunch. I’d been snacking on scroggen all the way up, and wasn’t especially hungry, except for a few Meal Mates.

From Bruce Hill, we took a bearing of about 145 degrees, and set to bash our way down another spur to the other side of the ridge. We actually picked up an unofficial track down here, which someone had marked with what seemed to be all the old junk from their pack: Cut up ice-cream containers, bottle caps, old coke and beer cans, and an old Savlon ™ tube that, as Dirk noted, had expired in 2001. I don’t think the expiry date accurately indicates how long the marker had been there, though. Savlon is probably one of many things that sit around in people’s bathroom cabinets long after their expiry date. (Case in point, I just found some around the house that expired in 2002.)

This track was very easy to follow, and someone seemed to have gone to a lot of trouble. Unfortunately it was following the main spur down the hill, and aiming at a point of the trail on the other side that was much further south than we wanted to be. So at about 700 metres, which we determined using the barometer on Max’s watch, we veered off to the left at a bearing of about 85 degrees, looking for a less-obvious spur that went closer to where we were interested in ending up. This hillside was quite stable, but also relatively steep. It was here that I had a slip where I hit a bone around my upper thigh. It didn’t effect me more than briefly on the rest of the trip, but it’s since swollen up and I’m hobbling a bit — at least for a few days.

The rest of the descent was a slip-slidey affair where we mostly got quite muddy, but also got down safely. We located a couple of rivers that we were expecting to see, and from there it was easy to find the old tram track route that led back to the road-end. We met three mountain-bikers shortly after starting along this track, and they were the first people we’d seen outside of a hut since the hunter guy who’d been trying to chase the helicopter. I raced ahead of the group, with Max, after a while, because I was quite keen just to get back. Annoyingly, a wasp got me just below the knee about half way back along the track.

We made it out at about 2.30pm, before any of the other people from the club. Yay for us.