Last weekend we visited the Ruahines, and I was finally able to see Sunrise Hut, which I’ve heard so much about. It was only a brief part of a much larger weekend, though.
Dates: 20th – 22nd March, 2009
Location: Ruahine Forest Park, Triplex road-end.
People: Glynne, Paul, Tim, Mike P, Bernie, Harry and me.
Huts visited: Triplex Hut (1 night), Waterfall Hut (1 night), Waikamaka Hut (0 nights), Sunrise Hut (0 nights).
Route: From Triplex Hut to Waipawa Forks, up to Waipawa Saddle then climb the south-eastern side up to Three Johns (1569). South-west to Rangioteatua (1704), south to 1715 then south-west to Paemutu (1682). Down scree to Tussock Creek, and to Waterfall Hut for the night. Then up Rangi Creek, over Rangi Saddle to Waikamaka Hut, back to Waipawa Saddle, up the northern side to 1625, north to Te Atuaoparapara (1687), north-east to Armstrong Saddle, then back to Triplex road-end via Sunrise Hut.
[Photos and movies]
We begin at the TripleX road-end, in the rain and standing in the muddy road preparing to leave. Sometimes I have concerns that I won’t look as if I’ve actually been somewhere by the end of a weekend, but these concerns are now unwarranted as I realise that half of my pack is already covered in mud. Better yet, it’s splashy mud which has a fantastic transitive quality, and it quickly asserts itself on my trampey clothes. Now I look as if I’ve been somewhere!
With the weekend’s primary goal accomplished, we make our way to the night’s destination. It involves a 10 minute skate in the dark over the farm to TripleX Hut. Only one small party is there, which surprises us because the end of the road had been bustling with activity. Until now we’d assumed we’d be camping outside. We quickly claim spaces in the empty room, except for Harry who manages to snatch the prime deck spot out front. Within minutes, the crowds begin to roll in. Unlike a certain other group of people, we didn’t stop for ice cream on the way here, and in exchange for that we did win the hut. Bwa ha ha ha ha! Eyes shut at 11pm, for a 6am wake-up.
It really doesn’t feel like 7 hours of sleep, but we’re all roused and ready to go at 7. Two minutes late, we wave goodbye to a couple of weary-eyed people wandering about, and set off up the track towards Sunrise Hut. Rather than slog all the way up the hill, however, we turn off to the west on the track to the Waipawa River, eventually going all the way down again. Harry may have a point when he suggests it was silly to come up here just to go down again if we could have simply walked to the van and driven another kilometre straight to the river, and walked up that instead.
About 10 minutes before we reach the river, I feel something in my hair and a simple brush with my fingers can’t get it out. It’s not until my leg suddenly starts hurting that I look down and realise that 2 wasps are on one of my legs, doing their best to sting me. I try to brush them off, and looking around I notice that Mike P (ahead of me) is also getting stung. After calling for some attention to what’s happening, I discover that doing so was a bad idea, because all it does is to cause people up ahead to stop and block any timely escape route. Nevertheless we do slow down, and during this time I discover another wasp somehow inside one of my gaiters. Meanwhile Mike is trying to cope with being stung through his sock around the ankle. Being traditionally prepared as we are, nobody has any accessible antihistamines, but Mike produced some Voltaren to help numb the pain and we keep going.
Most of the wasps end up dead one way or another, but as we leave I notice there’s still a wasp tangled up in my hair. With enough fighting it finally escapes and wafts itself up into the trees to fly away home. Just as the Danish Vikings always left a survivor to spread stories of the terror when they raided Alfred’s England in the 9th Century AD, thus encouraging immediate submission during future raids, I expect that this wasp’s release will ensure a fitting respect for us amongst the wasps we’ve yet to encounter. It works, too, because the wasps avoid us for the rest of the weekend.
We reach the Waipawa River not long after 8am, continuing west up the river over the next hour with the Sun rising warmly behind us. We finally reach a track that leads us up to Waipawa Saddle, and stop for a few minutes to gather water before climbing the further 200 vertical metres out of the river to the top of the saddle. At 10am we’re away again, walking further up the eastern shoulder of the saddle to Three Johns (1569). Typical of any trip I’ve been on that the club’s metrics rate as a Fit trip, none of us can be bothered to actually climb to the top. Instead, we sidle around before continuing south-west to the un-named point 1635. An hour later at 11am, we all stand on Rangioteatua (1704).
The cloud rolls over the ridge behind us from the east, giving us a scenic backdrop during lunch on the next peak to the south, spot-height 1711. As we eat, we ponder the ridge that leads south-wards to Paemutu (1682). Glynne’s research prior to the trip had implied that this could be one of the most awkward ridges on our route. The first challenge seems to be just to get to the ridge because there seems to be something of a drop leading off Paemutu in that direction. Paul manages to climb down by the most obviously direct route and reports that it looks as if there’s an occasionally-used route going down. Meanwhile, though, the rest of us have already headed down the western side, to sidle around via some scree and make our way onto the ridge. Ultimately though, this ridge is a fairly easy route considering the rumours we’d heard beforehand.
The beginnings of Waterfall Creek are clearly visible down to our right, and knowing that it passes straight past tonight’s destination of Waterfall Hut, it’s tempting to wander down to it. Glynne notes, however, that there’s a rumour of a substantial waterfall hazard further down Waterfall Creek (funny that), and so on this trip we’ll avoid it. The only other complication on the ridge comes from a massive wide pinnacle-like towering rock thing in the middle of the ridge near the southern end, which blocks our way. After some investigation we decide to avoid going around the western side. Paul finds a way to climb over the top, but the rest of us head slightly down the eastern side of the ridge and find a way to sidle around it, before climbing back up to the ridge. At 2pm we all stand on Paemutu (1682), and we take our time to appreciate the scenery because this will be our last visit to the tops today before heading down to Tussock Creek.
Exactly how to get down to Tussock Creek is another problem. At first we think we might have to continue a few hundred metres along to find a suitable route down, but it seems there are two obvious scree-guts just south of Paemutu, which appear to join up further down. Either will probably be fine, and we eventually reach a consensus on the second of the two. The next 20 minutes is a continuous screeeeee slide down the hill to the beginnings of Tussock Creek below, and in that time we slide and ski down about 300 vertical metres, and we reach the top of the creek at 2.30.
Tussuck Creek would be better named something like Speargrass Creek or Spaniard Creek, except there are probably already many other creeks with such a name. The nice big scree-gut took us into what is realistically a side-creek within a catchment that eventually joins a wider river, although the LINZ maps that we have still refer to the side creek as Tussock Creek and the larger creek as being nameless. Perhaps Tussock Creek simply has a name due to being a popular route down, or something of that nature. We reach the larger creek a little after 3, though, and keep following it for another hour at which point we finally arrive at the bright orange, recently painted Waterfall Hut.
Even though we reached it in about 9 hours, Waterfall Hut is comparatively remote for the Ruahines. I’ve been intending to reach Waterfall Hut on two separate occasions, but both times have been affected by the weather and caused a change in plans. I’m also aware of a person who reportedly spent a week trapped here during heavy rain, and I’m reminded of it a few hours later when I stare at the ceiling above the bunk, and someone has ticked off 6 of the 7 days of the week. Looking around the region, I could think of worse places to be trapped for many days in heavy rain (Triangle Hut comes to mind). Even though it’s surrounded by rivers, Waterfall Hut isn’t quite at the bottom of a hole — there is actually some space to wander around outside and see up and down a valley without having to walk through a river.
If there’s one particularly notable thing about Waterfall Hut at the time we arrive, it’s that there’s absolutely no shortage of toilet paper. The dunny has 3 rolls left behind, and inside the hut are about 6 more. Apparently the DOC workers left it behind when they visited for maintenance work a few months earlier. It seems that one luxury of helicopters is the cheap transport of vast amounts of toilet paper.
Glynne is the only person to not immediately settle in once we arrive, and after about 30 minutes and some re-packing, he ventures off to look for a waterfall. I feel quite bad not following having come all this way, but by now I just can’t be bothered to put my boots on, plus I’m feeling marginally sick and need to lie down for a while, so I console myself by trying to take a couple of photos of the valley we’re in. Glynne happily returns about an hour later, however, and after a lot of mental maths between us to confirm we brought an appropriate amount of pasta, he plays the main part in preparing dinner. I’m feeling somewhat better after dinner but lying down is nice, so Paul has to rope some newcomers into a game of 500. By candlelight, he and Harry teach Mike and Tim how to play. I don’t notice myself getting much sleep that night, but I get a very good rest simply by lying with my eyes closed. Spurts of heavy rain overnight occasionally cause me to wonder if we might have river problems in the morning, but it’s not continuous enough to cause any problems.
On Sunday morning we can sleep in longer, and don’t get away until ten to 8. We begin by walking around to the start of Rangi Creek about 10 minutes away, which begins with a very wide mouth that’s perhaps related to a massive slip on one side. The walk up the creek lasts for about 25 minutes before a big orange triangle marks the beginning of the route up to Rangi Saddle. It’s quite steep at first, but no more than what’s generally encountered in many other parts of the Tararuas and Ruahines. Once above the tree-line, we enter a waist-high tussock-laden landscape that’s still sodden from overnight rain, and yet to see the morning’s sunshine. It’s also slippery and full of sharp things, making it mildly unpleasant to walk through. As we near the top, a light wafty mist is back-lit by the rising sun over the silhouette of the saddle, and refracting light accents the colours of the surrounding hills. It looks quite nice.
When we reach the top just short of 9am, we sit down, eat scroggen, gaze at the views for a while, and try to pick out our route down. The route down the north-eastern side of Rangi Saddle is actually marked by poles that ultimately lead to the top of a creek which passes Waikamaka Hut. As far as we can tell, though, there’s very little obvious track between the poles. It’s essentially a speargrass jungle, the drop is steep’ish at first, and a lot of care is necessary to avoid falling or slipping in a bad place. Even having reached the creek, getting down it un-scratched is a very difficult proposition. For the most part there is a goat track alongside the true left of the creek, although in places it’s easier to just try and walk in the thin creek. It’s very do-able but with the amount of dense scrub, it’s still difficult to imagine that this is any kind of officially sanctioned and current route. We do spot at least one shiny Department of Conservation orange triangle nailed to a tree some way down, however.
At 9.30am the route very suddenly opens up into quite a wide track and there’s no clear explanation for why until a minute later, when the side-creek from Rangi Saddle joins another side creek in the catchment, and they combine to form a new waterway that’s much easier to walk through. We briefly think we’ve reached the position of Waikamaka Hut and that it must be hidden in the trees, but quickly realise that it’s further down, and in fact it takes another 20 minutes to reach.
Waikamaka Hut is another hut managed by the Heretaunga Tramping Club. It’s a small hut with space for about 8 people on platform bunks. An old rusty gas lantern sits on the ground outside. Inside, a large sign announces “There is no hole! Please carry out”. Maybe it was left for nostalgic reasons, but this sign is a reference to the rather disgusting rubbish holes that many huts used to have outside, before the New Zealand government instituted rules to require that people carry out all the rubbish they bring in. Two packs have been left outside the door, but there’s no sign of any people nearby — they probably belong to a couple of people who’ve gone for a walk up the river. After a brief look around we get going at about 10am, walking east up the river towards Waipawa Saddle.
It takes 20 minutes to reach the junction of the river and the track up to the saddle. Personally I find it momentarily confusing, because from the map I was expecting the route to begin on the true right, but it actually leaves from the true left. This will be our last opportunity to gather water for some time, so we stop for a refill. All is quickly explained very shortly after we start to climb, and the track almost immediately crosses the creek near the edge of a small bluff some distance up the hill. If we’d missed the junction it wouldn’t have mattered, because we would not have been able to follow the river much further anyway. Over to the right, gushing water continues to gnaw away at part of the hillside, and meanwhile our poled route directs us over the thin back of an eroding spur. Clouds have come in by now, and as the short, thin ridge quickly opens into an easy, wide plateau just short of Waipawa Saddle, those ahead of me become hazy shadows in the mist. We arrive back on the saddle at 10.30am, not long after we arrived here yesterday from the other side.
It’s now decision time, because from here we have a choice of either going straight out the same way we came in, or of climbing the north-west shoulder of the saddle up and over Te Atuaoparapara and then onto Armstrong Saddle. I’ve never been up to Te Atuaoparapara before and although the climb doesn’t worry me it looks daunting on the map, full of bluffs in all directions. I’m assured that it’s fine, though, and after some debate we decide that it’s far too early in the day to go straight out.
The climb to Te Atuaoparapara from Waipawa Saddle begins very steeply, although maybe the up-side of this is that it’s getting the vertical part out of the way quickly. It’s only hindered by the fact that a large part of the climb is on scree, and I hate climbing scree because you can often go half a step back for every step forward. We start climbing at about 10.45, and are climbing on slightly more tussocky and more stable ground by about 11. The top flattens out for a while before reaching the spot-height of 1625, and at about 11.15am we wait there to re-group with some haze wafting over the ridges, but also with a fascinating view of the inner range of the Ruahines.
The ridge between 1625 and Te Atuaoparapara, which looks so bluffy on the LINZ map, isn’t too awkward to get along, although there are a few points where the best route isn’t clear and we have to figure out where to sidle around. The latter peak is only 62 metres higher, but It drops into a saddle before the climb, and once again the route is also largely scree, as if we’re somehow shoveling our way up a very large pile of small rocks. For as much as I enjoy it, I come out of this walk feeling as if people who cover it in the other direction and slide down the scree instead of having to grind up will getting a much nicer deal.
Te Atuaoparapara is the home of a crooked trig station that looks as if it’s half fallen over, and has certainly seen better days. It’s 11.45am and we stop for lunch. Glynne announces that it’s all down-hill from here. Well, down-hill and undulation. I glance around and try to see all these bluffs that are marked on the map in all directions from where we sit, but it’s difficult to pick them out. In particular, the wide smooth ridge leading out to the west looks easy to get to, but the map shows several bluffs in the way. Perhaps I’m not leaning over far enough as I can’t quite see what’s closest, but it also crosses my mind that the LINZ U22 map may have a small error or two. It’s probably me, though.
The route from Te Atuaoparapara to Armstrong Saddle is very strightforward for walking, but with the clouds hanging around the vicinity we need to confirm things with some navigation skills, as there are a few false ridges which we could follow accidentally. Ultimately after leaving the peak at 12.15pm, we coast along the tops for about 30 minutes before reaching the top of an un-named saddle about half way to Armstrong Saddle. It’s at this point that we have to search for a route through a wide patch of leatherwood, and it takes a few attempts. Once we reach the bottom, we can look over a few metres and see a nice track coming out, so we’ve probably missed the most obvious route.
Harry climbing out of the
At 1.15pm we undulate out of that saddle, and 5 minutes later pass a big sign indicating the turn-off to Top Maropea Hut. From here, we are on a much more heavily walked route, now between Sunrise Hut and Top Maropea Hut. Suddenly it’s all poled, and at 1.30pm we arrive at a tarn marking the track down to Sunrise Hut, not far below. Light rain sprinkles on the tarn, and I stop and watch for a moment. The route coasts along the tops for a short while, but eventually begins to drop and we reach Sunrise Hut at 1.40pm. Sunrise Hut is a big hut, and my understanding is that many people walk up to visit for the night, then go home again.
Light rain above Sunrise Hut.
I think that after we leave Sunrise Hut, everyone is finally ready to go home, and in comparison with the rest of the weekend, we’re effectively racing down the hill. The track is well graded, quite hard and bad for knees, too, and the switching back and forth to make a shallow gradient means it’s probably about 3 or 4 times further in distance terms than it needs to be. On the other hand, it’s nice to be amongst trees again. It takes 40 minutes before we reach the track junction leading towards the Waipawa River, which we followed yesterday morning, and another 30 minutes before we finally walk out to the road. The sky is overcast and it’s time to go home.