Daywalk: Dobson Loop via Smith Creek Shelter

I’ve had a lot to do in the past few months. Not having had much of a chance to get outdoors in this time I’ve felt as if I’ve been missing out on some good summer tramping. I guess, at least, if you are going to miss out on good summer tramping, then the time around February, March and April is one of the best times of year to do it. It’s not without a good excuse, though. Stacey, my girlfriend, was happily married last month. This has meant much running around both before and after. I was fortunate enough to have been invited to the wedding, and it worked out really well. Certainly one of the nicest weddings I’ve attended.

Lack of getting outdoors has been catching up to me over this time, though. A couple of weeks back, I got bored and went for a 30+ km walk around Te Kopahou Reserve and the nearby coastline. It helped me recharge a little, but was still fairly suburban, and so most recently I’ve been for a daywalk into the Tararuas.

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Dracophyllum near spot-height 656.

Date: 18th April, 2010
Location: Tararua Forest Park, Kaitoke Road End.
Route: Start at Kaitoke, walk to Smith Creek Shelter (via Puffer Saddle), then up to spot-height 656 and back to Kaitoke via the main Southern Crossing track.
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I’ve never entered the Tararuas at Kaitoke before, just north of Upper Hutt, and I’m unsure why it’s taken so long. I think I considered it once, but was put off by the prospect of leaving a car overnight at the Kaitoke road-end, which has a reputation for being very insecure. In retrospect it’s usually possible to leave vehicles at the Kiwi Ranch Youth Camp, not far away for a nominal fee, and there’s even a connecting track up to the main route of Marchant Ridge. This time, given it was a daywalk (and also a Sunday), I figured it’d be okay to just leave the car parked on the side of the road for a while, and it worked out okay.

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Hard, often slippery clay near Kaitoke.

I left the car at about 9.45am or thereabouts, taking the first 10 minutes to walk up the unsealed road to where I probably should have parked but didn’t. From straight inside the park gate, the track remains quite hard on the feet around here, and it wasn’t long before I felt some painful rubbing on the back of my heels. In hindsight I’m starting to regret my decision to have bought a pair of cheap Scarpas, which seem to have made very little progress towards wearing in, despite a lot of wearing. I think perhaps I bought them half a size too small, and I can’t get into socks of the sort of thickness that I should really be wearing with these boots. Oh well. I probably should have stopped and taped up my feet, but couldn’t be bothered.

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Young Rimu.

A further 10 minutes and I passed the track junction where I’d need to choose between heading up Marchant Ridge, or on to Smith Creek Shelter. I hadn’t known exactly where I wanted to go as I left, or even how far I’d get, but had at least made up my mind to start by aiming for the shelter (so I’d at least get somewhere well defined) and then assess my options, choosing between continuing to Tutuwai Hut, heading up and back around the Dobson Loop, or simply coming back the way I came.

The track from here heads around Puffer Saddle, then drops to the true left of Smith Creek as it flows towards the north-east aiming at the Tauherenikau — one of the major rivers to come out of the Tararuas. The track itself along here generally stays under trees, and although it’s not right alongside the creek it’s never far away, and there are a collection of minor side creeks. There’s one notable detour (well signposted by DOC) that’s put in place due to a slip. I didn’t bother to check out what sort of slip damage it refers to, and once climbing up a short distance the detour is fairly flat and not much extra effort at all.

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Smith Creek Shelter.

At 11.30am I reached the junction with the track up the side of the ridge to spot-height 656, but for now at least kept going literally just one more minute to Smith Creek Shelter, where I stopped for some lunch. The shelter itself isn’t exactly the nicest place to have lunch on a sunny day. It’s more or less a hut, even with a sleeping platform for maybe 6 mattresses, but there are no mattresses and there’s no glass in the windows and there’s no door. Unfortunately the shelter is close enough to the road that it’s more vulnerable than usual to vandalism, and I guess this is one reason why these kinds of comforts have been removed.

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The Tauherenikau.

Anyway, having pulled out a map and done some quick measurements, I decided that if I wanted to get to Tutuwai Hut and back, I’d most likely be walking out in the dark with my torch and it probably wouldn’t be terribly interesting either. I made up my mind to stick with the Dobson Loop, and in turn this would mean I could be quite relaxed about the whole thing, so I ended up wandering out through the trees to the Tauherenikau to kick some water around and enjoy it for a while. It’s a very nice river, especially in the sunshine. From about 12, a couple of other people wandered up on their way back from Tutuwai, and after a quick hello I waved goodbye and started up the hill.

The track up between Fell Creek and Canyon Creek climbs about 450 metres to SH 656. Getting up hills is something I quite enjoy, and getting away from the flat was some good relief for my heels for a while. I stopped for a few minutes on the way up, picking out a few birds (a North Island Robin, and either a Kaka or a Kereru… probably the latter), and 45 minutes later I reached the thinning trees. It’s not a land of tops at this height, but the trees thin out into a Dracophyllum sort of region, allowing for the sunlight to wash in and regular sights out to the sides. In the distance, a helicopter buzzed around — apparently part of a Search and Rescue training exercise due for the weekend within the Eastern Hutt and Tauherenikau catchments.

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Views from the ridge.

At 1pm I arrived at the junction with the main track down Marchant Ridge, near this end of the Tararua Southern Crossing. For a few minutes I tinkered with the idea of searching through the bush to bag the nearby spot-height 705, but all I found for my few minutes troubles were caches of old roofing iron hidden in the trees. I couldn’t quickly find any obvious places where people had pushed through so I stopped short of going too far.

So my loop walk continued with another 80 minutes of casual strolling along the ridge, including 10 minutes to simply sit and listen to the surroundings. I think this walking up to and along the ridge was the much nicer part of the day, plus romping around in the Tauherenikau for a short while. All of these certainly beat the prospect of another long flat walk through the valleys, which I’m not terribly fond of. I reached the initial junction leading back to Smith Creek at about 2.20pm, with just a further 30 minutes back to the car.

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