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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.
[Photos [2]]
[Download GPX [3]] [LINZ Topographic Map in new window [4]]

This post is a trip report. You can find other trip reports about other places linked from the Trip Reports Page [5], or by browsing the Trip Reports Category [6].

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 [8], 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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12 Comments (Open | Close)

12 Comments To "Daywalk: Dobson Loop via Smith Creek Shelter"

#1 Comment By Robb On 20 April, 2010 @ 4:09 pm

Kia ora Mike,
Much enjoyed this virtual walk with you. Great photos which I am greatly poring over absorbing the details. Thanks for the inspiration.

#2 Comment By Mike McGavin On 20 April, 2010 @ 5:39 pm

Thanks Robb. It was a nice little loop in the scheme of things, and certainly gave me a few ideas of other things I might like to look up in the area.

#3 Comment By Doug Bowker On 24 October, 2010 @ 10:59 pm

The Smith’s Creek track was originally a beautiful horseriding track from Kaitoke sidling up to the saddle and then continuing right up the Tauwherenikau Valley, over Cone Saddle, past Totara Flats and through to the Holdsworth carpark. In the pioneering days it’s how you got to Masterton from Upper Hutt. There was talk in the 50s of putting a road through.

At the near bottom of Canyon Creek was Tauwherenikau Hutt version three – could take 40 on boards, had a horrible long drop on the edge of a big swamp. Smiths Creek hut, a couple of minutes away, was a three storey affair in the 50s, became a single storey shelter and then a two storey hut again. I’ve seen horses tied up to railing outside the original hut as I knew it.

The Canyon Creek track up to the now gone Dobson’s hut broke out of the bush at the top, dropped into a small gulley before climbing a short distance to the hut. At the bottom of the gulley is the main fault line that runs through from Wellington and I “enjoyed” a few rattles in that hut.

I have walked that loop starting from Smith’s Creek hut in the dead of night taking two trampers back to Dobsons and having to walk the long way back because my carbide lantern gave up the ghost, getting pelted by large hailstones in the process.

I think you now drop down from the Puffer Saddle to Smith’s Creek on Joe’s track and not the original horse track that became extremely eroded due to the increasing popularity of the Tararuas. Joe’s Track for years was a well kept secret and was cut by Tararuas pioneer Joe Gibbs.

Finally, it was nothing to see 20-30 deer within a few yards at the bottom end of Canyon Creek and piles more on the way up to Dobsons. There was virtually no undergrowth because of them which could make sighting the track extremely difficult. Marking the track with rocks all the way is how we solved it. The same problem existed with the Block 16, Omega and Bull Mound tracks.

#4 Comment By Mike McGavin On 30 October, 2010 @ 9:45 am

Hi Doug. Thanks very much for the background and history. The walk described here is the only opportunity I’ve had to visit that end of the range, at least south of about where Cone Hut and up towards Bull Mound. I hadn’t realised the route was so frequented in the past, but it makes sense when thinking about it. I guess before the Rimutaka Road went over, there would have been few ways between Wellington and the Wairarapa without trains.

It was interesting to hear more about Smiths Creek Shelter, too. Right now it’s been stripped of glass and anything except the very basics. Unfortunately I think structures so close to the roads are quite prone to vandalism.

#5 Comment By James Barwell On 15 January, 2011 @ 8:05 pm

Thanks for the report Mike. Was very useful to read on the walk when we needed a bit of guidance on whether to continue of go back. An awesome track, really enjoyed walking along the ridge, its quite varied and easy going.

#6 Comment By Mike McGavin On 18 January, 2011 @ 12:26 pm

No worries, James. Thanks for the feedback.

#7 Comment By Ashley On 22 November, 2011 @ 6:26 pm

My first time tramping was in the mid-1960’s (about 13yrs-old). It was an overnight trip to Dobson’s hut (Friday night) with a morning “hike” up to Marchant Ridge without packs which were left at Dobson’s.
Several memories from that trip: being “pushed” along by group leaders (I was never all that fit); fitting about 18 teenagers + 4 leaders into a 16-man hut which already contained 4 people when we arrived late at night, therefore half the group was sleeping on the concrete floor – some with feet almost into the large fireplace; one adult leader, having got everyone bedded down for the night proceeded to blow up a lilo after teaching us that lilos were far too heavey and NO-ONE was to pack one (I have no recollection of where he lay it to sleep on!); the wonderful view from Marchant Ridge before it clouded over; and sledging up there on our new parkas – we just crouched on the edge of a slope and threw ourselves backwards holding legs & feet as high as practical. As I recall, I only visited Dobson’s hut 2-3 times more but I reckon I could still draw a reasonable sketch of the hut.
I seem to remember being told that “The Puffer” (track) was so-called because it took up almost half our tramping time. The only carpark in those days was at the very bottom and the puffer was so rutted in places that even a 4WD would have found it difficult to climb.
Wonderful memories.

#8 Comment By Mike McGavin On 6 December, 2011 @ 1:08 pm

G’day, Ashley. Thanks for the story. I bet the 4 people who were there got a surprise. 🙂

Was Dobson’t Hut, which Doug also mentioned, about where the current track junction is, east of spot-height 705? ( [19].) If so it’d explain the old roofing iron that was left obscured in the dracophyllum near there.

#9 Comment By Ashley On 6 December, 2011 @ 1:26 pm

Oh wow. A “current” map.
Sorry Mike, I couldn’t say for sure unless I can unearth my old maps (& no idea off-hand where to start). I haven’t been up there for MANY years.
I’ve only been up that track once since Dobson’s hut was demolished and even then it was a guess as to where it was for sure.
Your suggestion LOOKS right – I seem to recall a slight (if not definite) left turn in the track where the hut was but I don’t recall another track down to Smith’s Creek at that point.
Surely there are some old maps around that will show the hut???

Another memory; Playing a game of cricket down on Totara Flat by the river on a large-group day trip hike.

#10 Comment By Mike McGavin On 20 December, 2011 @ 12:45 am

G’day Ashley. Yeah, “current” maps are all the rage in this day and age! They’re often lacking interesting detail though, unfortunately. 🙂 I’ll keep an eye out next time I find an older map. There’s definitely some old corrugated iron or building material or something lying around near there, hidden in the scrub a couple of metres from the common track.

You mention playing Cricket. Last year a friend and I (mostly the friend) were trying to rally together some highland games at Totara Flats ( [20]). It didn’t work too well… it ended up raining and the peasants just wanted to sit around in the hut yabbering to each other. We couldn’t find anything decent enough for a caber toss. Maybe next time. 😛

#11 Comment By Ashley On 5 February, 2012 @ 4:08 pm

Hi Mike
Sorting through some old boxes over christmas, I came across one of my old Topo maps; NZMS 1 Rimutaka N161. 2nd Edition, 1968.
This map was printed with Imperial heights and contours.
On this edition the contours were not printed above map reference latitude 00 50 (53 on the map that you gave a link for – approx. Latitude 41 degrees 035′).
This is just below where Dobsons hut was and the tracks appear to have been adjusted slightly at some of the bends and/or corners (though this may just be the map-maker’s reading of the contours).
However, as near as I can tell, Dobsons hut was at the junction that you suggested, or extremely close but slightly higher up the track towards Marchant Ridge.

If there is some way to add an image to this forum let me know and I’ll scan that small section of the map and post it for you.

I possibly have a slightly later edition somewhere with all of the contours printed but if so it is in another box somewhere. (I also had a couple of the “Tararua Forest Park hunting maps but again, they have not surfaced yet. They were more centred on the Marchant-Tauherenukau area of the Tararuas so had more detail).
Again, if I come across either of these maps I will attempt to scan them and post a better image for you.

Of further possible interest is another track; Just down the track from Dobsons to Canyon Creek the track runs up over a lower peak marked as 656 metres. Just down the track from there the map seems to show a sharpish right turn.
From approx. that point, the track used to continue almost due East down to where Wiersma Stream meets the Tauherenukau River.

My map also shows where Allaway Dickson hut was sited. it was of course, printed before Tutuwai hut existed, but shows a loop track from the site of Tutuwai a little way way up the Mt Reeves track and coming back down to where Reeves Stream meets Tauherenukau.

#12 Comment By Mike McGavin On 10 February, 2012 @ 12:55 am

Hi Ashley. Thanks for the further info. I’m afraid I can’t (easily) figure out how to enable any kind of image posting within comments in the near future. If you want to share any interesting scans then I’m more than happy to upload them so they can be linked to. (My email address is [21].)

That said, another kind reader has very recently (3 days ago) sent me a low resolution scanned copy of a 2nd edition 1950 1:100000 NZMS57 map from the Lands and Survey Department. It appears to show Dobson’s Hut about where you describe, and also Allaway Dickson Hut for that matter. I’ve uploaded it so that you can [22].

I’m thinking that when I have a moment, I might set aside a section of this site for collecting scans of old maps. There’s a wealth of interesting information in them.