Rowena listening in to the 8pm sked
of the Wellington Mountain
Radio Service, Saturday night.
We started out on Labour weekend with a basic plan of staying a couple of nights around Studholme Saddle Hut, and possibly heading further up the main Kaweka Range during that time. Things didn’t work out that way. For the first time in a long time, at least as far as I can remember, we had three long summer days of sunshine, and ended up lazily following a loop around Kiwi Saddle and down Mackintosh Spur.
Dates: 22nd – 25th October, 2010 (Labour weekend)
Location: Kaweka Forest Park, Lakes Car Park.
People: Michael L, Rowena, Phil and me.
Huts visited: Kiwi Saddle Hut (0 nights), Mackintosh Hut (1 night).
Route: From the Lakes Carpark climb up to Kuripapango, then over the Kiwi Saddle Hut, and on to Kiwi Camp for Saturday night. Down to Mackintosh Hut for Sunday night, and out to the Lakes Carpark on Monday.
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Friday night was spent camping at a DoC campsite somewhere near the Cameron Carpark, shared with another group from our local Wellington tramping club, which were themselves intending to spend a couple of nights around Kiwi Saddle. There was really nice weather on Friday night, conveniently forecast to last for the entire long weekend, and I bivvied out for the first time in a bivy bag I bought some time ago. I woke several times during various stages of the nearly-full moon’s path through the sky, interesting enough to watch but also a shame as it’d have been nice to be able to see more stars. The clear sky ensured things stayed quite cold, and in the morning I found iced condensation on top of my sleeping bag. At least it brushed off, unlike liquid condensation.
Whilst packing up on Saturday morning I looked up, and the exit road from the camp was blocked by two large figures. At first I thought they were people, but they didn’t move like people and on closer inspection I could see they were horses. Kaimanawa wild horses, maybe? Very cool. I wandered over to take some photos.
Having pack up from our camp, we hopped into the van, left the other group behind and drove to the Lakes Carpark, making a small accidental diversion to the Mackintosh Carpark but realising soon enough. There’s no water here at the Lakes Carpark, but a sign a few minutes before the end is labeled as “water source” and points to somewhere off the road. If you’re on the way there it seems there’s an opportunity to fill up any bottles, though I’m unsure how lengthy-a-walk it is.
The Lakes Carpark leads off in three possible directions. Leaving here at 8.45am, we chose the middle track (towards Kiwi Saddle Hut), which more or less heads due west, then north-west straight up the hill, initially through a pine forest as an interesting change from the majority of New Zealand tramping, and eventually (but briefly) changing to what Rowena identified as a Kanuka forest. We were soon out in the open, hit by bright sunshine, on our way to the first major high point called Kuripapango (1250). About half way up we met the first other person of our long weekend, a lone hunter who’d walked up early this morning to sit on the track and scope out any possible deer over the valley to the south. He’d not had any luck today, but that’s also not always the point with hunting.
We sat on Kuripapango for a short while, then continued the clockwise walk along the Smith Russell Track towards Kiwi Saddle, with fantastic vistas towards Tongariro National Park, which didn’t really leave us for the entire time we spent on the tops over the long weekend. Despite the nice weather, some small splatterings of snow had resisted the heat, but nothing to cause any hazards. There’s an unofficial ground-trail leading off spot-height 1359 which we saw the top of, though it’s unclear exactly where it drops to… quite possibly a variety of places to the south-east, and I bet it’s used by hunters from time to time. The ridge-line is very eroded revealing a brown clay, and there also appears to be a huge problem in this part of the Kawekas with wilding pines, specifically Pinus Contorta, which is blanketing much of the tops and taking over from what should really be alpine tussock. For parts of the track leading towards Kiwi Saddle Hut, the side of the track has even been sprayed. At 11.40’ish we reached the track junction that leads down to Cameron Hut, marked by a giant signpost, and from here Kiwi Saddle Hut was only about 20 minutes further, much of which was spent cautiously hopping down a fairly sleep but wide open area eroding away.
As generally planned, we stopped for lunch at Kiwi Saddle Hut. A couple of sleeping bags were already inside, consistent with the first person we’d met having mentioned a couple of people ahead of us, but there was no obvious sign of where those people had gone. Within about 15 minutes a young couple walked up, down from Hamilton for the weekend, though from the west coast before that. They were mostly out for a walk but also had a rifle on the side. Soon after, two more people arrived on their own informal weekend out, and it was beginning to look as if Kiwi Saddle might be very crowded tonight if everyone stayed.
Having packed up in a fairly lazy way, we left Kiwi Saddle at around 1pm, back up above the bush-line into the weed-ling pinus contorta, although it was less obvious for a while along here. We paused for a few minutes to fix a waratah that’d fallen out — DoC doesn’t put asset numbers on these things to allow accurate reporting, so we figured we may as well hammer it back in ourselves. (More specifically, I complained out loud that there was no asset number, and Rowena made me hammer it back in myself. Crybaby.) Over the next couple of hours, we met four people out for a daywalk from the Napier Tramping Club (their trip is written up here), and we stopped and chatted for a while.
They mentioned they’d already seen three poeple on their way down to Studholme Saddle Hut, and suggested that rather than go there we could aim for a point just below the bush-line on the ridge called Kiwi Camp — a big dug-out campsite with a couple of water tanks, and also a small enclosed shelter. Apparently it was put up by contractors who are intermittently brought in to help control the wilding pines. By the time we arrived we’d virtually decided it was a good idea. Michael L in particular had still been feeling some effects of a cold the previous week, and on arriving I think we stopped and simply never got around to picking up and leaving again.
Two of the young people we’d seen at Kiwi Saddle Hut arrived a few minutes after we did. They also decided to stay and set up a tent, but before too long they’d headed down into the valley to try their luck with a little hunting. For ourselves we set up a couple of flies, and with the help of some wax from a couple of candles, started a small campfire in the nearby fire pit (below the massive pile of firewood that had been stockpiled). In time we managed to improvise a billy hook by bending a wire, and eventually used it to cook most of our dinner.
Rowena pulled out the mountain radio, set up the antenna and we listened in for a while. AT32, a group somewhere near Opotiki, was busy discussing with someone that a person in their group had with an injured knee ligament, but they didn’t try to request a resolution straight away, intending to wait for the 8pm sked later that night. (As an addendum, I’ve since discovered an online trip report for that exact Auckland Tramping Club trip.) Meanwhile we sacrificed the billy to be a black boy as we cooked our Beef Stroganoff over the campfire, struggling to keep the flies off at first until we were able to improvise a place in the smoke to keep them away. Rowena reported in as JG39 for the 8pm sked, not reporting anything except a great day, and we listened as AT32 requested assistance for their injured party member. Ultimately a helicopter was arranged to evacuate a person the following morning.
With another fantastic night, I bivvied out under a tree once again rather than head under a fly. The Moon was full and bright, and this time I think I had a much better sleep than the previous night. Sunday morning brought some more sad news over the mountain radio, with vague information about someone having been shot dead by a hunter, although details were sketchy. (It turned out to be this.)
We resolved to simply go to Mackintosh Hut, making it a cruisy day, but were still away at about 8.30am, quickly out of the saddle (and the bush-line), and standing up on Kaiarahi (1507) within an hour, catching a glimpse of Studholme Saddle Biv to the north along the way. The four of us stopped here for a while discussing what to do, despite a little wind, and eventually decided to wander down to the saddle and (with the entire day to waste) take a look at the various track options heading down to both the biv and the hut — supposedly they’re about a 15 minute walk apart.
The latest Topo50 maps show no specific tracks leading down to either Studholme Saddle Biv or Studholme Saddle Hut, but the (slightly older) Terramap indicates a track leading to the biv off spot-height 1408 (it’s poled because we could see the poles from a distance), and apparently another signposted track drops to the hut from Mad Dog Hill, on the far end of the saddle. We also found a signposted track that appeared to be leading off the rib about 500 metres south of spot-height 1408, supposedly also aiming towards the biv. We didn’t go down it in the end, just enjoying the sunshine on the top too much, and sat around for an hour. From a distance, we watched at least three people emerge from the hut and climb up past Mad Dog Hill to Kaweka (1724), and another person come down from the Kaweka direction, over the saddle and walk past us without spotting us lazing around 50 metres to the side.
At 11am we finally picked up and left, backtracked slightly and began to follow the Mackintosh Spur track down towards Mackintosh Hut. As soon as we were over the ridge, we entered a thick forest of wilding pinus contorta, continuing the theme of this noxious weed in the Kawekas. We pulled out a couple of small ones, but on the scale of things I doubt it made much difference. It was sad to see it taking over so much of the hill-side, but at the same time it offered a different experience from the usual New Zealand bush. The track through this forest is very well cut and, apart from one (possibly two) small rocky bluffs to climb around, is very easy and straightforward. Eerie cairns buried in the pine trees suggest that the area didn’t used to be like this, and was probably much more open and tussocky in past decades before the ugly pines invaded.
After 90 minutes and a couple of track junctions, we reached the bright orange Mackintosh Hut. It’s situated in a beautiful place in front of a swampy stream on a giant plateau of the spur. The hut has 8 bunks, lots of floor space, and lots of space under the verandah outside. Not that it was needed. We lazed around for another 90 minutes browsing the local hut literature, and also Friday’s Hawkes Bay Today newspaper that someone had recently left behind, but seeing an alleged 3 wire bridge nearby on the map, curiosity got the better of Rowena, Michael L and I and while Phil stayed behind to laze around in the sunshine, the rest of us set off towards the Mackintosh Carpark. This track leads SSW over the flattened spur’s plateau for 1.5km, but then suddenly drops 200 metres to the Tutaekuri River. Michael L didn’t appreciate the thought of climbing back up from this drop, so turned back at this point, but Rowena and I went ahead to discover that the 3 wire bridge no longer existed beyond some scars in a couple of trees. It’s been replaced with a fairly sturdy looking bridge with a handrail (but only one handrail mind you).
We took a few photos, then turned around back up the hill to Mackintosh Hut, where we found eight people whom we knew from another trampey club trip. They’d set up flies a short distance behind the hut, so it still wouldn’t be crowded in any way. They’d also found the very nice swimming hole in the creek just below the hut, although it was getting a bit late in the day. Rowena and I spent a while fighting with my GPS to figure out how to search the maps for the name of a Tararua hut we’d not been able to agree on some details of, and then Michael L and Phil showed up with some great Spicy Couscous for dinner. Yum. One more chap turned up, a lone hunter whose original hunting plan for the weekend had been ruined when his mate had a family tragedy, but he was out for a walk and possible hunt regardless.
Inside the hut just felt quite hot, and I dragged a mattress outside onto the deck, anticipating another clear, calm evening. Rowena copied me, and having early set up the antenna for the mountain radio to catch the 8pm sked, she configured it so she could listen for a while in bed and we learned more about the fatal spotlighting incident at Kaimanawa Road Campsite on Friday night. (She told me that’s the best way to do it.) We chatted with the huntey guy into the darkness for a while, then he went inside to bed and Rowena and I had our next visitor as the nearly Full Moon slowly rose above the trees on the far side of the swamp.
An adult possum with a baby possum on its back scooted past, giving the two of us some entertainment as we tried to get photographs. Something out the front, which later turned out to be a discarded instant soup packet, had gotten its attention. It wasn’t spooked at all by torchlight, suggesting it may have been familiar with people at this hut, generally not a good thing. We didn’t want it hanging around, and on discovering an arsenal of firewood and (especially) pine cones under the bench next to where I’d set up my mattress, a couple of near-target throws sent it scampering. The rest of the night was fairly uneventful.
Monday morning was yet another excessively sunny day, and we resolved to walk back to the Lakes Carpark with the other group, given we’d be sharing our transport with them anyway. It took a quick glance at the map, and only taking some lazy notice of the relatively flat parts of the route out (skimming over the steep drops and climbs around a couple of rivers) I probably deserved some of the ribbing I later got from a couple of others who’d for some reason trusted my description of the walk out rather than look for themselves. 🙂 All of us left at around 8.30am, back into the largely Pine weed forest from where we’d come, eventually turning off Mackintosh Spur to head back south-west in the direction of the carpark… which is generally a gentle coasty sidling track albeit for ongoing undulation, and except for the 150 metre drop into (and climb out of) Kaiarahi Creek, the 200 metre climb up towards Cooks Horn Basin (at the site of the old Kaweka Hut that burned down in 2003), and the 200 metre drop into (and climb out of) the Tutaekuri River. So yeah, pretty much flat I think, except for those numerous parts that aren’t.
At 10.30am we overlooked a feature of giant erosion, a large slip behind which we could see the distant carpark, but it was still some distance away. It was soon after here that we reached the second of those deviations described above, which leads north-west up towards Cooks Horn Basin to get over a creek, before coming straight down again, is ambiguous on the map. This all occurs at roughly NZTM BJ37 904405. My brand new Topo50 map simply shows a track continuing to head south-west after which it’s possible to turn up a track north-west towards Cooks Horn Basin. The older TerraMap doesn’t show this 200 metre segment of track at all, and instead shows two parallel tracks aiming up to the north westfor probably 800 horizontal metres, before the first crosses over to the second at the site of the old Kaweka Hut, and allows one to follow it down again. The second route is what we decided to take, because when we reached that critical turn-off point, the obvious and otherwise clear track continuing through the trees had been blocked off by branches, and a splattering of orange triangles made it very clear that the Department of Conservation wanted to tell people to go up the hill. So both tracks are there at this time of writing, but the very short one is at least presently blocked off for a reason that we didn’t feel inclined to run down and check.
I finally got wet feet—the first time in the entire weekend—at the Tutaekuri River. A few maps imply that there’s still a wire bridge here, too, but we saw no sign of it. There was no need under the circumstances as it was running very low, and anyone wanting to keep their feet dry was easily able to cross 50 metres further up-stream. From the river onwards, the track sidles steeply but steadily up-hill back towards the parking area. This zone is all pine forest which almost looks plantation, despite being part of the forest park. Rowena and I took guesses, wondering of DoC has a plan to perhaps fell it at a later date when the trees are a little bigger, then use the proceeds to try and fund more effective measures to remove pinus contortis from the rest of the park. However it works, if it’s ever done it’ll be really hard to do.
So with some lengthy stops along the way, we finally stepped out to the carpark at around 12.30pm, with still a generally clear sky above us to top off a calm and clear long weekend. It’s been a while. I hear the Tararuas were one of the few places in all of New Zealand to have had rain this weekend. 🙂