Normally I wouldn’t worry about getting muddy when sliding through a 30 centimetre entrance of a flapping tent fly at 1400 metres, but a moment of realisation hit when I began to piece together a continuum of past and likely future events which might prove a problem during the 5 overnight hours I’d have to get my gear clean and dry before checking into an international flight. Back to the beginning, though.
Dates: 21st – 24th October, 2011 (Labour weekend)
Location: Ruahine Forest Park, Masters Shelter off Mangleton Road.
People: Illona, Kevin, Amanda, Richard and me.
Huts visited: Aranga Hut (0 nights), Ruahine Corner Hut (0 nights), Ikawetea Forks Hut (1 night) (aka Ikawatea Forks Hut).
Route: From Mangleton Shelter up Golden Crown Ridge, around past Aranga Hut and 1406, 1407 and over Piopio to camp just below (next to tarns) on Saturday night. Then to 1503, north-west along ridge around 1370 to Ruahine Corner Hut. Across to 1234 trig over bluffs, north to 1206, then following taped trapping line north-east past 953 to Ikawetea Forks Hut for Sunday night. Straight up to Tauwharepokoru (1403) via marked track, then approximately following poled route past the road leading to No Mans Hut and south-west over Ohawai (1368) back to the top of Golden Crown Ridge. Then down to Masters Shelter.
[Download GPX] [LINZ Topographic Map in new window]
What better way to spend the long weekend of the Rugby World Cup Final than isolated in the second best mountain range for tramping in the world? I certainly couldn’t think of a better way, and it was easy to wing my way back to New Zealand for a few days and head into the Ruahines! I stapled myself to a trampey club trip being organised by Illona, with some personal goals being to bag more DoC asset numbers, and to keep my tramping gear sparkly clean for getting back into Australia.
Over three days we’d loop around through the high point of Piopio (1437m), Ruahine Corner Hut, and Ikawetea Forks Hut, and back to where we began. The route follows around the circumference of some private Maori settlement land at the northern end of the range. It’s mostly conservation land, despite some being outside the official Ruahine Forest Park boundary. Although we saw no signs to indicate as such, we discovered later that we weren’t certain if the entire route remains on public land, although the Walking Access Mapping System suggests there’s a marked DoC route across the sliver of private land at the northern end. Best to check with DoC to be certain in future, though.
Ready to leave from Masters Shelter.
We arrived at Masters Shelter, roughly west of Hastings, from about 11pm. There’s no drinkable water available at the shelter, only a stream that flows through the neighbouring farm, so we’d each obtained several litres of flavoured tap water from Carterton. A light drizzle arrived in the night, and when we left at 8am for the 800 metre climb up Golden Crown Ridge, the morning was providing a general greyness. It wasn’t too murky, though, to obscure the dampened scenes of the surrounding landscape with its reds and browns and greens of the dracophyllums and tussocks into which we were entering. I was relieved to discover that 10 months in the generally flat Melbourne hadn’t crippled me too much to reach the top. Until now I’d been mildly concerned that the only accessible up-hill I could find for preparation was an inconvenient fire escape stairwell. Not long after leaving, I realised I’d forgotten to search for my first asset number at Masters Shelter, a slightly demoralising beginning but at least I could nab that one on the way back.
Two hours after leaving, we’d reached the upstairs level of the Ruahines from where it’s often possible to skittle in all directions with little undulation. I bagged my first asset number for the long weekend at the track junction at the top, on the back of a DoC sign—DoC signs are a common place to find asset numbers. From this 1300 metre elevation we shifted from a bit of an up-hill grind into a coasty roll along the tops. I bagged a couple more asset numbers as we ignored a route left south towards Parks Peak, and our first main stop (for lunch) was Aranga Hut. It’s an old Forestry Service hut, now in private hands (as part of the settlement deals), though there’s nothing on the hut to indicate this. Sadly it’s fallen into serious disrepair, with vandalism and holes in the wall. Someone’s hung a bright new clothes line across to the door, and there’s a shiny 10 cent piece taped to the wall for some reason, but the mattresses that remain are disgusting. We hid from the drizzle for lunch, but nobody wanted to put anything on the floor. I replenished my water from the tank, despite most of the gutter that feeds it being busted, but only after shuffling up the hill to check there aren’t any dead possums or snakes or crocodiles on the roof.
I was resigned to finding no asset numbers at Aranga, with it no longer being a DoC hut, and nearly missed bagging the number on the back of the nearby sign that pointed towards Kylie Biv. The sign had a digit which recurred 3 times in a row. It was a 5!
We continued over the generally flat plateaus in the muted shallow ridges of the northern Ruahines, passing a small trig that marked an otherwise undistinguishable 1406m high point, through a saddle to 1396m, over to 1407m, and across to the 1437m high point of our weekend (Piopio) to see a sprinkling of leatherwood. During this time, we contemplated maybe visiting Kylie Biv as a reprieve for the overnight weather, or even pressing on to Ruahine Corner. An assessment of how people were feeling combined with uncertainty about the camping outside Kylie Biv led us to decide that the original plan was a better one, thus at the next significant tarn we reached—at about 3pm and about 500m beyond the high point—we created a small campsite for ourselves.
At least, we tried to create a small campsite. Illona and Kevin discovered that the pole on their borrowed club Huntech fly was snapped, and I found that the pole on my own borrowed club Huntech fly was missing the knob thingee that lets it fit through the eyelet on the fly, and that the fly itself was missing a couple of the plastic attachments for pegging it to the ground. Only Richard and Amanda had a fully-working fly—and they’d brought their own. Fortunately we were able to improvise, despite the non-ideal conditions in a moderate drizzley wind in an exposed place 1420 metres above sea level.
Damp conditions meant that it wasn’t great for walking around outside. Also as two of the three flies had been set up with a low profile, which is what you get when people are too cool to use walking poles, it was difficult to slide in and out a 30 cm gap without disrupting the pegs. Richard and Amanda improvised by dismantling Amanda’s pack and using part of the frame, and I leeched off their effort, but in the end I’m not sure it made much difference. We had a yummy but generally anti-social dinner from each other that evening, with Illona cooking a vegetarian quinoa and pomegranate molasses. It was about the time that I was thinking I should pull my fly pegs out again by sliding out, and volunteer to do some dishes, but my luck prevailed as I heard neighbouring Illona volunteer Kevin for the task.
With a light southerly, we’d set up the Huntech flies facing with the backs directly into the wind as is manufacturly recommended so the air will flow over them. I woke at about midnight to the angry melody a fly rattling noisily in the light southerly as it sucked the fabric upwards whilst flying over the top. I found this mildly disturbing, mostly because I wasn’t confident in how well I’d pegged it, even though I’d ensured the three most important pegs which bear most of the pushing force from the wind were well in. I really hadn’t considered the sucking upward force on the pegs at the other end.
I convinced myself things were okay until I woke again at 2am, by which time the aerofoil effect was gone, and instead the wind was just pounding the already low profile and sopping wet fly straight down onto my sleeping bag, fortunately surrounded by a bivy bag in my case. Instead of a light southerly, there was now a moderate northerly, and the flies were set up facing completely the wrong way. I learned a lot about the aerodynamics of Huntech flies that night.
For all its annoyance, the low profile was seeming to help. At least, I’m assuming the profile combined with the static bubble of air inside was the main thing that prevented the wind from simply sliding underneath and scooping the thing up from the front. Some time after I woke, I heard Richard up and about a few metres away, “heroically” re-hammering some pegs. The memory’s a blur but I think in my concern for destroying my own fly’s fragile structure with a reckless act such as crawling outside, I instead tried to avert my guilt by making conversation. I don’t remember him offering much chatter in return.
The dark night eventually rescinded to another murky morning when I scraped together a cold breakfast, donned decent storm gear, packed everything except my groundsheet and fly, and sat crumpled inside the cramped arch of a cocoon that was slowly deteriorating as it was pressed heavily from above, waiting until Illona, Kevin, Amanda and Richard had done the same. Sliding out was a muddy activity, not conducive to keeping my gear sparkling clean, but once outside it was clear that the wind wasn’t as bad as it’d impressed. The fly had been pulling hard against the three forward-facing guy ropes all night, and they’d held well enough. Amanda and Richard had also suffered a similar angry-fly effect but without bivy bags now had a couple of damp sleeping bags to show for it.
After a speedy grab and run exercise to collect the final bits, the five of us were away again just before 8am, continuing to a mushy plateau of tarns before turning more north-west-wards to find a couple of signs that confirmed our way towards Ruahine Corner—the sign half-buried in a leatherwood bush wasn’t in DoC’s database. The route took us slightly down into more dracophyllum and eventually fern-covered landscape, before eventually, by 11am, climbing to the big plateau where one can find several more DoC asset numbers and Ruahine Corner Hut.
Ruahine Corner hosted a couple of hunters down from Auckland. They’d flown in a few days earlier, but had preferred to sit inside the hut with the cosy fire than spend any time outdoors. The hut is a cute standard forestry service box, though earlier this year some helpful DoC employees have dressed it in a deck and veranda to fit the latest fashion trends. Supposedly most people fly in, and there’s an airstrip outside, but it’d be very accessible by foot with a long day for reasonably fit people and not much stopping, certainly from Masters Shelter. We exchanged greetings, I photographed the hut’s number inside the door, stopped for lunch, and they gave us some loose directions for finding a warratah-marked route through the clouds and tussock to the 1234m trig across the plateau, which was about where we wanted to head.
This is the furthest north I’ve been in the range. It feels different from the southern end which (whilst still allowing one to cruise around the tops all day) has sharper and narrower ridges. In contrast, some of the ridges we’d already encountered here are a good 500m wide on top. The topo maps don’t show many close contours around the plateau north of Ruahine Corner, but there’s still a shallow landscape to circumvent. Active navigation and wayfinding can be a significant part of the journey, especially with the weather we experienced.
We pushed our way through the tussock, first to the furthest 1234m trig, then along the tops of the bluffs to 1206m, under which we sat snacking for a little while as the sun desperately tried to break through the clouds. The bluffs indicated on the maps aren’t all big cliffs so much as a series of overhanging rocks, which provide several places where it’s possible to scamper down between with no technical skills. Illona had good information about a trapping line from spot-height 1206 down to Ikawetea Forks Hut, and it worked. Not far inside the bush-line, there’s a left-to-right line of orange markers which looks as if it’s there to catch people no matter where they slip in as long as it’s roughly below that point. The line leads to the top of a trapping line that’s been marked to death with pink tape nearly all the way down the spur towards Ikawetea Forks Hut. We followed it to a little gully just west of the hut, where we dropped down to Ikawetea Stream on a steep route. This led to our first significant river encounter of the long weekend, with the hut somewhere on the far side. Not knowing exactly where to look, Kevin and I checked up-stream slightly, and discovered a messy steep track that could be uncomfortably clambered up with the help of some tree roots. It led to a heliport, and from there we found Ikawetea Forks Hut, and also the much more sane route we could have used if we’d followed the river in the other direction.
Nobody was home at Ikawetea Forks (DoC Asset 43453) when we arrived, but a couple of hunters had left some things. We couldn’t tell if they’d be back that evening or not, but arriving became a relief because we weren’t in a completely good state. Amanda was still feeling unwell, and Illona had copped a rock on the back of her leg during the last steep drop down towards the river. It was when all our gear was spread outside, desperately trying to dry under the cool shallow sun, that I looked up from frustratingly scraping the mud from my un-sparkly gaiters, and saw the two hunters stumbling awkwardly through thigh-deep water. I waved and smiled, trying not to give an impression that they’d have a full hut tonight. They’d been away for three days, were due to fly out the next day, and (so they said) had successfully crawled back with 50+ kg packs full of meat. As a 7-bunk hut, there was enough mattress-space inside even with the five of us. The two chaps were locals from Hawkes Bay. They were happily chatty enough so we learned more about local routes in this part of the range, and they tried to pass themselves off as vegetarians when Illona’s curry-laksa meal came out—at the chef’s directive nobody mentioned it was tofu. I snuck down to the river a few times that evening. It’s a nice place. My turn for dishes.
We woke on Monday morning and evidently the world hadn’t realised that this Monday was a holiday, because the sun was allowed to come through nicely. Keen on not getting home too late, we were away soon after 7am, waved goodbye to the hunting chaps (one of whom was heading up behind the hut for a final outing), hopped across the river, and began the second 800m climb of the long weekend, though it’s really only steep for about the first 500 metres and then it shallows out before the final upward jump. I frustrated myself trying to figure out where I was with the modern LINZ Topo50 maps. Most of the Ruahines had improved representation in the Topo50 world, but this particular area crosses the map boundary between BK36 and BK37, and for people like me who didn’t bother to print out a more convenient hand-held version, the trip included a lot of trying to compare maps side-by-side. We heard 4 shots from across the valley during our ascent, so maybe the guy was topping off a very successful outing.
About 2.5 hours into the day, having emerged from the bush-line underneath the mighty Tauwharepokoru, a famous 1403 metre peak of the Ruahines, we stopped in the morning sunshine for a few minutes, relaxed in the make-shift tussock-laden couches, and gazed north-west toward the lesser snow-sodden hillocks of Tongariro National Park.
From here it’d be a straightforward walk around the circumference of the tops. The route is mostly well marked with a combination of waratahs, foot-trails and 4WD tracks, though could be exposed on a windy day. We were momentarily lost when trying to follow waratahs early-on, I think in the sludgy muddy area around Ikawetea which we later discovered is private land, albeit seemingly with a DoC route marked through it according to the Walking Access Mapping System (WAMS). There was a mediocre wind, which I took advantage of by sequentially hanging things out to dry off the back of my pack, and it worked well. Only one climb along this section is notable, which is about 100m up towards spot-height 1314 shortly before returning to the top of Golden Crown Ridge, where we arrived about 6.5 hours after we’d left in the morning. All that remained was to get back down the hill to where we’d begun, another 90 minutes, bringing the Labour Weekend to an end, with 16 distinct asset numbers documented.
I was too anxious to search for an asset number on Masters Shelter, which I’d forgotten about on Saturday morning, to remember to wash the mud off my boots as I passed the farm-tainted stream at the end of the day. I couldn’t find one, either, which was mildly annoying, and the muddy boots left me with a tougher scrubbing job later that night. Fortunately it seems you have to argue with Australian biosecurity people to get them to bother to check your gear, and I lost the argument.
- DoC Asset 068223: DoC sign at 3-way junction at the top of Golden Crown Ridge.
- DoC Asset 089428: DoC sign #1 at ground-trail junction south-west of Golden Crown Ridge, pointing between Parks Peak Hut and No Mans Road.
- DoC Asset 089429: DoC sign #2 at ground-trail junction south-west of Golden Crown Ridge, pointing towards Ruahine Main Range.
- DoC Asset 068555: DoC sign outside Aranga Hut, indicating route towards Kylie Bivvy (“4 hours” away).
- DoC Asset 084765: DoC sign on flat 1.5km south-west of Piopio and slightly north-west of spot-height 1503, indicating route west-north-west towards Ruahine Corner Hut, Waikatore Biv and Colenso Hut. (Note: A second sign pointing towards Lake Colenso and Ruahine Corner Hut that’s up-lifted and lying on top of a Leatherwood Bush does not have a DoC asset number. Naughty naughty.)
- DoC Asset 084290: DoC sign #1 on junction between track and ridge south of Ruahine Corner Hut, pointing along “Ruahine Range via Main Range Track”.
- DoC Asset 084764: DoC sign #2 on junction between track and ridge south of Ruahine Corner Hut, listing directions towards Ruahine Corner Hut, Potoe Trig, Waikatore Biv and Colenso Hut (via Potoe Creek).
- DoC Asset 084293: DoC sign east of Ruahine Corner Hut, at edge of flats, pointing towards Waiokotore Bivvy, Main Ruahine Range and Colenso Hut.
- DoC Asset 084119: DoC sign outside Ruahine Corner Hut, pointing towards Main Range and Colenso.
- DoC Asset 042582: Ruahine Corner Hut. (Note: This asset number plate is marginally dirty under some cobwebs as of 23rd October 2011 and could use a scrub.)
- DoC Asset 043453: Ikawetea Forks Hut.
- DoC Asset 068542: DoC sign across river from Ikawetea Forks Hut, directing between Ikawetea Forks Hut and No-Mans Hut. (Note: The DoC sign spells Ikawetea as “Ikawatea” on this sign and elsewhere, which is inconsistent with spelling by Land Information New Zealand.)
- DoC Asset 068553: DoC sign east of Tauwharepokoru (1403) that directs between Shutes Hut, Ikawetea Forks Hut and No Mans Hut. (Note: The DoC sign spells Ikawetea as “Ikawatea” on this sign and elsewhere, which is inconsistent with spelling by Land Information New Zealand.)
- DoC Asset 089127: DoC sign outside Masters Shelter, pointing up Golden Crown Ridge towards the Main Range, Parks Peak Hut and No Mans Road.
- DoC Asset 089137: DoC sign 100 metres from Masters Shelter, indicating border of Ruahine Forest Park.
- DoC Asset 089129: DoC sign on gate on farm-land near Masters Shelter, indicating direction towards shelter and requesting that people please close the gate.