Post-lockdown, I put an ‘easy 5hr days overnight loop’ on Meetup and to my delight a bunch of familiar faces and a lovely new one come along – Mike, Nik and Marco. We get rolling from Wellington around 7am and head over to the Wairarapa to enjoy some winter tramping.
Marco is somewhat new in town, and pauses mid-sentence to say ‘wow’ as we cross the Rimutaka pass at sunrise.
We trundle on to Mangatarere Valley Rd, passing heaps of cool alternative living situations along the sparsely farmed valley before pulling up and getting to tramping up Carrington Creek at 9am.
Crossing the neat pine-tree bridge, we head up the old logging road some distance to the forks of Carrington and its neighbouring eastern tributary. Its much easier going than last time I’ve been here – seems someone’s running trap lines in the last few years.
We reach the forks where I stuffed up my route finding last time. I am determined not to do so again, so it is a bit embarrassing when Mike notices we’re heading uphill without being on the eastern side of the creek! Someone has freshly cut a track to somewhere here, so we backtrack a ways. Across the creek, we don’t make my old mistake again – we head up the eastern tributary, following the pink markers. Crossing the stream, the track goes both left and right. Left (downstream) is marked by a tui bottle on a branch, and right has a pink ribbon. I go with pink ribbon, not seeing my expected ‘timber slipway’ in the Tui bottle direction.
400 metres of incredible mud and very pretty stream views later when the trail starts climbing the eastern bank of the creek, we realise the trail was probably the tui bottle. “We could just go up this ridge instead?” I offer. The team has none of it. We squelch back and gain the Carrington ridge route, and from there it’s an easy wander up the ridgeline (though the track comes and goes and the pigs are still wreaking havoc).
Someone’s done a lovely new sign for the old Gentle Annie Saddle Junction.
We reach Gentle Annie and at the forks to Totara Creek, we decide to take 30 minutes to see if we can find Pig Flat Hut, a tarp-walled shitbox below Mountain House somewhere. We head off and are probably so close but our 30 minutes are up so we head back. I’m so proud of ourselves for doing that, being responsible chaps and sticking to our light-preserving rule despite the curiosity.
Lunching at the helicopter clearing, we head back down and toddle south on the Totara Creek Track. None of us enjoy the first half, it’s just a well-trodden, root-stepped creekbed really. But the second half is beautiful with the bed of ferns beneath massive trees. Marco hasn’t visited the Tararuas before and remarks on the quiet. “It’s amazing we can just hear the river and nothing else”. It is with a little shame that we explain our stoat and rat situation, the sorry state of our silent forest.
After two months off, our knees and backs begin to grizzle as we make it to Totara Flats, which we get to 7.5hrs from the car. I had advertised 5 so Nik thanks me for pushing him beyond what he wanted to do, which is a nice way of saying ‘wtf dude!’
There’s a bunch of neat folk at Totara Flats. Some couples, a nice hunter on his third night unfortunately without a deer despite the absolutely savaged saplings around the place, and a group of girls with chaparones. On the wire bridge, looking down on the Waiohine River, we had decided there was just no way we’d cross it tomorrow. But the girls tell us about a good spot they found where it only reached knee deep opposite Sayers Hut, so we put the river crossing back on tomorrows plan.
Nik rests his weary legs and produces three beers he brought to share with us, which earns him MVP for the trip, though Mike’s driving and shared route-finding is a close runner up.
With welcoming company that’s quite quiet, our weary and cold backsides decide to stay in the hut instead of camp out as we had intended. It gets pretty cold overnight so it’s not a terrible plan. Nik sleeps outside anyway and has a wonderful sleep, Marco sleeps through anything and also has a restful sleep, whereas Mike and I felt we lay awake for the full 10 hours of ‘being in bed’. But I’m sure we didn’t – or at least I heard Mike hadn’t, and I presume he heard I hadn’t!
In the AM we head off at 8:15 or so and cross paths with our yet-again-unsuccessful hunter pal returning from a failed final shot on the open grassland of Totara Flats. We crunch through the frosty grass and enjoy the changing views as the rising sun pulls mist from the dew.
Smelling burning wood, we spot the creek marking Sayers Hut location and head upstream a small way to get to the crossing identified by the girls. Sure enough it’s knee deep and crystal clear – a rather cold but safe crossing!
At Sayers Hut there’s a European couple and a Kiwi lady who I suspect is part of LandSAR, given her great knowledge of interesting bits of old track. She had meant to cross the river yesterday but didn’t find a good spot despite it being directly infront of the hut, so she’s a bit miffed and unbelieving of our easy crossing, despite our shorts all being dry! In my head I thank lastnight’s teenage girls again, for assuring us of a nice easy time of it this morning.
We climb up from 200m to 772. It’s hard going to start with with a lot of treefall and pigs having made mincemeat of the trail; I lose it and follow pig ruts for a bit before regaining it early on. After that it gets pretty again, with ferns and kidneyfern and a few little riflemen and what have you in the morning sun. A beautiful crisp and still day, we couldn’t hope for better tramping weather.
Up top we lunch before the nice view spot, me having forgotten it existed until I saw the little trail. We spot a couple of ‘old trails’ for potential exploration another time as we head down. It’s a steep descent, hard on the knees – and the mud is fairly slippery, it would be diabolical directly after rain!
We cross the creek, finish on another bit of old timber road, then off down the road proper to the car. Groaning our achievement next to it, the neighbour comes out for a nice yarn about where we’ve been and answers a few questions I had about this gorgeous valley.
Driving home, I point out the Rimutaka incline to Marco. He shows no interest. Mike gives him a prod – he’s sound asleep.
A magic trip to get back into it, beautiful bush and great laughs with wonderful company on a loop that has bits of every kind of Tararua trail. A great intro for Marco and a reminder to Nik, Mike and I of how much more to explore we will always have in the towering Tararua range.