- Date: 21/04/2018 – 22/04/2018
- Party: Rachel, Mae, Julia, Jeff, Catherine and Larry
- Night location/s: Tutuwai Hut
Meetup has a tramping group I joined a while back to connect with more trampers. The only problem is most trips are often fully booked – so I put my hand up to organise some myself. This trip is my first Meetup lead. Our intention was to walk the Southern Crossing, but the weather and last minute logistics directed us here instead – a blessing!
We convene at Waiohine Gorge at 12pm. Some know each other, most don’t; it’s an awkward start while we get to know each other a bit better over lunch.
At 12:45 we cross the bridge and climb toward Cone Hut, up Cone Saddle. It is a brutal slog from 160m to 400m or so which has us all questioning our fitness, before mellowing out around 600m. The howling gales scream overhead – we can’t hear each other from metres away but the trees keep the wind above and the rain doesn’t reach us.
At 2:30 we reach the first turn to Cone Hut (1hr 45 from roadend). We clamber down, reaching the other end at 3pm and Cone Hut at 3:10 (2.5hrs from roadend). On the way we encounter a woman with a teenager. She watches gruffly as we pass her, then scurries past in great haste – we assume to beat us to a bunk.
She needn’t have bothered; we arrive to a full hut. It’s a far more charming location than photos do justice; the hand-axed wood of this historic hut has physically etched the history into it (1943). What a pearler; to visit another night.
We don’t loiter long, moving off to the river flats of the Tauherenikau River. We pass campsites aplenty – I smell a summer tenting expedition!
At 4:20 we pass the turnoff for the Omega track up to Marchant Ridge and Alpha. Five minutes later we arrive at Tutuwai Hut, empty for now. We descend upon it.
We occupy the East Wing and set about having a great time. Some burnt rice is enjoyed courtesy of the foibles of my billy, but it doesn’t ruin a delicious tuna curry. We lighten our loads of wine, chips, chocolates, jerky, soup, everything. We eat up a storm.
After that, Mae produces her dessert. I was expecting some custard, or maybe some Lindt balls or something. She produces a family sized chocolate cake, icing and whipped cream! Champion!
Later parties arrive and are good company. The cake wins all over.
In the morning Jeff chats with one. ‘How was your sleep?’
‘Bad – that group playing games kept me up’
‘Inconsiderate bastards’ replies Jeff, the secret instigator of said games.
We leave Tutuwai at 08:40, promptly climbing 650m in a kilometre. We take a more leisurely pace today, plodding along, enjoying the beach forest and views. Julia ditches her boots for rubber socks of some description, and leaps about the forest like a dryad.
Near the top (900m) the forest clears to alpine bush, and we can see views of Marchant Ridge, Alpha and Hector etc behind, as the passing cloud permits. It’s a beaut – we bask in the windless sun.
We arrive at the summit at 10:15am (1.5hrs from Tutuwai). Just behind us, great views of the Tararuas – before us, amazing views across the Wairarapa. There are a few small camping spots up here; what a spot for a special night when the weather’s right. We even get cellphone reception – what a drag.
I have a quick look around for a track along the ridge here connecting the Cone Saddle to this summit – no dice.
We stop for a snack, enjoying the sun and our luck with this weather!
At 11:45 we reach the turn for Coal Stream (3hrs from Tutuwai).
A sign warns us the bridge has been removed. The main path is the Woodford Road (or whatever it is) track – my trusting followers begrudgingly allow me to lead them into the wild and overgrown route of the ridge down to Coal Stream. I thought it might be better than this – it’s a real mess but great fun. I love it, a real ‘stop at each marker to spot the next one’ trip. The track is no longer maintained by DOC, but some champion has marked the route with yellow markers; between those and the various historic markers (DOC round tin ones, pink or white tape or white rectangles) we toddle along no worries. And these less-travelled tracks are just the shit, I love it.
The only thing to note is that there’s a Coal Stream loop track here. At one point the yellow markers point both right and left, but don’t tell those coming down the ridge it’s a loop track. So we’re not entirely sure where we’re coming out, until we meet up with the yellow markers again quite some time later.
As we descend to Coal Stream the track drops like the bass. There’re not many options here, it’s a scramble to the stream, and if it were in flood you haven’t options to edge along the sides or anything like that – you’re straight in it. Fortunately it is not up and we splash through, happy to know we have only 300 metres back to the car, which we reach at 1:20 (4.5hrs from Tutuwai).
Soon we are changed and taking lunch in Featherston. What a great little loop, great company, no-one died, a success all round. I’ll host another tramp again soon.