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Tramping: Smith Creek to Tutuwai Hut Easter overnighter

Tramping: Smith Creek to Tutuwai Hut Easter overnighter

  • Date: 31/03/2018 – 01/04/2018
  • Party: Larry & D
  • Night location/s: Tutuwai Hut

Kaitoke to Tutuwai Hut

Easter is the last combination of balmy weather and public holidays for many trampers; plans are set to travel far and wide. We had these plans too, but end up going overnight to Tutuwai Hut in the Tararuas instead.

We set off at 11:20 from the Kaitoke Scout Camp. Easter is a chaotic time, and the carpark is full; we park beyond the ‘NO PARKING’ signs along the road. D’s done a bit of tramping but is borrowing gear, and I am testing a new Ultralight pack from Aliexpress – so we decide to go small.

You can’t miss the well trodden Puffer Saddle track, and we climb from 250m to 460m relatively gently along slippery clay. Efforts have been made to help here with steps and gravel, but even then with the light rain we are slipping and sliding. Gorse pricks. We pass the intersection with Marchant Ridge at 11:55 (25min roadend).

Dropping, we edge down the clay to Smith Creek (300m, 12:50, 1.5hrs). We pass a family with dog, having left Tutuwai. They tell us of track deviations, and that the old track crossing the slips is much better than the detours.

Wee firepit by Smith Creek

Wee firepit by Smith Creek

From here, we skirt the western edge of Smith Creek for another two km,  reaching Smith Creek Shelter at 1:50pm (2.5hrs from roadend). At one creek, the track deviates; large DOC markers indicate to head further up-stream and up the cliff. With advice in our ears we follow the ‘old’ track. This has us cross a couple of active slips – no worries at all – maybe it’s a health and safety requirement for DOC on such a trafficked route.

Fallen tree in one slip. Didn't take photos of all of the slips, they wouldn't get a mention in gnarlier trips

Fallen tree in one slip. Didn’t take photos of all of the slips, they wouldn’t get a mention in gnarlier trips

Quite permanent detour marking; the lower is still easier.

Quite permanent detour marking; the lower is still easier.

Smith Creek Shelter, not scary at all



Smith Creek Shelter has some pretty brilliant duraseal wallpaper; maybe it deters youthful vandals! (and a longdrop).

We have a bite to eat, and two hunting parties descend on us. It is ‘The Roar’ at the moment, where bucks throw caution to the wind and bellow their presence, looking for love. Hunters get out en-masse, hoping to give them a bullet instead. That’s partially why we chose Tutuwai; it’s a big hut, popular with trampers – I figure hardnut, blood-soaked hunters will be elsewhere.

The walls pulse!

The walls pulse!

Heading north along flat plains, there are plenty of nice camping spots. We arrive at Marchant Stream, the biggest catchment on this track. A single wire has been strung across, to aid those escaping the valley in higher water. A pair of keys is tied to the wire – a fine place to try and reunite an owner! We fuddle about, crossing, not for fear of being swept away, but fear of wet socks.

Marchant Stream

Marchant Stream

Action shot crossing Marchant Stream

Action shot crossing Marchant Stream

The bridge over the Tauherenikau river is surprisingly robust, and we cross to the eastern bank.

Bridge over Tauherenikau River

From here the track just follows next to the river, along old floodplain or raised sections of bed – never along the river itself. We stroll along, having good yarns and contemplative silences. Unfortunately D thinks about sitting on a couch reading her book instead of trudging through the rain – never a good idea!

At one point, a very slippery slope has been made easier with wire and rope. Thanks, whoever did that!

Rope-aided slip

Looking toward Marchant Ridge

Across another great camping plain, we climb up to Tutuwai hut, arriving at 5:30pm (6hrs). From photos online it looks like it’s on the river but that is not so.

There’s a family of three here, with a young retriever who is not fond of beards. I forgot to take photos inside, but there’re two ‘bunk sides’, kitchen with running water tap in the centre and a fireplace – sleeps 20, and has two toilets – fancypants.

Tutuwai Hut

We have a lovely night eating our two days worth of snacks in one, before deciding to squeeze a dinner in too. Other parties arrive, a large group tired and sopping, fresh from a howling descent from Alpha hut and others. There’s plenty of room.

We take off early, leaving at 7:45am.

Morning view from Tutuwai Hut

The return is the same as the entry, but without the rain, much more enjoyable!

Photos do no justice to an early morning steaming stream

Michael Bay eat my lens flare

Nicer this morning, above the rope-cliff

Bumbag Chic

Bumbag Chic

Glimpses of Kaitoke farmland from Puffer Saddle

We were out at 2:30pm, a bit quicker than yesterday. Great time, great company, given me plenty to think about – just a bugger we got out on Easter Sunday so were unable to procure a celebratory bevvy.

Pack Review (3F UL, 950grams, $80NZD)
If you’re curious about my Aliexpress Pack’s performance, as a 0.9kg pack is quite seductive next to my 2.5kg regular, it needs a little work to see if I can tweak its weight distribution. It’s frameless, using the folded foam sleeping pad as the pack structure, and that is too long for me. The weight of the pack transfers beyond the hips to the base of the foam, right into the middle of my butt. By the end of this trip it was quite uncomfortable. I’m going to shorten the foam some and see if that puts the weight on top of my hips rather than below them, and if that doesn’t work do some other butchery before rejecting this experiment. Aside from this critical shortcoming, it seems good for an ultralight pack; the side pockets are huge (I crammed a 1.5litre and a bottle of wine in one), the little hip zippers are useful, and it fits everything the other does. Build quality seems good.

Larry's a 30-something chap interested in tramping, being a dork and changing the world via less boring training.

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