«The expedition route – from Mangahao No. 1 Upper Reservoir to Kiwi Ranch Road, Kaitoke Like all good adventures, it had begun with one wild idea. ...»
Dates: 26th of December 2015 to 2nd of January 2016
Trip Members: Carmen Chan, Toby Jackson, Blair Ramsdale, David Zeng, Sophie Jenkins, Finn
The expedition route – from Mangahao No. 1 Upper Reservoir to Kiwi Ranch Road, Kaitoke
Like all good adventures, it had begun with one wild idea. The Tararua Ranges for many AUTCers have
long been spoken of in the passing. Known for its infamous mist and wind it is described as the ‘birthplace of tramping’. Yet, due to the cost of unleaded gasoline, distance had meant that many of us had still to tramp its rugged paths. It was on one particularly wintry night at Auckland University that the decision to rectify our absence was addressed, and over two hours of discussion a plan to traverse the spine of the Tararua Ranges was born. How did this happen? Well, life is brief. After searching up the region, we were blown by the beauty of the peaks.
Six months transpired and the generosity of the FMC Youth Expedition Scholarship found six young trampers ready to attempt a traverse of the ranges in December 2015. Starting from the Mangahao Number One Upper Reservoir in Shannon, we spent one week tramping along the Tararua Range crossing the major peaks and ranges en-route to Kaitoke. Journeys create unique opportunities to learn about a new place, and also ourselves. All virgin to the range, the Tararuas challenged us to overcome personal challenges, develop our teamwork and communication skills and similarly expand our outdoor experience. The region was rugged, wild and beautiful. Below, we welcome you to read through a tale of our journey as we walked eighty kilometres from 2015 into the New Year of 2016.
26th of December 2015 – Day 0 We had decided to bus down. On the outlook, it had appeared the most economical option and a ten hour journey from Auckland, an adventurous dip in Lake Taupo and a stay overnight on a dairy farm in Levin (courtesy of the Langton-Burnells) had meant that the adventure had begun long before we had strapped on our packs.
The Tararua Ranges As the bus rolled into Levin, the spine of the Tararuas loomed expansively into the distance. How wrinkled it looked! It seemed as if some God had scrunched up a tapestry and had left the ranges furled outwards. Thin veils of cloud embraced the crags in its wisps, and amongst the blue it looked deceptively peaceful.
27th of December 2015 – Day 1 We were dropped into our start point by Ian and Ben Langton-Burnell after the morning milking. With this family’s generous support, we were able to navigate the metal road to start the expedition at the Mangahao Number One Upper Reservoir. Starting at midday, we spent the first day tramping along the Mangahao River to make our way deeper in the range. The route follows the river closely, and while relatively flat on the map, it deceptively crosses one to two contours to create to create a unique medley to tramping and clambering through beech forest and streams. Most striking were the natural tree bridges which were incorporated into parts of the tracks that we were to cross. Covered in moss, stalking up those trunks felt like walking across the Bridge of Terabithia. With every step, we were brought deeper into the heart of tramping.
That first day collectively took us six and a half hours to walk eight kilometres. This came as a shock. Our initial plan had been to hike sixteen kilometres to Te Matawai Hut, and thus our first team discussion involved convening at Mangahao Hut to re-evaluate our tramp plan and travelling speed. How did we err on our estimates? Should we continue onwards or spend the night here? We decided to stay at Mangahao for the night and start earlier the next morning. Based on our current group speed, we would be able to make it back on track with planned destinations by the third day with some additional early starts. Also, how could we not spend the night when Finn was so enamoured by the two large mountain cabbage trees poking outside of the hut door?
28th of December 2015 – Day 2 The second day of tramping was one of the most challenging days in this expedition. This was not only in covering terrain, but also in group communication and teamwork. We started out of the hut at 7:00am and spent a subsequent twelve hours on the route until reaching the two-bunk Dracophyllum Hut at 7:00pm. Contrary to the infamous Tararua weather, we had been treated with a strikingly stunning cloud-free sky and the ranges looked pristine as we ventured up the spine. The first four and a half hours of the morning took us to the junction leading towards Te Matawai Hut. The group had split tramping up the range from Girdlestone Saddle and so we decided to lunch at the junction as the sun arced towards midday. After eating, we took the opportunity for a water refuel at Te Matawai hut to prepare for hotter weather. The heat was beginning to build.
It took us a total of three hours to tramp the two and a half kilometres to reach Pukematawai and the Arete. Three whole hours. The sun had reached its zenith and with heat reflecting over the range and the lack of tree coverage, we had found ourselves stopping every three hundred metres of the climb in order to prevent self-combustion from the heat. The group regathered at Pukematawai to plan our next steps, and it was decided that we would push onto Dracophyllum, but would send two faster individuals ahead as a ‘safety measure’ to restock on water and meet us in the opposite direction while the main group continued onwards. David also taught us a trick that he’d picked up from the military about hydration and advised that we only that ‘sips’ of water and to drink only once relatively cool after stopping for few minutes. This would prevent water loss from sweat. Aware of the sun, we slathered on more sunscreen and worked to stay hydrated. Throughout that day, each person drank on average three to four litres of water.
Our decision to tramp along the spine of the Tararuas meant that we had expected to be exposed to the elements. Heat exposure is not an unusual phenomena, and careful management would prevent us from suffering from heatstroke. That evening, after rehydrating ourselves and settling into the cosy two bunk venue of Dracophyllum we sat down and debriefed about the day – highs and lows, and similarly, aspects of what happened as a group that we could improve upon to make it a better tramp in the days to come. Each as seasoned trampers, it was a challenging conversation to have – especially when we individually had a broad range of background experience and a number of complex excursions under our belts. It was ultimately a fruitful experience with the group coming to a consensus to meet at sign posted meeting points, to adhere to a ‘boots on’ time every morning, and to similarly renegotiate the weight of packs to improve upon group travelling time. Every group is different, and with the formation of a team – especially the meeting of experienced individuals to achieve an ambitious goal, the stages of forming, growth and development must inevitably ensue. The Tararua Ranges was pushing us to each redefine our tramping experiences, and with this we grew collectively as a group in strength with every step and every discussion.
29th of December 2015 – Day 3 The third morning had us pre-emptively hydrating ourselves with water and departing at 6:10am to do the bulk of our tramping out of the afternoon sun. The morning was still, and the podocarp leaned over in their wizened fashion as we walked into the lightening sky. We clambered above the treeline and once more, presented to us were jagged ridges striking against a darkening palette of azure. It was absolutely breath-taking. The air was still as we climbed along the peak towards Puketoro, past Kelleher and walked up to Nichols soaking in the rugged expanse along the range tops. Our travel times improved and we arrived down at Nichols Hut for an early morning tea. We met a hunter there – Dave, who tramped in for a fortnight and was planning on ‘having a good time’. He let us borrow his scope and we could spy our destination for Day Four – Maungahuka Hut nestled snugly as a pinprick in between the Tararua Peaks.
Following our morning tea (turned into early lunch), we climbed up along the Te Araroa and summited Mt Crawford. While pausing for a second degustation, we soaked in the views towards McGregor and The Three Kings before descending towards Junction Knob and down towards Anderson Memorial.
Despite the arid weather that had outlined this summer, we had looked out for - with much hope - the cooling waters of the tarn marked boldly out at 1226m on track and prior to the hut. Alas, under the blazing sun all watering holes en-route were bone dry. Walking brought us into Anderson Memorial Hut at 3:00pm just as the heat of summer kicked in again. After an afternoon of further feasting on carrot cake, we debriefed about the day’s event and established that an early morning start had helped us to avoid some of the afternoon heat, and that conscious hydration and set ‘break points’ had enabled us to effectively traverse the range while sticking closer as a group.
I am slightly confused as the group silently get up and walk outside of the hut towards the range. I go searching for them five minutes later and find them standing to watch the last rays of the Sun sinking over the Marlborough. Pink streaks of light spill over the ocean and the horizon is lined with an indiscriminate yellow, white and blue. The beauty of the relentless peaks hold me in their grip. To think that you can see the Kapiti Islands and the South Island from the peaks on which we are standing...
30th of December 2015 – Day 4 Four days into the tramp, and slinging on boots early into the morning had been established into our norm along with the silence of our sunset viewings. Once again, we were treated to the fortune of pristine weather conditions and found ourselves tramping along the Kahiwiroa and up towards the Aokaparangi with avian clear views towards Mt Holdsworth and Waikanae. We traverse Wright and Simpson prior to midday, ascend up towards Maungahuka and arrive at Maungahuka Hut in time for lunch. Walking up the ridge line and spotting the hut revealed two surprises: One - the view of the Tararua Peaks ladder, and Two - a water filled tarn!
Looking towards the Marlborough & Kapiti Island
31st of December 2015 – Day 5
Day five saw us waking at 5:00am to the hush of mist and veil of rain. The weather systems had predicted a low, but not severe enough such that a traverse of the peaks would be impossible. We gathered briefly for a group discussion and prior to starting out, ran over the route, key landmarks and decided to stay within visible sight of each other over the mist. One group member had misplaced a rain jacket and we crafted a wind cover from a black plastic bag to protect him from the wind.
The ascent of the Tararua Peaks was both an adventure and a challenge. It was finally the time of reckoning and we held true to the teamwork that we had developed over the six days as we navigated over the increasingly rocky terrain down towards the peaks and up the ladder. A carved pathway led to jagged rocks, and gradually this shifted into chained regions of track. Visibility was down to ten metres and as we snaked our way along the ridge, we found occasional shelter from the wind behind sheltered parts of the tussock.
The Peaks were breath-taking. Traversing them in the mist only served to compound their beauty as the weather drove us to band closer to each other and the land. With each step, we grasped each surface of the range, peak by peak we conquered the slopes and with the strike of each footstep and howling of the wind, each mountain daisy and vegetable sheep appeared astounding in its tenacity to survive on its slopes. That morning, we traversed the McIntosh, Yeates, Vosseler, Boyd-Wilson Knob, Bridge Peak and Hut Mound.
We arrived at Kime hut at 12:30pm in time for lunch. Being young people who have undergone many days of mountain climbing, we subsequently ate for two hours and spent the afternoon recuperating from the feast. A German couple would later walk in in at 2:30pm to find all six young trampers snoring in sleeping bags. We decided to spend the night at Kime as we re-evaluate the group situation and weather over the upcoming days.
The Tararua Peaks in mist – Sophie Jenkins, Toby Jackson
“That night, we make our familiar march out onto the range to watch the sun sink over the edge of the Earth. The rain had left the skies a clear pearly white and the Marlborough looked now even closer as the horizon turns red. As we gazed upon the dying rays of the year, the silence from the group spoke of how each of us had navigated another year in our young lives. Is life not an adventure? So much has happened. How much has changed! Was I the same person that I was one year ago?
Probably not.” We were outside for a long time that night. All the way until we spotted moving stars greeting the New Year. How magical it was to be spending this transition along the Tararua Range. How beautiful it was a place to be.
1st of January 2016 – Day 6 The weather forecast had predicted a significant weather system approaching directly over the range on the 2nd of January. Due to the absence of a wet weather jacket and the high risk of being caught along the ridge in bad weather, we decided to boost our tramping and make only a quick stop at Alpha prior to tramping directly to Hell’s Gates to Te Tutuwai.
The tracks closer to the Southern Crossing were predictably smoother, and we started the morning with a leisurely ascent up Mt Hector to the Memorial Cross. Following our summit, (and to the probable shock of all podiatrists) Toby attempted to demonstrate the usage of minimalist footwear by walking to The Beehives in his infamous tramping jandels. They snapped on the sandstone after half an hour. To the bemusement of the entire team, a traverse of Atkinson, Aston and Alpha and descent of Alpha Hut by Toby was subsequently completed in barefeet. Apparently it’s all about ‘where you position your legs’.