Extended Trip - Thursday 16 February 2017 to Tuesday 21 February 2017 (6 days)

You’ve got to admire a good name. And standing there in the murk staring up at those jagged spires with their steep drop offs and no apparent way across, this one seemed particularly apt.

Broken Axe Pinnacles

Broken Axe Pinnacles. Pinnacles definitely, every chance of a broken something if you put a foot wrong, and I’ll take their word for the axe bit.

The Tararuas are just great for names. There’s two sets of pinnacles and a Pinnacles Spur, and peaks called Mitre (which I see is "a tall headdress tapering to a point front and back with a deep cleft between") and Arete ("a thin, knife-edge ridge of rock separating two valleys") to fire the imagination and quicken the pulse.

But it’s with their knobs they really shine - they’ve got knobs everywhere! Concertina, Flaxy, Angle and Shingle Slip were all on our radar. Then there’s Conical, Square, Pyramid, Dracophyllum, Butcher, Shoulder, and many more.

The Tararuas don't seem to do easy ……..

A range full of names of pointy peaks and knobs rather speaks to the terrain, doesn’t it. This was my first trip into the Tararuas and I quickly learnt that thousand metre climbs and descents and jagged ridges are the norm, and even short stretches on well used tracks down a river are likely to be tortuous and slow. The Tararuas just don’t seem to do easy.

But I digress.

My quivering apprehension beneath the Broken Axe Pinnacles was on day 5 of our week in the Tararuas. We’d left Auckland at 6am on day 1, got to the Holdsworth road end and sashayed up Gentle Annie before heading down the slippery, root-covered top of the Totara Creek track. Here Andrew’s makeshift manuka pole succumbed and deposited him rather unceremoniously earthwards. The result - bruised ego, bruised ribs, painkiller regime from then on.

After a couple of hundred meters descent the track then threw a left and meandered along a gentle ridge through superb bush before dropping like a stone to the creek and depositing us at Totara Creek Hut before dark.

Day 2 was scruffy, drizzly, raincoats all day. We headed steeply up and then along Cone Ridge, then equally steeply down to Neil Forks Hut for a welcome respite from the rain. That 750 up, 600 down was the warm up, now came the main event - another thousand meters up. We chugged up to Concertina Knob in 2 hours, caught our breath, cursed the loss of height down to a saddle and grunted our way up to the bushline.

Maungahuka tarn

Out in the open the wind increased the higher we climbed and when the wonderful Maungahuka hut and tarn finally appeared out of nowhere in the mist in the most unlikely of settings, it was a most welcome sight.

The strong nor’easter and driving rain gave way to a grand sunrise on day 3 and with clearer skies we headed north along the main ridge in fine spirits. We were treated to tantalising glimpses of distant ridges and peaks and a momentary view back to the famed Tararua Peaks (mesmerizing and majestic, but downright scary!). Up down, up down, Simpson, Wright, a tiring slog up to Aokaparangi. All three of us were feeling the effects of yesterday’s efforts and there was a lot more huffing and puffing than we would have liked.

The obligatory slippery 1000m descent to the Waiohine followed, through tussock initially then interminably down the bush spur. At the river the track threw a few curveballs, taking us up and over slips and in and out of gullies when it all looked so straightforward on the map.

Mid Waiohine Hut

Our plan for the day had this as the entrée, the main course being another of those 1000m climbs and a couple more hours along the ridge to Jumbo Hut. A quick conference reached an unsurprisingly unanimous decision that Mid Waiohine Hut would do us for the day and we’d save the other planned delights for tomorrow.

So imagine our smugness a couple of hours later as we lay comfortably on our bunks unable to hear each other talk due to the din of the rain on the roof. Good call!

Day 4 saw us luxuriate with a later start and by the time we broke out of the bush we’d already met a runner heading over to Aokap and back for a training run (they really are from a different planet). With the rain having passed (for now), the clag from the peaks occasionally clearing to open up wonderful views, and very pleasant tops travel, today was a blast.

Climbing Mt Holdsworth

We took advantage of a sunny break for an early lunch on Isabelle, before climbing up to Holdsworth and heading north. Looking over to Angle Knob and Shingle Slip Knob from pt 1367 we figured it too deserved a decent name, so it was promptly christened Dumbo Knob. Wonder if it’ll catch on ....

That resolved, it was on to Jumbo, and then the short descent to Jumbo Hut for the night.

The forecast was for clearing weather next day, but it wasn’t to be and the hoped for good views didn’t eventuate. So it was back up to Jumbo and along to Angle Knob, careful to take the right ridge in the clag, past the tarn and to the turnoff to McGregor Biv. This prompted a quick reccie as McGregor Biv features in a planned future trip this way, and our luck was in as the mist parted for a brief moment to reveal a resplendent orange blob sitting calmly there below us at the bush edge. Thanks Hughie!

On up to McGregor and then on to ... those pinnacles. Where I digressed. And where we almost digressed onto an inadvisable, only semi-possible sidle before we figured out the track went elsewhere. Probably not a good idea digressing on the Broken Axe Pinnacles.

For the record, heading north it’s over the top of the first two and then the well-marked sidle around the third. As someone who is

dodgy on exposed terrain, I found them a bit scary but doable. Wouldn’t like them in strong winds though (shudder!).

On Baldy - where the ‘ell are we?

From here it was up towards South King before taking the spur down to Baldy. In whiteout conditions on open tops, good navigation was required, and it was fun foregoing the GPS in favour of map and compass and counting steps.

Good ground trail following and intermittent pole/marker spotting led us into the bush and our final steep bush spur descent of the trip, then down to Atiwhakatu Hut.

Day 6 saw us up early, out to the car in a couple of hours, and heading back to Auckland with the best weather of the trip. Oh well.

This was an excellent trip in some great Tararua country, challenging but not too onerous, where the worst of the weather missed us and allowed us some handsome views at times.

We wer - Margaret (the Bloodhound) Law, photographer, ground-trail sniffer-outer extraordinaire and chief cobweb buster in the bush; Andrew Murdoch, leader, navigator, mentor and chief Tararuas enthusiast; Dennis Brown, author, driver, the glue in the middle, and ATC reigning Taihape gumboot throwing champion with a magnificent, swirling, discuss-style heave of ... well, not very far actually.