Easter Weekend Trip - Thursday 24 March 2016 to Monday 28 March 2016 (5 days)

Photo Gallery - Christine Major

Photo Gallery - Feiyan Zhong

Photo Gallery - Gareth Facer

Photo Gallery - Ming Lo

Photo Gallery - Assorted by David Holl, Rob Worley, Tony Walton


Our trip plans for the Kawekas were well subscribed, with 18 participants spread across 4 parties - at least, that is how we started out. A long trip, and with insufficient bus drivers, five cars were required for the journey to Kuripapango and back again. Various departure times from Auckland, and with a crash mid afternoon just south of Papakura, there were some very slow trips along the southern motorway for some, despite all attempts to leave as early as possible to escape the Easter rush.

Most vehicles arrived at the Cameron carpark by early evening, with tents popping up soon after, in anticipation of the forecast heavy rain. And being a tramping club, a mandatory inspection of all tents as they appeared, and an assessment of how efficient the owners were at getting them erected.

A pleasant warm evening with no rain - all is well - hang on ... we are missing Gareth’s vehicle. By now dark and most people hit the sack, with Dennis and Tony waiting up on the road to ensure the campsite was not missed. But the missing trampers did not appear that evening, and were not there in the morning, and after a 10km drive to cellphone reception it was learnt that Gareth’s car had given up all attempts at mobility near Napier, and the group were in Napier with a dead car on an Easter weekend.... wondering how to get home

So now the parties were reduced to 14 - David Holl (3), Dennis (4), Andrew (3), and Tony (4). Andrew and David’s parties left directly from Kuripapango, while Tony and Dennis’ parties drove around to the Lakes carpark. From here, the story is taken up by the respective parties ....

Andrew Murdoch - Medium Fit, with Willie Williams and Rob Worley (scribe)

Andrew and Willie

... a slightly delayed start up Kuripapango and back into to cloudy mists we were wondering about the weather forecasts. A welcome lunch break and a cuppa at Kiwi Saddle Hut made all the difference (for a short while at least) then the climbing just continued all day in the misty and wet clouds. Up past the plastic hut at Castle Camp to Studholme Saddle up the never ending Mad Dog and the final climb up Kaweka J - in the cold mists one could only imagine what the views would be on a fine day!

Then the long slow climb down the ridge to Back Ridge Hut with the occasional view. Also promises of a hot cuppa at 1800 helped with the pain in my knee but the timing was a little out but we made the hut by 1900. Practised my reverse fire lighting and we were all very comfy and warm and even managed to dry most things out to a degree. I realised that I was probably not up to thrashing my body for another 9-10 hr day and had to advise Andrew and Willi of this.

Saturday morning arrived all too soon - Andrew had revised our plan and we would go over Back Ridge and down to Kiwi Mouth Hut. This would shorten our day considerably and make it that much more comfortable for me . This track was a real pleasure following several ridges lots of beech forest and relatively easy going but still a good 6 hour tramp. I won’t say what we did for the next 90 mins but it did feel bloody good!. (Come on - you can tell me, other people don’t read these trip reports anyway - in excited anticipation ... Ed) Then we heard voices and whoopees and were joined by 5 lovely ladies from Turangi and WLG - they were expecting to have the hut to themselves!!! So we got the fire going and all had a very pleasant evening swapping tales.

Sunday. After a very pleasant 90 min return trip down river we were just in time to advise the ladies that the river was still too high for safe travel and we were now doing the lovely 600 climb up above the hut. They were most grateful for this timely info as they were just about to head out . It was certainly a grunty climb and I vaguely remember from the distant past thinking this was one I would not do again! But once up the top the weather was fine and the views spectacular and then only another 100 meter climb before a rather nasty 700 meter descent down to Cameron Hut on the river edge. We did the gentlemanly thing by camping and let the ladies have the hut - such an easy decision as it was a lovely starry night. It was great to see Gareth and Ming turn up later in the afternoon and we all sat outside eating and talking till well after dark.

Easter Monday. Down river with lots of foo foo valve crossings and even higher for Ming! Even though the water was relatively warm there was still a chill factor in the air for most of the morning but this was a very pleasant 5 hour river trip which got progressively easier so we made Cameron car park around 12.30. A fitting end to a great weekend. My learnings for this weekend was that the mind may stay forever young but the body doesn’t! Many thanks to our Leader for his great navigation and SOH whippings or no whippings................

Dennis Brown (scribe) - Medium Fit, with Dave Best, Margaret Law, Fay Zhong

Day 1 Friday

The Lakes Carpark to Ballard Hut, 8.45 am - 5.15 pm, 8½ hrs

"Well the front seems to have passed so we might just have a fine day on the tops."

Yes, well ...

An hour into the day the clag came in to somewhat dampen our optimism. A further hour and the drizzle proceeded to dampen everything else. So our 1600m of climbing and 15 km of exposed travel along the tops rewarded us with zero views and generally no more than 50 m visibility all day. Ah well, them’s the breaks.

Kaweka Track Junction sign

Our route took us up Rogue Spur, over the Tits and Kaiarahi, down to Studholme Saddle, up Mad Dog (steep) and then the high point Kaweka J. On the positive side, it wasn’t cold, and there was very little wind. Somewhere we stole a lunch break, but generally kept ploughing on in the mist. On to Whetu, a left turn and then the slippery 200m descent to Ballard Hut. A pleasant surprise to find a refurbished hut, even more pleasing was how easily we got the fire going and how quickly the wood burner dried out our clothes.

The day’s highlight: my introduction to mountain snowberries. Juicy, sweet, delicious. Generally delivered by our indefatigable, team super plucker - thanks Fay!

Day 2 Saturday.

Ballard Hut to Otutu Hut, 8.10 am - 7.10 pm, 11 hrs. 1200m ascent, 1200m descent, 18 kms.

"Great that we got our hardest day done yesterday."

Oh dear ...

Any illusions that today might be better weather-wise than yesterday were ruthlessly dashed minutes after emerging from the shelter of our bush-edge hut. Clag and drizzle - déjà vu all over again.

Dropping into Tira Lodge, our first stop of the day, a hanging deer carcass caught our attention. And as the young hunter regaled me for the 3rd time with the story of his conquest, my thoughts turned to the relative weights of a lightweight tramper’s swag and a freshly gutted stag. He’d hauled his prize a vertical 200m up the track where we’d laboured under our minimalist loads. Tough buggers these hunters.

On over Venison Tops and into the bush for the descent to Rocks Ahead Hut. On the dot of 12 Dave out front came to a shuddering halt. Lunch? Nah, we’ll be down at the hut shortly.

It was about now it began to dawn on me that DOC’s track times in this neck of the woods were out by a country mile. Cleary designed for Olympic athletes, not us mere mortals. And so it was as we cowered in the hut eating lunch at 1.30 with the rain fair bucketing down outside we realized we were in for a long day. I checked on the team’s energy levels. All good. DOC’s 4½ hrs from Ballard had taken us 5½, and looking at the terrain and distance to come, their 4 hrs to Otutu Hut looked hugely optimistic. I canvassed opinions - go on, stay here? Unanimous, on we go. Game buggers these trampers.

Our next task was the cableway across a frisky Ngaruroro River, successfully achieved but by now it was 2.10 pm. Next up a 700m climb over 3 kms - just what we needed. Shortly the Medium party came bounding down the slope, clearly in fine fettle with their digs within reach. I let David know I thought we may struggle to make the first radio sched at 7.15 ...

On with the slog, finally breaking out of the bush, then still more climbing. At last the high point, then across to the Manson turnoff, and into Otutu Bush. Better travel here than expected and we were churning through the miles, but pretty slow on any little uphill now though. Finally we break out of the bush and weary our way up the short climb to Otutu.

The last leg now and a sudden burst of energy for all. We fly down the track and on to the hugely welcome hut. Fit buggers these trampers.

A mad scramble and we get the radio up with about 20 seconds to spare. DOC’s 4 hrs from Rocks Ahead had taken us 5½, their 8½ from Ballard had taken 11, with not a hint of a view all day. Thank God for Stefan, who had a great fire going - ah, life is good.

Day’s highlight: arriving

Day 3 Sunday.

Otutu Hut to Kiwi Saddle Hut 8 am - 5.30 pm, 9½ hrs.

"The sun’s out!"


This is why we go tramping! Look at those views. And that tussock, gorgeous. I can’t believe how flat it is on that Mt Meany ridgeline. My clothes are actually drying on me!

We bounce along the track through the tussock, descend steeply down to Manson Creek, and start on the 400m ascent of Manson. Now, why would I be feeling weary this early in the day??

We crest Manson and revel in the views and easy going on the steady descent to Manson Hut. Fay again provides the snowberries. After a break at the hut we climb to pt 1381 and start the descent to Kiwi Mouth Hut. 700m - the magic number. Strange how many climbs and descents seem to involve 700 metres in the Kawekas. Oops, almost forgot lunch in our excitement.

Leaving Otutu Hut

We cross the swing bridge and take some time at the river and hut. Just a stiff 600m climb next. The others start up ahead of me, and I’m surprised I don’t catch them. I thought they’d be slowing right down, but they’re not. We make the top and immediately head steeply down again, losing 400m of our hard earned height. We cross the stream and start the steady haul to regain all of that height (the Kawekas can be cruel!), albeit at a more gentle gradient. The hut is a very welcome sight after another tough day - over 1500m of climbing, the same in descents and 15+ km travelled.

Someone commented they were glad it wasn’t another 8 hr day tomorrow. Nobody disagreed. Tired buggers these trampers.

I camp out. It’s been a while since I’ve spent a warm dry night in my tarp under beech trees on a starlit night. Just brilliant.

Day’s highlight: fine weather and views to die for.

Day 4 Monday.

Kiwi Saddle Hut to Cameron Carpark, 3 hrs.

Ah, an easy day.

We climb leisurely up the ridge and head off to Kuripapango. We can see for miles in every direction. We trace our travel on day one and identify the landmarks - The Rogue, Kaiarahi, Mad Dog in the distance, and two pimples on the ridge that must be The Tits. Who ..? What..? No, doesn’t matter.

Fortified with more snowberries, we reach Kuripapango and take in the rows of ridges stacked up in the distance. We head down the spur towards the carpark with the Ngaruroro snaking its way along the valley floor way below. A quick stop to snack on blackberries, and then we’re out, ending our tough but very memorable jaunt in the Kawekas.

David Holl (scribe) - Medium, with Robin Houston and Christine Major

On top of Kaweka J

Friday morning and the three of us left the car park and headed up the hill into the mists. After an hour or so Andrew’s party came up behind us and we let them pass as we realized they were in a hurry for a cup of tea. We arrived at Kiwi Saddle Hut around the middle of the day to have lunch with them. Tony and his group turned up shortly after. Then we were off heading for Kiwi Mouth Hut, arriving around 4pm. Two men and two boys already occupied this 4-man hut. So it was tenting for us. This group had helicoptered in earlier in the day complete with pack rafts, rifles and fishing rods. They planned to float downstream the next day. A bit before dark a solo German tramper turned up without a tent. “Perhaps I was a bit naïve” he said. His predicament was solved by the men in the hut who lent him their 4-man tent.

Radio calls that night informed us Gareth and his party had managed to borrow a car and hit the hills.

Next morning (Saturday) we were away at 8am arriving at Manson’s hut to have lunch with two hunters in residence. They had bagged two deer so were happy and gave us biscuits and made the offer of bourbon for lunch. (No problem with supplies when you helicopter in.) After lunch we were back on the track to Rocks Ahead Hut. On the way we passed a sole hunter sheltering under his tarp and a short while later passed Dennis and his group going the opposite way. Just before the hut we had to cross the river by cableway. This device defied the laws of gravity by not ‘freewheeling” as far across the river as we would have liked. It required quite strenuous winding on the winch handle to complete the trip. There were two hunters in the hut so our leader made the supreme sacrifice of tenting. These hunters had also helicoptered in and were to raft out.

Christine and Robin

Next morning  (Sunday) we headed off towards Studholme Saddle Hut, meeting a young hunter carrying a set of antlers on the way. “Are you guys with the Auckland Tramping Club?” he asked. Good to be famous.

The descent to the hut was a bit of an exercise as the map indicated a track  which obviously hadn’t been used much for quite some time.  On arrival we found there was actually an easier way, which we weren’t aware of. Hindsight is wonderful.

We had this hut to ourselves and it was the only hut that all three of us spent the night together. The last morning saw us get away early making a good pace to so as not to be late back to the car park. There seemed to be multiple choices of route from the hut down in the valley  up to the tops but we got there eventually. Misty conditions first thing but as we got on the tops the sun came out and we had expansive views of our surrounds. We did arrive back at the car park early and waited around a while for Tony and his group to come out. After a bit of waiting around we looked at our trip plans and decided perhaps Tony’s party was coming out at the campsite so off we went in the cars. That proved to be the wrong decision but as the saying goes: “all’s well that ends well.”

Tony Walton (scribe) - Easy, with Hawaiian visitors Jeanne Furukawa, Denise Miyashiro and Roger Kuwahara (also Catherine Doyle and Vicky King)

Friday - Climbing up the spur from the Lakes carpark to Kuripapango, we had views for a while, then walked into the clag. A cool lunch stop under the glorious beech trees, and then onwards to Kiwi Saddle Hut - to find it well occupied by Andrew and David’s parties enjoying their lunch break our of the dampening weather. We eventually shouldered them off on their journeys ...

I set about attempting to get the fire going - expected failure, but success relatively quickly ... but as I realised over the next couple of days, the tinting in my glasses did not appreciate the heat from close up fire minding, so a touch blurry effect to add to what the weather had in store for us. But for now a warming hut and drying clothes much appreciated by all.

A hunter turned up for the night, and then went off to explore, and then to our great amazement, who should walk in the door but Catherine, Ming, Vicky and Gareth - with the help of Catherine’s Napier support network they had outwitted fate and dashed up Kuripapango in double quick time to join in the weekend’s fun again.

Five ladies turned up a little while later, but had to camp, as the hut was now full - but they at least were able to enjoy the comfort of the hut for the meals, and after we left the next morning - from where they headed off to Kiwi Mouth to meet up with other ATC parties over the next few days.

Discussion on options, leading to my party acquiring Catherine and Vicky, and Gareth Facer and Ming Lo becoming party number five (joining up with Andrew’s party on Sunday afternoon)

Saturday dawned ... claggy ... and so we set off with two options targeting either Studholme Saddle Hut, or Back Ridge Hut. First along the ridge to Castle Camp - an amazing place a bit like a ritzy chicken run - wooden frame, wire netting, covered in clear plastic. Thirsty work living here - two large water tanks. Some super camping under the trees too - a great place to visit again and stay awhile. Over Kaiarahi and soon reached the Studholme Saddle Hut junction - decision time - go on, or drop off the ridge ? No view, claggy, a bit cool - no brainer, so down the track we went (very scrambly near the bottom), checked out the SS biv (2 bunk dogbox), and then on to SS Hut (4 bunks, 6 in the party, gentlemen on the floor that night). Decision justified as within 5 minutes it was pouring with rain, which came and went through the afternoon, with people making the occasional forays outside to explore the valley (and the next morning’s track up the hill - Tony).

A party of 4 turned up an hour later, but definitely no room at the inn, so being good friends, they spent the night back in the SS dogbox (we met them again the next morning)

By the memorial cairn on Kaweka J

Sunday morning revealed some patches of blue sky - promising - up the hill across the stream from the hut, and unexpectedly for me (since it seemed much harder a few years’ earlier) the track up through the trees continued marked with iron standards fairly much all the way to the ridge top again, on the southern slope of Mad Dog Hill - where it was also marked there via the usual Kawekas engraved metal sign. The plan now was to leave our overnight packs there, and dash on super lightweight to Kaweka J. The clouds came and went - now you see it, now you don’t, but yes, we were on the highest point in the Kawekas, with views at times to the Hawkes Bay and some of the hills around us. And photo time in front of the large Heretaunga TC memorial cairn at the summit.

Towards Studholme Saddle

Now returning southwards as the day progressively cleared, over Mad Dog again, and then lunch at the junction with the Mackintosh Spur track. At every possible break we did our conservation duty by vigorously killing young trees by yanking them out roots and all - wilding pines of course. Mental note, must come back again and do more of this - there is no way that we want nasty pine trees blocking the views from that ridge.

Down the Mackintosh Spur to the hut of the same name .... boring pine trees, track marked by metal standards, so the track can’t always have been embedded in pines. Lovely hut in a big clearing, a big treefall on the track to entertain me for an hour. And even more fun, a possum hunter in the hut after a day of checking his traps and plucking all his dead possums - 5 minutes per possum. So a good chance for him to explain to all of us what he did and show the results of his day’s work. He fried a large pan of possum meat for his dinner, sharing some with those of our party who were keen for a taste. Especially fascinating for our Hawaiian visitors to gain a real backcountry experience !

Clear overnight, so I camped under the trees. Next morning a good walk out to the Lakes Rd carpark again. Confusion reigned part way along "Why are we going upstream when the maps says we should have crossed it already ?" Persisted for a bit longer, then the track did cross the stream, and climbed up to join the direct track coming down from The Tits spur where the Kaweka Hut used to be - still at variance from the map, but all came right soon enough, avoiding an expected climb, and then we arrived back at the carpark in good time.