Easter Weekend Trip - Thursday 17 April 2014 to Monday 21 April 2014 (5 days)
The party travelled in two cars and met on Thursday evening at the memorable A-Plus Lodge backpackers in Turangi, where the walls were adorned with a variety of artworks and ideas. We were warmly greeted by our host, Ian Seddon and soon settled in. A short sharp electrical storm occurred during the night, leaving a fine cool morning for our three hour drive to the road-end car park at Poad’s Road, Levin.
We set off across farmland, following the poled route to the Tararua Forest Park boundary. For an hour and a half we tramped in lovely beech and tawa forest along the easy benched Ohau Gorge Track. At the junction, we turned onto the Six Discs Track and climbed steeply to the Waiopehu Track, onto which we turned east. Our faster party members went on ahead. We progressed along the undulating ridge to the tiny grass clearing near the former hut site, now a helipad of sorts for the new hut half an hour further up the track. From our lofty position, we identified Kapiti Island, Palmerston North and the sweeping curve of the coastline. The beech forest abruptly gave way to dense leatherwood and scrub, with the track now a rocky and uneven path cut through this vegetation. After seven and three-quarter hours of walking, the Waiopehu Hut was a welcome sight for tired trampers. The others had arrived an hour and three-quarters earlier. This new hut is well-insulated and double-glazed but has no wood-burner or other form of heating. The views that evening were magnificent. We were treated to a beautiful sunset and later the lights of towns and cities twinkled far below across the Rangitikei and Horowhenua plains.
The morning found us beneath a sky filled with billowy grey and pink cumulus clouds that lightly touched the highest peaks as the golden light of dawn appeared behind the ridgeline. We set off up the undulating track through dripping subalpine scrub, up and over Waiopehu, down and up again, to emerge onto Twin Peak. The memorial under the trig on the summit of Twin Peak acknowledges the nearby grave of 29 year old optician Ralph Wood who died of hypothermia - then called "exposure and exhaustion" - during the cyclone on Sunday 2 February, 1936. Two of that party overnighted by sheltering in nearby scrub, while the other three made for the Waiopehu Hut, only to find that it had disappeared.
We continued in cold, windy conditions with a lowering cloud ceiling, thankful of the protection offered by the head-high scrub and bush. After the junction with the Gable End Track, on the point of Richard’s Knob, our Dora Track descended a long way to Butchers’ Saddle before climbing to the Yeates Track junction. Then we had another descent before the long climb to Te Matawai Hut, passing an informal track junction indicating the route to the Otaki River valley. The odd brief shower en route turned to heavy freezing rain about half an hour before the hut, now enveloped in mist. Our hut-to-hut tramp took four hours.
Te Matawai Hut is an old style hut set in beech forest. There were no other people in the hut and we made ourselves at home and soon had a good fire in the wood-burner. By this means we warmed the hut, dried our gear and started heating water and food, finishing these on our gas cookers. With the deteriorating weather, we rejected the idea of an afternoon walk up Pukematawai to view the inside of a cloud.
The party of three that had stayed at the hut the previous evening reappeared that night, having visited the Arete biv twice in the course of their wanderings through the wet windy whiteout. One party member had been there three times, on account of his having to go back and retrieve his walking pole, left behind after the first visit. This group bailed early the next day, heading out down the Gable End Track to Poad’s Road.
By Sunday morning the showers were less frequent and in cloud of moderate density we tackled the now slippery and seemingly endless up and down track as we retraced our steps to the Waiopehu Hut. Stops were brief as the temperature had dropped considerably and the keen wind was unpleasant. We arrived wet and weary. The heat from our cookers made little impression on the indoor temperature of this well-insulated hut. Drying gear was impossible. A very cold, wet family of three arrived late afternoon and set about warming themselves. This hut is sorely in need of a small wood-burning stove. I suggest that phages of wood and coal be flown in for use in such cold wet conditions.
On Monday, we got up before dawn and were on the track in the insipid early daylight. Although theoretically the track was downhill, with a net loss of altitude, there were an amazing number of climbs. The rain stayed away and our advanced party made good time to the cars, where they emptied their packs. Vicki and Anna very kindly walked back in to meet us and took half of the weight from Mike’s pack as, by this stage, he had a very painful knee. His pack had been the heaviest as he had carried the emergency two-person tent. We were very pleased to see the grassland and enjoyed a sunny walk to the Poad’s Road car park. Looking back, thick dark clouds still brooded on the tops.
Party: Sue Grant (leader and scribe), Vicki King, Anna Schwaiger, Mike Champion and Sarah Graham, who, after a discussion one evening, suggested we reclassify the club tramps into Interesting, Epic and Extreme.
(1) See The Big Storm 1936