How about a trip to Howlett’s Hut?

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The weather forecast for this trip was pretty bad, and we debated whether it was a good idea, with a forecast of heavy rain and gales, to go into a hut where the only way out was via ridge or river. After some careful analysis of the weather maps, our leader, Richard, encouraged us to give it a go. I stuck an extra back-country meal into my pack just in case we ended up staying in an extra night at the hut… it’s sometimes a good idea to prepare yourself that a change of plan might be the safest thing!

We camped overnight at Anzac Park campsite near Norsewood and then headed in on the Kashmir Road on Sat morning. We dropped the Medium-Fit crew at the road end a little later than planned, but they got their revenge by requesting a early meetup time on Sunday, which we later realized would mean a pre-dawn start for us.

As with most Ruahines tramps, the walk into Daphne hut commenced brutally upwards with no warm-up at all. We quickly discovered that Richard’s chest was in less than top condition after a chest infection that he hadn’t quite shaken off, so we tried to maintain frequent stops to allow him to catch his breath. Nether-the-less we still made fair progress up onto the ridge and emerged onto one of those lovely Ruahine ridge top tracks. We stopped for some food and even had a brew. After our lunch we unfortunately only maintained the height of the ridge top for a short while longer before dropping down into the short section of river before Daphne hut.

The river travel along to Daphne is really beautiful – we criss-crossed back and forth, bolder hopping and sploshing in the tumbling creek.

After a quick break at Daphne we headed up the brutal ascent of Daphne spur. This is really steep. None of us enjoyed it much, but I was mostly just glad we were going up it rather than down it (I hate steep descents). Thankfully the gradient eased off a bit towards the top and before we knew it we were out of the bush, enjoying the views and approaching Howlett’s Hut. It was a bit of a surprise to get a view of the tops to be honest – the forecast had had rain coming in from mid afternoon and overnight, but we could still see the ridges and out to the East Coast.

Howlett’s Hut is a really lovely hut – tucked in a hollow on the ridge it commands a great view out to Napier and Hastings and across the surrounding hills. Its the starting point for Sawtooth Ridge if you have a head for heights, but that was not the objective of our trip. It was reassuring to arrive at the distinctive blue and orange hut before the bad weather arrived and we quickly got settled in with a brew on. There was very little fuel, and conscious that the next group may need it more than us, we didn’t light a fire. We cooked up a lovely salmon pasta followed by ginger kisses and custard, before retreating to our sleeping bags (note: a ginger kiss is not when you are kissed by a Scotsman, but is a New Zealand style of ginger biscuit).

Overnight we lay in our bunks listening to the rain pelting down on the roof and the wind howling across. The bad weather certainly had arrived, and, in our half-dreaming states we all wondered if there was any chance of getting out tomorrow. I certainly felt glad of that spare back-country meal.

In the morning, to our great surprise, the wind calmed and the rain ceased. We got an early start at 6am with the aim of leaving at 7am. We would only make the 2pm meetup time at the Manawatu Road end if we stuck to our schedule. We walked for 15minutes or so with head torches before the sun rose enough for us to see. The ridge tops looked glorious in the gentle morning light!

We made our way up Taumatataua and along to Otumore, before stopping for lunch at the Longview Hut junction. A few of the team toyed with the idea of bagging Longview Hut, but we decided we need to keep our stops short if we had any chance of being less than 1hour late for picking up the other group. From the Longview junction it was a hour to descend down to Kashmir Road and then a quick stomp along the road back to the van.

A lovely weekend all in all – with amazing weather considering the forecast, and a great route. I particularly enjoyed the river section into Daphne and the ridge tops on the way out on Sunday. Thanks, Richard, for organizing, and for battling on through that chest infection!

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