5-bar Tararua tramping

Some people, particularly trampers, rejoice when heading into our wilderness while others have a fearful attitude towards these areas that they believe should be completely avoided—for they are places that they consider are hideous, desolate and uncomfortable—where people suffer and sometimes die.

However, nowadays it seems that many of those who do actually want to visit wilderness areas are not prepared to give up any of our usually accepted creature comforts—and in particular their virtual social contacts—and will not venture anywhere unless they carry a mobile phone whereby they can avoid having to do so.

So for those heading into the Tararuas for a weekend tramp here is a list of the five best and five worst areas for internet accessibility and therefore the highest and lowest level of wilderness appreciation. They are graded from the best at 5-bars to the worst at 0-bars and additionally come with a ‘recommendation’ level.  The highest level areas are those where one can enjoy the wilderness while still sending and receiving emails and text messages, posting to Facebook, keeping on top of Tinder and sending mum selfies from the summit of some peak or other.

camping, Mt Hector, Tararuas, Tararua Range
5-bar heaven on the summit of Hector – and the one calm day per year

The best:

  1. Main Range S-K. Although this trip requires well above average fitness and is likely to cause significant physical distress there is 5-bar reception for almost all of the 36 or so hours you will be walking to cover the  80 km distance and 6,000 m climbing, some of it in the dark. It is unfortunate that there is very little time for anything other than walking but for the avid texter and selfie taker this is the trip to aspire to. Scores ‘Outstanding—Highly Recommended.’
  2. Holdsworth—Jumbo Circuit. Powell and Jumbo Huts are usually filled to bursting at weekends and when you are sleeping in the only spare space under the table they don’t always appear to offer the complete wilderness experience. The weather outside is usually windy and misty with no views beyond the end of your nose, however, except for a short distance near the start and finish there is 5-bar reception throughout. Although the best selfies will likely be you with a faint outline of the Holdsworth trig in the foggy background there is scope for unlimited texts and emails. ‘Highly Recommended.’
  3. Camp on Mt Hector. Another 5-bar reception trip but here there is plenty of scope for things to go badly wrong—the normally horrible weather may destroy your tent, mist will cause route finding problems (assuming that you can actually walk in the wind). However, clearly the ability to send a text describing the last minutes before the tent blows away outweighs any other considerations. Therefore ‘Recommended.’
  4. Tarn Ridge/ Table Ridge. Wide open tops exposed generally to both east and west for 4 to 5‑bar reception—and also to any puff of wind that blows. A great area for navigational difficulties in bad (i.e. everyday) weather, and there is a complete lack of shelter. But if you want selfies in bleak weather with a blurred foggy background of nothing but snowgrass and a few rocks then this is the place for you. ‘Recommended.’
  5. Southern Main Range. A beginner’s version of 1 above. High level of fitness required as well as a love of bad weather as the route is also totally exposed to any wind from any direction. Reception at Mungahuka Hut is not totally reliable but a very short walk to the ridge will get 4‑bars even if it means dressing in full storm gear before venturing out the door and having to shout at your phone to be heard above the shrieking wind. Can be done as a day trip in preparation for the S-K, although this will appeal only to those with limited intelligence. Nonetheless scores a ‘Recommended.’


Totara Flats, camping, Tararuas, Tararua Range, Tararua Forest Park
0-bar purgatory at Totara Flats. The solitude and silence cannot be reasonably regarded as a valid wilderness experience

The worst:

  1. Totara Flats. This is the nicest camping area in the Tararuas. Soft grassy areas sheltered by manuka or totara trees, rata with scarlet flowers and clematis with brilliant white petals blooming on the trees on the hillsides, deep swimming pools nearby in the Waiohine River, butterflies flitting around in the warm summer sunshine, campfires at night and moreporks calling across the valley. But with a 0-bar rating from start to finish this is a trip to be avoided at all costs and therefore earns a ‘Definitely Not Recommended’ rating.
  2. Mitre Flats Hut (or camping). Another delightful introductory walk into the Tararuas. Nice hut for Saturday night, or pleasant camping nearby on the grass at the edge of the bush, or in the bush itself for a bit of shelter. The gorge down to the Pines offers a fun day when the sun is shining and there is a couple of pools that need a short swim. Altogether one of the better first trips for trampers, or a repeat for those that enjoy an easy stroll. However, it rates mostly 0-bar, with 1-bar if you are lucky at the Pines. Given the above this is another Tararua weekend that should be avoided and it definitely scores a ‘Not Recommended.’
  3. Waitewaewae Hut. As for 2 above a pleasant introductory trip, although a bit more energetic. There is great camping just a little further up the river. This was the site of the WTMC annual Chief Guide’s picnic many years ago which had over 70 members!  The macho fit types carried in heaps of food, put up the tents and got a hangi underway so that by the time the mere mortals arrived all the work had been done. It was a memorable weekend with lots of others to chat to, and singing along with the guitars until late at night. But this would be a completely unacceptable interpretation of wilderness nowadays. With a 0-bar score everywhere there would be absolutely no way that anyone could enjoy themselves if there was no way to tell those others not there how much fun it all was. So avoid any trips here—another ‘Not Recommended.’
  4. Tauherenikau Valley. An easy walk to a pleasant open valley with grassy flats for nice camping. Once very popular with families where youngsters played together in the river and helped collect firewood for the communal evening campfire. There was even a cricket pitch mowed in the grass not far from the old Tauherenikau Hut for adults to bash a ball about. But how would today’s tech-savvy youngsters cope for an entire weekend in a 0-bar environment? It is just not realistic that the wilderness should need this level of discomfort. So for old-timers who struggle to use a smart phone perhaps it scores a tick, but for everyone else an area that should not be considered. ‘Not Recommended.’
  5. Chamberlain Creek. Not to everyone’s taste, but those with an adventurous streak will love it. Amazing vertical sided canyons with pools to jump or abseil and a final swim down the Ruamahanga River. The boys’ (and girls’) own adventure. But unfortunately not only is there a 0-bar rating for the entire weekend there is a very good chance your phone will get smashed as you leap into a pool or waterlogged as you swim the river. So consequently this otherwise exciting and challenging trip is another that earns a ‘Not Recommended’ rating.

So hopefully by choosing only from the recommended trips and avoiding all the others today’s tramper will be better able to enjoy our last few mostly untouched areas, those areas that are free of the corrupting influences of civilisation, areas where our only contact need be with the natural silence of our wilderness—but only provided we can still make a phone call and send a few selfies to let others know how our appreciation is going.

For more Tararua photos go to tararuaphotos.com

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