A Pleasant River Trip

Tauherenikau valley (photo: WeiMin Ren)
Tauherenikau valley (photo: WeiMin Ren)

Having a spare weekend in mid-February, I decided to sign up for a club trip. There were two trips going from the Kaitoke road end, meaning a Saturday morning start (yay!). The Medium trip appeared to involve a long slog along the Marchant Ridge, which I’ve never done, having been deterred by its reputation. The other was an Easy-Medium to Tututwai Hut, up the Tauherenikau River, on what promised to be a fine weekend. No contest.

I did a Tutuwai hut trip with the club 10 years ago, when it was graded ‘easy’. However, since then a new swing bridge has been built not far from Smiths Creek shelter after the old bridge, several kilometres further upstream, was wiped out in a flood. The new track along the true left bank of the river is rougher than the old one, and parts have already been affected by slips. Easy-medium therefore seems a reasonable grading for the trip these days.

We parted company with the mediums at the Marchant Ridge turnoff and eventually headed down into the valley for a morning tea break by a stream. The various slips and DOCs interesting detours provided the main highlights. The first such detour came quite early on, with a sign pointing to the right saying ‘Track closed’, and a sign pointing uphill saying ‘Detour’. Someone had scratched on the sign the words ‘DOC route’ and ‘Tramper’s route’, so I decided to take the tramper’s route (although was a little less confident than I pretended). For some reason WeiMin was keen to follow. As it turned out, apart from lack of track maintenance and a slightly tricky bit over a slip, the track was fine, and we had a five minute wait for the others. Trampers 1, DOC 0.

Smiths Creek shelter looked uninviting, so trip leader Paul took us down to the river where we lunched in the shade of a large rock. WeiMin amused himself by photographing our lunches and muddy boots with a very large camera. After we crossed the swing bridge the track became a bit indistinct, and was soon diverted by various slips. The largest diversion took most of the party a good 15 minutes to traverse. Ironically DOC’s diversion was a lot trickier than the earlier ‘trampers route’ that DOC had certified as too dangerous. Furthermore, Karl pointed out that there was an easy path worn by trampers across the slip that could be crossed in a few seconds. Trampers 2, DOC 0.

There’s a flash new path on the final 50 metres up to Tutuwai hut, but otherwise it’s little changed. It started to rain shortly after we arrived, just as the Met Service had forecast. Some of us were kept awake for much of the night by rats scuttling across the ceiling for hours on end. There was no evidence in the morning they had been inside the hut, but it sure sounded like it.

I was greatly impressed by the fact that most were willing to eat the previous night’s leftover curry and rice for breakfast. On the way out Paul was keen for us to cross the river at some point and join a track on the true right. We eventually found a point where this could be done easily, and the walking was a lot more pleasant on the other side. The track seemed less enclosed, and there was more sun. Eventually the track disappeared, having collapsed into the river below, so we decided that heading straight down the river was the best option. It was getting hot, and I had a dip in a swimming hole. The travel proved pretty easy, and in no time we had reached the swing bridge, which Annie, being French, was keen to cross again (apparently they’re a bit of a Kiwi novelty). We found a pleasant clearing with lots of shade near Smiths Creek Shelter, as it was getting hotter by the minute. On the way back we all took the tramper’s route rather than the detour, walking most of the way up the cooling stream. There followed a walk through pleasant bush then the slog up the Puffer and beyond in the hot sun. On the way up Puffer Saddle, Barbara rather unwillingly followed Karl and I on an unofficial route straight up the hill, and was probably cursing us as she neared the top. We beat the mediums back to the YMCA car park by a good margin, mainly because they had stopped for lots of swims. We enjoyed the weekend, so I guess I’d better award DOC a couple of points for that. Let’s call it a 2-2 draw.

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