- Dawson falls to Waiaua Gorge Hut: 3 hours 50 minutes
- Waiaua Gorge Hut to Kahui Hut: 3 hours 15 minutes
- Kahui Hut to Holly Hut: 3 hours 40 minutes
- Holly Hut to Dawson Falls: 5 hours
We spent Friday night at Konini Lodge, by Dawson Falls. MetService had been warning of “severe rainfall” and all other forecasts looked equally pessimistic. So when we woke up and didn’t hear rain, we made the most of it and started walking at 7am – adorned with head torches. We made good time up past Hooker Shelter and Kapuni Lodge, and got a teaser of the infamously endless stairs on the Syme Hut track before we turned left at the junction. We happily sidled along the 1400m contour as cloud chased us around the mountain, seemingly always a few hundred meters behind us.
Shortly after the Lake Dive turnoff, the track climbs 100m, to avoid leading the unwary tramper off a cliff. This took us high enough to reach small patches of snow, just as the rain and wind caught us, setting the mood for the rest of the day. We passed under impressive volcanic “organ pipe” cliffs and passed a few waterfalls, but found ourselves slowed down by the track, which was simultaneously deteriorating in quality and increasing in slipperiness. Eventually the track follows a spur towards Waiaua Gorge Hut. Near the bottom there is an excellent view of Brames Falls. Five minutes further down the track there is a noticeably worse view of the Falls, signposted as a lookout. Almost an hour later than anticipated, we arrived Waiaua Gorge Hut. We stripped off our wet clothing and enjoyed a brief lunch.
The marked track on the topo maps past Waiaua Gorge Hut has been washed out, and the detour drops about 100m before joining the Ihaia Track. A large section of this track is in a river flat that has evidently seen many a flood over the years, making it feel like you’re walking on the moon (if the moon was punctuated with the odd Punga).
We made good progress along the Oaonui Track. And while in the midst of making optimistic plans to take the Kopoaiaia Track to Holly Hut, we came across a sign warning that the track was no longer maintained. A quick visual inspection verified this, so we took the Kahui Track up to Kahui Hut, arriving approximately 5 minutes after a downpour began. Lacking motivation to continue, we opted to spend the night there. Spirits were lifted by Emily’s delicious home-made dehy dinner.
Taking advantage of daylight savings, we started walking at 6am on Sunday. In the dark. In the rain. But at least we got to go downhill for a bit. By the time we reached Stony River, the rain had subsided enough for us to really appreciate the scale of the valley. Fortunately, while the rain was heavy, it hadn’t been falling long enough to raise the river up, so there were no issues crossing it. Naturally, the rain set in again, but my mood was lifted when Hugo pointed out not one, but two, Whio. This put me in a good mood, which was only undone by walking headfirst into not one, but two, trees that lay across the track.
We made a brief detour to visit Bells Falls, and what felt like an even briefer snack break at Holly Hut. Continuing on along the Holly Track, the state of the track immediately transitioned from “tramping” to “tourist”, and I honestly couldn’t have been happier about it. The track cut up the mountainside at a nice steady gradient, and makes liberal use of steps, so it felt like we were flying along this side of the mountain. By lunchtime we were even enjoying some sunshine (and sun showers), providing us with impressive views of volcanic cliffs above us, and steep rugged valleys below. The way the cloud partially hid the views actually made the countryside feel even grander, or at least that’s what I told myself.
From Tahurangi Lodge the track works its way downhill, while maintaining an easy gradient and an abundance of steps. By this point it was practically a pleasant day, and we finished the trip with high spirits (and tired legs).