Cow Creek Hut Loop with a little navigation

With Wellington returning to Level 1, and club life starting back up again, I was very keen to get out into the bush on a proper club trip. As the week progressed, the forecast dampened my enthusiasm. Not only was there going to be extremely high winds (between 40 and 90km/h on the Saturday and 80+km/h on the Sunday at Powell Hut), but a big rain storm on the Sunday morning (29mm to 6am and 46mm to 12pm at Powell Hut). Our planned loop was going to be below the bushline so hopefully out of the wind, but I still didn’t fancy plodding out in heavy rain on Sunday morning. So our overnight to Cow Creek Hut turned into a day trip to make the most of the better conditions on the Saturday.

Gordon kindly picked Jamie and I up at the Railway Station and we met Michael at the Kiriwhakapapa Road end at about 10am. Despite looking rather sheltered, the Kiriwhakapapa road end camp site was quite windy. We soon got underway and into the bush which protected us somewhat from the wind. We arrived at Blue Range Hut just after 12 for an early lunch.

A spot of blue sky at Blue Range Hut.
A typically chilly Tararua lunch.

We left Blue Range at about 12.45pm and soldiered on round the “bowl” track, stopping at a little opening in the trees to debate whether we were in fact looking at Mitre Peak across the valley (still not sure!) At the point where the track turns sharply west and starts descending, we found a sign marking the “exit” point for our little return navigation exercise, up what I call “Sety Spur”.

The sign post that marks the “exit” (or entry”) onto Sety Spur.

On we plodded, with Micahel and Jamie making record time on the downhill to Cow Creek Hut. Sidling around the Waingawa River, I was struck by how picturesque this part of the Tararua was. One long swing bridge delivered us to Cow Creek Hut at about 3pm.

The very long swing bridge to Cow Creek Hut.
Taking a break at Cow Creek Hut.
Jamie and Aimee at Cow Creek Hut.

It was great to have Gordon with us, as he had been to Cow Creek Hut a couple of weekends earlier, and knew that there was a possible shortcut across the Waingawa River. This would avoid going back across the bridge and doing a circular sidle on the true left of the river. We went down and looked at the river, and decided it was ok to cross. We crossed heading slightly up stream toward the log you can see in the left of the picture, and then skirted down the bank about 20 meters to the flushing little waterfall that is Cow Creek. Here we picked up the track again.

Looking across to the true left of the Waingawa River from Cow Creek Hut. The nearest measuring site, Waingawa River at Kaituna, recorded a measured flow of 9.5m3/s at 12pm. The big rain that came through on Sunday morning lifted that to a peak of 226m3/s at 9.40am on the Sunday.
Gordon, Jamie and Michael demonstrating excellent river crossing technique.

The track up to Cow Saddle was a rough sidle in places. Gordon had told us that on his trip he was coming down in the dark and had lost the track, and we agreed that this could easily happen!

Some of the rough sidling up to Cow Saddle.
The tell-tale Cow Saddle sign!

When we arrived at the sign-post (just after the Cow sign), we took some bearings. Our plan was to head South-East up Sety Spur (aka the spur that runs 810, 890, 970 back toward the track). We came off the track almost directly behind the sign-post and within 10 minutes we were on a reasonably good ground trail. We stuck to this ground trail the whole way, with occassional fallings off, rescued by the compass. For me it was a very affirming experience to take a bearing, and to see that the ground trail was heading off in the direction of my bearing! Successful navigation!

It was close to 5pm by the time we popped out at the “exit” point. Then it was just a simple but weary plod back along the bowl track, and down the hill to the road end. I rather enjoyed this walking, as the wind had dropped, the light was golden and we could hear ruru getting up and getting their evening kawhe.

Arriving back at 8.30pm at the car, the “big rain” was just starting to set in. As we drove back to Wellington I was very pleased with our decision not to be out that night, and to wake up warm and dry in my own bed! This trip was a lovely way to celebrate the club starting up again, and I very much enjoyed the company and the day.

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