The Howlett’s Hut loop trip via Te Hekenga has been on the schedule for a while now, repeatedly postponed by weather, and it was great to finally knock it off.
After driving up with the Rangi Hut trip group and having a good feed in Levin we stopped off at Mangaweka campsite for a few minutes to unload them before we carried on to Renfrew road end.
A couple of minutes into the walk things got serious when one of the party jumped enthusiastically over a cliff in the darkness, their fall broken only by a sizeable pile of dead wood. Not quite the auspicious start.
The trip up to Rangi, with usual detour up and over the slip, took about 1:20. They are making a lot of upgrades to the track, and it looks like they are going to go with switchbacks to make the section up and over the slip a bit easier, with the new track probably opening soon. Lots of stairs have gone in as well, especially in the muddy section around the waterfall near the hut.
Despite mountains of gear in the hut we had the place to ourselves; presumably those working on the track had upped and gone home for the weekend. We settled in for the night, with Debbie and I on the balcony, although Debbie snuck in later on. It wasn’t a silly decision, as I woke up in a sleeping bag dripping with condensation. We had a bit of a casual start and eventually left the hut just before 9:00.
We were a bit worried about a lack of water on the tops due the recent super drought, so we all took 3-4 litres each for the day, not knowing quite how long we would be walking for. Whilst there were one or two sad-looking tarns most of them were completely parched, so it was probably the correct decision. This was after a record drought though, with a bit of rain there would probably be water refills every half-hour or so.
The weather was excellent, and we had great views out to Taranaki and the Central Plateau at the start of the day, becoming views of Wairarapa and the Hawkes Bay for the end of the walk.
We stopped at the top of the saddle West of Te Hekenga for a respectable lunch around 12:30, and then slugged it out down and back up to the peak.
Te Hekenga has been savaged by slips on three sides, and isn’t really passable, so we knew we’d have to drop down the SW side and find a route onto and over them and back up to the ridge line towards Tiraha. The route down and around Te Hekenga was a bit easier than feared; as long as you know to look for the goat track it is pretty obvious where you should be walking, although that may not be true with snow cover.
After a second lunch we got our first glimpse of the hut, cleary visible with its bright orange roof. We packed off for the last leg, first a short hop to Tiraha where the main watershed – Sawtooth Ridge – turns off to the North, and then past a few more scary slips and a bit of leatherwood before reaching Howletts. Total time for the day was about 8:00 and we quickly changed and cooked up a teriyaki chicken noodle stir fry which we ate outside whilst watching the sun drop behind the ranges. There were a couple of friendly oldies from Heretaunga TC at Howletts who had been doing general maintenance, and put three coats of fresh orange paint on the roof, which is why the hut stood out so well.
The next day we had a bit of an early start. We had promised the easy Raniwahia Hut group we would be out at the roadend at 2pm sharp. And we figured it would be about 8 hours walk. We woke early and were on our way fairly quickly.
The first section south of Howletts across Daphne ridge was pretty overgrown and a bit of a leatherwood bash in places, and progress was slow, but once we were through the saddle the sun came out and was another fantastic day of walking. As usual we had two lunch breaks at the turnoffs to Longview Hut and above Iron Gate Hut, respectively, and after a short rest at the top of Tunupo we charged down the hill to Heritage Lodge, arriving a bit later than expected. The Rangi Hut group had walked in to meet us though, and were sunbathing on the deck, and they didn’t seem too bothered by the late arrival. We were back to the car park, changed and on our way by 3pm, and had a very relaxed drive back with a well-deserved ice cream stop in Shannon.