It’s never a good sign when wet weather gear has to come out of the pack before even reaching the van at platform 9, but thankfully this wasn’t a sign of things to come for the WTMC trips heading to Nelson Lakes for Labour weekend.
We boarded the ferry at 5pm, and by the time we reached the sounds all that was left of Wellington’s driving rain was a decidedly wet deck from which to watch the land slip by.
For the six of us on the Mole Hut trip, Friday night was spent in luxury (beds! pillows!) at Kiwi Park in Murchison. Arriving in the dark, we had difficulty following the very simple instructions for finding our cabins and ended up wandering round the campsite before being delivered to our cabins by the bemused owner (Strangely, the cabins were exactly where he’d originally told us!). Unfortunately, unlike the weather, this was a sign of things to come…
Saturday dawned bright and sunny and after sleeping in till 8.30 we were picked up by the Medium group and headed off to the road end, dropping them off at the start of the Tiraumea track, while we carried on to the Mole track.
The first part of the track took us through a patch of farmland, then into beech forest, and before long we emerged at the river. After a quick snack stop and a slathering of sunscreen we started up the river bed, boulder hopping with the sun on our backs. Following the easiest path up the river bed involved crisscrossing our way up, cooling our feet in the process.
At lunch time there was much discussion about the merits of various non-squashable bread alternatives (wraps and crackers winning out here) and the most-transportable protein sources (I extolled the virtues of the new Sealord tuna pouches, while Catherine introduced us to the deliciousness that is Port Wine cheddar).
After lunch, we continued following the river. There wasn’t much to the track – the map showed it following the river until almost at the hut – simple! Who could screw that up?! Hmm, us apparently. Mid-afternoon, Matt raised the fact that his GPS was showing that we were heading up a side stream. Somehow we had veered off the main river and were now heading up a stream to the east of the river. We all agreed that apart from a few small side streams on the western side there hadn’t been any streams joining the river and so the GPS must surely be wrong! Ignoring one of the most basic rules of navigation (thou must always trust the GPS), we continued on up the stream, figuring that if we were in fact going wrong, then we could fairly easily bushbash our way across to the correct stream or, since we weren’t far from the bushline, we could sidle around and reach the hut that way. As we continued on the stream got steeper, and the going got tougher – we were climbing up rocks rather than over them. Finally, we started to doubt ourselves more than we doubted the GPS (finally, some sense!). Matt obviously had some energy to burn as he offered to head back down the stream to check where we had gone wrong. The five of us girls took advantage of some time to relax, soak up the afternoon sun and nibble on crackers and dip.
Matt appeared some time later and explained that at one point the track had veered off into the bush, and we had missed the track marker. So we headed back down the river bed and found the orange marker (it was a giant sized one too!). Back on the track, we enjoyed another hour or so heading up a lovely forested track beside the stream. It was a little muddy and there was some tree fall to contend with – but nothing some seasoned Tararua trampers couldn’t handle. And then we rounded a corner and the hut appeared! Mole hut was indeed good enough for a mole or two (whether the furry earth-digging or the secret-agent variety) but not much more. It’s a tiny 4 bunker, fitting little else but a double bunk, a short bench and a washing line hung with a pair of socks and a bag of old cereal and milk powder. A hunter and his dog were there already, but luckily we had brought tents and flys so we found a few flat-ish spots in amongst the bushes to erect them. What it lacks in size, Mole Hut makes up for in afternoon sun-catching potential. We made the most of it by lazing about in the sun for a while, before getting into dinner prep. Dinner was the WTMC staple thai green curry and it was delicious as always. Food always tastes better outside, but even tastier is food eaten with a view. With this in mind, we picked our way across a bog to have dinner on a hill in the last of the sun’s rays. Take note: Having a lid to your bowl comes in rather handy when attempting not to slip over in impractical hut shoes while heading to a dinner vantage spot. Thankfully no one lost their dinner en route. And there was even enough leftover to feed to the appreciative hunter when he returned empty handed.
Once the sun had gone down it got cold fast, and since the hut was too small to fit us all, we all headed for the next warmest place – our respective beds. Falling asleep to the rustle of wind in the trees, the gurgle of a stream and slivery moonlight filtering through the tent fly was a treat as always.
Caryl’s night might not have been as peaceful as the rest of us – she shared her fly with a bush and decided the next morning that it didn’t make the best bedfellow.
The next day, it was a treat to leave most of our pack contents behind and head off with just what we needed for the day. We followed the poled track up to the Mole saddle, then headed along a rough path up the ridge to the tops. It was sunny with only a breath of wind and we took our time, with plenty of stops to enjoy the ever improving view. There were a few gnarly spots that required scrabbling up scree slopes and hauling ourselves up using tussock as handholds.
Once on the tops, we had stunning, almost 360 degree, views – Lake Rotoroa in one direction, the Tutaki River Valley where we had come from yesterday in another, and the Mahanga and Travers Ranges in the other. We spent a pleasant few hours exploring the tops – checking out the tarns, the views, IDing the mountains we could see (Angelus, Misery and Hopeless to a name a few) and taking lots of photos.
After lunch we took the adventurous way down the ridge – this involved a lot of tussock wading, but avoided the dodgy scree sections we’d met on the way up. We passed the medium group on their way up the ridge as we headed down, after swapping a few stories we left them to power up to the tops (seemingly much faster than we had earlier in the day, despite their full packs).
We had the hut to ourselves tonight, so we all squeezed in to keep warm. This resulted in a few games of human tetris, where people could either sit down or the hut door could be opened, but not at the same time. After another delicious dinner, we tried an FMC bulletin quiz (and failed miserably), and then all squeezed onto a bunk for a few cut throat games of presidents.
The next day, we broke camp and took the Jameson Ridge track back down to the roadend. Rather than join the ridge track by following yesterday’s route up to Mole Saddle, we took a shortcut directly up to the ridge. This involved more tussock wading, but we soon joined the track and headed into a stunning forest of stunted, mossy beech trees.
The track headed steadily downhill, the trees growing in height as we descended. Once down in the valley, the trees were covered in sooty mould, there were lots of birds and I introduced everyone to the sweet taste of scale-insect excrement (aka honeydew). We made great time and were back at the van before lunch.
We kept busy waiting for the medium group to arrive by doing some yoga and learning Perudo – a Peruvian dice game that involves bluffing, bravado and accusing your fellow players.
Back in Picton, we pigged out on obligatory post-tramping junk food before whiling away the ferry journey with more games of Perudo.
All in all a great trip – perfect weather, stunning scenery, a great group of fellow trampers, and a GPS that came in rather handy.