On the Wednesday before our Wellington Anniversary long weekend trip up to the Kawekas, Megan gave a talk about a trip she did with Tony, Fons and Rohan at Labour Weekend last year, where they were able to visit seven huts over the three days.
Not that we were into anything like competitive hut-bagging but Kevin had devised a plan that would potentially allow us to get to 10 Kaweka huts over the long weekend.
So, after the usual Friday night departure and a good night’s rest at the DoC field base at Kuripapango (thanks to Aimee who is working on secondment at DoC and was in Maarten’s Medium group) we set off for our 1st hut in good time on Saturday morning.
Hut 1 – Studholme Saddle Biv
After Maarten dropped us off at the Lakes carpark, we tackled the first climb of the day up to Kaiarahi. It was a hot and sunny Hawkes Bay day with light winds, so it got pretty warm going up the hill – but the fine weather did mean that we were rewarded with great views down towards the Lakes and North up to Kaweka J when we did get above the bushline.
From Kaiarahi it was a relatively quick descent down to the 1st hut of the trip, Studholme Saddle Biv, where we found a good spot under the trees to have lunch.
Hut 2 – Studholme Saddle Hut
It was a short walk up the stream to Hut 2 for the weekend – Studholme Saddle Hut.
We had a short break there before tackling the second big climb of the day, up to Mad Dog Hill and then on to Kaweka J. Climbing up the hill in the hot sun in the middle of the day was pretty energy-sapping, but as we neared Kaweka J a bit of cloud cover did provide some relief from the heat. After a brief rest at the track junction we began the descent to our third hut, and destination for the night, Back Ridge Hut.
Hut 3 – Back Ridge Hut
Heading down the ridge we were able to see the hut well before we got there, and there were the usual attempts to try and see if there was anyone else down there.
When we got to the hut we did find that there were people there, a couple from Hawkes Bay.
After a good meal, we had a relatively early night in preparation for the next day. As Kevin and Uta both opted to use their tents and the couple from Hawkes Bay set up a fly in the trees, Jessie and I ended up having the 4 bunk hut to ourselves.
Hut 4 – Back Ridge Biv
It was an early start for our big day of hut-bagging, and climbing up to Back Ridge we were rewarded with a great view of mist filled valleys below us and Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe in the distance.
It didn’t take long to get to the first hut for the day, and hut #4 for the weekend, Back Ridge Biv. There we found the Medium group just finishing up their breakfast. They had spent the night under the fly, as the biv itsef was occupied by a couple of hunters.
We had a brief stop and were soon on our way. After climbing back up to Back Ridge, we had a 700m descent down to hut #5 for the weekend
Hut 5 – Rocks Ahead Hut
We arrived at Hut #5, Rocks Ahead Hut, late morning. This was my favourite hut of all the ones that we visited over the weekend, as it is a well-maintained little hut that sits on a sunny terrace overlooking the Ngarurua river. We had an extended stop there, and were soon joined by the medium group. After an early lunch at the hut, some of us took the opportunity for a quick detour to bag hut #6.
Hut 6 – Rocks Ahead Biv
Rocks Ahead Biv sits in a clearing on the other side of the Ngarurua river from Rocks Ahead hut. There is a cableway to get across there, but given that it was a hot summer day wading across the river was a much more pleasant, and easier, way to get across the river.
From the biv there is a nice view back towards the hut, and after a few pictures we were on our way back over the river to pick up our packs, and head up the hill to hut #7.
Hut 7 – Venison Tops Hut
It is a 700m climb from the river up to Venison Tops hut, but luckily most of it is in the bush, so it wasn’t quite as hot as some of the climbs the day before. Also, emerging from the bush near the hut we could see that the cloud had rolled in (and the forecast had been for afternoon showers).
Venison Tops Hut is also referred to as Tira Lodge on the topo map, but now appears to have a third name, as there was a sign saying ‘Kelvinator Lodge’ on the front of the hut.
While having another break, we were once again joined by the medium group. We didn’t spend too long at the hut before getting on the track to hut #8 for the weekend, and our destination for that night.
Hut 8 – Ballard Hut
The track between Venison Tops and Ballard Huts initially drops down a couple of hundred metres before going along a ridge and then another climb up on to the tops.
Getting to the tops we could see that the forecast was right with some light rain heading our way. This turned into a steady drizzle as we crossed the tops and descended down to Ballard hut.
Ballard is a 4-bunk hut, and as there were seven of us in the two groups there was a bit of discussion to work out where everyone would sleep. Kevin decided that he would opt for the relative space of a tent for himself despite the rain, I found a spot on the floor, Jessie claimed that he would be able squeeze under one of the bunks, and everyone else got bunks.
After a bit of shuffling to ensure that both groups were able to cook their respective dinners, when everyone went to bed Jessie proved his claim by maneuvering his way under a bunk – even letting some air out of his mattress to ensure he could fit.
Hut 9 – Dominie Hut
The next day, the cloud and drizzle had hung round and there was also some wind, so we didn’t see a lot during the 1st couple of hours along the tops. We finally started to get some views as we headed down Makahu Spur.
Just before the halfway point of the descent we stopped at the second-to-last hut for the weekend, Dominie hut. It is more of a biv than a hut, but was still a good spot to get out of the weather and have a break.
After we left Dominie, we were once again joined by the medium group, and everyone made their way down the hill to the van.
Hut 10 – Makahu Saddle Hut
The final hut of the weekend, Makahu Saddle Hut, is probably one of the easiest huts to get to in the Kawekas, as it is only a couple of minutes walk from the carpark. Of course, once everyone got down to the carpark everyone visited it to get a photo and prove that they had been there.
After we had all re-grouped at the van we were back off to wellington in good time.
And the 1/2 Hut?
On the climb up to Kaiarahi on Saturday morning we passed the site of Kaweka hut, which burned down in 2003. As the fireplace is still there, as well as the long-drop, we considered that it still counted as half a hut.
Overall, it was a successful trip, and the Kawekas provide a great mix of tops travel combined with beautiful beech forest – and of course plenty of huts to bag. So thanks to Kevin for organising the trip and to Uta and Jessie and the medium group (Maarten, Aimee and Emily) for making it another enjoyable WTMC trip.