Mt Tarahaka – on the Road to Nowhere
Mt Tarahaka in the Seaward Kaikoura Range
Nothing is ever simple in the Seaward Kaikōura Range it seems. Tony and I have a bit of a running record with this area where our trips don’t quite go to plan just as they didn’t at Shattered Peak and Jam Hut). This time was no different of course.
At the start of the tramp we were once again greeted by my nemesis, the boulders of George Stream. How I did not want to see these boulders again so soon after our Jam Hut mission. Luckily, we were only forced to endure the company of these boulders for a kilometre (the longest km in the world I reckon).
We were soon leaving the boulders behind and turning up onto a forestry road through a pine plantation. We had spoken to the local farmers about walking up through here on a previous trip. It was up some steep switchbacks on an easy road before we came across some horses and then some buildings that looked like a hunter’s lodge.
This is where the trip took a more adventurous turn. We were following a route map and description from another tramper who had done this trip and it looked like they had taken a west turn at the building, across a stream. We did exactly this and I walked up the hill further to check it out but it looked like a dead end. How I wish I had walked up just a bit further and I may have seen the faint outline of the road but it was not to be….
Waving hello to the snowy ridgeline we could see from the clearing we retraced our steps and took the left fork (our tried and tested method of always taking the left fork when unsure in the Kaikōura Range turned out to be a complete failure). We started up this road with me constantly looking at our map and comparing it to the trip route we had and noting we were now near spot height 520 and well south of where we apparently wanted to be. Oh well. We were in for an adventure and we don’t like to do things the easy way. Or at least that’s what I was trying to convince Tony and myself of. We thought we had struck gold anyway as the road we were walking on continued for quite some time. But then suddenly it came to a grinding halt and we were confronted by an ominous bushbash. I think by now I had resigned myself to what seemed like our inevitable fate. I told myself that I had survived our Haystack bushbash and the Richmond Range one , so I could definitely do this one. Again, we thought we had got lucky as initially the bush seemed rather open and we found some good animal trails to follow. Of course I spoke too soon and before long I was crawling under trees and constantly getting my ice-axe caught on branches or my snowfoam caught in between trees (it felt like the bushbash up to shattered Peak all over again.
Fortunately, we had done a large amount of climbing on the 4-wheel drive road so the bushbash wasn’t a sufferfest for too long. But before we got out into the open tussock we had to walk through a ‘friendly’ village of matagouri. I wasn’t too impressed by the manners of this village who seemed intent on ripping away all the skin on my arms and legs but with the views I found once higher up the ridge, I quickly forgot all about the last few hours. I could see all the way down to the Clarence River and out to sea.
Eventually we made it to our camp spot at spot height 1191. We found water to the south of camp, down the hill. We had to follow the trickle of a stream down for 10 minutes until there was enough flow to gather water. Back up at camp we were treated to the call of a cheeky kea and the sun setting over Mitre, Alarm and Tapuae-o-Uenuku. It was a really magical night of camping as the Milky Way was truly spectacular and it was just so quiet and peaceful. We could also make out the distant glow of the lights from Wellington and Kaikōura and I decided right there and then that the trip was worth it just for this night of camping.
The next morning started off a bit strange. As we were packing our bags with day gear, we both heard what sounded like chickens. I started to giggle because I had no idea what to make of this. Tony looked equally stumped. When we got back to Wellington and I told Anne about this she called them dino-chickens because it seemed fitting for the mystery of what they were as Tony and I had previously found dinosaurs in odd places. Maybe some dinosaurs were impersonating chickens that morning.
As we climbed above our campsite towards pt 1722, we were enjoying an amazing sunrise and early morning light on the mountains. I love this time of day. Not only is the light beautiful but to me it reminds me of the endless possibilities for the day to come. It was relatively easy walking with the occasional snow patch but there were a couple of places where there was a scramble across a narrow section of ridge. Eventually just past pt 1722 the ridge turned into a narrow spine of very rotten Kaikoura rock with nasty scree each side. We both took off our packs and walked a few metres along to see how we felt about this. The answer from both of us was it didn’t seem like too much fun. We just didn’t feel happy with pushing our luck so it was an easy enough decision to bail. Tony had been along here previously in winter when there was snow to crampon over and it had been easy. We sat there for a while discussing our options and soaking up the view. We eventually decided that we would make it a big day and walk out all the way so we could have an attempt at Mt Princess. Of course, that was easier said than done because after all this is the Seaward Kaikōura Range where nothing is simple and nothing really ever seems to go to plan.
We got down to our tents easily enough—I must admit I was a bit concerned that our tents may have been used as a playground by the kea we had heard the night before but instead we just found them cooking like furnaces in the sun. We started following along the old farming fence that our route indicated. This also seems to be a recurring theme with Tony and I—why are we always following spooky farming fences in the middle of nowhere? Soon enough it was turning into a scramble under the fence and pulling our packs through after us. Not an easy feat with alpine gear on board.
We were looking for the top of the forestry/farming road that had been mentioned in the trip report we had read. I was starting to believe this road was as real as the dino-chickens we had heard that morning. Eventually we decided that we weren’t going to find the road and we would just have to pick a spur and head down and hope for the best—hoping to match up with the described route so we might find the road eventually if it did indeed exist. After we had been descending for a while, I finally let out a shout of glee as I had seen a road in the distance. We just had to do a short bushbash to get to it. I was pumped with finding the road so even a bush bash didn’t seem like an obstacle to getting to this road. Tony wasn’t exactly convinced (smart man!). He was right because the bush bash was a dense forest of vigorous tōtara trees that we pushed, crawled, and slid our way through. We were just starting to give up when I told Tony I thought I could see the road underneath us as there was a change in the density of the trees and light. I’m not sure if Tony thought I was telling tramper’s spin or not but he followed me regardless as we slid down the hill constantly battling the vigorous tōtara trees. Sure enough we eventually landed on a road.
The only problem was that we were now on a road but had no idea where it went! It wasn’t on our map. We decided it had to be better than where we had just come from though! I decided the moment required the theme song from the tv show ‘Friends’ about how we seemed stuck in second gear and it hadn’t been our day, week, month or even our year so we sang along to that for a while as we followed the road to somewhere, anywhere or possibly nowhere. When we started seeing horse droppings we knew we must be on the right road leading us back down to George Stream because the horses were located down by the hunters’ lodge. I never thought I would get excited to see horse droppings on a tramp!
From here it was easy going. We zoomed down the road and waved hello to the local horses before deciding to stop for a few minutes just past them. Next second I heard the gallop of hooves. Startled, I looked up to see the horses running straight at us. I wasn’t sure whether to run or just curl up in a ball and accept what was coming. Luckily Tony kept a cool head and said they were probably just curious about us. They came right over and nibbled on Tony’s pack and attempted to have a nibble on his shirt and then eat half a cheese sandwich. Back on our feet again after our rest, we continued up the road only to realise we were now being stalked by the horses and taking them along for a walkie with us.
After finally waving the horses goodbye at the next junction, it was down the final switchbacks and back onto my favourite pastime of boulder hopping. But the surprises for this trip weren’t over. I suspect I got punished for my attitude towards this section by getting a bad electric shock when I was holding the fence up for Tony to climb under.
Luckily I hadn’t yet had my princess transformation in the Princess Bath that would happen in the next few days so I could flop my way to the car while recovering from the electric shock. We may have not made the summit but we sure had fun trying and I suspect we may return even just to find out where that road goes.