Neill Forks hut from Waiohine Gorge Roadend

Via Totara Flats and return via Cone Ridge.

Tramping club was finally back after the long break due to COVID-19 and I had a rare weekend off work so I was super keen to lead a trip to ensure I got out tramping …

Waiohine Gorge swing bridge. Photo credit: Sarah

We were straight into winter tramping – cold and rainy – so we quickly got moving to Totara Flats hut for our lunch break. At Totara Flats hut we met two trampers who had planned to go to Neill Forks hut but after a fall into Totara Creek they had decided to bail at Totara Flats Hut instead.

From Totara Flats Hut we bypassed the swing bridge, and headed uphill. Once on the ridgeline, the goblin forest was lovely. We found the track junction sign to Neill Forks Hut had fallen over – we hoped that the hut was in better condition!

Aimee in the Goblin Forest. Photo credit: Sarah.

We had a few minutes discussion about who wanted to lead down. I’m notorious for being super slow going downhill and even have the nickname “Down-hill Nana” from friends I run with. In the end “Down-hill Nana” took the lead as I went abseiling without a rope down into Neill Forks hut. We did the last 30 minutes with our headlamps. I was super stoked that we had made it all the way to the hut and hadn’t needed to use my backup option of Totara Flats hut. Megan used her magic fire starting skills plus some bike inner tubes to get a roaring fire started which was great for marshmallow toasting after dinner. Dinner was a yummy quinoa and veggie creation. This got Amy-Lou and Christina and then the rest of the group thinking about whether quinoa was a grain or a seed – a question for Dr Google we decided (Megan read out the answer to this question on the drive back to Wellington – apparently it can be both! – before realising she was on a pet food website!)

Neill Forks Hut in the rain… Photo credit: Sarah.
…And through the magic of photography, Neill Forks Hut in the sunshine. Photo credit: Aimee.
Quinoa – a seed or a grain? Photo credit: Sarah
Megan’s excellent fire enabled Aimee to dry out her backcountry magazine. Photo credit: Sarah.

We left the hut just before 8am on Sunday to begin the slog back up the hill to the ridge. I was particularly looking forward to going over Cone Ridge and it didn’t disappoint – even if the clag limited our views, it was still beautiful especially with the tarns. I imagine it would be a pretty cool place to camp overnight. Amy-Lou made a miniature snow person on one of the snow patches on the ridge. We stopped for an early lunch once back in the tree-line. Megan was a bit cold so I offered her another warm layer – I always tramp with lots of layers as I feel the cold and I had even more this time since I hadn’t been tramping since summer. Once it was revealed just how many spare layers Megan had to choose between, she decided to call the contents of my pack the “Sarah Shop”. From here it was downhill all the way back to the van to meet the EM group who were enjoying hot drinks at the van while waiting for us.

Amy-Lou’s snow person. Photo credit: Sarah.
Wandering across Cone Ridge in the clag. Photo credit: Sarah.

The Stats:

Saturday: Waiohine Gorge – Totara Flats Hut – Neill Forks Hut
Distance: 18.5km

Moving time: 5.5 hours

Elevation: 1,102m

Sunday: Neill Forks – Cone Ridge – Waiohine Gorge

Distance: 14km

Moving time: 5.5 hours

Elevation: 1,049m

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