We were rushing to get out of town on Friday night and eat a fast dinner, because David Heffernan and Shay had planned to tackle the SK challenge – the North to South crossing of the Tararuas in under 48 hours. Since the Medium and Medium-Fit trips for the weekend only had one punter and one leader each, the mediums tagged along with the MFs.
They were away fast from the Putara roadend, as the rest of us took our time packing up and wandering off. We took a leisurely 2.5 hours to get to Herepai hut, utilising the long daylight hours and bright moon light. In fact the moonlight was the first sign that this wasn’t going to be the usual Tararua trip – there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the moon was so bright it lit up the hut when we arrived. We arrived at Herepai just when Shay and David did (for the second time); they had turned back from the ridge because navigating on a ridge at night isn’t so fun with gale force winds.
The next day, David and Shay were back on to the ridge early heading towards Dundas Hut and beyond. We weren’t far behind, though we were taking the scenic route via Roaring Stag Hut and Cattle Ridge Hut to Dundas. This would be my first trip in the Tararaus in which I would visit four huts in one day. It made sense, as it was worth having the long day and two big climbs out of the way.
We meandered down to the track junction and turned off towards Roaring Stag Hut – it took just over 2 hours to arrive there, owing to the lack of traditional Tararua mud puddles. Another sign this trip was different, the missing mud and slippery tree routes since it hadn’t rained in a few days. Amazingly, it would not rain for the whole weekend. That Saturday was so hot, I drank 4 litres.
From Roaring Stag, we crossed the swing bridge, and started up the 700 metre ascent to Cattle Ridge Hut. Still in the thick of the bush, we came across a downed tree and lost the track for a bit. Nevermind, we just bashed up further and landed back on the track, popping out above the bush line and gaining some spectacular views. We had lunch at Cattle Ridge Hut and filled our water before taking off along the ridge.
It didn’t take long to spot a few poles marking the steep descent to the Ruamahanga River. We were all glad to have walked in this direction, as the descent was steep and alternately full of loose rock and thick bush that had just been cut back enough to slip through. We reached the river and found the most spectacular swimming holes. It seemed like the perfect spot to squeeze in a tent for the night and then walk the Ruamahanga River out to Roaring Stag or even to join up with the Ruamahanga River gorge track the next day, but alas we were going back uphill to Dundas Hut.
We crossed the river and sidled for some time. Just as I was starting to question our location, we came out at the junction of side creeks, crossed them and were about to start the second major ascent of the day (600 metres) when we bumped into David and Shay. Apparently they had decided to bag the SK having not got the early starts they needed and due to some other travelling complications.
A travelling complication is a small thing that must be attended to sooner rather than later, as later it will be worse. As David can attest, a little chaffing can become a lot when you’re trying to travel as fast as possible. Left to worsen, it might just result in a loss of clothing to accommodate the discomfort, making this possibly the most unusual Tararua’s trip – an encounter with a trouserless tramper.
After much laughter, we pushed on, me getting slower and slower as the metres seemed to pile on. But once again we were travelling above the bush line, along a ridge and rewarded with spectacular views in all directions, not a cloud in the sky. We reached Dundas Hut after a total of nine hours and settled in for dinner, desserts and a few cuppas.
On Sunday, we would return back to Herepai via the tops. I was looking forward to another spectacular day of sunshine and views in all directions. Just a few minutes from Dundas takes you to the main range, the guys dropped their backs and took a quick side trip to bag Mt Dundas. Then we were on our way, ticking off high points like Pukemoremore, Walker, West Peak, East Peak , Ruapae and Herepai. In Dundas Hut there is an undated permanent warning sign from DoC about severe erosion to the ridge between East Peak and Herepai. We didn’t think much of it, until we arrived there. It is a small section and was easy to navigate, but would be dodgy in severe weather or at night.
We pushed on all the way back to Herepai Hut for lunch, dripping in sweat and daydreaming about swimming in the Mangatainoka River at the roadend. With the idea of refreshing swim in our minds, we zipped down to the roadend wondering if we would find David and Shay.
For me it was a most unusual Tararua Tramp, no mud nor rain, endless sunshine and blue sky, 4 huts in one day and a naked tramper. As an aside, Tony Gazley and I will be leading a sensible SK this year in which the trampers will take 4 days instead of 48 hours and keep their trousers on.