When I put this trip on the schedule it was intended partly as a joke at my own expense, partly as an attempt to lure some of the people I went tramping with 20 or 25 years ago out into the hills again, and partly as a theme trip with old-style clothes and gear. My promotion of it at club night didn’t meet with much success, despite the fact that I promised to allow “honorary” old codgers to come along as long as they had the right old codgery attitude – the only person who had already signed up at that stage promptly crossed his name off the list! I’m not sure what that says. Perhaps he couldn’t live without a GPS or Camelbak, which were strictly banned. Perhaps the threat of endless recitals of the Monty Python sketch about livin’ in cardboard box in middle o’ road was simply too much to bear. But I did get some punters who signed up by email, and therefore obviously didn’t hear my spiel, and in the end there were four of us: two genuine old codgers – myself and Steve Kohler, and two honorary old codgers – Alayne Wright and Kaleb Smith. Kaleb turned out to be the son of Bruce Smith, who I did some tramping with 25 years or more ago! Now that really did make me feel like an old codger!
We drove up to Walls Whare on Saturday morning with the Easy and Medium trips and got away at about 10 o’clock. Steve had got into the spirit of things and was dressed in a bushshirt and rubber gummies. I had my old moth-eaten bushshirt and my old framepack.
Genuine old codgers will remember when the “Walls Whare” roadend actually had a Walls Whare (a hut owned by our club, which for some reason decided to pull it down), and the swing bridge across the river actually had a tendency to swing, unlike the present solid construction which could probably support a herd of buffalo. From the bridge we had a long trudge up the track up the hill and along towards Cone Saddle. I had last been up this track a couple of months earlier on the way to the top of Mt Cone on a tubing trip led by Debbie Buck. (Why on earth were we climbing Mt Cone on a tubing trip, I hear you cry. You’ll just have to ask Debbie!) That had been in the middle of the drought and the track was as dry as a bone, without any mud. Now it was back to more usual Tararua conditions.
After two or three hours we arrived at Cone Hut. Built in 1946 out of slab totara, this is a hut to gladden the heart of any genuine old codger! We stopped for lunch, and were soon joined by the Easies. After lunch we wandered down valley for an hour to Tutuwai for the night. Cone might have been a more fitting place to stay for an old codgers trip but the Easies had claimed it for themselves.
I’ve gone past Tutuwai often enough in the past but I’m not sure if I’ve ever actually stayed there before. I don’t think I have, but when you get to be an old codger your memory starts to fail you. These days I find it hard to remember yesterday, let alone what I did 10 or 20 years ago. It’s not totally impossible I’ve actually stayed there a dozen times. Steve provided some entertainment for the afternoon with a cryptic crossword from an English newspaper, and man was it tough! We got some help from an English woman in the hut but came nowhere near completing it. She and I swapped our favourite cryptic crossword clues. Mine was HIJKLMNO (5 letters, starts with W) and hers were OF OF OF OF OF OF OF OF OF OF (10 letters, starts with O) and the fiendishly clever and difficult SELF-PROCLAIMED BIRD WATCHER (7 letters, starts with S). A chocolate fish will be awarded to the first reader of this trip report who solves all three of them. Email me your answers!
Late in the afternoon a group of about eight or ten boy scouts turned up, accompanied by three adults. Immediately the peace and quiet was shattered, and it was to stay shattered for the rest of the evening and well into the night. Even a shout of “SHUT UP!!” which inexplicably escaped my lips at one point failed to have any effect on the incessant noise.
Sharing a hut with a large group of scouts must be the ultimate disaster on any tramping trip. I remember once many years ago staying at Totara Flats hut (the former one, up near the base of the hill halfway down the flats, not the current one opposite Totara Creek at the northern end of the flats) when a large group of boy scouts walked in. Immediate evasive action was required! “There’s a nice empty hut up the end of the flats” we told the adult in charge of them, and we watched them trudge off towards the Old Totara Flats hut – a rat-infested dive further up the flats that has long since been pulled down! I almost expected to see them return to our hut after an hour or two but they didn’t.
That evening we had a genuine old codgers stew for dinner with meat and spuds – none of this pasta or couscous or other newfangled stuff.
Next morning we set off up the track behind the hut heading towards Mt Reeves, which I hadn’t been up for many years. The drizzly weather of the previous day had cleared up and it was sunny, though cold. From the open, scrubby top of Reeves we had superb views in all directions – across to the Marchant Ridge and the Southern Crossing, down the Tauherenikau Valley towards Kaitoke, and out across the farmland and towns of the Wairarapa.
My plan was to follow down the eastern side of the Mt Reeves track for a couple of kilometres, then take the old track down the ridge to the west of Coal Stream which leads back down to the Walls Whare roadend. This track is no longer marked on the current topo maps and I wondered whether it would be hard to find and hard to follow. I needn’t have worried. The start of it is marked by a huge and dramatic DOC sign warning that the walkwire across the bottom of Coal Stream has been removed, and the track itself is clearly followable and marked by blue plastic triangles. (Why blue? I’m not sure. Maybe DOC is using this colour for “unofficial” tracks as opposed to the standard orange for “official” ones.)
A howling gale blew up as we descended the ridge – I was glad we weren’t back up on top of Mt Reeves. Towards the bottom the track dropped off down into Coal Stream, which was easy to cross without the missing walkwire, although it could be tricky if the stream was up. Once across, a short sidle track down the stream and a short, steep climb brought us back to the end of the Walls Whare swingbridge. It was only early in the afternoon but the other trips were already out so we had an early drive home. I’ve never done this exact circuit before but it makes an excellent trip for an easy-medium trip, and it was good to revisit Mt Reeves for this old codger.