Tararua Peaks Circuit – Tararua Forest Park

Day 1: Shields Flat car park to Field Hut

Weather: Humid and no wind
DOC travel time: 1-3 hrs from Otaki Forks plus 45mins from Shields Flat carpark
Elapsed Time: 3.38hrs, Time moving: 3.09hrs. Distance: 10.51km, Ascent: 744m, Descent: 158m
The trip was planned for a 4-day Anzac break so that a leisurely pace could be taken around the Circuit. Unfortunately, heavy rain descended on the Kapiti Coast on Friday night, so we postponed departure for 24 hours leaving late Saturday afternoon. The calm after the storm brought extreme humidity, and coupled with the dripping forest, meant we got wet very quickly. The track was boggy. Headtorches were necessary for much of the walk, as the moon was only in its first quarter. Despite several other parties beating us to Field Hut, there was plenty of room for us latecomers.

Day 2: Field Hut to Maungahuka Hut

Weather: Perfect, deteriorating to clag, mist and strong wind
DOC travel time: 9 hrs
Elapsed Time: 8:20hrs, Time moving: 6:29hrs. Distance: 12.36km, Ascent: 1,267m, Descent: 866m

The windless, cloudless morning could not have been more ideal for setting out. Two hours from Field Hut we reached the Bridge Peak turnoff and the real adventure started. Immediately, the track became noticeably muddier and Elizabeth and Monique rued their decision to leave gaiters back at the car.  We became used to feeling for the next step with our poles or feet, such was the overgrowth of grasses and flax.  As we approached Boyd-Wilson Knob, the stream which runs through the valley to the south displayed a pretty series of cascading waterfalls. And the weather started to change – visibility decreased and the wind got more excitable.   As conditions deteriorated, negotiating THE LADDER was foremost on everyone’s mind.  When approaching the ladder from the south, there are indeed several precipitous sections to negotiate where strong wind does not help. However the ladder itself, robustly built of steel, is situated in a crescent of rock that provides welcome shelter.   

The legendary views from Maungahuka Hut and its picturesque tarn were lost to our group, as the cloud was low around the hut when we arrived.  We had originally considered pushing on to Anderson Memorial Hut on the second day, but were pleased to cut the day short given the weather.  Sadly, there is no fire at Maungahuka Hut for the weary, muddy tramper to warm themselves against.

Day 3: Maungahuka Hut to Waitewaewae Hut

Weather: Snowing, strong wind
DOC travel time: 9-10hrs
Elapsed Time: 11:43hrs, Time moving: 9:46hrs. Distance: 19.64km, Ascent: 1,263m, Descent: 2,244m

We had a day to make up, so we departed at 7am, amid snow/hail flurries, strong winds and visibility of 70-100m.  With wet gear and boots from the previous day it was a painfully cold start (-4 degrees with windchill).  At this point in the narrative the writer would like to reiterate the boggy and slippery nature of the track.  All party members had numerous slips, trips and falls, while special mention must be made of Monique’s sensational seated landing in a Spaniard Grass plant.

After 1-2 hours, the snowy conditions gave way to watery sunshine and views to the Kapiti coastline and the Wairarapa – which lifted the group’s spirits.  Though temperatures were still in the low single figures, Alistair, certain we were in for better times, was quick to slather on the sun screen.  Several hours later, however, the flurries resumed, and this pattern continued for most of the day.  We stopped at Anderson Memorial for lunch and hot beverages before the last push to Junction Knob and the lengthy downhill stretch to Waitewaewae Hut. The last hour of descent was in darkness, and we would like to give a shoutout to the good folk of Higgins Ltd (roading and infrastructure specialists) for the reflective ‘H’s’ marking the track.  Waitewaewae Hut was a welcome sight and track buddies we had met the previous night had the fire stoked and the billy boiling. 

Day 4: Waitewaewae Hut to Shields Flat car park

Weather: Fine and warm
DOC travel time: 6 hours to Otaki Forks plus 45 minutes to Shields Flat
Elapsed Time: 6:32hrs, Time moving: 5:44hrs. Distance: 15.94km, Ascent: 686m, Descent: 840m

The track, while broader than the previous two days, was still waterlogged and sludgy in places.  Recent work on the track has seen some windfall cleared and a new track marked out high above the slip. However, as it is new and not benched, it is still very steep and slippery. All in all, a challenging and at times tough visit to the Tararua tops was made memorable by good companions, unique weather, stunning views and friendly acquaintances made along the way. 

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