Tarn Ridge Hut Loop – Tararua Forest Park

The forecast was for a weekend of light winds and sun as we left Welly Railway Station at 4pm Friday. Following a dinner stop in Masterton, it was a further 15 minute drive to The Pines carpark on Upper Waingawa Road.

Arriving at 6 pm, the waning crescent moon provided no light as we followed the private gravel road north. Our torches picked up a scattering of markers. However, after 30 minutes, we made an error – veering right, through an open farm gate with a partially blacked-out DOC warning sign, instead of following a well-formed path to the left, which was clearly signposted “Mitre Flats Hut”. This wouldn’t be an issue in daylight.

The Barra Track is a pretty, gently undulating track that runs parallel to the Waingawa River. In a forest park known for its rooty tracks, Barra Track could well bear the crown.

Mitre Flats Hut was quiet on arrival. The Club’s medium-fit group, led by Regan, slated to visit Dorset Ridge Hut the next day, had crept in earlier and were already snoring in their sacks. Two other members of the public had made themselves at home, bringing with them the contents of a small dairy – more on them later.

Ashley took on the early bird role of organizing the breakfast billy. We departed at 7:35 am, retracing our steps to the South Mitre Stream, unnecessarily getting our feet wet with a crossing that could have been avoided by using the swing bridge at the base of the Barton Track.

Our objective was to climb an unmarked ridge to Mid King Biv, push through to Middle King, head north to Girdlestone, and finish at Tarn Ridge Hut for the night.

Keeping to the true right of South Mitre Stream, we spotted intermittent pink tape on the 300m trail to Baldy Creek. A small rock tarn sits on the Creek’s north bank, and passing this, the vague path immediately turns west and after 15m begins to climb. The track is well-worn in places and easy to follow; however, windfall completely hides the path at times, and our pace slowed as we rediscovered evidence of flattened earth here, or a pink marker there.

The route to Mid-King Biv

Emerging through the bush line exposed views of Baldy in the near distance, the Wairarapa Plains to the southeast, and Aorangi Forest Park on the horizon. At approximately 1140m, we come across a pole with silver reflective tape/strips which we correctly surmised was the route to Mid King Biv. It had taken us 3.5 hours so far.

The builders of Mid King Biv must be commended for firstly finding this hidden spot located next to a babbling brook, and then maneuvering a hut onto what might be the only flat area for kilometers.

A look at the map indicated that, above the bushline, we might expect to encounter open tops and subsequently easier travel. While it was true that we could now enjoy majestic views, these were Tararua tops and traveling from Mid King Biv to Middle King, a distance of 500m, took a further hour as we fought to find a track between the chest-high tussock, flax, and leatherwood. The presence of Spaniard Grass hidden trackside kept us lively.

It had taken us 5 hours to travel from Mitre Flats Hut to Middle King, and as we scanned the ridgeline north past North King and Adkin to Girdlestone, a distance of 3 km, with Tarn Ridge Hut a mere 700m further still, we could not help thinking we were on the downhill stretch. But as my tramping friend Daniel oft says, “there are no easy kilometers in the Tararuas”.

Looking South from Girdlestone to Middle King in Center

Over the next 4 hours we averaged 1km/ph on often narrow, rocky and precipitous terrain. Grasses covered so much of the track that progress was slow, trying to place feet without turning an ankle. But oh, what a day to be on the tops. Dorset Ridge Hut was visible on the opposite side of the valley, basking in a sunny clearing. Kapiti Island came into view from time to time, as did the mountains of the Seaward Kaikouras. The large tarn on Dorset Ridge shone like a diamond.

We sat on the flanks of Girdlestone at 4 pm, enjoying the sun and looking northwest towards point 1435 (on the topo map) knowing the hut was just 700m out of view.

Leaving Girdlestone

It had been a big day; not long now. But Girdlestone had a surprise for us, one the topo map had quietly hidden. Between Girdlestone and the Dorset Ridge turnoff are a series of 3-4 pinnacles, requiring care and attention and at times a head for heights. On a bad day, this short segment could be challenging.

Tarn Ridge Hut from Pt 1435

Though storm-damaged and not up to the standard DOC would wish, Tarn Ridge Hut is still a welcome and usable shelter, being wind and watertight. Basking in the all-day sun, the hut was comfortably warm which was welcome as there was no available wood for the burner. Five mold-free mattresses were on-site, contrasting with the dozen badly molded specimens. The kitchen end of the hut was in fair condition; however, the eastern walls are not. The water tank was full, and a circular hole had been cut in the lid to enable bottles, etc., to be filled. The rock under the broken tap prevents the tap from dripping.

Maids and the Tarn Ridge Hut water hole

A colorful sunset played along the ridges, reiterating the next days promised fine weather.

Boots first outing in a number of years

The morning brought a light frost and the lightest of breezes and we set off at 8 am. Approaching Girdlestone, we espied Regan’s group about 30 minutes south on Dorset Ridge. A kernel of competitiveness swelled within us all and we hastened northeast to Brockett, before scaling the steep and rocky northwest side of the Tararua’s highest peak – Mitre Peak. Our timing was impeccable, and we met members of the Club’s easy-medium trip, led by Blair, who had trekked up from Mitre Flats Hut.

Descending Mitre Peak

It was now time for our knees to experience a Tararua workout, and 2.5 hours later, we arrived at Mitre Flat Hut. We lunched in the sun at the Hut and caught up on the hut antics. Apparently, the two well-provisioned gentlemen had taken a record 7 hours to negotiate the Barra Track on their way in – slowed down by some other mind-altering provisions.

Heading towards the Barra Track for the outward leg, we met Regan’s group descending from Mitre Peak. Our groups leapfrogged along the track, finally emerging together at the bush edge and reaching the cars at around 4 pm.

Approximate Timings:
The Pines – Mitre Flats Hut 4 hrs
Mitre Flats Hut – Mid King Biv turnoff 3.5 hrs
Mid King Biv – Middle King 1hr
Middle King – Girdlestone 3hrs
Girdlestone – Tarn Ridge Hut 1hr
Tarn Ridge Hut – Mitre Peak 2.0hrs
Mitre Peak – Mitre Flats Hut 2.5hrs
Mitre Flats Hut – The Pines 3.15hrs

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