I am not a fan of the Barra Track. It is my least favourite part of the Tararuas. So as we started off from The Pines, I was wondering why I had planned a trip to visit The Three Kings. I still don’t really know the answer, but I’m happy I did because it made for a very worthwhile trip.
The first pleasant surprise was a friendly horse encounter, which put me in a good mood just as we started on the Barra Track. This may have made all the difference, because we made good time along the track, making it to Mitre Flats Hut within two and a half hours.
We then left the track and headed up South Mitre Stream. We forded the Stream just upstream from the swing bridge to avoid a steep scrambly section on the true right bank. There was then a good route all the way to the Mid King spur. We crossed Baldy Creek and continued upstream. Within 200m we were in the stream bed, crossing back and forth, and often opting to just head up the stream. There were decent sections with water over our knees, and some large boulders to navigate through, so it could be quite tricky after rain. But as it happened, we had a sunny day and were almost tempted to swim. Almost.
A brief lunch at the base of the North King Spur gave us some time to find the motivation to head up. The Spur was mostly good travel; we only lost the main ridge and ventured into dense bush-bashing a couple of times. Just before reaching the bushline, there are a few pieces of a plane wreck, which have been moved to the main spur from a plane crash nearby. Lacking the time to properly search for the full wreck, we pushed on, finding ourselves in dense Leatherwood within 5 minutes. Classic. This lasted for about 100m of vertical elevation. And this felt like quite a long time, as there was no obvious route through.
Our original plan had been to reach Mid King Biv for the night, but as we’d been ascending we had been discussing camping on the tops. So we were pleasantly surprised to find a tarn and enough flat ground for a couple of tents on North King spur around 5:30pm. We also had enough time to cook some dinner before it got dark. The water had algae in it and there was evidence of animals around, so we thoroughly boiled the water and used plenty of Aquatabs. It was hard to tell if the tarn would still be there in summer or not. As the sun set, it became quite cold and the wind picked up, so we were wrapped up in our sleeping bags not long after sunset.
With a long day ahead of us, we set our alarms for 6 am on Sunday morning. We were therefore up and out of our tents for a stunning sunrise over the Wairarapa. It took 1 1/2 hrs to reach Middle King, which involved scrambling around some classic exposed Tararua tops in clag and gusting winds. Jamie still had Mid King Biv on her hut-bagging radar, so we headed off down the hill to find it, leaving Kaitlyn in a tent on top of Middle King. The travel down was good, as long as you didn’t wander off into the dense Leatherwood. We made it to the Biv and back to the ridgeline in a little under 2 hrs. By this time, the weather had mostly cleared to a pleasant sunny day, and travel to South King was quick.
On the way down and then back up to Baldy Peak, we passed a number of keen trail runners. We were more than happy sitting on top of Baldy Peak eating lunch while watching them run (and walk) up the spur and along the tops.
Instead of following the Baldy & Barton Tracks to Mitre Flats, we opted for the Old Barton Track (down the north-eastern spur of Baldy Peak). For the next few hours we existed in a state of constantly running into a piece of permolat, just to lose the route within minutes. Eventually we intercepted the (new) Barton Track and followed it down to Mitre Flats, arriving just before 4pm.
The slog back to the car was long. There isn’t much more to say. We were sore and tired, and needed head torches for the last hour or so. As we crossed the farmland before The Pines, we were met not by friendly horses, but by creepy cow eyes shining in torchlight. I’m a little embarrassed by how much I got spooked when one of them blinked. When we got back to the car and drove into Masterton we practically inhaled McDonalds and pizza before driving back to Wellington.
Related trip reports for anyone interested in finding the plane wreck: