Totara Flats via Waiohine Campsite…in the rain

I was keen for an overnight tramp despite the horrendous Tararua weather forecast. We’d decided that given the forecast for heavy rain and gales, our best bet was a trip in the valley that avoided any major stream or river crossings.

We’d settled on Totara Flats as neither Kate or Emily had done the walk from the Waiohine Campsite road end to Totara Flats. DOC times for this track are around 4.5 hours though in the past some easy medium groups have taken far longer, finding the track a bit undulating.

I’d done the trip a few times, but many years ago. As we discussed our plans, I remembered that long ago there were a few streams that could be problematic when the water level would rise with rain, but they were all bridged now. I also remembered a high river route that went over the top of a large and active slip along the Waiohine River when the river rose high enough to cover the track along the bank. And finally I remembered a ford along the road that has previously been a problem for people to drive through when lots of rain has fallen.

We looked at the forecast and river levels and in the end decided to stick with the plan, with the backup being Cone Hut. We checked the fords (there are two) as we drove through and both were a trickle of water not even on the road.

We had a lovely walk in with no rain in t-shirts and shorts. All the stream crossings were bridged. We sauntered along the low river route, and arrived at the hut in 4 hours including a long lunch stop. The rain came off and on that evening and through the night.

We set out at 9am the next morning and by 10, the rain was steadily falling. The river was clearly up and rising, so it was obvious there had been and was continuing to be lot of rain throughout the mountain ranges.

We were grateful as we crossed the bridges of the streams, as they had turned into torrents that we would never have been able to cross. We hit the bottom of the no longer active slip on the Waiohine River at the end of the flats. The slip has dumped so much debris in the river that it creates a bank that’s more than high enough to walk over despite the rising river level. But further around the bend, it appeared the bank was underwater and what is a now a new high river route on the downstream side of the slip, takes a very brief zip up and over the problem area.

We made such good time, we didn’t bother for lunch. It was steadily raining and we were already dreaming of the cafe stop in Featherston. Around 12ish, we hit the roadend, changed and took off. A few minutes later we passed the first ford with water over the road. It was still just a light stream and we easily drove through.

But the second ford was a different story. It was at least 20 cm deep, flowing fast and fairly wide across. On the other side were a few SUVs debating on whether to cross. I waded across to the check the depth. Fortunately for us, local photographer Pete Monk was there. He had the latest forecast, knew the area well and had 3 spare seats.

The forecast had worsened overnight. The rain was forecast to continue…peaking up to 25ml an hour and dumping 90ml the next day. Right now was the lowest the ford would be. So that meant we couldn’t wait for it to drop. A quick discussion ensued and we decided to park the car, wade through the rapidly rising ford and very gratefully hitch a ride with Pete into Featherston to get the train home to Wellington. We managed to hitch another ride from Megan B to the Upper Hutt train station and catch a replacement bus home.

From the screenshot of the river flow and Emily’s drawings below, you can see the water levels when we drove in at the first happy face, the sad face when we had hoped to drive out, and the second happy face when we drove back two days later on Tuesday to get the car. Notice the monumental surge and peak within hours of when we had hoped to drive through the ford.

So the lesson here folks is that our planning for the tramp to the conditions was spot on, but planning for the road travel wasn’t!

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