After stopping at Carterton’s Wild Oats Café for the obligatory pre-tramp and in a few people’s cases, necessary, morning coffee, our party of 12 arrived at the Holdsworth carpark mid-morning. After divvying up group gear and food we started walking in fine but crisp weather. Unnaturally for the Tararuas, we had clear skies and virtually no wind as we walked first to the Rocky Lookout, then on up the Gentle Annie track. We stopped at the Totara Flats track junction for lunch before continuing the relatively easy walk down towards the large swing bridge and then Totara Flats Hut.
Totara Flats Hut was incredibly inviting, but unbeknownst to a few people on the tramp who were perhaps a little more than surprised by this idea, the plan was to sleep under flys on Saturday night. Tony’s bombfire expertise compensated for the cold though, and thanks to some serious wood-gathering efforts (especially by Rory and Nick who picked up the largest pieces of driftwood in sight about 500 metres from our campsite), the fire was raging by 5 pm when it started to get dark.
The campsite setting was in among a cluster of trees, a sheltered spot off to the left of the Flats about 15 minutes walk from Totara Flats Hut, and a stone’s throw from the Waiohine River. At dusk you could see a tuft of smoke rising out the top of the trees that were our walls for the night.
Dinner was Tomato Mac Cheese from the WTMC Cookbook, prepared under Rachel’s direction. We had a production chain going and after a while had more food prepped than we could fit in the billies. For dessert we demolished two packets of Tim Tams and then roasted marshmallows over the fire until we could eat no more.
After dessert it was pretty much a dash from the fireside into our sleeping bags. Overnight I learnt about the importance of having a good drawstring at the top or your sleeping bag – thank you Tony for that advice.
True the proverb ‘red sky at night, shepherd’s delight…’ in the morning we woke to the most beautiful, clear skies, with the sun peeking through thick mist covering the Flats. This picturesqueness resulted in the taking of dozens (plus some) of photos. We had enough firewood leftover from the night before to restart the fire in the morning, so we centered ourselves around that as we ate breakfast and prepared to leave again.
The walk from Totara Flats Hut back up to the Totara Flats track junction is a steep one. The group separated with me, Alexandra and Abby up front, Marie and Clinton in the middle and the rest of the crew taking up the rear. Those up front attempted to wait for the others along the way, but while the weather was clear it was too cold to stay in one place for long. Powering up the hill and a very brief stop for lunch (given the cold!) meant a few of us arrived at the van over an hour before the van keys did. We consequently learnt the perils of walking ahead and had to hone in our faffing skills in order to stay warm and occupied until the rest of the party arrived at the carpark.
All in all it was a fantastic tramp for a large group with a range of abilities and experience. For at least a few of us it was our first experience sleeping under flys, so for them that could be knocked off the bucket list. The highlight for me was waking up to a breathtakingly beautiful Sunday morning. After an (again obligatory) ice-cream stop on the way back to Wellington we arrived at the Railway Station just before dark, refreshed and ready for the next one.