After months of amping each other up about Carkeek Hut, the time was finally here. Carkeek or bust! In my bundle of excitement I composed a spotify playlist to capture the vital essence of Carkeek and to keep the momentum up.
However, as the week wore on, I watched in horror as the weather radars got worse, and worse and worse. We accepted our fate…Carkeek Hut would have to wait for another day.
Anne and Daniel weaved some magic and we soon had plan B: Arete Forks Hut. A worthy backup. Another one to add to the hut bagging list, and sheltered from the fearsome winds that would be smashing our beloved Carkeek Hut. We soon lost our three other tramping companions, who weren’t as crazy as us, and chose the sensible option of a weekend at home.
On the morning of our departure, I woke to a strange sound from my phone. Not my usual alarm I thought, that’s unusual. Glancing blearily at my phone, I made out Anne’s name…”oh s***, my alarm didn’t go off”! Anne headed down to pick up Daniel and I ran around at hyperspeed gathering my things. Before long, we were all off on the road and, after Anne informed me she had tried calling twice, I realised not only had I not heard my alarm, but I hadn’t even set it to begin with! I hoped this wouldn’t expose my secret shame as a lazy lover of sleep-ins and strip me of any tramping street cred I’d built up.
We made it to Kiriwhakapapa road end at 9:30am, and set off up the hill. Having spent the previous evening relaxing at a sauna, dehydration was hitting Anne hard, but with the help of some electrolytes we made it to the Blue Range turn off and began our descent to the river.
We got to Cow Creek Hut in time for lunch, and were surprised to find large chilly bins with fresh sausages and milk inside. Before long, their owner appeared and offered us a fresh brew. I gratefully accepted, having missed out on my morning cuppa in my mad dash to the door.
After a chat we said goodbye and puffed our way up the hill from the hut. Luckily we had DJ Daniel on the decks, committing tramping sin by playing us motivating music from “Carkeek or bust!” to keep up morale. Top tracks for the trail included “Aint No Mountain High Enough” and “Lost in the Bush”. When the going got tough, we resorted to the Kill Bill soundtrack.
We soon realised that Arete Forks was not a track where you could measure distance by kilometers or even by elevation. Instead, the new form of measurement for this track was in streams. There were six of them: up and down, and up and down, and up and down, and up and down, and up and down, and up and down and we would be at the hut!
Not quite so simple.
We quickly discovered the many different types of mud in the Tararuas. There was mud deep enough you could slide in and still stay upright, deceptive mud which stole your feet from under you and mud that looked like mud but was actually a puddle up to your knees. Some sections of the track were barely wide enough for your foot. By stream number 2 Anne was already questioning her life choices.
We were very glad that the Backcountry Trust had come through recently and cleared the track, improved the trail markings and had added fixed ropes at particularly steep sections. With all the rain, the new ropes made it much easier climbing up and down the slippery rocks. The track’s famed reputation as the “worst track in the Tararua Ranges” seemed to have improved.
The route was varied, and each section between streams had a certain theme to it – there was the moss section, the rocky section, and a massive exposed slip before stream number six.
After coming up from stream number four, a brief moment had us losing the track and Daniel suffered a slip down a rocky bank. Our energy was flagging and hunger was starting to set in. The descent into Type 2 fun was fast approaching.
As we took a breather, Daniel and I suddenly turned around to find Anne grinning and holding a giant axe. Surprised and confused in equal measure, we discovered a duct tape label on it saying “help me on my way to Arete Forks Hut”. Anne was searching for a sense of purpose and decided to take up the challenge. She fixed it to the outside of her pack and it became the fourth member of our Arete Forks team. We chose to name it in honour of our more sensible and less insane fellow club members who couldn’t join us on this miserable wet weekend: Jon, Eoin, Murray (JEM for short).
We got past stream number six and I took over carrying JEM. The rain suddenly became torrential. We caught a glimpse of the hut through the trees and sped down the hill to get out of the rain.
We got out of our sodden clothes and started cooking our delicious dehy mushroom risotto which Anne had prepared.
After dinner I unveiled my deluxe Easter dessert – hot-X smores! The fireside turned into a scientific lab as we perfected the right technique.
The question: how to ensure toasting of the bun, crispy-yet-gooey marshmallow and evenly melted chocolate all at the perfect temperature
Several iterations were developed. The “hot-X sandwich” wrapped in tin foil got a 4/10 rating due to uneven chocolate-melting and charred bun. The “pan technique” melted the chocolate, but didn’t quite warm the bun enough – 4/10. The next attempt involved toasting the bun and marshmallow separately, and melting chocolate in a spoon. This proved a winner – with crispy marshmallow, melted chocolate and a golden toasted bun. An 8/10 rating. This technique was further refined by keeping the bun warm next to the fire and using the fireside tongs for maximum stability. We concluded that melting the chocolate separately in a pot would’ve worked best overall.
The experimenting went a bit too far, with a pink marshmallow and peanut butter combination – never to be repeated again. The sugar coma that followed kept me up for hours, but at least we had the hut to ourselves and the pounding rain on the roof to lull us off to sleep.
The next morning greeted us with more rain as we started out on our return. We tried to stay optimistic and look at the bright side – the tiny patch of slightly less grey sky above the hut, or that our socks were slightly less damp than expected. Things seemed to be on the up and up when Daniel recovered his lost shoelace clip on the track, which had been given up for lost. The sun soon made an appearance as we made our way back over the slip and I began to fantasise about piña coladas and sunbathing at Cow Creek Hut.
The track proved even more slippery with the extra rain and we each took our turn slipping and sliding. We decided that as an official rule, a slip couldn’t count as a slip unless your bum touched the ground.
More “Kill Bill” tunes got us back over the final hump from the last stream to Cow Creek Hut. Out hunter friend and one of his buddies were still there. We stopped for a break and gratefully accepted another hot brew and a chat. Learning that they were flying out, we gladly took up their offer to dump our rubbish for us.
We left Cow Creek Hut and made our way over the swing bridge and along the soggy track up the river. With all the rain, the river was up a lot higher than before, and one section we had previously been able to skirt around on the rocks now couldn’t be avoided without wet boots. This was easy enough to pass, but any further rain may have made it tricky.
By now the sun was beaming down, and Daniel adapted by playing such hits as “April sun in Cuba” and “Pocketful of Sunshine”. The tunes helped during our slog back up and over the hill to Blue Range junction and the carpark.
In the end, we gave the track a solid 3.5 stars rating. A good wet weather alternative and pleasant bush walking. However, without views, the endless ups and downs felt somewhat pointless.
Thanks go to the kind hunters at Cow Creek Hut and the Backcountry Trust for some impressive track maintenance.
To our beloved Carkeek Hut – we’ll be united someday.
- Road end to intersection for Blue Range Hut: 1h 30min
- Intersection to Cow Creek Hut: 2h
- Lunch break: 45min
- Cow Creek Hut to 2nd stream: 1h 10min
- 2nd to 4th stream: 1h 30min (including approx 15min break)
- 4th to 6th stream: 1h 30min
- 6th stream to Arete Forks Hut: 35 min
Day one: 1,400m ascent
Day two: 1,200m ascent