Vosseler – Penn Creek Hut

It’s winter, the Tararuas lie waiting to be visited, the WTMC trip list indicates several tramps for the weekend but the rain gods might have something up their sleeve. In fact, one of the club’s best known rain gods earlier declined an offer to lead the trip because of the lousy forecast. Thinking back after the trip, that very decision may have resulted in us (Gareth, Simon, Bernie and Hans) having a relatively dry weekend. Later we understood the weather in Wellington has been awful that weekend, hasn’t it?

Being transport officer, Gareth arranged one of the 12-seater vans for us, but not after querying if some smaller transport options might be available. Anyway, a quick platform 9 start and limited traffic on the road meant we could enjoy F&C in Waikanae at 7 pm. Apparently the smorgasbord (Swedish word for a buffet style meal) means in Chinese something as ‘leftovers from last week’. The chips were OK although Bernie was warned not to eat too many of them, so we happily helped him to avoid excessive carbo-loading. Lots of eighties-songs later we lost connection with The Breeze FM, but fortunately our memories could fill in the gap and many historic TV-series, icons and music passed along. Actually a shame we did not make it to the lodge party for Solstice weekend.

One nearly missed turn-off and possibly a hedgehog (sorry!) later we found the parking at Otaki Forks, filled in the intentions book and went up the track to Tim, who was one of the names jotted down earlier in the book, and walked up before us with a mate. About two hours after we set off we found a warm hut, one very excited dog and a smaller and more sedate version. Tim turned out to be a nice chap, so we a good chat on the quality of F&C (he turned out to run a shop in P’umu beach). In the meantime Hans concluded the track up to Field Hut is not the ideal way to break in your new shoes, or was it the lack of recent tramps (too much cycling?) that led to a large blister on each heel?

The Saturday forecast promised better weather later in the day, and indeed we had a perfectly clear sky when we did the dishes at 9 pm. During daylight we walked up the Judd ridge towards Kime hut, across a few patches of snow, but just short of the hut we turned east at Bridge Peak to follow a poled route towards Boyd-Wilson knob, Vosseler, then Yates and McIntosh. Difficult to see which was which due to some clouds and an occasional drop of rain, but we had no problem in finding the turn-off to Penn Creek hut. Dropping slightly to around 1000 metres we spend about an hour in a green velvet world of overgrown trees, thick mossy carpets and silence (apart from the occasional laughter of elves and goblins). In this dark green and foggy world we only could keep our bearings thanks to numerous orange triangles. The scenery evolved to the usual Tararua forest, the sound of the river grew stronger, and with 20 minutes of daylight left we reached the hut. Slightly unfortunate, the only river crossing (Penn Creek) of the day is 1 minute away from the hut. On a positive note, our shoes were clean again.

The hut is tucked away from main routes and had not seen any visitors in the last 2 months, and even not many during the summer period. Imagine buying your annual backcountry hut pass, have your groceries choppered in every two months (does New World offer that service yet?), and write that book you were never able to in the busy city? Or get some speedy internet connection and get rich doing arbitrage on sports betting, which Simon explained to us. One thing needs to be changed however: the oversized chimney. While smoking is prohibited in pubs, being smoked is hard to avoid in this hut. After a good curry and a huge chunk of fudge cake, the evening ended with a rather complicated card game. Rules, strategy, luck and nearly two hours to finish one round!

The recipe for Sunday was quite easy: along the creek, up the slope to Table Tops, then turn right to Field Hut (in time for a good lunch break) and down the track back to parking. While it was a bit windy on the main range and markedly colder than Saturday, it was still pleasant winter tramping weather. On the way down from Field Hut we even saw some blue sky and a bit of a view. Currently DOC is upgrading the lower parts of the track (access for buggies?), but as we passed after the digger and before the seal was put on, this fun section was classified as ‘Heavenly Mud’ by Bernie. Sliding down the slope we reached the Waiotauru river to clean our boots, before we were allowed anywhere near the van. Although the idea of a warm coffee on the way back was appealing, the prospect of a warm shower was even better. So two days and 15 walking hours later we were back at platform 9, and very close to the shower. Conclusion: good and rewarding tramp, but suggest to have a healthy relation with your shoes before setting off.

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