Tramping the Tararua Peaks Part 1: New Zealand

Tararua peaks
‘appy as Larry out bush

I was on a bit of a downer and needed to clear my head so I did what I enjoy best (apart from cycling….and eating). I set myself a little mission to hike the notorious Tararua Ranges and if that wasn’t a challenge in its own right, I would cycle there and back. It was a pleasant cycle up the coast from Wellington to Otaki Forks, the gateway to the Tararuas. The majority of the way was ridden on a cycle path shared with walkers and horse riders, not that I saw any.

 

Tararua peaks
Otaki Forks

A lot of the route followed the Kapiti Coast and was very scenic with views out to Kapiti Island. I should have stopped earlier but I was saving myself for some famous Kapiti Ice Cream. I arrived at the Lindale Centre in Paraparaumu, where I was under the impression the Kapiti Cheese and Ice Cream shop was, around 12:30pm. I was starving. “Where is everything?” I thought to myself. The place was a ghost town. All that was left was an unloved candy shop and a deserted cafe. I was so hungry I grabbed a disappointing and overpriced ice cream from the candy shop. Note to self: don’t go again.

 

Tararua peaks
Cycling the Kapiti Coast

A bit further, ‘a bit’ meaning a mere 6km, was Waikane with an abundance of shops and cafes. My lovely Wellington hosts suggested I head down to the beach there but I was eager to reach Otaki Forks in good time to secure a space in the DOC hut. I cycled around town and came across a really nice looking cafe called Sunday Catina. It was right up my street. It wasn’t like I needed another $30 brunch, I had just left the trendy coffee shops of Wellington but the menu looked too good to resist. I popped into New World beforehand to stock up on tramping food, a total of $35 spent on protein-rich foods to last me 4/5 days. Into bad I thought. I returned to Sunday Cantina to find the kitchen had closed five minutes earlier, typical. They said they’d do me a bagel and a very nice bagel it was indeed. Washed down with bottomless coffee, this was my kinda place.

Tararua peaks
Sunbathing at the hut after arriving early

I got chatting to the waitress who gave me her details and said if I run into trouble then to give her a call. Nearly everyone I’ve got talking to have said this to me, Kiwi’s really are such lovely people. I reached the hut in good time and changed into my togs for the dip in the river. It was a glorious evening and the rocks made a natural jacuzzi for me to rest my aching legs. I had the hut to myself and enjoyed a can of super spicy chilli beans for dinner whilst reading Wilderness Magazine – my favourite!

 

Tararua peaks
New track. Looks like DOC had only just hacked it down that morning!

I had a terrible nights sleep with a headache, sweats and the fear of someone coming into the hut. Just overtired I believe. It was only 5-7 hour until the first hut but just 15 minutes in I was struggling, sweating like a pig in the humidity of the bush. It was a hard track which went up down up down all rather steep. Although well marked, there were lots of things to try and navigate past like streams, fallen trees, rocks, muddy bits and tree roots. My shoulders hurt from brunting the full weight of my pack. A carrot which was digging in to me even left a bruise! I thought I was making bad time and all I could think about is how I could ration my food as I was worried I didn’t have enough for the full four days.

 

Tararua peaks
Inside Waitewaewae Hut

I reached the hut within 5 hours which I was rather pleased about. At the hut were a handful of TA (Te Araroa) walkers having their lunch. I got chatting to them all, in particular a rather handsome Aussie guy called Troy who stayed behind after lunch to chat more. It was another sunny day so I stripped off for a swim, washed my clothes, tried not to look at the state of my trainers which were falling apart almost everywhere. Looking at the state of the TA walkers shoes made me feel heaps better.

 

Tararua peaks
Graham – one of the TA hikers

Someone had left free powdered butter chicken & mash at the hut so I jumped at the chance for a “proper” meal. As soon as I had eaten a few more TA walkers arrived to stay the night. One German guy had no food and he still had another day ahead of him. I felt dreadful. I told them all about the free food I had just eaten and offered him some of mine but he wouldn’t take it. There’s an unwritten rule amongst walkers not to give or take food from others because if the person who has given the food runs into trouble, that food may have saved them. The other walkers told me not to worry and that the German man had walked 35,000km already and that he always packs one days worth of food less than he should in a bid to save weight. “He knows what he’s doing” they said. It was truly inspiring to hear stories from the TA walkers in the hut that evening. I still went to bed feeling bad about the German guy.

 

Tararua peaks
Enough food for 4/5 days?

To ration my food I made a little menu which I needed to stick to in order to survive. Once on the ridge it was at least two days walk to get down again.

  • Breakfast 7am – 2 sachets of instant oats soaked in cold water 1/2tsp of instant coffee in cold water
  • Morning snack 10am – handful of scroggin or an apple
  • Lunch 12pm – 1 wholemeal pita with tuna
  • Second Lunch 2pm – 2pm – 1 wholemeal pita with peanut butter and jam
  • Afternoon snack 5pm – block of cheese
  • Dinner 6:30pm – couscous with olives and salami
  • Dessert – 2 ginger cookies
Tararua peaks
Fantastic route above the bush line

Everyone left at the break of dawn apart from me and a girl called Nicki who slept in until 9am. I wasn’t in a rush as I only had 5 hours until the next hut and she was taking her time also. She was 29 and lived all over the show working on super yachts and at a strip bar in Wellington. Very honestly she said the main reason she’s doing this is because she can eat what she likes for 7 days and maybe even shift a bit of weight. We think alike! It’s funny listening to the TA walkers talk about others they’ve met en route. Those who are seen to rush bear the brunt of the chatter.

 

Tararua peaks
Bush track

After a relaxing sleep in I talked to 70-year-old Graham who was walking the TA. It was 10:30am by the time I had finished and prepared myself mentally for the almighty 1100m climb I had ahead of me. The climb wasn’t that bad at all and I found it far easier than the previous day as the path was better formed. Maybe I was helped by my Frodo stick which I picked up from the woods and was now carrying.

 

Tararua peaks
Alpine flowers

I was eager to get out of the bush mainly due to those invisable strands, possibly spider webs, that kept sticking to my sweaty face and the debris that had torn through my shoes again. The views at Junction Knobb were incredible, I could see as far as the sea! The track was even better, visable for miles weaving along the top ridge of the peaks. I didn’t see a single person all day, only alpline flowers such as Eldiweiss, which I thought you could only get in Europe.

 

Tararua peaks
Andersons Memorial Hut

I reached Andersons Memorial Hut by 2:30pm. It was early and I certainly had more in me but something told me to stick to the plan and settle there for the night. Nestled in a goblin forest, Anderson hut is so cute and I had it all to myself. Apart from the buzzing flies outside of course. Around 4:30pm the wind picked up and a thick cloud came over. The Tararua Rangers are one of the most dangerous places to go tramping in New Zealand as over 200 days of the year they are covered in thick cloud with gale force winds. Boy was I glad to have stopped at the hut when I did because viability was zero and the wind was too bad to go outside. Nearly 24 hours alone in a tiny hut. It’s amazing what that does to you. Find out if I ever got out of that tiny hut and how the rest of my journey went in my next post…….

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