Date: 10 December
Trail covered: 20.3km (kms 1549.8 to 1570.1)
Weather: beautiful but with a cold wind
Today we’re going up into the real meaty bits of the ranges. I can’t wait!
It’s probably worth showing the upcoming section on the elevation profile, so you can see what we are in for.
Dracophyllum Hut is the brown waypoint between the two peaks. Nichols Hut is slightly off-trail so doesn’t appear on the chart but it is located at the black arrows waypoint after Dracophyllum Hut and before the second peak which is Mt. Crawford. Then after Mt. Crawford, way way way down the giant hill, is Waitewaewae Hut.
We knew from the intentions book at our current hut that there is likely to be nobody ahead of us except Rhydian, so that means the huts won’t be full – awesome. But how far do we actually want to go today? The trail notes say 3-6 days for the Tararua Ranges.
We spent a bit of time last night deciding how far we planned to go today. Ethan wants to make it to Wellington by the weekend (5 days away) to catch a flight, and John from the Outdoor Pursuits Centre said that both peaks can be done in 12 hours. So we decided, yes we can do it. From here, over two peaks, past Dracophyllum and Nichols Huts, and then down the massive hill to Waitewaewae Hut. Sorted.
It was quite cold this morning and I didn’t feel like leaving without a warm breakfast of porridge and coffee. Joshua and Nina had set their alarm for god-awful o’clock in the morning and had left the hut by 6am. Alex and Ethan never have a warm breakfast so they were out before me – they left at 6:30am. I left right on 7am. Peter and Charlie were still asleep when I left.
I left wearing my down jacket because it was a cold morning. I figured that like last time I left wearing the jacket, which was Ongarue, that it would come off again fast since the sun was shining brightly.
The track was muddy at first.
It was steep too. And there was a dead deer right in the middle of the path. We had been warned about this deer on Guthook’s comments section so I was looking out for it. I saw the skull first and so managed not to stand in it. According to the comments, others weren’t so lucky.
And like I thought, I wore the jacket for about 800 metres, and then off it came. I get so hot so fast when I walk with the down jacket on.
Once you got above the treeline, the path became very different. And it was quite hard to see the actual path at times.
The views soon came back though.
I passed Joshua and Nina quite early on… they do go quite a bit slower than me.
At this point though, there was a really cold wind blowing – we were about 1200 metres up now. Despite taking my jacket off not long ago because it was too hot, now it was too cold. I put my thermal top on underneath my shirt as that doesn’t get me quite so hot and sweaty. I also changed my cap for my beanie so that it didn’t blow away, and I also put my gloves on for the first time ever. Joshua and Nina saw me stopped to put on my warm clothes and they did the same thing.
The wind wasn’t blowing hard though, it was just cold. I’m glad it wasn’t blowing hard, because the paths along these ridgelines are narrow with drops on both sides. The last thing I wanted to contend with was having to stop myself being blown over the side too. Although, ridge walks do make it easy to see where you’ve come from and where you’re going.
After going over the first peak, the wind stopped, so the thermals and gloves came off again. It’s annoying having to keep changing clothes… but necessary!
Once over the first peak, you go back below the treeline, and it’s clear when that’s happened, because you’re suddenly in the middle of this:
It can be very hard to find the way through here. For example, this section is marked but it’s not obvious how to get through:
And sometimes it’s just not marked at all.
There were more than a couple of occasions where I stopped, thought “this can’t be right”, backtracked to the last orange triangle I saw and found a better way. Sometimes it was a bit scary being in the middle of all these trees and not having any idea where the path is and feeling lost. Lucky I have a relatively good sense of direction, and also a GPS-capable phone and also a compass.
My plan today was to leave at 7am, get to Dracophyllum Hut by 11am, to Nichols Hut by 3pm and to Waitewaewae Hut by 7pm. I got to Dracophyllum Hut right on 11am.
It was a cute little hut with only enough space for two people to sleep.
I didn’t spend much time here except to grab a quick snack, write my name in the intentions book and fill my water bottles.
After here the path again became quite hard to locate sometimes. It’s not that there aren’t orange triangles, it’s that they don’t seem to be in the places that they are needed. Again I had to stop quite a few times and backtrack and find the correct path.
And I slipped a few times today too, despite getting new boots three days ago. I have no doubt that I would have slipped more if I didn’t get the new boots so I’m glad I did. It’s slippery up here.
Once I was above the treeline again it became easier to see the path again.
Around here I saw this daisy. I thought that it was the only flower I’d seen all today and yesterday, so I took a photo.
Although once I kept going and looked a bit harder, there were actually quite a lot of daisies. Still, that one caught my eye.
Again it was steep in places.
After that steep bit, I thought a selfie was in order.
I could then see the path going back down into the trees.
And so it did.
I pressed on to Nichols Hut. I first saw the sign that pointed to it. I could also see Alex and Ethan’s bags resting on the sign.
It’s a short detour down to the hut and they must have just taken water bottles and lunch down to save taking the whole packs down. I wasn’t that organised so I just walked down with my pack on. On the way down, I saw the hut, and Rhydian standing outside.
I also passed Alex and Ethan on the way back up the hill.
I got to the hut at 2:15pm, earlier than I expected. This hut was not so nice, there were a lot of flies. I had lunch here for 45 minutes and talked to Rhydian. During that time he killed all the flies inside the hut, about 15 of them, but within 5 more minutes just as many had replaced them.
Rhydian had stayed at Dracophyllum Hut last night and was thinking about staying tonight at Nichols Hut but after chatting to me he decided to press on with me to Waitewaewae Hut.
We saw Peter at the junction sign. He said that he and Charlie were probably going to spend the night at Nichols Hut. Charlie doesn’t like downhill and there’s a hell of a lot of it coming up so it was what I expected. This will be the first time I have seen Alex and Ethan separated from Peter and Charlie, although apparently it happened once before prior to me meeting them for a few days.
The track after leaving Nichols Hut was particularly steep. There were several times where I felt like I was rock-climbing.
You could clearly see the ridgeline we would take up to Mt. Crawford.
And we could see Alex and Ethan making their way up.
Without all the trees, it’s really easy to spot other people.
For some reason once we got to the summit of Mt Crawford I expected there to be a guy in a white suit congratulating me and offering me a glass of champagne. That never happened, in fact nothing happened. There isn’t even a sign there. Just a pipe.
Yesterday, one thing that happened was that we briefly saw the South Island. Today it was much clearer to see, and there was a great view of it today, as well as Kapiti Island in front of it.
You could also see Mt. Taranaki and Mt. Ruapehu far in the distance, although I can’t see them in any of the photos I tried to take of them.
Rhydian said we were very lucky to have such a clear and beautiful day to come up here – he has come up here many times before and says he has never had a day so good.
After a bit more walking, Waitewaewae Hut was apparently only two hours away, and Nichols Hut was only an hour and a half behind. That seemed very odd given that Waitewaewae was signposted at Nichols Hut as being five and a half hours away.
After a bit of a walk through Junction Knob and Shoulder Knob…
And past this device, which I can only assume is checking for signs of extraterrestrial life…
I lost Rhydian when he stopped at a point where he had phone coverage.
From here it was the start of the downhill. And it went down…
And down some more.
And it wasn’t a nice path down, it was steep, with lots of natural steps made from tree roots, and a lot of them were quite steep. There were also lots of fallen trees to climb over.
We went from 1200m elevation down to 300m in a very short time. It was basically nothing but lowering yourself down each step, either by hoisting yourself down, climbing down or just jumping down. I really started to feel every single step by the bottom. It was very tiring.
One thing I started to realise as it got late in the day was that all today and yesterday there would be nowhere to camp up here. I don’t think I saw a flat piece of ground anywhere, except maybe at the huts. Lucky there are lots of huts around… but I wonder if they ever get full? I mean, Dracophyllum Hut had only two beds and Nichols Hut had six, but I remember at Whanganui Holiday Park there were 20 hikers there at once. Do the huts get full, I wonder? These huts, like all huts that aren’t on one of the “great walks”, are first come, first served – they can’t be booked.
You know when you’re reaching the bottom of the downhill section because you can hear the Otaki River. I knew there was a swingbridge coming up that crosses the river so I was looking forward to getting there. Even when you start hearing the river though, there is still a fair bit of time before you actually reach it. More downhill yet!
There’s the swingbridge. And it looks narrow and quite scary. Even climbing up to it made me think of the old TV show Gladiators.
It was very wobbly, and I am not normally nervous on these bridges but I was here.
I wanted to take a photo from the middle of the bridge but it was swinging a lot and I was afraid of dropping my phone, so I didn’t.
Over the bridge is this sign…
Hooray! It actually took me 14 minutes from the sign to the hut (LIES!) but suddenly there it was.
This was a nice hut, but for some reason I neglected to take any other pictures of it. It was a long day and I didn’t get in in until 7:30pm. Rhydian turned up about 8pm. He also commented that the 10 minutes written on the sign was the longest 10 minutes ever.
Alex and Ethan mentioned at the hut and also on their blog entry for today that they don’t like heights so that made the day slightly more nerve-wracking than other days. It’s funny, I didn’t even give that a thought even once. One thing I did think of though at the peak was that when you’re 1400 meters above sea level that you have almost a kilometer and a half of land below you. That blew my mind.
During the day today I ignored all the areas with phone reception because I wanted to make it to the hut sooner rather than later. So I was surprised when Ethan told me White Island had erupted and some people had died. There is no coverage at the hut tonight so I’m going to have to wait until tomorrow evening or even later to get the details. I feel very sorry for those that have died but at least I know that it’s very, very unlikely anybody I know will be affected.
It was a long and exhausting day but like every time we do a long and exhausting day when we didn’t actually have to, I feel glad we did and definitely feel like we accomplished something.
Hopefully we can sleep well tonight. Ideally Alex, Ethan and I want to make it to Waikanae tomorrow which is 30+ kilometers, and apparently the path out of here to Waikenae is not a very nice path. There are people arguing with each other in the intentions book as to how long it takes to get to Otaki Forks, which is only 10km but some people have written that it takes 5 hours with some even suggesting 9 hours. So we will have to allow a lot of time and we will have our work cut out for us. Plus I’m out of chocolate and almost out of all other food so I can’t wait to get to Countdown. And of course I’ll get a milkshake if I’m lucky enough to get to Waikanae while a dairy is still open.
Rhydian doesn’t think we can make it to Waikanae from here in one day though… he says it’s not possible.
Click here to see today's walk on the map.