Ruahine Traverse Comet Road to Sunrise Track

On my first trip to the Ruahines I was treated to beautiful sunrises, dramatic landscapes and towering snow capped peaks. My father in law pulled out an old DOC park map showing the whole range on one large bit of paper. Al had made a few attempts at traversing the range and it looked like some cool country. Come summer time at the beach my tramping books come out and adventures start to get hatched. I invited a few adventurers to join me and we had a crew of five keen to go. I found a write up from MadPom who had done a full South to North tramping trip in 2007. I wanted to do a 2 night trip and just do the tops section of the main range. Looking at the map starting at Comet Rd in the north and finishing after Longview hut 2/3rds of the way down the range looked like a great plan. I found the Ruahine tramping club and got some helpful information from Rob including another write up of a group who had travelled south on part of the route we were planning.

Sharing the GPX of the whole range with crew got some worried replies, the whole range is massive. Once I pointed out our finish point everyone felt a bit better. We planned out gear, food and logistics. With 200km separating the start and finish points taking two cars was going to create a very long Sunday night picking up cars so we hired a friendly student to come with us from Palmerston, drop us off and pick us up on Sunday. Eleanor was fantastic and even washed my car!

As the days counted down the weather thumb nails were looking good for a calm clear weekend perfect for being on the tops. I had been on the tops when the Norwester was blowing hard and it is not a safe place to be. The wind had shorten Al’s trips twice before.

Friday afternoon we left town and got to the road end in blazing sunshine, as we set off at 5pm it was 27 degrees and beautiful. To start you climb up to 1,000m and then drop straight down to the Taruarau River at 330m. The river is beautiful and has some excellent camping spots. We were straight up the otherside to 1150m. We passed the historic Shutes hut built out of stone in 1920.

Once on the ridge we made our way to the Dianes Hut turn off. Originally we planned to stay at Dianes on Friday but after getting hold of Peter Steedman we had permission to stay at No Man’s Rd hut and follow the ridge over the private hunting block. The old tracks on the ridge had not been maintained for many years but they had been reopen a couple of years ago. We could see Kawaka J to the North and for miles all around as the sun set with a pink sky. We followed the ridge and found a few markers to start with but slowly the route got less and less defined, soon we were bush bashing, something we were going to do a lot of over the next few days.

At the Dianes Hut turn off we had 3 options, stay at Dianes, stay at No Mans walking via the ridge or stay at No Mans walking down the hill via Dianes and up to No Mans. After a few hours of bashing our shins and wading through scrub we wished we had gone via Dianes. Luckily it was a lovely night with amazing stars.

As we reached the far end of No Mans Rd we found a quad bike stuck in the mud and figured it belonged to hunters who were up on the blocks, a short while later we came across White hut with a ute outside and said hello to the only person we saw until Sunrise hut.

Guy was our navigator and did an amazing job with the map and compass. It was great to have his skill in the group. It was a good reminder of the value of printing the map in sections and laminating them to use in all conditions regardless of the forecast.

We got to No Mans hut at 1am ate and crashed. No Mans is a comfortable 6 bunk hut with a carpeted floor!

In the early hours the forecast 2mm of rain fell and we set off in our jackets expecting it to clear, it never cleared and we had a huge day in the rain and clag. Ant and I put on our overtrousers to protect our cut shins from the night before. Before our trip I had checked in with Al about the need for leg protection, he said it was open and no protection was needed, clearly he had blocked out the hours of thick scrab, tussock, leatherwood and spainyard!

We made our way to Aranga Hut via the pole and marked route. After Aranga we are following the Main range route which has a trapline on the route and was tough to follow in the clag. We got to the turn off for Kylie Biv at 1.45pm and were feeling good about our progress. The sign to Sparrow Hawk said 4 hours surely we could go faster with our lite packs.

This is where the really tough bit started, massive fields of spaniard and leatherwood, we got smashed and lost the route a few times in the clag, finally we got to SparrowHawk at 6.30pm and the call was made to squeeze 5 of us into the 2 person biv for the night. The biv passed Marta not too scuzzy to sleep in test. We were cold, wet and it was likely to take another 3 hours to get to Sunrise hut. Even with Marta singing to us it was going to be tough.

This was one of those moments when the safe call was hard to make but the right thing to do. Dr Murray our head of health and safety guided us to the right call. It was disappointing to be so far short of our target but that’s part of the adventure, doing stuff that you don’t know if you can achieve.

We cranked up the cooker for our dinner, put dry clothes on and got into our sleeping bags. We hatched possible exit plans as we had no chance of getting as far down the range as planned. Hopefully the weather would clear and give us some more of the views we got on Friday. It didn’t take long for us to fall asleep.

There was a bit of one bear rolled over and the other four bears had to roll over, but it was warm with 5 bodies. Ant used an old hut bowl to create a pillow under the mattress, clever lad.

The wind from Saturday had died but the clag was still around, we decided to head to Sunrise which is marked as 3hours on the signs. The range gets more undulating for this section and the saddles are very thick with bush and leatherwood, we were bashing our way through these sections and climbing on all fours. The higher bits were open and made for better travel. The clag cleared for a few brief moments and we got to experience the grandeur of the Ruahines. We found some reception above Armstrong saddle and arranged a pickup from Sunrise track.

The warden at Sunrise Hut was the first person we had seen since Friday and chatted with us about our trip. The journey down the beautifully open and graded trail made for a pleasant and stark contrast to the last few days.

Hopefully the route on the main range south of Armstrong saddle is better than what we encountered. I have read about the challenges of land access and the reduction of resource in the Ruahines I expect these are contributing to overgrown route we saw.

Thanks to Marta, Anthony, Andrew and Guy for a great adventure.

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