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.
Fresh crayfish, ocean swims and unbelievable sunsets! It’s not what I expected from my first multi day adventure event.
I have been on an adventure journey for the past ten years, it started with the Tararua Mountain Race, that got me into the Tararua’s for the first time since a school tramping trip. During the course of my journey I have meet an extraordinary group of adventurers. Every week someone is out exploring our hills and sharing inspiring photo’s and tales.
Last year I heard about the A100 event, I saw a photo of 9 folks leaving Eastbourne on a Friday morning, I felt like I was missing out on something.
My run group mates are often doing ultra events up and down the country, I hear about the Kepler, the Goat, Taupo ultra, Northburn, the Shotover marathon. A couple of the group have competed in some of the famous overseas events and spoken about them at the pub after a run.
I haven’t done a lot of events. I prefer to do big missions. The A100 had a big mission feel to it.
Leading into the A100 a few friends were signing up and then I saw a post promoting the last of the 30 spots for the event. I jumped off a cliff and signed up. I had never done a multi day event before and had never covered 100km’s in three days. Signing up gave me that scary nervous feeling you get when you have bitten off more than you can chew.
Once signed up I was on the journey, my friend Marta had a plan to add even more adventure to the three days. She was going to mountain bike the sections between the runs. I thought this sounded like an amazing idea! I was in. It was as easy as upsizing my order at McD’s.
As the weeks went on I started to worry that my upsizing was going to end with me in a pile of pain, in the dark requiring rescuing. I pulled up google maps and did the calculations, the biking legs were 300km’s! After that reality check we needed a different plan. Maybe we could bike to the train station on the last day and take 80km’s off the ride.
An event is fantastic for getting you out training, I found a new hill section to hike/jog reps on. It was brutal, 15mins of hard climb, 7mins straight down and another 15mins straight up. I got a two day Tararua mission under my belt and some magic mountain time on a trip to Hanmer. I settled into 10 days of rest before the start at Eastbourne. To my relief Marta had to pull out from the bike plan. So I just had to find a way to finish 100km’s with 5,000 metres of climb to win a new pair of undies.
The few days leading up to an adventure are filled with excitement and nervous anticipation. There is gear to pack, supplies to buy and stuff to organise. A three day adventure with my plan to camp had a big gear list. Need sun screen, it is always sunny in the Wairarapa, need two sleeping mats, (hope I can sleep ok after day 1 and 2, my legs will be sore) need lots of food, big breakfast’s, lots of dinner and snacks to replace the energy burnt. Thursday night I was ready to go, alarm set for 5am, cab ordered to get me to the railway station.
The next three days were a wonderful mix of running wild coastline, river valleys, hill top trails and hiking steep undulations this area has in abundance. At the end of the running and hiking we were greeted with screams of support, cold beer, busy bbq and the very important massage tent. We spent hours hanging out chatting about our adventures, eating and hydrating. A few of us found the cold ocean and stream pools to relieve the legs. The volunteers were amazing, we had great burgers and crayfish on day one and excellent sausages complete with table service for those of us too lazy to walk the 10 meters to get another sausage. Thanks guys!
Day one is the great journey from Eastbourne to Lake Ferry via the 545m Mt Matthews saddle. We are so spoilt in Wellington to have this on our doorstep. The Orgongorgono valley is a special place where we have enjoyed lots of family tramping trips. This was my first time entering the valley from the coast. The sandblasting we got for the first 10 kms was a good test. It was lovely to get the saddle climb for some hiking after 35kms of hard running. The wind was howling on the top nearly blowing us over. Once over the saddle we made our way down the Mukamuka valley, boulder hopping at the top and smoothing out as you get to the bottom. Then the final 7kms on the four wheel drive track along the coast.
Day two is the classic Undulator course through five valleys and four undulations among the mountains of the Aorangi Forest Park. This is a very rough route with challenging river valleys and super steep climbs. The last two undulations are soul destroying climbs of over 500m with bits that require pulling yourself up and stopping yourself on the way down with anything you can grab onto. We were protected from the wind in the valleys on a beautiful day, each river crossing provided a chance to fill water bottles and wipe the sweat from your face. We check in at each of the three huts we pass, Kawakawa Hut, Pararaki hut and Washpool hut. At the end we wind down the pinnacles track to the campground to be greeted with cheers, cold beer and hot food and the very important massage tent where Pablo is working his magic to get everyone moving.
Day three is an excellent four wheel drive track from the finish of day 2 north east on the Haurangi crossing to Sutherland hut and out to Waikuku Lodge. I was told to bring my hiking poles for this leg and they were fantastic. My legs were in some serious pain after the previous two days. We arrived at Waikuku lodge to cold beer, hot sausages and streaming sunshine. We all bathed in our glory of completing our three days and winning our undies that proclaim we kept going for three days.
The race for line honors was a humdinger with Simon Willis and Andrew Thompson going toe to toe. Simon grabbed a 8min grap on day one with Andrew getting 6 of those mins back on day two. It all came down to the last day, Andrew needed to win by more than 2mins to win. At the last marshall Simon was 3mins behind and managed to close the gap to 2mins for a dead heat after 12 hours and 27 mins. This result sums up the vibe of the event, adventurous spirits enjoying the magic country.
Four months of lead up and planning came unwound with a notification from my Air NZ app. Your flight to Nelson has been cancelled please contact the help desk to rebook.
After the Tararua Mountain Race last year I joined the Ridge Runners facebook group. I saw the odd post but a post about a West Coast running trip caught my attention. After reading the details I was pretty excited about the routes planned, The Old Ghost Road, Moonlight Croesus and the challenge of running four days back to back. I hadn’t even done two days back to back yet and overnighting on the trail added to the attraction.
I invited a couple of mates to join me but there was silence, so I signed up and booked my flights. Over the next few months I meet one of the guys going so at least I knew someone!
I went to the Wellington launch of the The Old Ghost Road book Spirit to the Stone and got my autographed copy. Reading it, I got some appreciation of the awesome ness of the trail.
4 min video
Of the group of 19 I was the only person on that flight, most had flown earlier and the balance were on the later flight. The wind was howling as it does from time to time in Welly. The help desk could get me on a flight the next day but I would be too late to join the main group I would have to join the crew doing the 85km Old Ghost Road in one day!
I was getting picked up by Colin and meeting Bill and Billie at the airport none of whom I had meet before so I was on the lookout for mountain running folk, athletic, outdoor looking with very small back packs. We headed to Murchison for dinner and rest. As it turned out Colin was injured and was happy to join me doing a two day mission. Bill, Billie and Tim were going to need an early start to cover the trail in the day.
We started right on 6am with our headlamps, we had light drizzle but were dry in the bush. Billie lead the pace up the beautifully graded trail. Mountain bike trails are my favourite uphill trails. After a few recent Tararua trips I was really looking forward to be able to run most of the way. We hit Lyall Saddle not long after 8am and I was feeling good. My fast pack was feeling ok, I had worked on getting it as light as possible with a lite sleeping bag and freeze dried meals for dinner (chicken curry) and breakfast (muesli and yogurt) which were yummy. Colin was carrying a tiny stove and ¼ filled gas can, enough for 4 brews so we would need the hut fire to cook dinner.
It was clouded in for the first of the tops sections between Lyell and Ghost Lake which looks incredible on a good day, as we passed the Lake the sky cleared and we got amazing views out East towards Murchison and could see the trail winding across the Skyline ridge. I managed to stay in touch with the one day crew until 34kms where a little bit of uphill broke my jog to a walk. Colin and I were meeting at Goat Creek 22kms away so it was going to be a solo adventure from this point on. The trail is excellent, I can see why it took 9 years to build, it winds through some very wild terrain and has been built to a high standard to handle lots of bikes and lots of rain.
Running over the tops section was magic, the trail snaking it’s way into the distance helped keep the motivation high. As I slipped down the Skyline steps into the bush the legs started to get sore. The waterfalls and the bush are some of the best I have seen. I could see the beauty Marion Boatwright and his team wanted to share with others. I loved the trail signage, Johnny Cake Creek was the highlight, I’m looking forward to the story about that one.
I got to Stern Valley at 11.40 and had 13kms to get to Goat Creek hut, I hadn’t seen a soul for a couple of hours and I didn’t see anyone until Colin arrived at Goat Creek at 3pm. His smiling face and chat was a welcome sight after a long last slog over the bone yards and a cold Creek crossing. I had just managed to get the fire started after my fourth attempt. Note to self you need heaps of dry fern when the fireplace is wet.
The Hut was built in 1957 and the only the floor had been replaced. It is a classic 4 bunker, with our very own hut Weka who popped into to say hello a few times. The hut is very different from the flash new huts. After finishing the trail I’m looking forward to going back and staying at Lyell, Ghost Lake and Specimen, these are stunning locations.
We boiled some water over the fire and the smoke kept the sand flies away so we could keep the door open, this was the only real light source as the windows are tiny. We had fun night chatting about adventures and learning mountain racing tactics. It’s not everyday you get to hang out with a mountain racing legend.
I was pleasantly surprised the next morning my legs felt good and we got to Specimen Point quickly. The gouge was a real highlight for me, the waterfalls, sheer cliffs, bridges and views down the river are fantastic. Lucky this wasn’t turned into a hydro lake. We reached the end of the trail at lunch time and were warmly greeted at the Rough and Tumble lodge with cold beer and chips.
The Old Ghost Road is a magic piece of trail, I’m looking forward to returning on my bike. If you haven’t visited it yet, book your trip and enjoy.
In chatting with Matthew I found out he was a keen outdoors man. After we chatted about a few past missions Matthew kindly offered to take me on the Goat Pass trail next time I was in town. (At this stage I didn’t know Matthew had placed 7th in the Coast to Coast, that is legend status!) In fact I didn’t find that out until we were an hour into the run.
I called Matthew before my next trip and he kindly made arrangements to pick me up at 5am and his daughter drove the car between the start and end points.
It was meant to start raining at 7am and was touch and go if the rivers would be too high but the rain held off and we got a magic day in beautiful country. We even got a see a Whoi (Blue Duck).
Thanks, I look forward to returning the favour in our hills!