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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Tararua Peaks Southern Main Range (SMR)

Travers Sabine Circuit plus Blue Lake Nelson Lakes

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I first visited Nelson Lakes in 2012, I was amazed by the beauty of the lakes and mountains. I knew I would be back but didn’t expect it to take so long.

This circuit had been on my list for 3 years. After a Tararua mission in September I received some encouragement to arrange a trip.

I referred to my trusty Classic Tramping book to kick off the planning. We booked flights to Blenheim for the Friday afternoon and planned to do the first leg to Angelus Hut on Friday evening. Hopefully we would get a starry clear night.

The route we were taking was the same route Tim had run a coupe of summers ago with the addition of a side trip to Blue Lake (the clearest fresh water lake in the world). Tim had smashed this trip out in a day 14.5 hours!!!!!  The tramping times said it was about 35 hours, I estimated we would take about 22 hours given we were travelling light and able to jog some sections.

Friday night was the leg on Robert ridge to Angelus, Saturday dropping down to the Sabine valley, up to Blue Lake then back to and over Travers Saddle to the Upper Travers Hut. Sunday would be down the Travers valley and out to the Robert Ridge car park.

I saw the legendary Danny G (the holder of many Tararua fastest know times) who recommended an alternative route for the Saturday of going up the D”Uvillie valley and over Moss pass to Blue lake. Danny has spent a lot of time in Nelson and knows his stuff. I shared the suggestion with Ant and Marta and went searching for more info. I found a recount with some epic photos of Moss pass. Wow the passes in this part of the world are huge and very steep! I quickly emailed the crew to say cancel the upsizing plan, Danny G is a legend and I’m not. Stick to the plan.

The forecast was looking a little wet and a cold front early in the week was going to dump snow on the tops. We packed our micro spikes and walking poles to manage the white stuff.

Squeezing ones gear for a two night trip into a 20 litre running pack  requires some good packing and only taking the basics. We wanted hot food so needed the cooker. We got a snow update on the way to the airport from the DOC visitor centre, no need for micro spikes, that would lighten our loads. Friday night was clear and calm, Robert ridge deserves it’s reputation as a fine trail run, lots of great run able sections. We run out of light for the last half an hour and arrived at the hut under lights.

Angelus Hut is world famous for it’s incredible location, we woke to a beautiful morning . The section running down to the Sabine was one of those pinch yourself moments, we live in an extra ordinary country!

We meet a couple of dads at Sabine hut who had boated in with their kids for a weekend of water skiing. Cool spot to stay for a water ski weekend.

We saw a few trampers and fisherman in the Sabine valley, the valley made for good travel, some nice run able bits. We dropped our overnight gear at West Sabine hut and headed up to Blue Lake. Not long into this bit I lost my footing and face planted into a bolder. My tooth puncher-ed my lip and there was lots of blood.  After some expert first aid from Marta I was ready to keep heading to Blue Lake.

Blue lake is spectacular and a must visit spot. I was getting tired by this point and after getting back to West Sabine we had the big climb of the day. 1100m most of it over 4km so 31%, this is steep! The pass was misty and cold and rough going on the Travers side, we got to the lovely, empty Upper Travers hut a bit before 8pm. Hanging out in these parts of the mountains is what makes these adventures for me. A huge day in the hills where you have feasted on the best nature has to offer followed by hot food, warm hut and comfy bed for the night!

On Sunday we ran out down the Travers, the day got clearer and hotter as we descended the valley. There were lots of folks out running around Lake Rotoito. After a nice cold swim we cleaned up before a cold beer and burger. Good times.

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Ruahine’s Sunrise Hut and Te Atuaoparapara 1687m

 

Kaimanawa Kaweka traverse

When you look at the map of the North Island there is a huge wilderness area East of the desert road all the way out to Hawkes Bay.

A few years ago I tramped a magic loop on the edge of this area up the Waipakihi river and back over Umukarikari.

The Big Sunday Run crew had done a few missions in the area and there was chatter about a trip in February. We circled a weekend in the calendar and started to plan.

I found a route in my Classic Tramping book, a gift from my father in law that inspired our Tararua SMR trip two years ago.

The classic Kaimanawa Kaweka traverse has a big block of private land in the middle of it. Thanks to the generosity of the land owners there are permits available when the hunting blocks are not being used. https://wilderlife.nz/2017/04/kaimanawa-ranges-access/

We found an account of a tramping group that had done the trip and started to map out our plan.

My father inlaw connected me with one of his tramping friends in Turangi to find out about possible transport options. Kevin was incredibly helpful, not only did he offer to provide transport, his son Robert had done the trip a few months earlier and was able to help with the trip planning.

After getting all the info we could, we made a plan.

We would set off from Kaimanawa Rd on Friday afternoon and if the weather was good we would bivi next to the Rangitikei river est time 7 hours. Saturday we would cover the rest of the Kaimanawas including the the island range, the high point Makorako, the river valleys of the Mangamingi and Ngaruroro and spend the night at one of the huts in the Kawekas, hopefully Te Puke to keep Sunday as manageable as possible est time 15 hours. Sunday out to the road end at Makahu Saddle est time 9 hours.

We had a group of 4 adventurers who were keen and available that weekend. Marta was keen for some more god zone training, Al is a true explorer and loves new country, Anthony was very excited about the route, one of his relatives had trekked it when they moved to a Hawkes Bay school back in the olden days. I was stoked to be doing a big adventure in new country.

The weather thumbnails were looking promising as we did our final packing, cyclone gita was going to hold off until we finished. This was my first two night fast pack trip and getting our gear and food right was going to be helpful for a successful trip.

I found a freeze dried back country adventure food pack and added my normal muesli bars, chocolate bars, 10 Kransky sausages and lots of tailwind for my drink bottles.

We meet Kevin at the Kaimanawa Rd turn off and set off up the Umukarikari range. There were two school vans at the car park.

It was a beautiful afternoon to be on the volcanic alpine tops of the umukarikari range. We had views for miles. I caught my first view of the steep rocky cone shaped Makorako, the high point in the Kaimanawas that would dominate the horizon for the whole trip. The school group were at Waipakihi hut, they had traveled from the far north that morning and were enjoying the last of the sun from the deck.

The climb to junction top 1600m was one of the most awe inspiring outdoor experiences I have had. The sun was setting behind Ruapehu as we climbed the lovely alpine ridge, the vastness of the area was starting to make its presence felt. Standing on the top we looked down into the steep Rangitikei valley, it was dark and ominous, the lights of Taupo were our last glimpse of civilisation for two days.

This is the start of the private land we had a permit for and the end of the marked track. We had a gpx provided by Robert but he hadn’t followed this route due to hunting activities that meant his permit required he cross the Rangitikei further south. We dropped down into the valley under headlamps trying to follow the gpx path. It was rough and lots of scrub meant we were bush bashing quickly. Soon we were stuck in a creek and bluffed out by a 10m waterfall. We got on our hands and knees and crawled through the scrub until we finally got back onto the spur which meant we could stand up. Marta announced rule no1 for the trip, if we have to crawl we turn back and find a better path.

Bush bashing in the dark.

We continued to bush bash down to the Rangitikei it was hard slow progress and finally we got to the river. We could see a little island up the river that looked promising for bivi spots. We found a nice spot to sleep and boiled some water for a late dinner. Sitting there in the middle of nowhere after a tough few hours brought on the magnitude of the adventure we were on. Halfway into tomorrow (Saturday) we would be about as far away from civilisation as you can get in the North Island.

We didn’t get much sleep, it was cold and we were travelling light. My experiment of not bringing a sleeping bag was a failure. My Bivi bag was fine for a hut but not for being outside at 1,000m. I setup my camera in the night to capture the stars, when I got the camera from the river bank it had been moved by some animal and was sitting upright no longer facing the stars. I hope I got the shot!

We set off with the fear of more bush bashing, the river was beautiful, so clear and blue ducks playing in a magic looking swimming hole. No time for swimming yet. We wandered down the river hoping to pick up the sign of a route where the gpx left the river. All of a sudden Al appeared at the creek we had come down last night. Al had been delayed leaving town and was planning to sleep on the tops and catch us at some point this morning. It was great to see him arrive safe. We found a cairn and to our surprise a good route out of the valley on to the island range. Today we would cover the moist alpine island range, the range with Makorako the high point in the Kaimanawas that dominates the horizon, the sub alpine scrub areas of Mangamaire, In the heart of the area we have the river valleys of the Mangamingi and Ngaruroro. We would finish the day entering the Kawekas in the beautiful beach forest with moss edged trails and tussock covered valleys.

Anthony spotted a red deer looking at us from the next ridge, the tops section were spectacular, easier climbing than our Tararuas and nice wide runnable ridges. We got caught in a rough patch of scrub heading down to the Mangamaire, I had to put my over trousers on to stop the leg pain from the sharp scrub. I had a nice dip in the river before we headed up the next hill. Anthony stepped on a wasps nest that lead to a furry of Italian swear words and some sprinting to get away. A few stings later we settled into our afternoon rhythm of crossing rivers. It was about this time I realised I had been wearing my tee shirt back to front and inside out, the brain was clearly working slowly this morning!. I got to try one of my new smoothie packets, that was a real winner, note to self always pack those.

We reached the lovely Tussock hut at 6pm and pushed onto Harkness, Robert had warned me about how slow this section was, river cross after river crossing in thigh to waist deep water on slippery rocks was tough work. It was great to find Harkness was nearly as nice as Tussock hut. We ate and crashed it had been a big day.

It looked like we had 24kms to cover on the last day and were getting picked up at 3pm. It ended up being 31km lucky we left at 7am, thanks Al. My timing estimates are often optimistic which can be problematic.

The tops sections in the western Kawekas are a nice mix of greywacke and alpine scrub.

Finally the barren loose rock of the Kawekas range that looks like another planet. In between are the beautiful beach forest trails lined with pretty moss verges.

The only people we saw from Waipakihi hut to the end were a Dad and his sons who had helicoptered in to do some hunting. We run lots of the ridges and had our breath taken away by the views.

There is a special feeling that comes from an adventure like this, a mountain adrenaline that makes you feel fantastic.

Huge thanks to Kevin and Robert for their help and to my fellow adventurers.

The trip took us 28 hours hiking time including the odd quick water stop. We started Friday afternoon and finished Sunday afternoon.

Gpx

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1nUDXya0IUo3khNzO0mfcsgEDao7N0ayv/view?usp=drivesdk

Fresh crayfish, ocean swims and unbelievable sunsets!

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.

Aorangi Undulator

November 5 2016

Chris Martin runs a crazy event in the Aorangi’s called the Undulator, (Not for the Weak) it has 3 mean as climbs and was an amazing day in the sun.

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