On the 6th of December we left Northland for two days traveling down the North Island to the Tararuas. There were five of us for the first week: Jojo, Pauline, (who came on the Kaweka trip) Guillaume, and Luc, (Pauline's brother and father).
The first hut was Blue Range Hut just out of Masterton it was the first in a loop which we walked in six days. It was two hour walk steeply up to the hut, the first hour was difficult but once I got my second wind I was fine, it is always a struggle on the first day of tramping after not climbing such big hills for awhile. Ten minutes before the hut near the junction Guillaume found a geocache in an old stump, there was not much inside just a painted stone and notepaper, no pencil. I added one of my business cards and we replaced it in the stump.
There's more to Blue Range Hut then first meets the eye. A sign greeted us on the door stating that this was an 'ANTENATAL CLINIC' and 'Do not enter while surgery is in progress' along with a bell and another notice saying 'If reception is unattended please press the bell'. All through the hut we found similar notices. The bunks we numbered and were declared to be for 'patients only', and The dunny was named the 'social worker's office'. Apparently a few nurses brought up the signs and decked the hut out in them. It definitely adds some character and interest.
The next morning I leaned against a tree and drew the hut from the back and more unphotographed side but which I found quite pretty. I drew in graphite and charcoal and tried something new by adding blue pastel on the hut. It worked well and the colour added interest while the picture clearly remained a drawing, as opposed to a painting.
That afternoon we walked to Arete Forks Hut. It took us two hours to get down to the swing bridge and Cow Creek Hut where we had a short break, inspected the hut and walked on.
Pauline, Guillaume, and I on the swing bridge near Cow Creek Hut.
There were three routes to Arete Forks, by the river, the tops, or a track along the mountain above the river. On the map this last route looked nice and easy, it wasn't so much so in reality. The track lead us steeply up for 200m and then along, but not flatly along. There were six creeks to cross on the way. At each one the track would go down steeply cross the creek and immediately go up again often so steep we had to use our hands as well and climbed. The track was run down, rough and fallen trees slowed us down a bit. We went on steadily and slowly up and down, around, over and under.
We got to Arete Forks just before dark six hours from Blue Range Hut. It was a good feeling to stop and and take of our heavy packs and suddenly feel light. We ate after a long wait for the stove to heat up, which we finally gave up on and used the gas we had packed out. Most of the huts we stayed at in the Tararuas either had a horrible stove to cook on or none. Blue Range hut has the best stove as far as I recall.
The next morning it was raining. The weather being what she is we had to change our plans for her. I waited half the day hoping for the rain to cease, and spent the time drawing. I drew Jojo, sketched the dunny from the doorway, and painted a watercolour of Guillaume's boot. I will add some images from my sketchbook in a new post once I have scanned them into the computer.
We decided we would stay another night at this hut and that I would tackle the weather. It was still raining in the afternoon so the boys decided they would set up the tarpaulins for me to draw under. I scouted out a good place to draw from and the set it all up for me.
It worked well and I even had a bench from the hut to sit on. One or two splashes on my paper but it didn't do any damage. I spent the rest of the day out there beside the meat safe drawing the hut.
I used an orange/red pastel pencil to draw the hut which was another first for my hut drawings and I think it turned out to be quite effective. It was quite enjoyable out there with the world to myself. The constant roar of the creek behind me and the patter of raindrops above were good company. Apparently this hut is prone to flooding and the river did rise quite a bit while we were there, but, thankfully, had gone down again by the next morning when we came to cross it.
While I was out in the rain, the crew did a lot of reading from the looks of it!... And sleeping...
Jojo did a bit of hunting but it was too wet to be very successful. He shot nothing but a possum on the first week of the trip. Appart from reading the others spent the time I was busy drawing with cooking, gathering and splitting firewood, a few quick dips in the creek, and just having a relaxing time generally.
The next day, the 11th, we headed up to Tarn Ridge hut. It took us five hours of walking -- a little bit longer than it would have taken had we left out the little detour down a side ridge off the tops.
This was our first day up out of the bush and on the tops. Unfortunately there was no view, just cloud all around us and looked like it was there to stay.
People disappeared easily in that kind of weather...
For a lot of the way the ridge was as narrow as this, going down a long way on either side. Climbing over the Waiohine Pinnacles was good fun! I took some videos but unfortunately they were lost along with most of the others I took. The memory card was damaged and only a few videos survived.
Jojo in his Hood
A stop for chocolate after retracing our steps back to the main ridge. That little post behind Guillaume and a few other markers had mislead us. We realized it must have been a track, unmarked on our map, back to Arete Forks which we had followed down for a few hundred meters before realizing our mistake!
The colours of the mosses and hundreds of tiny alpine plants and flowers up there were amazing!
At last Tarn Ridge appeared through the mist..
Papa Luc, very happy to see the hut!
One disappointment awaited us, there was a stove, but no fuel. There was no wood anywhere near ,of course, being on the tops, and all the coal sacks were empty. We had originally planed to stay two nights at Tarn Ridge, but it was so cold and damp there that we all decided we wanted to get back down to the river and a hut with a fire. If we had had good weather it would have been such a different experience!
I was banking on the chance that it would clear up, at least the next morning. But it never did. I did some drawing inside and a lot of writing and some reading. It was drizzling most of the time and there were no trees to hang a tarp in. I ended up sitting on the ground with the tarp folded over me and got a little watercolour sketch which went swimmingly...!
Writting, in my sleeping back to keep warm.
Our dinner before being cooked. We brought a bag of dried goats meat which a friend, Dominic, had shot and dried before we left. He later joined us for the second week, with others...
All the dunnys are tied to the ground with cables... We could only imagine the view that could have been had from this one.
We stayed one night at Tarn Ridge then went on around and back to Cow Creek Hut via Table Top. It still very claggy for most of the walk then just before we started to climb down off the tops it magically cleared up before us, the sun came out, and we had a view! It is one of the most amazing experiences so suddenly have an awesome sight like that open up after you have been walking for days in the cold and rain without seeing the sun.
The world changed in a matter of minutes and suddenly made tramping on the tops seem like an idyllic experience, as opposed to an epic adventure. As we walked down we were accompanied by a rainbow.
Then we came down into the bush and lost the view...
Fallen trees a common sight. Some of them over the path like this one.
That's me, shedding layers glove by glove as we tramp down into the warmer regions.
Jojo, Guillaume, and Luc..
Our boots having done a few miles.
Inside Cow Creek Hut, and Jojo's rifle.
As usual, not long after we arrive the insides of our packs are strewn everywhere and the clotheslines are full of damp gear.
Is she stealing Tararua biscuits!?
Finally some sun to sit and read in! It was lovely to have a hut with a fire and a creek nearby to wash in and dry off all our wet gear. We slept well...
...Only to be awoken at about six in the morning by the roar of a chopper. Two DOC workers were flown in to take part in a bird count which was carried out at the same time in several different locations in the Tararuas that day. They were staying only a couple of nights but brought enough supplies to last a week, the unreliable weather could easily prevent the chopper coming in to pick them up for several days. However the few days after that were fine so we can imagine they were picked up as scheduled.
I spent the day drawing and managed to get one of my best drawings of the week done which ended the week on a good note.
There was the usual fire wood gathering going on while I worked.
By the end of the week the bench has more empty bags than food on it...
We walked back out via Blue Range Hut where we stayed one more night before walking out on the 15th to civilization for a day. We met up with three more friends, said good bye to Luc, bought a lot more food, and headed back into the bush for the second week of the Tararua adventure.
Which I will write about in the next post.
'Along, along with billy and pack
A'rollicking down the mountain track,
We'll all get lost and never come back
In the Tararua Ranges.'