Holdsworth road-end vicinity
Access: The Holdsworth road-end is the most popular in the Tararuas and access to it is via Norfolk Rd, 400 metres S of the Waingawa River Bridge on SH2 – 12 kilometres from SH2 to Holdsworth Lodge. Approaching from the S, the well-signposted Chester Rd route – 2 km beyond central Carterton – is little shorter.
Overview: Holdsworth Camping Ground has the best facilities of any of the Tararua road-ends: caravan sites, spacious camp-sites, and toilets. A hard-surface carpark is overseen by the DOC ranger’s house, which has a public telephone for local calls.
Three minutes beyond the carpark is a hectare or so of grassy flats by the Holdsworth Lodge(approve sites). This building has bunk accommodation for around 30, cooking benches, and toilets. It has electric hot water, a small cooker, and a toaster. It may have private bookings during weekdays and so not be available for casual use. Hut tickets cannot be used for this Lodge or camping ground. Payment must be made in cash.
The Atiwhakatu Stream is a pleasant valley with a trail running much of its length. From this, other trails branch to the Holdsworth – Mitre Range, Totara Flats, and the Waingawa River.
Just beyond Holdsworth Lodge a steel bridge spans the Atiwhakatu Stream, and 20 minutes along the track is Donnelly Flat. This delightful glade has a couple of hectares of grass flats, a safe stream close by, and many fine camping and picnic sites. There are fireplaces and toilets here. A loop track(approve sites) at Donnelly Flat takes you through some rather grand forest with giant rimu, kahikatea and beech.
Beyond Donnelly's the valley is a series of forested flats that finish near the Atiwhakatu Saddle. The upper headwaters of the Atiwhakatu are rough and gorgy where they rise under McGregor and Angle Knob – among the Tararuas' dozen highest peaks.
From the main Atiwhakatu trail, six side tracks run up to the range on the west; seven if you count the side walk to the Holdsworth Lookout which is not described further here.
«» The first of these tracks is the Gentle Annie(approve sites), the main trail up to Mountain House shelter (Topo50 BP34 048 701(approve sites)), and to the Mt Holdsworth Track(approve sites) to Powell Hut(approve sites) and to Mt Holdsworth (6.2).
«» The River Track climbs to Mountain House shelter from a point on the main Atiwhakatu trail, about 45 minutes from the road-end (6.5).
«» A similar trail ascends the East Holdsworth spur to Mt Holdsworth (6.6).
«» The fifth and sixth tracks lead to Jumbo Hut(approve sites); one up Raingauge Spur from the Atiwhakatu Hut(approve sites) (6.7), and the Northern Atiwhakatu Track to Jumbo Hut, a further 35 minutes up-valley (6.8). Beyond this again is the track (6.9) on the TL to Atiwhakatu Saddle on the Pinnacle Ridge, leading further on up the Baldy track to Baldy or to Mitre Flats via the Barton track.
Pinnacle Ridge itself bounds the eastern side of the Atiwhakatu valley and is simple OT topography and travel. Earlier trails climbed the spurs to .846 and .877 to travel to the Atiwhakatu Saddle, .670, and relics of these are easily found. (Some unfortunate re-marking of the route along this ridge rather spoils its untracked nature.) The descent from Pinnacle .877 towards Winzenberg Hill is rather confused. The whole of this valley offers a nice beginner’s bushcraft area and should be left as untracked as possible.
Once over the steel bridge, the trail continues on the TR of the Atiwhakatu all the way to the bridge below the Atiwhakatu Saddle. It is benched, bridged, and where needed boardwalked all the way to Atiwhakatu Hut. If travelling directly up the streambed, erosion and slips offer some problems, but at low water the stream may be crossed and re-crossed by easy fords.
Donnelly Flat is 20 minutes from the steel bridge. The track beyond the flat gives fine views of the easy gorge below, and another 25 minutes brings a high wooden bridge across a stream, 2 minutes before the River Track turns off uphill to Pig Flat and the nearby Mountain House shelter. Ten minutes further upstream, a suspension bridge crosses Holdsworth Creek, an hour from Holdsworth Lodge. On the next terrace is the turn-off for the East Holdsworth Spur route. Less than 10 minutes further on is a large slip. The remnants of the original track can be seen heading towards the stream. The track has been re-routed to climb across the slip face higher up. Five minutes further on there is a large bridge crossing a creek-bed, and a small suspension bridge is crossed just a few minutes before Atiwhakatu Hut.
Atiwhakatu Hut(approve sites) is an hour beyond Holdsworth Ck, about 2 hours from the road-end. Atiwhakatu Hut sleeps about 28 in three bunk rooms with a large communal area. At Atiwhakatu Hut is the turn-off via Raingauge Spur to Jumbo and Jumbo Hut(approve sites); and 45 minutes further up-valley is the more northern turn-off to these.
Ten minutes upstream from this latter Jumbo turn-off, the Atiwhakatu Stream issues from its rougher headwaters in the W, where its grade increases. From the last of the terraces on the TR a bridge crosses the stream to the TL. A minute or so up these terraces, a further 15-minute climb brings the Atiwhakatu Saddle .670. Here the track to Mitre Flats starts off SE before swinging NE through the basins of Conglomerate Stream (see 5.5). A NW route leads from the saddle to Baldy (6.9).
Eventually the benched track may extend from the Atiwhakatu through to Mitre Flats, but at the moment tracks beyond this Saddle are OT grade. [revised November 2017]
The low saddle, which promises easy access between the NE of Donnelly Flat and The Pines road-end, is a temptation that awaits track development – for the present this is OT+ country.
Atiwhakatu HutAtiwhakatu Hut is a Standard hut, located at -40.868224, 175.454144. It has 26 bunks with heating, mattresses, toilets - non-flush, water from tap - not treated, boil before use, and water supply. Bookings are required.
This well-used track provides access to Totara Flats (see 9.9), Mountain House Shelter (Topo50 BP34 048 701(approve sites)), Powell Hut(approve sites), Holdsworth, and beyond. About 85 minutes from the road-end to Mountain House and another 2 hours to Mt Holdsworth.
Immediately beyond Holdsworth Lodge at the Holdsworth road-end, a steel bridge crosses the Atiwhakatu Stream, and 12 minutes along the service track is the turn-off L to the Donnelly Loop Track, about 3 minutes before Donnelly Flat itself. The Gentle Annie track starts 3 minutes up the Donnelly Loop Track and sidles the Atiwhakatu faces of the ridge as far as the Totara Flats turn-off. It climbs steadily, well graded, gravelled and bridged, to cross the tiny stream at the head of the gully in 15–20 minutes and the unmarked but still used Donnelly Spur Track in another 4 minutes. Soon the track breaks out of the heavy bush at an old burn and gives good views (Rocky Lookout is worth a visit) of Holdsworth and up the Atiwhakatu Valley.
Powell Hut(approve sites) is seen uphill just at the bush-edge, and Jumbo Hut on its spur crest farther in the distance near the valley head. The hill in the distance beyond Jumbo Hut is the Baldy – McGregor ridge. Continuing its steady grade, the track briefly kisses the crest of the ridge before swinging around below knob .801, from which the Carrington Ridge track descends to the Mangatarere (see 7.2). About 75 minutes from Holdsworth Lodge the track regains the ridge (turn sharp L here for .801); just beyond is the Totara Flats turn-off. The grade now becomes gentler and the scrubby open reaches of Pig Flat are soon reached. A further 30 minutes over the boardwalks brings Mountain House Shelter located at (Topo50 BP34 048 701(approve sites)), the slight saddle where Pig Flat joins the steeper ridge to Powell Hut(approve sites).
The Mountain House Shelter takes its name from a remarkably large three-roomed structure, 1907-1951. Pig Flat is an old clearing, probably caused by fire and possibly pre-European. It is now regenerating through alpine scrub to one day again become mature bush. The extent of these ancient fires can be traced some distance down both the River Track and the track to Totara Creek. The mature bush recommences abruptly beyond the old burn limit.
Outwards: From Mountain House Shelter to the Holdsworth road-end, the track follows easy grades along the ridge then across the boardwalks S over Pig Flat. Beyond this, the well-defined track drops past the Totara Flats turn-off and continues down the ridge to the steel bridge and Holdsworth Lodge - about 80 minutes from Mountain House shelter.
Alternatively, from Mountain House Shelter, a route travels towards the road-end for 10 minutes and, at the point where the Gentle Annie track climbs gently R towards Pig Flat, the River Track turns L. It descends through pleasant forest and is a well-defined trail with an easy grade. (see 6.5) [revised October 2021]
Mountain House shelter is situated at the end of the flat ridge and the start of the tall bush. From here the track climbs a series of steeper steps to first emerge from the bush in 30 minutes. A rocky lookout (once known as The Sentinel) just beyond the first bush-edge gives fine views of the Wairarapa and Totara Flats below. Powell Hut(approve sites) snuggles in a ridge-side hollow just above bush-edge, an hour from Mountain House shelter. Powell Hut (sleeps 28) has been re-built and opened in 2019. Bookings are required throughout the year.
The series of about four steps in the bush en-route to Powell most probably represent the traces of several episodes of earthquake fault movement – linear sag hollows followed by over-steepened ridge-face. This is part of the Wellington Fault system that follows from the Hutt Valley to emerge on the upper Wairarapa beyond the Mangatainoka. The Tararua hills immediately W of this particular fault are conspicuously higher than those to the E.
Beyond Powell the trail zig-zags to regain the ridge and passes a marker post at the High Ridge turn-off in 15 minutes. Several tarns on the ridge provide water in all but the driest times, and the 4-metre trig station on top of Holdsworth is reached 40 minutes or so from Powell. The trail from Powell Hut to Mt Holdsworth is FG grade in fair weather only. In winter conditions you will need an ice-axe and the skills to use it.
The route down is trouble-free, but in fog and snow special care is needed to stay on the route above the bushline. [revised November 2017]
Powell HutPowell Hut is a Serviced hut, located at -40.884841, 175.42421. It has 32 bunks with cooking, heating, mattresses, toilets - non-flush, water from tap - not treated, boil before use, and water supply. Bookings are required.
See NIWA weather for Powell Hut.
Although the last few metres of Mt Holdsworth can be sidled by those heading N, the summit provides fine views that should not be missed. Ten minutes from Mt Holdsworth's trig brings a slight sidle of the summits of East Holdsworth, followed by a drop to a saddle whose slump features nestle a triplet of tarns. (Heading S, don’t stick to the base of this cleft too far.) The climb over intermediate knoll .1367 brings the summit of Jumbo, a good 90 minutes from Holdsworth.
From here the spur to Jumbo Hut drops sharply off E, leading down a rocky scramble and then a tussock descent to the hut some 35 minutes away. [revised March 2017]
This is a gentle walk through the forest, well graded and bridged. From the valley trail, turn L a few minutes beyond the upper end of Donnelly Flat, and exit to the main track a few minutes on the road-end side of Donnelly Flat. A 20-minute stroll plus viewing time. The forest on this circuit is rather splendid.
A few minutes along this track, the old 'Donnelly Track' route to the Gentle Annie used to depart, but this is no longer maintained.
The River Track follows a spur that runs from the Atiwhakatu trail to a point close to Mountain House shelter. From road-end to shelter, 100 minutes; the outward journey, 85 minutes.
Up: Thirty minutes up-valley on the main track from Donnelly Flat, a stream is crossed on a high wooden bridge, and in 2 minutes the River Track turn-off is reached. The River Track climbs steeply for a few minutes as it leaves the region of recent river down-cutting, but then more and more gradually through open bush to reach the Gentle Annie Track at Pig Flat in 35 minutes. Turn R along the ridge and Mountain House shelter will be reached in another 10 minutes.
Down: From Mountain House Shelter, the route travels towards the road-end for 10 minutes and, at the point where the Gentle Annie track climbs R towards Pig Flat, the River Track turns L. It descends through pleasant forest and is a well-defined but well-rooted trail with a gentle grade.
The upper reaches of this spur are succession forest, more advanced after the old burn than that of the Pig Flat – Totara Creek track. It now has mature kamahi and silver beech, with only occasional specimens of Hall’s totara surviving, but no rimu or red beech yet. About 20 minutes down from the ridge, large rimu, miro and beech appear quite abruptly, marking the lower edge of the presumed old fire damage. The raucous call of kaka may sometimes be heard on these spurs above the Atiwhakatu.
Forty minutes from the hut the trail steepens just before joining the track coming down the Atiwhakatu valley. Join this and turn R, to cross the wooden bridge over the River Track creek. The trail from here out is a graded, gravelled and bridged track of high standard. Twenty-five minutes further are the first tongues of Donnelly Flat, and another 20 minutes brings Holdsworth Lodge. [revised October 2021]
«» On a warm day, splashing down the minor gorge of the Atiwhakatu is a pleasant alternative to following the track. Enter just below the River Track stream and exit to the TR trail just above Donnelly Flat. No ‘essential’ swimming.
The twin summits of East Holdsworth, perhaps 70 metres apart, lie 10 minutes NE of Holdsworth, beyond a small knob and a pair of tarns. The trail up the East Holdsworth Spur from the Atiwhakatu climbs to the more northerly top. About 2¼ hours from the Atiwhakatu Track to the top; less than 2 hours down.
Up: Holdsworth Creek is crossed by a suspension bridge about an hour from the road-end. The turn-off for East Holdsworth is on a high terrace, 5 minutes beyond the bridge. After pleasant travel climbing up over terraces for 30 minutes or so, the track steepens for the next 45 minutes, then eases again for the next half-hour to the bush-edge. In the tussock, the spur is ill-defined but the track well-padded; a good 30 minutes to the summit of East Holdsworth.
Down: The spur is ill-defined over much of its length, but the trail is well padded and, below the bush-edge, well-marked. The spur continues broad for 25 minutes inside the bush-edge. It steepens abruptly for the next 30 minutes to the high river terraces, which are then followed for 25 minutes to the junction with the main Atiwhakatu Track. A further 60 minutes will bring Holdsworth Lodge. [revised March 2017]
The following detailed notes and bearings are only pertinent in fog: From the northern summit of East Holdsworth follow a bearing of 40° true for 50 metres or so, then bear sharply R to 100° true. On this bearing follow a defined spur for about 7 minutes and sidle a couple of small knobs to reach a third knob. Here swing L along the spur for 25 metres, then follow a bearing of 110° true down a rather broad open tussock face. Occasional cairns will be found over this section, and in 5 minutes the spur abruptly narrows to follow 150° true. In a few minutes a prominent rock is passed with the bush-edge just below, entered L. About 30 minutes from the main ridge.
This route is well padded and marked. From the Atiwhakatu Hut to Jumbo Hut, about 2 hours in the uphill direction, 90 minutes down.
Up: The trail up Raingauge Spur to Jumbo Hut climbs from Atiwhakatu Hut, but steep faces soon give way to a steady grade. A now over-grown clearing, site of the old raingauge, is passed about 75 minutes from the stream. At the bush-edge, the trail rises above the dense scrubline before swinging N to Jumbo Hut.
Down: From the S end of Jumbo Hut the trail is followed to the next spur S, where it enters the bushline below some isolated beech trees – little more than 5 minutes from the hut. The trail continues uneventfully downwards, crossing a pair of fault traces to reach the steeper faces above the stream and the Atiwhakatu Hut, about 90 minutes from Jumbo Hut. [revised March 2017]
Jumbo HutJumbo Hut is a Serviced hut, located at -40.85401, 175.440191. It has 20 bunks with cooking, heating, mattresses, toilets - non-flush, water from tap - not treated, boil before use, and water supply. Bookings are required.
From Jumbo Hut the ‘northerly’ track descends a bush spur to Atiwhakatu Stream, then down-valley to the Atiwhakatu Hut: 2½ hrs between the huts. The summit of Jumbo itself, on the Holdsworth – Mitre ridge, is 40 minutes up from the hut.
Up: Thirty-five minutes up-valley from the Atiwhakatu Hut, the turn-off to Jumbo Hut is well marked. After a few minutes on high terraces, a steeper climb eventually passes an open spot (good for a spell), beyond which the grade soon eases off to cross a tiny stream. The grade is better in this pleasant high-altitude bush and the track soon reaches to the bush-edge, a few minutes below Jumbo Hut, 2 hours from the river.
Above the hut, the spur leads up through tussock, and then a rocky scramble, to join the Holdsworth – Mitre Ridge at Jumbo, about 40 minutes from the hut. (see 6.3.)
Down: From Jumbo Hut the track descends the tussock edge of the spur NNE for a few minutes, then enters the bush to cross a tiny watercourse 15 minutes from the hut. One hour down the spur will bring the higher river terraces and, in another 10 minutes, the Atiwhakatu itself. Thirty-five minutes down-valley is the Atiwhakatu Hut.
Historic site: Below the tiny stream crossed 15 minutes from the hut, and 50 metres to the north (TL), the site of Spooners Hut can be found.
Up: The route from the Atiwhakatu Saddle takes 90 minutes to the bush-edge, with the summit of Baldy less than 2 hours from the Saddle. This route is somewhat more difficult to follow on the return journey, so look back often to remember the route. From Baldy to the main ridge is another 60 minutes.
Down: The knob where the Baldy spur joins the Holdsworth – Mitre ridge is not conspicuous, though it has a small cairn. It is at a change of direction in the ridge, just beyond a couple of small tarns, about an hour from McGregor and 5 minutes before South King’s iron tube. The tussock spur is reasonably defined and drops through a saddle to reach the extensive flat summit of Baldy in 40 minutes.
The spur leads almost NE as it leaves Baldy, and passes the Barton Track turn-off cairn in 7 minutes, to swing round to the SE as it reaches the bush-edge 20 minutes from Baldy. Inside the bush the spur is reasonably defined, and the track well marked. Twenty minutes down from the bush-edge the route swings sharply L across a gully head and eventually another spur develops. A sharp fault trace is crossed just before the Atiwhakatu Saddle, about 70 minutes from Baldy.
This fault is probably the most dramatic earth-tearing currently to be seen in the ranges. In the Tararuas it is easy to be blasé about fault traces, but the local examples of them are excellent on a world scale.
Ten minutes down from the saddle brings the Atiwhakatu Stream. [revised November 2017]
Up: The track begins along the TL bank of the Atiwhakatu Stream, starting just before the bridge at Holdsworth Lodge. It is initially not marked but becomes clear and well-marked within ten metres of leaving the main track. At a point opposite Donnelly Flat it climbs up round a substantial slip and on to a well-defined spur to Pinnacle, which is reached in 1½ to 2 hours.
From Pinnacle the track heads downhill on the left side of a stony clearing and once in the bush again is well defined. Approaching .862, watch for the track dropping sharp L a few metres below the top. The track now descends steeply into a saddle before climbing to .846, which is reached in one hour. Here, a marked track off to the left, known as Watties Alternative, leads SW down a well-defined spur to the Atiwhakatu Stream.
The ridge track continues until after a further 40 minutes a track to the left will be seen, well marked but very steep at the bottom, leading to the Atiwhakatu Hut. For about an hour after leaving the Atiwhakatu Hut turn-off, the ridge track continues along a less frequently marked but still discernible footpad to join the Barton Track, which here drops into the Waingawa catchment (see 5.5). Some 200 metres further on, at the saddle itself, a track drops SW to a bridge over the Atiwhakatu Stream (for the return down valley, see 6.1). [December 2020]
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