Overview of the Tararuas
The Tararua Ranges are the result of several episodes of mountain-building activity, and the impact of plate tectonic forces that move continents across the face of the earth.
At the local scale, the land is shaped by a number of fault systems trending SW to NE, which create the major valley alignments. Where the valleys follow these fault systems they have pleasant grassy flats and easy bush travel, with low saddles between valleys. Where the valleys cut across these major alignments they commonly have significant gorges and difficult travel. All the Tararua rivers exit to the plain lands via a gorge. e.g. the Tauherenikau and Waingawa Valleys demonstrate these features well. Glaciers have also left their subtle mark on the ranges in the last group of ice ages: hanging valleys near the tops; outwash terrace deposits with boulders bound by fine silt; and huge boulders in some small valleys.
Until recent times, deer accelerated erosion and, though that danger is now under reasonable control, the possum still threatens the diversity of forest species, and alas, fire from human activity has grossly damaged several areas in the past. Please take care to not add to them. Possum, rat, and stoat still menace natural flora and fauna.
The Tararuas are a beautiful playground, and in our play we experience the meaning of the word ‘re-creation’. Overseas travellers confirm that we are very privileged to have such a large area (~120,000 Ha / 300,000 acres) of unspoilt territory. We must each care for our park and leave it as we would wish to find it. Take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but footprints. A minimum impact code is given: please practice it.
Travel in the Tararua Ranges covers the full experience from pleasant sunny grass flats; through storm-drenched ridges and streams; to truly alpine conditions on the tops. There are places of tranquil peace and great beauty, and other places again where even masochists will be unhappy. Winter conditions can occur on the tops at all seasons of the year – a snow-covered Southern Crossing on Christmas Day is far from unique. Storm gear is always necessary for trips above bushline.
Rainfall in the Tararuas is high – 100 millimetres in a day is common, twice that is not exceptional, though you'd be unlucky to have 600 millimetres in a weekend. Small streams will rapidly become uncrossable by the strongest party. If you strike these conditions, sit them out - in a comfortable hut if possible - the streams will drop quickly once the rain stops. You may be sure that the Search and Rescue folk are well aware of the difficulties of wet-weather travel and will allow for it. In the river valleys, take care when travelling under slips and beware of falling rocks or logs. Although this danger is greater in wet weather, it must be considered in all conditions.
Many of the road-ends are remote from habitation, and vehicles left there may not be safe from vandalism, particularly overnight. Leaving valuables in your car encourages thieves.
No vehicles are allowed beyond the road-ends in the Park and bikes are discouraged on walking tracks. Park your car so as to not obstruct farm activities. At some road-ends you may be able to arrange for safer parking with a local resident. This privilege should be acknowledged with courtesy, and a donation may be appropriate.
A similar situation exists with the use of farm phones. These are treated as business phones, with a charge for each call. And, of course, remove boots and wet gear before entering someone’s home. Cellphone performance may be adequate from the tops, but poor in valleys, cellphone reception will be poor inside huts. Have a spare battery for your cellphone. Do not spoil the 'remote experience' of others with your phone. Mountain Radio Service has reliable equipment, light-weight and purpose-designed, which can be hired for a small fee.
About half the access points into the Tararuas cross private land and permission to cross this should be sought from the runholder. Phone numbers are included to assist in seeking permission, but you should not assume that permission will always be granted. Treat this land with the respect that you would like of strangers crossing your own property.
In particular, leave farm gates as you found them. Stick to marked routes where given, cross fences at a stile where provided, and always with care.
Parties with firearms should be mindful of their special obligations. Dogs must be on a lead and firearms unloaded when on private property. Never take rifles or dogs over private land without asking the permission of the owner. During some stock seasons, access for dogs may be refused, or they may need to be kept on a lead.
Many water catchments in the ranges are used as town water supplies. In any case, whether you are in a town catchment or not, do not pollute any water supply. Wash up and attend to toilet away from flowing water. Tarns are particularly precious – leave them pristine. Carry out all your rubbish. It is a good idea to de-tin your goodies into reusable containers before the trip.
Payment is either by Hut Pass or by Hut Tickets pre-purchased through clubs, DoC, or some sports retailers. DoC use this money for hut construction and maintenance. No fees are payable for the shelters or the bivvys which are of lesser standard. A medium-term plan will see the small bivvies replaced by full-height ones. Most of the Tararua huts are one-ticket huts, but several with better facilities require two tickets per night. Don't depend on finding space in a hut. A light-weight fly sheet is a good insurance against finding a popular hut full. In remote areas small bivvies will be located temporarily to suit the needs of DoC field staff. These may be placed and moved without any notice, so don't count on using them.
A few huts at high altitude used to have coal supplied so as to preserve the forest, but it is unwise to count on this for cooking. At huts with fires, keep your fire small to conserve wood, and please leave a little kindling and wood - away from the fire - for the next users. Make sure your fire is well out.
Earthquake and storm damage continue their toll, and the hut you expect, or the track to it, may well have been damaged or gone. Checking with mountain clubs, or DoC offices and web site is worth while if you are not familiar with an area.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 New Zealand License.