Bannister Circuit Wairarapa
Friday 2 September to Sunday 4th September 2005
One of my most memorable Tararua trips was in about 1980 with Peter Jagger and troops.
Mitre Flats Friday night. On the Saturday we went up Mitre with a heavy cover of snow from about the bush line. A wonderful sunny morning turned overcast later but with little wind all day. We headed on from Mite to the old Tarn Ridge hut. Including a sidle around one Girdlestone Pinnacle as conditions for going over the top were considered dodgy with the heavy snow.
It was my first experience of back country tops travel in attractive conditions. That night the wind came up, bits of hut were beating against each other and no one could sleep, so we headed off at 2 am, down to Arete forks and a 10 hour day out to the Pines via the sidle tracks down the Waingawa. I can still see the snowy peaks and the Nor’ West cloud scudding across the sky above Arete in front of a full moon as we moved along Tarn Ridge before heading down the spur.
So I have always had a hankering to go back to this area in winter. So 25 years later 4 of us left Kiriwhakapapa road end at about 7.30pm on the Friday night. I felt some anxiety that my prized Honda Civic would be OK over the weekend. It looked vulnerable to late night hoons.
2 hours had us at Blue range hut, a place I always enjoy visiting. We were up at 6.30 am the next morning as I was aware we had a long way to go and not so much daylight. The weather was clear and calm at dawn – but soon a cloud bank moved in from the east. We left the hut by 7.30 heading along the ridge towards Cow Saddle. Instead of following the track down to Cow Creek Hut, which would have then required a climb back to the saddle of several hundred metres, we remained on the ridge. We lost the poorly marked track at times, losing some time in the process but arrived at Cow saddle by 9.30 am.
From here comes the very steep and unrelenting climb onto Waingawa. The track is well marked and maintained and also well cut through the scrub belt. On reaching the bush edge we found we had climbed into the easterly cloud – with, at times, light drizzle. On reaching the top of Waingawa it was time for the compass altimeter and map. The cloud was thick and from now on there was little indication of route on the ground until we got to Arete Biv several hours later. (If there is a good ground trail we weren’t on it!)
This is not a place to take a wrong turn when you have a long way to go. Andrew and I formed a team where I was regularly checking compass and map and then getting Andrew to check my thinking. We didn’t miss a beat all day. I have been across this ridge 4 times I think in the last 20 years so I was always pleased to come across features in the mist which I recognised. I do prefer it with good visibility.
I had hoped we would get to Arête Biv for lunch – but there was no show. I finally “allowed” the party to stop for lunch at the bottom of the rock step at the bottom of the climb onto Bannister itself. The time was 1.30 pm. A photo I took at the time shows an already tired and somewhat dispirited group. People were tired There were no views. It was almost drizzling. And we still had a long way to go to Tarn Ridge Hut. It was as well that there was no difficult snow, strong winds or rain.
On we went, skirting the rockface by going 50 metres to the left before climbing onto Bannister. Such a great spot on a nice day. I have spent an hour over lunch on Bannister in sunny warm conditions with just moderate winds and views for ever. Some say this is the finest outlook in the Tararuas. But not this day. More ups and downs over the Twins, another deep saddle and then a climb up to the Arête Ridge. The turn off to the sidle to the Biv is well marked with a large cairn before you get to the top of the peak. We arrived at Arete Biv at 4pm – that would have been a late lunch. We had ¼ of an hour to refresh before continuing. We certainly wouldn’t get to Tarn Ridge hut before dark. Good water was found in the steam which starts 50 metes back towards Bannister.
Arete Biv itself was in a sad state. The windows have been roughly sealed shut. The floor is sodden and rotting as is the small cooking bench. (I wondered if it is was being left to fall to pieces before removal but have been assured by Derek Field of DOC that there is a definite commitment to replace it in the near future with a new structure. Just as well! Such a great spot. Also an important safety shelter for parties travelling in this area.) 4.15 and onwards going. Still in mist. I was keen to get past the Waiohine Pinnacles before dark. Also from now on there is a definite ground trail which helped tired travellers. As we climb up onto to the bump which is the beginning of the pinnacles we move far enough west to move out of the easterly cloud. It is obvious that the western Tararuas have had a glorious sunny calm day and we have belatedly moved into it.
In contrast to our days experience the spectacle is spectacular. As we move through the pinnacles and onto Tarn Ridge, the sun dips below the Lancaster ridge and the hills reflect the rich dusk glow. The Arête basin is still full of cloud but Bannister and other hills now poke heads above it. As we continued along the ridge in the deepening dark we struggled and slowed up every rise. Finally at about 8pm we found the marker on the ridge which led us down to Tarn Ridge hut. The party was very tired.
There was just one other resident , Tony Gazley, who had come along from Holdsworth also in a day of thick cloud. He had planned to do the Bannister circuit on the Sunday but turned for home with the arrival of the bad weather. Dinner was enjoyed but a rising wind kept me restless through the night. We arose to more thick cloud but now with strong winds. Once again off by 7.30 am– this was a shorter day. As we climbed up to Girdlestone the wind became challenging and continued to be so as moved on to Brocket. (And I wonder what is the correct procedure when a party is on the tops in the Tararuas and the wind becomes too strong to allow travel?)
From Brocket we needed to turn away from the ground trail towards Mitre and head towards Cow Creek. So it was back to map, altimeter and compass. Flat open parts of the ridge in untracked country, strong wind and thick cloud, is much more difficult in these conditions than shaper ridge sections where often there is more shelter from the wind as well.
Eventually we found the cairns which led us down into the bush and onto the spur which would lead us down to Cow Creek hut. This track was poorly marked and maintained and we lost is regularly before finally emerging onto the well developed Arete forks sidle track. Although this is a sidle track we descended another 170 metres to the river!
A more relaxed and enjoyed lunch than the previous day. The party was now in good heart as we crossed the bridge and climbed out of the valley and intersected with our inward route the previous day before making our way out to the road end.
3.0 New Zealand License.
I was pleased to find my car undisturbed.
An interesting and memorable trip. But also a hard one. Fit rather than medium fit as advertised.