Parks Peak - Upper Makaroro Hut
Queens Birthday weekend, 2011
Medium gourmand trip, accompanied by wet boots, a new hut and an old hut.
Heading out of Wellington early on the Saturday of Queen’s Birthday weekend we debate which of our two trip options looks most promising. Will there be more rain over the Tararuas or the Ruahines? More wind? An unheated hut vs a hut with a fire? What options does each area hold if the weather is to the damper and colder and windier end of the various forecasts on Sunday? Take advantage of the three-day weekend to travel further?
We decide on the further destination, and stop to look at the Ruahine maps over croissants at the French Baker in Greytown. At the Wakarara Road End three hours later some of us fuel up with more delights purchased at the French Baker. Only one other car there; we come across a ute with a dog box on the back after we’ve got wet socks and boots crossing the Makaroro river. From time to time we see a bootprint or pawprint in mud, and we wonder how many people have gone ahead of us today, how full the 6-berth Parks Peak Hut will be. This will be a great trip for shared musing and amusement.
Across the river we get onto four wheel drive tracks through gum and pines, and then join Yeoman’s track through regenerating bush, before the track up to Park’s Peak ridge climbs to the northwest. Some clambering around windfalls, and quite a lot of small branches on the track, perhaps the legacy of the big April storm in the Hawkes Bay. We rise steadily through the forest up onto the ridge, which gives good views of the main eastern Ruahine range, in between quick-fleeting showers and clouds. When we reach the turn-off at 1200 metres to a track leading down to Barlow’s hut, we stop for a bite among the alpine shrubs, looking across to the long large slips that hang like beards from the tussock tops on the main range. We can hear the Makaroro River 500 metres or so below us, hidden by well-forested spurs.
It’s just a couple of kilometres further to Parks Peak Hut, but that includes some ups and downs. We’re happy to see the hut in the last hour of daylight, some 5 hours after leaving the road-end. No-one there. Parks Peak Hut is a new cozy insulated wooden hut with a good verandah, stove, and 7 mattresses. It sits nicely amongst tussock and alpine shrubs. (Nothing like the 4-bed damp hut that I later read about that used to be here).
We have a four-course meal tonight: warm up on miso soup. Avocado on crackers. Rich tomato and parmesan sauce with pasta, yummily complemented with smoked fish. Can we eat more? Well if you’re talking a strawberry cheesecake with fresh whipped cream and slivered almonds, apparently we can.
In between courses we discuss the three options we have for the next two days. Getting to Barlow Hut over the main Ruahine Range, dropping down Colenso Spur now seems unrealistic. We could follow the Parks Peak ridge north, joining up with the main Ruahine range to swing south and then drop down to the Upper Makaroro Hut. Or we could go down 700 metres to the Upper Makaroro Hut from 5 minutes back the track, drop our gear, then climb another 700 metres up Totara Spur to the main range, and have a jaunt along the tops in the direction of Colenso Spur before retracing our steps. Considerations of what the weather might do (the wind and rain are audible), the short winter day, and the stretch for those who haven’t been out on an overnight tramp for a few months settle the route on the last option.
We set off on Sunday morning at a leisurely 8.30am. Persimmon with the muesli. The track down to the Makaroro starts steeply, then follows a saddle, with a final steep descent down to the river.
Our boots have their morning baptism a little under 2 hours after we leave Parks Peak hut. Bright orange Upper Makaroro Hut was built in 1956 and renovated in the 1980s; it’s cozy in a different way from its new neighbour up the hill. Four bunks, a fire, and someone has chopped a good lot of wood and left it neatly stacked in the protected vestibule. Later the hut book reveals that this wood is probably the legacy of another trio that includes Robb Kloss, whose Ruahine trip descriptions I’ve enjoyed online revelling in his return to a beloved area after a hip replacement. His trio enjoyed rambling upstream in summer warmth. The hut book also tells us that a pair were trapped for four days here by a surging Makaroro River in the April deluge, and that the dog and man were ahead of us by a few days. This hut has had more passers-by than people staying: half the number who had stayed in Parks Peak Hut so far this year.
Another clear track up behind the hut to the tops, and again the steep parts are at the start and end, with steady rising in between through mostly beech forest. We were on the tops in under two hours, in mostly sun, along with a keenish wind that had us back in parkas while we went south for a while, relishing the widesweeping views, as far west as Ruapehu. Lots of small tarns, alpine shrubs, and a tantalizing sign to Ruahine Corner hut, 4 hours away.
There’s a good pool close to the Upper Makaroro hut for those who want a full dunking at the end of the day – it was not warm in June! That night was a 5-course meal: started with soup, potato chowder, avocado on crackers, salmon risotto, ginger loaf and afghans. A star-studded sky, the Milky Way stretching silkily between the hills on either side.
We were away at 7.30am on Monday to get our feet wet crossing back over the Makaroro to start and end the day. In between, lovely birdsong as the sun rose on our way back up to Parks Peak, into the new hut for a second breakfast and hot drink. Great views along the ridge on our way back down.
Judging by the hut books, few Wellingtonians come here. Don’t let the distance put you off. It’s a very enjoyable area, with lots of options to suit weather, season, and appetite.
- Party members
- Sue Boyde, Tom White, Cathy Wylie(scribe).