Waiopehu - Oriwa - Mid Ōtaki - Te Matawai
30 December - 3 January
We had been watching for a promising weather window to allow us to 'go adventurous' in an area of the Tararua Forest Park that was new to us. Tricia had been researching via conversations, Tararua Footprints and Tararua Tramper archives. Two articles from the Tramper archives, by Franz Hubmann (March 2020) and John Thomson (April 1998), provided enlightening background.
The first day's activity from the Poads Road car park was a significant uphill effort. The heavy rains of late spring had left the Waiopehu Track a muddy quagmire. At various locations, bundles of narrow boardwalk segments had been helicoptered in, anticipating future placement by Levin Waiopehu Tramping Club members.
We shared Waiopehu Hut that night with five others. Typical Tararua light-grey clag denied us the expansive views the hut can provide. Day two found us lunching at the Oriwa Ridge 'hollow', with no significant change in the weather conditions. The route to Oriwa (1,085 m) from Waiopehu is mostly indistinct, and there were sections that reminded us of the reputation Oriwa Ridge once had. Comparing John's comments of 1998 with what we saw and experienced showed us how nature will relentlessly reclaim the integrity of a landscape.
The 'dog box' bivouac at the 'hollow' has long been removed but there is a water-collection stand with a small tank at the north end of the clearing.
There are established campsites in the bush adjacent to the clearing.
Just south of Oriwa we noted a solitary pink tie indicating our turn-off point to the Ōtaki River valley. We spent a short afternoon going down the spur on the true left of Murray Creek. The spur is easily travelled. Approximately thirty minutes of travel downstream from the toe of the spur saw us arrive at Mid Ōtaki Hut.
The weather window for our trip had opened in 'full blue' that afternoon. The hut sits on a significant open terrace on the true left, allowing for extended exposure to sun at this time of year. The hut is a spacious two bunk structure. We easily gathered dry wood for a fire in the pit adjacent to the hut and enjoyed a relaxed cuppa, later cooking our evening meal over the fire.
The next day was a planned day trip, so light packs. We began by heading due east from the hut on to the crown of the spur that rises to Kelleher in a winding, generally southeast direction. Travel up the spur is straightforward until a narrowing near the top requires some bush mountaineering skills. We had an extended break on the open top of Kelleher (1,182 m), taking in the uninterrupted 360o vista under a blue dome. Then we travelled south along the undulating main range, thankful for the shade of the high-level forest. Nicholls Hut provided water for a late lunch and afternoon travel.
The afternoon was spent returning to the Ōtaki River via the spur descending off the north shoulder of Crawford over pt 1196. Although the terrain looked well defined on the map and looking down from the heights, ‘words were spoken’ on occasion as the reality of the terrain did not match exactly with the map and challenged our off-track skills. We reached the river at the junction of the stream draining from pt 1345. Then it was a long trudge upstream to the hut, negotiating short narrow sections that gave the navels a good rinsing.
The morning of the fourth day was spent going up the Ōtaki River watercourse - very pleasant travel on that blue dome morning. Our efforts were eased as we passed significant side streams; there was a greater flow coming down Waiopehu Stream than what remained in the Ōtaki River above that confluence.
When we reached the significant bend in the river south of Butcher Saddle, the combined influence of nature's continual evolution and personal perception of the landscape made for a time of considered choice. The ‘attractive cascade’ that Franz mentioned in describing his route down from the saddle looked very unfriendly from our perspective. There were no evident signs of routes up to the saddle, so we clawed our way up about twenty vertical metres and then followed the crown of the identifiable spur rising to reach the Dora Track just southeast of pt 810 (Tararua Footprints, section 14.20). Shortly thereafter we were having a welcome cuppa at Te Matawai Hut. A pleasant evening was spent in conversation with a solo female Te Araroa walker, a prison chaplain spending a few days exploring the South Ōhau catchment, and a mother and son doing a crossing to Mitre Flats.
Our final day began by following the track to Girdlestone Saddle and then going north along the mostly discernable route to pt 865 – the top of Deception Spur. Travel down the spur was straightforward due to regularly placed tapes and vegetative clearing below approximately pt 357. The cleared route descends to the South Ōhau River, several hundred metres upstream from the confluence of the branches of the Ōhau River. We then followed the watercourse downstream and picked up the track leading to the Blackwater Stream bridge. Just north of the bridge there was a significant slip that required careful foot placement (there is an alternative scrambly route up and around the slip). The day ended, as it began, in brilliant sunshine – an appropriate end to a very rewarding backcountry adventure.
Bill Allcock (scribe), Tricia French.
- Party members
- (leader and scribe).