Gerald’s (placeholder) Creek MF
19 October 2022
Exploring the small creek that flows under the biggest bridge on the Atiwhakatu Track has been a bit of an obsession for some time. First sighted from the Pinnacle Ridge track it impresses because it appears to come very visibly straight down from the gable end of East Holdsworth.
My first solo attempt to follow the stream to its source ended short of the top. Another attempt, with two Masterton Tramping Club members, got closer to the source before we climbed out. Later, Kate and Steve Pitney took up the challenge and made it to the top. It was they who gave the creek its placeholder name.
Knowing that it could be done intensified my wish to climb up it. The plan was simple. Walk up the Atiwhakatu Track, climb up the creek and exit via the East Holdsworth track. There was a strong incentive to get to the top because the further up one gets, the shorter the difficult sidle to the East Holdsworth track. The weather on 19 October was initially not promising but we took a chance and headed up the Atiwhakatu track, knowing that there were alternatives if the weather worsened or the creek was swollen by the recent rainfall.
Arriving at the bridge (the longest and strongest bridge on the track – 10-person limit) the first challenge was to find the stream in the wide bed, which was created by a relatively recent cataclysmic flooding event that swept away a much smaller bridge. Progress across the bed was impeded by trees upended by the flood and dense regenerating beech. The beech (preliminary identification hard beech) is so dense that there is no room for exotic interlopers like gorse and it won’t be long before it may be impenetrable to trampers. This feature suggests an alternative descriptive name like The Creek of a Million Beeches.
Travel up the creek was not a navigational challenge but was physically demanding with its continuous climb of 800 metres. The creek included a large number of exquisite water features, each consisting of a uniquely shaped small pool fed by small waterfalls and cascades, each different from the last. Another possible name - The Creek of a Thousand Water Features, although that might incite a Treasury official to carve them up into a thousand parcels and sell them off. The beauty of these water features led Jenny to claim naming rights for the prettiest of the waterfalls and John and Mike to make similar claims in respect of other features.
It was easier to travel in the stream, where the volume of water was modest and the rocks were reasonably grippy. By contrast, travel on the banks required battling with the stroppy juvenile beech and other colonising plants whose presence indicated that, although it was formed by a cataclysmic event, the stream now stays mainly within its narrow confines whatever the weather.
There were a few obstructions, slightly bigger waterfalls and log jams, which had to be either climbed around or wriggled through. But none were impassable, and there were usually animal tracks to guide us. They add a little challenge to the trip.
The ultimate goal, the source of the creek, was suddenly and spectacularly there. Unlike most streams, it doesn’t just peter out in the bush, it blasts through to the sky. It was almost like looking up a chimney, suggesting another possible name - Chimney Creek.
The last section was precipitous and two waterfalls in a steep narrow ravine forced us to scramble out of the creek at snowline level and make our way through a mix of the last of the bush, and tussock, leatherwood and flax. We exited on the true left but noticed a blue marker on the true right which would provide a slightly earlier exit towards the nearby East Holdsworth track.
Three and a half hours after leaving the bridge, we were lunching on a rock outcrop just below the ridgeline, with an East Holdsworth track marker visible. We speculated that maybe there had once been a substantial swamp at the bushline and that its collapse, heavy after a downpour, cleared a wide bed 800 metres down to the Atiwhakatu Stream, and in doing so created a spectacular adventure for trampers.
Buoyed by our success, we exited via Holdsworth and Powell Hut (where we observed a bevy of tradesmen repairing the electrical fittings damaged by lightning in March), rather than via the East Holdsworth track.
- Party members
- John Dement, Gerald Leather (scribe), Jenny Mason, Mike Wespel-Rose.