The Worst Journey in the World? MF
29-30 October 2022
The Aorangi Crossing got quite a dissing from the Wednesday mob (August Tramper). They are never going back.
Sandwiched between Martinborough and Cape Palliser, the Aorangi Forest Park is the bastard child of the Tararua Range. Shorter, drier, bleaker, more pest-infested, less visited. The crossing itself heads inland from the Pinnacles on the Wairarapa south coast, across numerous river valleys, past four huts, before spitting out trampers just before the lighthouse.
Six (and a half) of us weekenders were mad enough for the challenge and being workers, we’d do the impossible and pull it off in two days. To handicap ourselves further we dialled up a dirty- looking weather forecast.
Under a foreboding sky at the Pinnacles DoC information panel, the leader, in time-honoured tradition, pointed out the intended route before waving a fond farewell and promptly driving off - to do the car shuttle, that is.
Would Sarah and I catch them up before high point, 590 m? As it happens, yes. That peak is a lot further than it looks on the map and it was after 1 p.m. when, together again, we eventually tumbled down to Washpool Hut for lunch.
Next, we faced the crux of the day, a nasty looking 500 m climb. But before a single contour was conquered, the skipper distinguished himself by attempting a McNabb crossing of Washpool Creek. An ankle-deep tiptoe suddenly became a waist-deep ford, accompanied by expletives that would have made Captain Haddock proud.
The first part of the climb was near vertical but Hera kept our minds elsewhere with arguments on standpoint theory and intersectionality. We found the bush better than expected, tall stands of rimu and matai, the biggest rewarewa you will ever see and did I mention the bird song? The korimako and pōpokotea were going nuts. Spoiler alert; the ongaonga is equally prolific.
Then it was down to the Pararaki River and its namesake hut after a nine-hour day. Turns out more than one of the party had shared a birthday with this bright orange NZFS six bunker, completed back in 1966.
Where the weekend tramper truly excels is in the quality of the pre-dinner nibbles. Camembert, kikorangi, baba ganoush, olives and quince paste spilled out of packs. Even Twyla got a parsley garnish on her sardine and steamed carrot tucker. Following dinner there was a degustation tasting of chocolate. Finally it was down to business with the Listener crossword accompanied by the sound of steady rain on the tin roof, Wayne drifting off to Saturday Night Requests on his micro AM tuner.
We were up early the next morning thinking we had this crossing licked; no more high climbs, just some piddly river valleys to traverse. How wrong could we have been? A long tedious sidle ended with a spectacular knife-edged descent. Then multiple crossings of the Otakaha River before finally reaching Kawakawa Hut, set on a large grassy flat sprinkled with regenerating manuka. The hut is on the boundary with Kawakawa Station, many signs making it abundantly clear, don’t even think about crossing over for a spot of hunting.
Fortunately we didn’t dilly-dally, pushing on up a side branch of the Otakaha. With hunger pangs kicking in, this was where the team showed their true mettle. It was tough going with endless bouldery crossings, the increasingly despotic leader brushing aside pleas for a lunch stop despite the punters’ rep complaining they’d been denied a morning tea break with an opportunity to scoff his treasured Dundee cake.
Finally, just before the route leaves the river, someone (not naming names) up the front end took matters into their own hands and threw down their pack. The leader obsequiously agreed lunch on such a sunny flat was a really good idea.
The climb out of the stream was death-defying but tolerable without the camembert, olives and dog tucker weighing down our packs. By the time we descended to the Mangatoetoe River and yet more crossings, we knew the drill. It didn’t take us long to reach the namesake hut, by far the most visited in the park. From here it was a straightforward grind down a widening river valley, picking up traces of farm road on the true right and reaching the van in a little over an hour, at the end of another nine-hour day.
This trip was proposed by, and was to have been led by, the late Ian Howat. It was one of the very few tramps he’d never done. We thought of Ian often over the weekend. Thanks for the memories Ian, you would have loved the crossing.
- Party members
- Paul McCredie (stand-in leader and scribe), Hera Cook and Twyla, Wayne Perkins, Sarah White, Alan Whiting, Cathy Wylie.