Hut Bagger Heaven - Cattle Creek loop
15-16 April 2023
The club’s two top hut baggers going head to head. It’s the heavy weight showdown you’ve all been waiting for!
Clad top to toe in Macpac, we have Sarah Steaming Billy White, ranked 79th on the all-time leaderboard with 308 huts bagged. Up against her today, Susi Straight Shooter Lang, modelling an impressive array of ZPacks’ finest kit. She also sits comfortably inside the top 100, on a career total 288 huts visited.
Despite extensive backcountry resumés going back well over three decades, this is the first time these titans of the hut bagging world have squared off against each other. To keep things spicy we have three huts up for grabs today.
It’s hunting season and we don’t know the extent of cyclone damage in the Ruahine Range. As expected the carpark at Takapari Rd, in from Dannevirke, is chocka with utes. Our referee has a sense of dread at the prospect of sharing a hut overflowing with wet, dirty hunters and their dogs.
Round one begins with a steep 500m climb to the hut previously known as Traverse Shelter/A Frame but since a 2020 make-over, Te Ao Tūpare, which aptly translates as ‘realm of leatherwood’. Inching our way up, we pass a cheerful family of striking red headed West Australian Vikings descending from a night at the hut. Topping out there’s dense mist swirling around the 4x4 road that connects to the Manawatu side of the range. Yes, we could have driven here but it’s only a short stroll to the hut with its colourfully decorated maihi, a well-earned brew and early lunch.
Back into the clag, there is a mind numbing half hour road walk north to the Stansfield Hut turnoff. On a fine day the views out to the Manawatu in the west and Hawkes Bay in the east must be a treat. Past the turnoff, a scrubby track gradually gives way to forest as we drop steeply down to the Tamaki River once more. It’s muddy, slippery and the abundance of ground cover hides plenty of bottomless holes. We all take bum slides.
Stansfield Hut is resplendent in NZFS orange. Also sporting a makeover, it feels quite modern with an extensive skylight and as it’s empty we’ve tempted to drop packs for the night. But some shifty body language from opposing corners snuffs out that option - not with another bag-able hut in the offing.
The climb out of the Tamaki River is complicated by the sluice of gravel unleashed by Cyclone Gabrielle but we are soon into the best forest of the day on a quick 300m ascent. It doesn’t last, and the badlands of the scrubby southern Ruahine Range return as we spy Cattle Creek Hut down below us. Sneaky Sarah tries to steel a march on Susi on the descent but that wily hunter, ever attuned to the possibility of a kill, is equal to those tactics. 'Is that a bull roar I can hear? Maybe I should have brought my rifle?’ With hungry tummies rumbling, the resounding answer is ‘Yes!’
The hut is empty but evidence of hunters is everywhere. We stake our claim to mattresses and Sarah gets dinner on. When they finally return we’re relieved to find it’s just a father and son hunting pair who have actually walked in. We enjoy a fun evening as Susi tries (unsuccessfully) to convert them to the church of the NZDA Hutt Valley branch.
Next day we retrace our steps to Stansfield Hut and then follow the gravelly plains of the Tamaki River downstream. More hunting repartee ensues at the carpark as Susi corners another hunting couple.
On the way home, a heavily laden apple tree is spotted on the side of the road. A faultless 180 from the referee and we’re all filling bags with bounty. The gladiators agree it has been a most rewarding trip - ‘we must do this again sometime’ they laugh.
Go to https://hutbagger.co.nz/ if you’re ready to succumb to the addiction.
- Party members
- Paul McCredie (leader and scribe), Susi Lang and Sarah White.