I’m a subscriber to Backpacker Magazine, and generally, I’m a fan. But every now and then, I think they understate things a bit. When I found the description of the Tararua Peaks Traverse last October, it said “the exposure is not for the faint-hearted, and the area is plagued by bad weather.” That seems generous, considering the summit ridge has thousand foot drop-offs either side and it only sees about a hundred days of clear weather each year. So of course I texted Tony and we started making plans. Apparently poor judgment runs in the More genes, as his brother Richard was keen (willing) to join us. This would be Richard’s first, and potentially last, backpacking trip.
The trail is located just north of Wellington in Otaki (also home to the Icebreaker outlet, currently featuring a hooded full body merino wool onesy for $125). It is about a five hour drive from our home in Rotorua to Wellington where we stayed at Rich’s house the night before we began. Final gear sorting was completed, dinner plates were cleaned, and we were off to bed early. Next morning we packed our backpacks, and drove to the trailhead.
The trip is a loop, starting and ending at Otaki Forks. We left the ute in the car park (parked the pickup in the parking lot), shouldered our packs, and were off. Crossing over the Otaki River is via a long, and rather high, swing bridge. We walked through native bush for about four hours, then a lunch break at Waiteweawea Hut. After lunch the real ascent began. Emerging from the tree line we had a grand view of about a 50 meters (165 ft). Every now and again we got a little break in the clouds to see the ridges, but mostly we could only see the next peak ahead. That was for the better, though, because if we could have seen how far we really had to go, it would have been a bit demoralizing. As it was, we just kept ticking off of the distance and elevation, one peak at a time. Just a short six hours later, we reached Anderson Memorial Hut, and not a minute too soon, as I had about all I could take by that time. We had covered about 19 kilometers (12 miles) and were at 1140m (3740ft) above sea level, but had racked up 1900m (6200ft) of total elevation gain. Anderson is my new favorite hut, well tucked into the surrounding hills, sheltered from winds, with just six bunks and a wood burning stove. Curiously, an abandoned pair of boots were left at the door; makes you wonder what happened to that guy. Warm, dry, and finally off our feet, we tucked into dinner and were then quickly in bed for a restless night of sleep.
I would have been more than happy to stay there, but our day was only half done. An hour after leaving the hut we reached the bottom of a ladder. Not a regular ladder, a 40 meter (130 ft) steel ladder going up a vertical slot between two rocky outcroppings. A little terrifying, but sturdy enough, and certainly memorable. Surviving that, we scrambled our way up and down for another four hours, then stumbled over one last ridge into Kime hut. While Anderson Memorial Hut was small, protected and warm, Kime was big, drafty and cold. But it was dry and empty, so a welcome refuge nonetheless. Once again Tony whipped up dinner, then I passed out in my sleeping bag, having laid down “just to warm up”. Day two’s totals were 16km (10 miles) and 2,500 meters (8,200 feet) of total elevation gain.
All totaled we did 48 km (30 miles) and 4,656 m (15,275 ft) of elevation gain in three days. Rich’s feet still have yet to recover, and my left knee may never quite be the same. Tony was limping a little at the end, but somehow seemed otherwise unscathed despite carrying an enormously heavy pack. I can’t remember a more demanding walk than this, and for Rich to do it as his first ever, without a hint of complaining, is admirable. I promise to make the next one easier, mate.