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June 2016 Issue
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On a knife-edge

Southern side of the Broken Ridge. Photo: Raj Palanisamy
Total Ascent
9-11hr to hut
Hinerua hut ($5, 4 bunks), Waterfall hut ($5, 6 bunks)
From Mill Road end via Ashley Clinton
BL36, BK36

Waterfall Hut via Hinerua Hut, Ruahine Forest Park

A late afternoon start had us racing the setting sun to reach Hinerua Hut before dark.

Shortly after leaving the car, we dropped to the Tukituki River, crossing it three times before reaching the shelter of the forest where the climb began to Hinerua Ridge.

Darkness overtook us a short time later, so we walked by the light of our headlamps for the final hour to the four-bunk hut. In the moonlight, the hut looked magical, surrounded by pure white snow.

We woke early in expectation of a long day’s walk to Waterfall Hut, an historic hut at the head of the Kawhatau River and located on a beautiful sand bank at the confluence of Waterfall and Pinnacle creeks.

From Hinerua Hut, we climbed a spur to join Broken Ridge and then walked the tops to Paemutu, 1682m. Just as we climbed onto the tussock-covered ridge, the sun rose and illuminated the dramatic windswept landscape. It left me in awe of the rugged beauty of the country we were traversing.

Broken Ridge deserves its name for the narrow knife-edge of rotten crumbling rock just north of Paemutu. The ridge here narrows until it becomes nothing more than a thin line between two scree slopes where cliffs drop 500m to the valley floor. The trail leads around several rocky outcrops with daunting exposure. I was glad there was only a light breeze – a strong wind could make this crossing difficult.

After scuttling over the top of a large landslip, the gradient of the spur leading into the Kawhatau River became steeper and more slippery. We followed it down, avoiding false trails leading onto steep, gravel-on-rock faces. Gradually, the spur widened and as we reached the final knob halfway down Paemutu, the going became easier.

At around 4.30pm we reached Waterfall Hut, its door wide open. Inside, we found possums had made it their home and the stench was awful. It took an hour to clean and make suitable for human habitation again.

We discussed an alternate route back, walking up the Kawhatau River and then climbing more directly to Paemutu. But the prospect of getting wet feet hardly appealed, so we decided to retrace our steps.

We began at 6.30am, again using our headlamps to light the way. It was a glorious day and when we reached the top of Paemutu, the cloud cover dropped into the valley, opening up the view along the tops.

We arrived at Hinerua Hut at 4.30pm and had a short break before carrying on to our car.

By the time we reached the bushline, it was dark and we had difficulty finding the track to the Tukituki River. But, we found it and made our way across the cold and fast flowing river. A short time later we were back at the car.

– Raj Palanisamy