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August 2014 Issue
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Overnighter with exposure

Te Atuaoparapara is a tough scramble. Photo: Juliet Jones
Distance
18.2km
Time
12-14hr
Grade
Moderate/Difficult
Accom.
Waikamaka Hut, 8 bunks; Waipawa Forks Hut, 12 bunks; Sunrise Hut, 20 bunks
Access
From SH50 north of Ongaonga follow signs to Sunrise Hut onto North Block Road. Drive through Sunrise car park and onto the next DOC sign and grassy car park just uphill from the Waipawa River
Map
BK36
Waikamaka Hut, Ruahine Forest Park

With a relaxed start time of 11.30am, we headed up the Waipawa River. It was fairly cruisy gravel-covered river flats to amble along on. After just over an hour’s walk we lunched at the Waipawa Forks Hut before continuing up the river. Gradually the valley narrowed and ambling turned to boulder hopping, taking a lot more concentration.

A final grunt straight up through leatherwood saw us reach Waipawa Saddle, marked by a rock cairn. From there it was a short climb down, past impressive erosion scars, into a gorgeous valley filled with alpine plants and surrounded by mountain beech forest.

It took about an hour on easier terrain to reach the eight-bunk Waikamaka Hut, owned by the Heretaunga Tramping Club. With five women in our party we made quite a crowd and with five other trampers at the hut, it was very cosy.

A fine evening meant we were able to cook outside and enjoy the twilight but we were disappointed to hear not even a peep of birdsong.

We decided to head back up to the saddle and then out along the tops and over Te Atuaoparapara, 1687m. Leaving the hut by 8am we made good progress to the saddle. From there, the terrain changed considerably with a steep slope of loose rock and scree to scramble up. The light breeze on the exposed ridges was chilly. I think in strong winds, this route would not be possible.

Undulating over the alpine tussock it was easy to follow the route made by the footsteps of previous trampers, but there were no poles and only a few cairns marked the way.

In the distance we could see Te Atuaoparapara looming, a sight the guidebook described as ‘looking more precipitous than it actually is’. I disagree. On passing pretty alpine tarns we dropped down a tussock slope before reaching the base of the fine scree slope that would take us to the peak. We were on hands and knees, taking two steps forward and one slide back. It was laborious work and I found my walking pole was invaluable in keeping me upright and making progress easier.

The moment of triumph upon reaching the top of the scree slope coincided with a moment of sheer terror as I looked over the side of the thin rock face into nothing. With a sheer drop on one side and a steep loose scree slope on the other, we barely rested before continuing on to safer ground.

After regrouping and taking a rest, descending the peak on stable tussock was like a stroll in the park. With no poled route, there was evidence of many possible, but not easy, directions to take. A bit of route-finding was needed to find a route through the dense leatherwood and back onto the beaten path.

The rest of the walk along the tops seemed a breeze and it was possible to relax and enjoy the surrounds. The eroded landscape was amazing.

We had a late lunch at Sunrise Hut before taking the long zigzag down to the car park. While the well-maintained track was easy in comparison to the tops travel, it seemed long and somewhat endless.

We had pushed ourselves, scared ourselves and challenged ourselves. What more can you ask for from a tramp?

– Nina Mercer

Contact Heretaunga Tramping Club, htc@orcon.net.nz