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May 2013 Issue
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A seldom-visited hut in the Tarauras

View from Girdlestone, west to Dorset Ridge Hut (left) and Kapiti Island (right). Photo: Peter Laurenson,
Time
8-10hr
Grade
Difficult
Accom.
Mitre Flats Hut, 14 bunks; Tarn Ridge Hut, 16 bunks; Dorset Ridge Hut, 6 bunks
Access
The Pines car park at the end of Upper Waingawa Road
Map
BN34, BP34
Dorset Ridge Hut, Tararua Forest Park

Getting to the hard-to-reach and seldom-visited Dorset Ridge Hut requires an early start and a long day’s tramp.

The first half hour follows a gravel farm road and short section of farmland before entering the bush at the forest park boundary.

From here the popular Barra Track is followed almost continuously up and down until the Waingawa River swingbridge near Mitre Flats Hut.

Spacious and well appointed, Mitre Flats Hut is a good place for a cuppa as next up is a solid slog up to 1571m Mitre Peak, the highest point in the park. Before leaving, fill up your water bottles because there is no more water until Tarn Ridge Hut (which you don’t actually want to need to bypass).

So far, this is all ground many a Tararua tramper will have trod. The first part of the climb involves reasonable bush travel and is well marked. A small campsite on the bush edge marks the transition onto the open tops. The ground steepens and it becomes a grunt to Mitre. In anything other than perfect weather, navigation skills and weatherproof gear are essential.

From Mitre, the rest of the trip to Dorset Ridge Hut is above the bushline, there are no DOC markers and only a vague ground trail and intermittent rock cairns to follow.

On a good day, the views from Mitre here are breathtaking with much of the Tararua tops visible as well as Mts Taranaki and Ruapehu and the South Island. Dorset Ridge and the hut can also be seen for the first time to the left of Girdlestone.

From Mitre it is another two-and-a-half hours to the hut. A steep rock scramble down the north-west face of Mitre leads to a saddle which then plods up to Brockett, 1538m. From follow the ridge south-west over a couple of bumps before a push up onto Girdlestone.

Tarn Ridge is to the west and requires a bit of steep rock scrambling to reach and shortly after is the turn-off to Dorset Ridge. This is easily found on a good day, but because there is no sign it can be missed when the Tararua’s frequent low cloud and mist roll in. If you come to Tarn Ridge Hut, you’ll know you’ve gone too far.

Dorset Ridge is broad and has no markers or cairns with only a vague ground trail leading to a side track to Dorset Ridge Hut. Take the spur down through tussock, following occasional cairns, to reach the hut which sits in an idyllic spot on the bush edge. The hut has fantastic views of Girdlestone, Adkin, the Three Kings, Broken Axe Pinnacles and McGregor.

The hut itself is an ex-Forest Service six bunker, lovingly upgraded in 2008. The airy cooking room addition, solar lighting, wood burner, wire bunks and generally well stocked hut belie the little use it receives.

After a well earned sleep an early start should see you retrace your steps back to the car park in good time.

This trip is a solid undertaking for an overnighter and a good weather forecast would be needed to have a risk-free and enjoyable experience.

This trip can be made easier by extending to three days and staying at Mitre Flats Hut on the way in or out.

– Nathan Bellamy