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July 2012 Issue
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A slice of tramping history

Tramper on Dress Circle. Photo: Richard Davies
Two-three days. Otaki Forks to Field Hut, 2-3hr; Field Hut to Kime Hut 2-3hr; Kime Hut to Elder Hut 4-6hr; Elder Hut to Waiotauru Hut 3-4hr; Waiotauru Hut to Otaki Forks 3-4hr
Field Hut (20 bunks); Kime Hut (20 bunks); Elder Hut (4 bunks); Renata Hut (6 bunks); Waiotauru Hut (18 bunks)
Otaki Forks is a major roadend for tramping. There is a good, secure carpark and an intentions book.
Renata Ridge, Tararua Forest

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first ‘Southern Crossing’ of the Tararua Range. This iconic tramp crosses the ranges from Kaitoke (north of Upper Hutt) to Otaki Forks on the Kapiti Coast (although the original crossing was actually from Otaki to Woodside in the Wairarapa).

Part of the popularity of this slow, muddy, rooty tramp must be because you can see it from Wellington on a good day. Also visible from Wellington, although it requires a keener eye, is Renata Ridge. This long bush-clad ridge languidly reaches from the tussock tops of the Southern Crossing out to the Akatarawa Road, and enables a keen tramper to walk the tops of the Southern Crossing in a loop trip returning to Otaki Forks. As an added advantage, the gnarled and stunted goblin forest of Renata Ridge is a lot more pleasant to tramp through than the notorious Marchant Ridge.

The trip starts with the haul up to Field Hut. Slower parties might like to get this done on the Friday night, although as long as you move with a bit of speed and don’t mind a longer day you could just start on the Saturday morning. The track is not unpleasant, but it is always a relief to break out of the bush beyond Tirotiro Knob and see the historic cream coloured hut. Field Hut is only halfway to Kime Hut, but it feels further. The bush is below and as you climb higher the views unfold.

Even on a sunny day Kime Hut is cold, but it provides a convenient shelter for a break if the weather is bad. It is also reassuring to know it is there should the weather turn bad – occasionally lives are lost on the tussock slopes of the Southern Crossing. On a fine day you’ll feel on top of the world here, but Kime doesn’t mark the end of the climbing. Mt Hector is at the top of the second moderate climb beyond Kime Hut. If you haven’t been there before you can’t mistake it, it has a large war memorial cross on top.

The Southern Crossing now curves around in front of you, a feature known as the ‘Dress Circle’, although to get there you’ll need to traverse the bumps of the Beehives and Atkinson. Eventually you’ll reach a signpost indicating Renata Ridge where a steep descent into a bush saddle sets you up for the final long climb to Mt Elder.

This open bump on the bushed Renata Ridge is named after Norm Elder, a long time explorer of the North Island ranges, and activist in the Federated Mountain Clubs. The names of many 20th century trampers dot the map in these parts, and a visit to Elder hardens the feeling that the Tararua is a mountain range worth visiting for its cultural significance for trampers, as much as its natural heritage and pre-European history. Just off the summit lies the four bunk Elder Hut, with its stunning view down to Wellington harbour. The deck is a great place to eat dinner if the weather is kind.

Running out to the coast below is the extensive forested river system of the Waiotauru. This is the next day’s route. Keen trampers who are comfortable navigating untracked bush will get a lot out of a trip down into the Snowy River (a major tributary of the Waiotauru). For those less confident, a good track continues along Renata Ridge, past the decrepit Renata Hut and out to an old logging road. This is followed down to the scungy Waiotauru Hut (an old tractor shed). This area was logged for many years and the scars remain.

After a while walking on an old logging road you’ll cross a swingbridge with the track then heading down the true left of the Waiotauru. If the river is at normal flow then walking down the river bed is by far the nicest way down valley, but the track is in good condition at the moment. A big slip on the track can block access after storms (requiring two river crossings to get around), so if the rivers are up a bit check with DOC before starting. Once at the roadend, there is a short walk down the road to the car park at Otaki Forks.

– Richard Davies