Steepest in the TararuasI began the climb to Cattle Ridge Hut with the ominous words of one of my companions ringing in my ears: it’s the steepest* track in the Tararuas. While some reach the hut in one long day, our group of five – all Wilderness contributors – were in no rush because foul weather was battering the tops and we hoped to miss the worst of it by first spending a night at Roaring Stag Hut. The track follows the Mangatainoka River and soon we crossed a lengthy, and airy, swingbridge followed by another 30-minutes farther down the track. The track then climbs steadily through the forest. The trail is gorgeous, though incredibly rooty – at one point we ascended a ‘staircase’ of roots. Deep in the forest, we saw no sign of the forecast winds. It was quiet, peaceful and we were soon working up a sweat. The track crested a ridge where a sign pointed north to Herepai Hut and south to Roaring Stag. It was here that we first heard the wind as it crashed through the trees, but we still couldn’t feel it. The trail traversed the ridgetop for just over one kilometre, providing a chance for our legs to recover from the steep ascent. Just before Pt713m, the descent steepens and altitude is lost quickly as the trail rushes towards Ruapae Stream. At Roaring Stag Hut, we watched the clouds speed across the tops of Cattle Ridge, which loomed ominously just across the stream. From this vantage, it certainly looked like it could host the steepest track in the range. We estimated it would take us two hours to reach Cattle Ridge Hut, where packs would be dropped and the day spent exploring the ridge.
We climbed onto the swingbridge by 9am and crossed to the far side. There was no easing into the ascent, immediately the track headed up in a near straight line. I thought the track to Roaring Stag was rooty, but it had nothing on the one to Cattle Ridge Hut. They covered the track; were the track. At about 800m, the bush became stunted and tall tussock grass became more prominent, obscuring the track so that we couldn’t tell if we were about to step on a flat surface or one of the many deep holes on the heavily eroded track.
Drizzle fell from a grey sky, which hid much of the view, though the occasional clearing allowed us to glance over our shoulders to see how far we’d come. The red roof of Roaring Stag Hut stood out like a beacon.
On finally cresting the ridge, we were hit by strong winds that threatened to bowl me over and rain was pelted into our faces. Fortunately, the hut was not far off.
We rested for a couple of hours at the hut and then, with the rain clearing and sun poking its head out, decided to climb onto the ridge proper to spend the remainder of the afternoon exploring.
The ridge is a broad tussocky expanse and travel is easy, especially without packs and when compared to the steep trail we’d just climbed. We had incredible views of Dundas Ridge and even spied Dundas Hut. Further to the south was Bannister and below we gazed at the heavily-forested Ruamahunga River and its many tributaries.
We walked about 2.5km south, past Pukekino, 1370m, to near Pt1360 from where an hour was spent watching the weather as it built up behind Bannister and Dundas Ridge; clouds sweeping over and down into the Ruamahanga before speeding over our heads. It was both frightening and exhilarating.
The following day, we retreated to Roaring Stag and then out to the road end in ever-improving weather.
* One of the steepest tracks.
- Total Ascent
- Easy / Moderate
- To Roaring Stag Hut, 4hr; To Cattle Ridge Hut, 2-2.5hr
- Roaring Stag Hut ($5, 12 bunks); Cattle Ridge Hut ($5, five bunks)
- From Putara Road end, west of Eketahuna
- BN34, BN33