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February 2012 Issue
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Weather and the Waiopehu

The comfortable Waiopehu Hut. Photo: Mark Anderson
Time
Road end to Waiopehu Hut (18 bunks), 4-5hr; Waiopehu Hut to Road end via Gable End Track, 5-6hr.
Grade
Moderate
Access
From Levin head east on Tararua Rd. Turn right onto Gladstone Rd and then another right onto Poads Rd
Map
Topo50 BN33

Waiopehu Hut, Tararua Forest Park

It was in lovely conditions that I began the tramp along the Waiopehu Track to Waiopehu Hut and my blind faith in a spell of good weather assured me the views from Twin Peak, which towers above the hut, would be superb. But the weather had different plans.

The Waiopehu Track is the creation of the Levin and Waiopehu Tramping Club (LWTC) and provides trampers with access to the backcountry of the Tararuas. It took eight months to build the 8km track, from May 1927 to the following January. By March 1928, the first Waiopehu Hut was officially opened and the members of the LWTC could at last enjoy the rewards of their endeavours.

Unfortunately for the LWTC a huge storm in February 1936 undid all their hard work. High winds completely destroyed the hut and blew it 100m down the ridge whilst felled trees rendered much of the Waiopehu Track impassable. It took five members of a stranded tramping party two full days to descend from Twin Peak, a journey which is normally done in four hours. They were also forced to leave behind the body of Ralph Woods who had succumbed to the storm along the exposed Waiopehu Ridge. A simple cross now marks where his body lies as a reminder to us all that the weather can be our worst enemy as well as our best friend.

A replacement hut had been put in place by 1947 and lasted until 2002 when a third Waiopehu Hut was built, this time amongst the leatherwoods just below the bushline.

By the time I reached the hut, my own weather demons had turned on me as cloud and rain swirled about my head denying me the opportunity of looking down upon the Horowhenua. I was still smiling though because I had enjoyed a muddy tramp through the bush. That night, I rested my weary head firm in the belief that bright sunshine would welcome the start of a new day.

But by morning, mist and rain encased the tops and there would be no fantastic views as I strode up to Waiopehu (1094m) and on to Twin Peak (1097m) before joining the Gable End Track the cool rain blowing onto my face.

Conditions slowly improved towards Gable End Ridge and I emerged from the bush to be greeted by bright sunshine. But glancing back up the ridge to Twin Peak, the mountain was still encased in cloud.

– Mark Anderson

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