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October 2015 Issue
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Window to the top of the Tararuas

View from Brockett, Looking south east to Mitre and Peggy Peaks. Photo: Peter Laurenson
Tararua Forest Park
13.7km to Girdlestone
Total Ascent
2060m to Girdlestone
13-16hr. Car park to Mitre Flats Hut, 3-4hr; Mitre Flats Hut to Mitre, 3-4hr; Mitre to Girdlestone return, 2-3hr; Mitre to car park, 4-7hr
From the car park at the end of Upper Waingawa Road
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Girdlestone (gpx, yo 38 KB)
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Girdlestone via Mitre Peak, Tararua Forest Park

The weather forecast indicated a fine weather gap if I was prepared to walk in with diminishing afternoon rain. I had the time so why not? I’d not yet been to the highest point of the Tararuas and this seemed like a good opportunity.

As promised, the walk in was wet, but that wasn’t the main challenge. The trail to Mitre Flats Hut only gains 70m but, as I traced the Waingawa River, I had to climb much more due to the seemingly endless ups and downs, over more slippery tree roots than I’d ever come across on a tramping track. After a constant three-hour plod, I reached the 14-bunk hut just on nightfall, glad to be in a flat dry space.

Next morning, I lightened my pack and headed out just before dawn. From the hut to Mitre requires a height gain of 1200m and, if the going was as tough as the walk in, I figured it was going to be a fairly big day.

But I was pleasantly surprised; the trail is well graded, making rapid progress relatively easy. It wasn’t long before I reached snow at 700m and soon after that got into the good stuff, breaching the tree line and up on to the tops. The weather had completely cleared, though a stiff breeze remained.

I reached Peggys Peak, 1545m, in three hours, at which point my entire route for the day was revealed. I had hoped to carry on beyond Girdlestone, traversing Three Kings and then descending and looping back via Baldy. But the Tararuas reminded me how big they really are and I decided retracing my steps from Girdlestone would be the smarter move. Once that was settled I still had some ground to cover.

I spent an enjoyable few hours between Peggys Peak and Girdlestone. It’s a short hop from Peggys to Mitre, 1571m, and having done numerous excursions into these hills but, until then, not reaching this point, it was good to step on to the highest point of the Tararuas. The clear sky and dusting of snow under foot made it feel suitably alpine.

The 150m descent of Mitre’s steeper north-west face, also dusted with snow, was the trickiest section of the day’s route. Once on top of Brockett, 1538m, I got a nice view of Mitre, back-dropped by the Wairarapa. And looking north-west I could see the red roof of Tarn Ridge Hut gleaming at me in a sea of green, brown and gold; offset by the blues and greys of Kapiti Island in the far distance.

It was an easy stroll to Girdlestone, 1546m, along a tussocky ridge requiring minimal height gain. Another view unfolded from the summit, revealing Dorset Ridge and its namesake hut and, in the distance, the snowy summit of Mt Holdsworth. It was a view worth savouring but with the clock ticking I couldn’t linger. I still had a lot of ground to cover and the thought of clambering over all those slippery roots beyond Mitre Flats Hut in the dark spurred me into action.

I retraced my steps to Mitre and on to Mitre Flats Hut. The trail beyond the hut was no easier on the way out, especially as I’d already been on the go for more than seven hours.Nightfall finally caught up just as I bashed the mud from my boots beside my car.

It was nice to get off my feet and feel the warmth of the car’s heater as I set off for home. Rain drops on my windscreen confirmed I’d timed my weather perfectly.