This is the first of two posts about the part of the Te Araroa Trail between Otaki Forks and Poads Road, Levin. I had walked from Seatoun to Otaki Forks 3 years ago and got to Otaki Forks and thought the next section would require a bit of forward planning and 4 days of good weather. It took me 3 years to pluck up the courage, and have the time off work coincident with good weather, but I finally did it.
The routing of the Te Araroa Trail over the tops of the main range of the Tararuas is a bit contentious since it is thought to be too hard for most people. I definitely have an opinion on that but I’ll save that for part two.
It only takes 50 minutes to drive from Otaki Forks to Poads Road on the flat, but it takes 4 days to walk it. If you were super fit you could walk it in three. I think it is too hard to walk it in any less time. It took me a total of 32 hours of walking over 4 days. I was slower than just about every advertised time.
I started from the picnic grounds at Otaki Forks and over the footbridge it starts off on an easy track towards Waitewaewae, also called YTYY. (the first time I saw YTYY on a sign, a direction marker for where the track is diverted above a slip, I thought “huh?” and guessed it meant Tuktoyaktuk airport, then I said it out loud, and went “oh derr”)
The track is easy til it gets to the swingbridge over the Otaki. (The swingbridge would make a nice there and back walk in an hour from the picnic grounds)
The track goes up the Waitatapia Valley(not the Otaki Valley) following some old timber cutters’ tram tracks. So yes this is some flat bits. It’s also the last of the flat bits for 4 days. There is the aforementioned slip to negotiate, with a straightforward little climb and you come upon an old stationary engine.
The track up Saddle Creek to the Plateau is, as the guide book said, as rough as guts. At least if you’re thirsty all you have to do is bend down and drink. Water would become an issue over the next 3 days as the track follows the ridgelines, and there is never much water on a ridge. The huts all had good water. Waitewaewae Hut on a swimming hole in the Otaki was a welcome relief.
The next morning another swingbridge takes you to the east side of the Otaki River and then there is a 1000 metre climb up Shoulder Knob to Junction Knob on the main ridge of the Tararuas. There is no other way to say it other than it was hard, steep, and relentless. I climbed and climbed, and then I climbed. When I made it to the sign on Junction Knob I had a little rest and fell asleep.
I love walking on the tops and seeing all the alpine flora.
At the junction I turned left for Mt Crawford (I once had a day climbing the similarly named Mount Crawford in South Australia with a friend, and drove back afterwards through Birdwood where the National Motor Museum had a historic pinball display. $7 and we had an all afternoon lock-in with 63 historic pinball machines – my favourite being the Dennis Lillee Howzat! machine. Sadly it is a different Mt Crawford). Mt Crawford was the highest point of the tramp at 1462 metres. That’s not high by New Zealand standards, but in the Tararuas the tracks go over the ridge tops, and hence are seriously up and down. Down in the Southern Alps the tracks follow valleys and use passes to get between them. Tramping in the Tararuas is therefore hard work.
Nichols Hut was also wonderful to see. When first glimpsed it is 100 metres below, and the rutted track down to it after a gruelling day was hard. I was too tired to go back to the hut to get the camera, but I’d vote the view from the loo at Nichols looking down the Waiohine Valley all the way to what I think was Carterton District spectacular.
More in part two …