Monday, 2 December 2019

Blue Range Hut

I'd been hankering for a night in the woods for a while, and it so happened that the weekend I finally resolved to do something about it I also found myself obliged to visit my parents.
Having not settled on a destination, I revised my criteria to huts near Masterton within a few hours of the roadend.
Atiwhakatu? Nah, been there not that long ago and, dear I say, too easy?
Powell? Again, been there recently, and slightly too long.
How about... Blue Range Hut? 3.6km from the Kiriwhakapapa camp ground, nice wee hut I've not been to for years, Blue Range it is.

And so I marched off up the gloriously flat track, my half-full pack bouncing around merrily. The track crosses a small foot bridge over the Kiriwhakapapa Stream less than than a minute from the start, before passing through a grove of towering redwoods, shortly coming to another footbridge over an un-named side-stream. On the other side of the footbridge, a junction is met. A piece of DOCware points left to the loop track, whilst I kept going straight. The track remains wide and even, following the path of the just-out-of-site Reef Creek.

About 1km from the start, after crossing a small creek, the track begins to climb. Early on, parts of the track are surrounded on both sides by thick tangles of black vines that create a foreboding sense that one should not be there. The track is also indistinct in a couple of places, where it looks like it has been re-routed to avoid fallen trees and the like.
Soon enough, the track becomes a fairly typical Tararua uphill slog, climbing insistently higher for about 2.5km.

The undergrowth is lush and green, and as the altitude increases, moss begins to encase the surrounding landscape.
It is in such goblin forest that a track junction is reached, ~3.3km from the start. The left branch continues up an over Blue Range to the Waingawa River and Cow Creek Hut, whilst the right branch heads north along the ridge to Blue Range Hut.
It had begun to rain lightly some time ago, and was now getting heavier. Gaps in the scrub that would usually provide a view further into the ranges, instead provided views of a dull grey fug and gusts of cold wind. Thankfully, the hut is only ~600m from the junction, so it was not long before its dented blue corrugated iron walls came into view. I took me a shade under 2 hours to reach the hut.

There's nothing quite like the feeling of arriving at a hut during bad weather, a mixture of relief and a simple sort of joy. Suffice it to say I was pleased to able to remove wet outerware and settle in nice and cosy for the evening. There's a particular kind of contentment you find sitting in quaint little hut like this, rugged up warm, dining on dehy, reading the latest Wilderness magazine with the fire crackling in the background while wind and rain huffs and puffs relentlessly outside.
Unfortunately, none of this translated to a good nights sleep but hey, you win some, you lose some.
At least the rain let up before nightfall, so I could get a couple of decent photos.

It's probably been said many times before, but I'll say it again: Blue Range hut is an absolute gem. It's difficult to articulate what exactly is so likeable about it, but it just exudes charm and character. It's great that places like this still exist, and that people out there care enough to maintain them.

I reluctantly removed myself from my sleeping bag the next morning to the sounds of wind and rain. I contemplated how wet I may or may not get over a morning brew.
Turns out, I needn't have worried, as the rain had abated when I departed the hut at 8am after photographing some of the old maps and signs that adorn the hut.

The walk out was fairly pleasant, although the going is necessarily slow to avoid taking a tumble down the steeper parts of the track.

Possibly my favourite track junction.

The afore-mentioned vines on the side of the track

Almost there.

I was back at my car after 1hr45min, satisfied despite the very brief nature of this tramp. Sometimes just being out in the hills visiting a gem of a hut is its own reward.

Info & Map:
Distance: 3.87km
Time: 1:55 inbound, 1:46 outbound

Monday, 26 August 2019

Powell Hut 2: Electric Boogaloo

Some time in 1937, the Hutt Valley Tramping Club built a hut on the upper slopes of Mt Holdsworth. The hut was rebuilt in 1981 and lasted 18 years before burning down in 1999. The hut was rebuilt again in 2000 and lasted another 18 years before assessments of its structural integrity led to the decision by DOC to rebuild Powell Hut (which had become the most popular hut in the Tararuas) again. The new hut was completed in July 2019.

It's not hard to see why the hut is such a popular destination: it possesses a winning combination of great location; easy access; a well maintained track through a great part of the forest; and best of all, despite sitting at quite a high altitude, the track up Mt Holdsworth isn't really that steep (by Tararua standards at least).
So, when looking for somewhere to go for a winter tramp, checking out the new Powell Hut was an easy decision.

We set off up the Gentle Annie track shortly after midday, arriving at the rocky lookout just over an hour later.

After rocky lookout, there's a little more uphill before reaching the Mt Holdsworth/Totara Flats track junction - which is also roughly the halfway point - where we ran into a group from the VUW tramping club who were heading for Totara Flats.
From the junction it's a quick walk across the pleasantly flat Pig Flat to Mountain House shelter. By this point we'd been walking for about 2.5 hours and covered 6.3km.

The Gentle Annie track winds its slowly up the hill through some indulgently scenic forest, from the towering trees of the mixed beech and podocarp forest around Donnelly Flat to the stunted sub-alpine trees at pig flat, and moss-covered gnarled beech goblin forest.

Almost immediately after Mountain House, the track begins to climb steeply toward Powell Hut. By way of compensation, the scenery is lush and the bird life abundant, which provides many a good excuse to stop and catch your breath.

The last kilometre or so consists of many stairs of questionable quality, some of which are substantially less convenient than just scrambling up the hillside. On the plus side, patches of the track just below the hut are out of tree cover, providing excellent views. Occasional patches of snow sat around the track, and on the nearby peaks.

A slow 2 hours after reaching Mountain House we finally arrived at Powell Hut. The new hut seems to stick out above the hillside more than the previous one, despite being in the same place and not being that much bigger.
The door off the large front deck leads to a generously sized entry room thing for removing boots, etc. out of the elements. Inside, one end of the hut contains the cooking and dining area, which is a similar layout to what it was before, and still has big windows providing a view over the Wairarapa. The other end of the hut contains wardens quarters and 4 bunk rooms (2 6-person and 2 10-person) with standard DOC sleeping platforms and mattresses, as well as shelving for pack storage.

The hut was at or near capacity for the night, with a school group occupying much of the space. That being said, I've been in noisier huts and had worse nights sleep.

The next morning we decided to follow the school group (who were heading over Holdsworth and down the east holdsworth track) up the track a ways, in search of more substantial snow. The wind was blowing and icy cold, but skies were otherwise clear.
We ended up going all the way to the top of Mount Holdsworth - an unplanned detour that ended up being the best part of the tramp.

Heavy grey cloud had begun to shroud the peak as we approached, and was well and truly settled by the time we arrived. All the while the wind raged on as we took many a photo and stomped around in snow that was knee-deep in a few places.
Soon enough we were on our way back down to Powell to pick up our packs and hoof it back down to the car park.

Shortly after taking a quick break at Mountain House, we made another decision to take an unplanned diversion. Rather than continue back down the Gentle Annie, we instead took the River Ridge track on a whim to check out somewhere new.
The track is typical of the Tararuas - plenty of mud and roots and the kind of descent you feel in your knees, but fun none-the-less.

The bottom of the spur is reached after ~2km of continuous descent, and the track joins the Atiwhakatu track. From there, it's a nice and easy ~3km to the carpark.
All up, the return journey from Powell took just over 3 hours to cover 7.74km.

GPS Data:
Carpark to Powell via Gentle Annie: 8.32km, 4 hours 32 minutes.
Powell Hut to capark via River Ridge and Atiwhakatu track: 3 hours and 11 minutes.
(Powell Hut to Holdsworth peak not recorded)


 Altitude Profiles:
Vaguely Dangerous Wilderness: