The Tararua Peaks Southern Main Range (SMR)

The reason we pack survival blankets

It was 1am Sunday morning, we had arrived at Parawai Hut Otaki Forks after 19 hours of hiking, a bit of running and the normal Tararua scramble on steep rough country.

How did it come to this, an unplanned few hours rest before the last slog over the emergency track due to the Otaki Forks road slip.

We planned the dates for our trip in January. I had read about this route in one of the Tramping books my father in law Les had given me after I did the Tararua Mountain Race with my brother in law. Les loves the Tararuas and is keen to share this with others. He is always interested to see the photos and video footage we take to re live journeys he has made many times.smr

After doing some digging I found the Tararua Peaks route on Map My Run. It showed stats of 14 hours 45 kms and said tough country very little running possible. I was given a video link from a group who ran the route a few years ago in typical murky windy conditions, the video was named Tararua Peaks Apocalypse, they rated the trip super tough and gave a 3% chance of repeating the trip.

We had a core group of 3 booked in and 3 more accepted invites to join us. The first challenge was the slip on the road, after looking at some photos we decided we should be able to ride our mountain bikes over the slip.

After looking at all the information we could find we estimated the route would take us 14 hours from Otaki Forks. The thought of adding 3 hours to include the emergency track was not very attractive!

Our 14 hours came from the map showing tramping time of 26 hours, I compared this to the Southern Crossing 16 hours which we have covered in 7 hours racing and 9 hours not racing. The record is 9 hours and some fast folk had done 12 hours, the slowest times I had found were 14 hours. So it seemed fair. This proved to be one of many fails on this adventure.

2min Video

The forecast was looking good, a little cloud, warm, freezing level 3,000m and winds increasing during the day to 35km. I love the feeling of excitement the day leading up to a big adventure, the anticipation of the challenge, the awe inspiring country that exists above the bush line. The preparation is well driĺled, the food and gear required (including survival blanket) is packed and ready to go. Including a new pair of trail shoes! Another big fail.

We arrived at the slip road block about 6am, the sky was clear and still. We  jumped on our bikes and rode to the slip. Wow it looked very different from the photos, no way to pass. We back tracked to the emergency track and tried to bike up the hill. We got 50m up the hill and ditched the bikes.

We hit Otaki Forks an hour and a half behind our schedule and decided to change the route direction as 2 of the team wanted a turnaround option from the tops. Within a few kms my new shoes were rubbing my heals and starting to blister. Huge mistake, my tried and true shoes that have done many trouble free missions were in the car back over the hill.

From Bridge Peak we could see the whole Range stretching North for miles and miles. It is a beautiful sight. We moved fast over Boyd Wilson, Vosseler and Yeates. I wanted to get to the famous ladder and Maungahuka Hut. This was our last turn around spot. The wind was starting to blow but the sky was clear making it spectacular. This ridge is the best I have been on. Wonderful views and terrain. I feel like I’m on top of the world in this country. We could see Ruapehu, Kapiti and the Wairarapa with all the big Tararua country in between.

The section with the ladder, ropes and chains in between the Peaks Tuiti and Tunui is amazing. I would love to see it in snow! Maungahuka Hut is a lovely spot. I’m looking forward to staying the night next time.

It was 1pm, we had been on our feet for 7 hours and we were still less than halfway. The call was made to continue on, we had the gear we needed including head lamps to manage traveling in the dark.

Far in the distance we could see Junction Knob, I was sure what I could see was part of the Northern Range but I was wrong. We did well over this country but it was taking its toll. The continual climb after climb was sucking energy. The wind was increasing and it was cold when we were exposed. The goblin forest before Anderson Hut was a lovely quiet and warm break from the exposed tops.

There were 4 hunters at the hut, they had helicoptered in earlier and were preparing for dinner. Their discarded sausage on the ground looked appetising. We sent texts to our loved ones letting them know we were going to be late and may have to spend the night.

It was 4pm and we had 11 hours of tramping ground to cover. Could we get out tonight? It was going to be dark soon. Our head lamps went on not long after getting below the bushline. It was slow going, we were tired and the steep descent was hard work. We finally got to Waitawaewae and decided to sleep for 30mins. It was cold in the hut but we got a power nap and felt better. One of the team was sick as we got ready to leave. He was not flash but wanted to continue on.

Again it was slow going the track was rough as it always is in the Tararuas. I hoped this might have some nice sections in it as it is part of the Te Aroaha trail. The new section of track to sidle around the slip was very slow under lights and tired legs. We saw 2 tents and dead but still warm deer on the track. Hopefully the hunters found him the next day. As we walked like zombies over this section we decided we needed to rest at the forks before doing the last grunt over the hill the next morning. There were four spare mattresses at the hut with just a couple sleeping down the bottom. I’m so sorry we were so noisy, emergency bags and blankets are impossible to be quiet in.

We put on every piece of clothing we had and used our blankets to keep warm for a few hours rest.

In the morning we left early to grunt back over the emergency track 26 hours after we started.

This was an epic adventure, full of amazing views and spectacular country, physical challenge and pushing our boundaries. Cheers to Andrew, Anthony, Phil,Serge and Carlos for the comradery. Until next time.


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