I had planned to visit Carkeek last year on a winter trip to Dorset and Arete forks. I was seduced by the fire at Dorset hut which keep us from what have been an epic cold winter night of bush bashing.
When Peter mentioned he was keen to visit Carkeek before he moved to Nelson a plan was hatched.
After weeks of rain I got a message, a 3-day weather window, are you free? By chance, I had a line in my calendar and was given a leave pass.
The plan was to start and finish at Poads Rd, Levin, head to Arete Hut then on to Carkeek, Dorset for night 2 then Nicholls, Drac for night 3 and out on day 4. This big loop in rugged country requires using some of the old NZFS tracks. None of these are officially maintained, and were orginally cut to support the NZFS deer culling operations. But most can still be used, with care. For more information https://tarhc.org.nz/our-huts/carkeek-hut/
Peter was keen to head up the Waiopehu track and see the hut, at the turn off I saw the closed track sign for the gorge and hoped it wasn’t anything too serious. The track was lovely, with no mud and easy walking once you got on the ridge. The hut is in a fabulous spot with great views. We saw a couple coming down from the hut who had enjoyed a couple of relaxing nights. We didn’t see anyone else for the next four days.
The next section to Te Matawai is a bit of a slog, up and down, up and down, classic Tararua travel. Arriving after 4 pm we chatted about our options. It was raining and looking a little bleak. We decided to push on otherwise we wouldn’t be able to complete our loop.
Luckily the rain cleared and we had one of those amazing golden hour sunsets as we climbed the 600 vertical meters to the tops. We were like little kids all excited, snapping photos trying to capture the magic.
The magic disappeared when the sun when down and we felt the cold southerly breeze at Pukematawai. It was headlamps on and walking in the icey tussock. It all got a bit serious when we reach the top of Arete and we had to navigate to the hut with no foot bed, 20m visibility and very cold sleatting conditions. We layered up and I set my Garmin watch to Arete hut and tried to follow the big blue arrow and the remaining distance. We seemed to downclimb for a long time, it never looked that far when I have been able to see the hut. My watch said the distance was reducing, I hoped it was correct. After a very slow slippery half an hour I saw the hut and yelled out excitedly.
Garmin app a couple of days later at Drac
The door was iced up and took a few goes to open. It is such a great feeling getting inside a hut when conditions are horrible. We got warm and celebrated Garmins map technology that got us to the hut safely. A bit later in the evening, Peter raised a concern about the river crossing at Park forks in winter, we hadn’t checked if that would be an issue. I checked my phone and had 1 bar so sent a message to Tim Sutton who I knew had visited Park forks at this time of year. Tim confirmed it should be fine so we could sleep knowing tomorrow should have a less stressful end to the day.
Peter was hoping for a magic dawn photo session, by 1am a saw a couple of stars and it was perfectly clear and calm at dawn. Again we were two little kids running around feasting on the beautiful views. This made all the type 2 fun from the day before worth it.
After the sun finally rose above Bannister we prepared to head to Carkeek and Nicholls. With our microspikes on, we socked up the incredible vistas tops travel offers. We could see the whole range, these are the days you remember and keep you coming back for more after the memories of the hard travel fads.
We had a late lunch at Carkeek and then admired the remarking the Tararua Aorangi Remutaka Huts Committee have done heading down to Park Forks. It was tough going getting down the final 300 vertical meters. It was even steeper heading up the old route to Nichols. We were on all fours for lots of the 600m climb. I got to see the sun go down with Mt Taranaki in the distance.
With not enough wood for the fire, we layered up and were able to cook a dinner meal, the night before we made do with our snacks due to the frozen water tank. The stars were out and it was very cold. I couldn’t face the cold to photograph the stars.
After a couple of big days, we woke to a cold damp morning. I prepared for a long wet day in the goblin forest. Our luck continued, the clouds cleared and we had another day of great views walking back on the main range parallel to Carkeek ridge we had walked the day before. We had some lunch at Drac and descended out of the afternoon cloud to Matawai. I tried to get the fire going but there wasn’t enough dry wood so we had our third cold hut night.
Our last day was a Tararua classic, a day in the cold clag heading home. The closed track signs were there for good reason, two large slips and lots of tree fall. The Tararua gave us a good betting which we will forget about more quickly than the beauty we experienced on the tops. Thanks, Pete for a great adventure.