Waipawa Saddle, Ruahine FP, Map: BK36. Wednesday 17 August 2016
The ducks were all in line for this trip. Recent snow and now an anticyclone was bathing Hawke’s Bay, promising clear fine weather for a tramp to the tops. The plan was to reach Waipawa saddle via part-way up Sunrise Track before dropping down to Waipawa Forks and up the river.
On our way to North Block Road, we crossed the bridge over the Waipawa River and had a fleeting glimpse of the water below. That tell-tale bluey-whitey snowmelt colour turned Alison’s toes cold just at the thought of having to walk across and through that same water further upstream. Most of the rest of us had already seen this coming, so when the plan was changed, as we kitted up outside the van, none of us were surprised or disappointed. Plan B was engaged to reach Sunrise Hut with a view to going beyond if conditions allowed.As always, it was a puff to the top for some of us but into picture-perfect snow conditions at the hut. After a quickish morning tea and time to allow our perspiration to evaporate in the sun, we stepped over the back of the hut. Now, as many readers will know, the weather just 15 metres from the hut over that little ridge can be very different to the sheltered lee of Sunrise Hut. Many times, in fact most times in winter, trampers will receive a face full of blizzard ice and their hat on its way to the Heretaunga Plains if it is not tied down when they poke their heads over the ridge. This was not the case on our trip. Even Murray Goss was speechless at such a magnificent view of the Armstrong Saddle and snow-clad mountains beyond. This was now a real fun part of our tramp. The underfoot conditions were a little icy, with a crusty overlay on the tussock. The smart people in the group hung back and allowed the trail blazers to find the soft spots.
There were times when a size 10 boot bearing 75 kg plus lunch and extra clothes was not able to find the necessary bearing capacity for support underfoot. We reached the ‘snowed over’ tarns on the saddle in prescribed time, enjoying magnificent views of Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe.
Some of us stopped there for our lunch. This was one of the most pleasant conditions for a sitdown I have experienced. We were warm and dry – and at the same time in the snow. Others in the party continued up the hilltop to eat lunch with even better views; they were able to see the Kaimanawas, snowy to a low level.We left the tops reluctantly. Some very experienced members in the group remarked that these were the best conditions they had ever seen in this area. The trip back down the track was not as treacherous as we had expected. The ice had largely slushed up and traction was not too much of an issue. We passed two DoC workers chainsawing fallen trees from last week’s storm on the track.
On the return trip, Gossy brought Ted and Paul up to speed on the intricacies of ‘blue-toothing photos and computer tracking’. Murray White and Simon nodded off to sleep in the back seat.
Trampers: Dorothy Sole, Ted Angove, Paul Exeter, Vic Bullock, Murray White, Viv Bramley, John Burrell, Simon Hill, Robyn Smith, Barry Ridler, Murray Goss, Alison Greer, Anne-Marie Ruffell and scribe Bruce Hodgson