The circuit trip round Taruarau Bivvy and Diane’s Hut, Big Hill Station, Waitangi Day, February 6 2010
Trampers: Ray Slavin, Geoff Donkin, Colin McNatty, Viv Brambley, Sue Martin, Sue Marshall, Jude Paton, John Dobbs, Liz and Ann Clouston, Simon Hill, Paul Exeter, Ted Angove, Colleen Perreau, Alison Greer, Denise Payne, Les O’Shea, Julia Mackie and Geraldine Oliver
It was a full house for this trip – a rare chance to experience the spectacular country in the ranges beyond Keruru off the Taihape Road. Access is strictly limited by ballot under specific conditions to which Alison was signatory our behalf. Management of the block and tracks is a partnership between DoC and Maori owners.
Entry was by four-wheel drive only on a challenging dirt track – our pilots were Simon Hill, Paul Exeter, Colin McNatty and Ray Slavin. I was with Ray – a wise choice because we didn’t have to get out and walk until it was time to put on our tramping boots. The others all had two attempts at some of the deepest washouts gouged out in recent rains. So it was a dramatic arrival to big drama territory and what turned out to be a big day – on the ground at nine and out of the bush at five. We parked at No Mans Hut, and headed up past the White Hut. John Dobbs brought some visitors along – twins Liz and Anne from balmy Palmy, who may not have been fully aware of the nature of the ‘walk’ they gamely took on.
At first, the mist hung around, but we followed the quad track, and passed the signpost for Ikawetea Forks Hut. We had decided to keep to the tops today and not go to Ikawetea as time would be against us. Navigating turned into a series of conferences around two maps, the GPS, Sue Marshall’s trusty compass and some people’s recollections of landmarks glimpsed between clouds. The Ngaruroro was a silver ribbon, miles below. We managed to find the right ridge as the cloud lifted. It was an upland desert landscape of snow-proof whipcords and red tussock, with the odd peat bog and bank of pretty Eye-brights. Soon though, we reached the rocks and tramped through rough shale. It was on this stretch somewhere that I wrenched my left ankle. I find rocks difficult because my feet are smaller than most.
We had lunch slightly ahead of ‘Bing Bong’ as John Dobbs pointed out, with fine views of Potae. It was a bit like sitting in an eyrie, surveying the territory as far as the bay itself, 50 kilometres away. After lunch, that ankle really started causing problems.
We followed the ridge from cairn to cairn until reaching the sign for the Taruarau bivvy. I sat by the DoC arrow and rested while Denise, Ted, Julia, and Les climbed downhill to clap eyes on the actual bivvy.
From the 1180 high point we turned downhill and although Alison warned it was a steep drop off, she didn’t say vertical. I forget the number of bum-slides, but I wasn’t the only one. Lovely bush, but I didn’t have eyes for it – it was a greasy four-feet-and-two-hands track and a long, long way down. At last we could hear the river and just when I was about to collapse and beg for a chopper rescue, Diane’s Hut appeared through the trees. Inside there was a picture of her – beautiful young ‘Dead-Eye’ Diane with her hunting rifle and a set of antlers. I’m afraid I missed a shot of that. A commemoration tablet celebrated her short life – she shot herself after a diagnosis of cancer. The hut was built by her dad in her memory.
For me, it was a mercy stop. My ankle was efficiently strapped, I was dosed with Panadol and my pack was taken off me, so lucky it was empty… Then, it was into the ice-cold Koau Stream, running higher and faster after recent rain. The climb out was bliss after the downhill torture. Unaccountably, we left the riverbed metres before the DoC tag and gave ourselves a hard time bush-bashing straight up the first few hundred metres, before reaching the track. It slowed us to a scramble-and-catch with the taller, tougher timber steadying the rest of us. (Thanks Colin, John and Les.) Ray Slavin (who climbed down to the river and back up ahead of us) said the true track was rough at the waterline too. Scratched and bleeding, we reassembled, took a drinks break and looked for someone to blame. (Colin – you’ll do.)
After that, it was a breeze. I’d got my second wind, the ankle was numb, the slope was gentler and on the sunny side, the soil was drier. The bush was beautiful and I was sorry not to be carrying my pack because my camera was in it, and my photographs run out at this point until I was re-united at the roadside pickup. I could easily have walked another hour and was reluctant to take a drinks stop 97% of the way up. (I could see the end of the treeline.) Sure enough, another few metres and we came across our dry-gear bags parked by Ray as a signal that he’d return here with the other drivers.
Downhill along the four-wheel drive track was even better than coming up because we were facing the views. The light was wonderful. It was a great end to a great day. Thank you to all our drivers, navigators and river-crossers, to Liz who strapped my ankle, Sue Martin who gave me Panadol, Alison and Les who carried my pack and Colleen who lent me her stick.