Lakes Car Park – Kiwi Saddle – Castle Camp – Studholme bivvy – out via McIntosh Spur, Sat/Sun 3/4 April 2021
Banner Photo: Evidence that the war against the pinus contorta is making progress
This mission turned into two tramps, with three on the original plan deciding to go a day later than the fourth, who went alone and did roughly the same tramp but took an opposite route. But they all noticed one important feature in the landscape: The Department of Conservation is finally mounting an attack on wilding pines in the Kaweka Forest Park. We didn’t sight the team doing this, because they were taking an Easter break. But thank you, folks!
There was a change to the scheduled Easter trip because no one was keen to be away for the original three-nighter. So three of us looked at the forecast and decided that Saturday/Sunday was the best option. Julia was keener on the Friday/Saturday, and set off the day before and took the route going up Rogue Ridge to reach Kiwi Saddle Hut before the forecast high winds on Friday afternoon.
The rest of us set off at 7am on Saturday. We were worried about tramping during the hunters’ new season – called the Roar – so we put hi-vis clothing in our packs. Driving in on the forest road to the Lakes car park, we saw a deer run across the road ahead. It was a beautiful animal with large antlers (but no sign of any hunter in pursuit).
We arrived at the car park to find Julia’s car and a couple of others but not the large numbers that we had thought would be out this weekend. So we headed up to Kiwi Saddle. The only person we saw all morning was Julia on her way home after a pleasant night at Kiwi Saddle. She shared the hut there with a couple of guys from Wellington, who were planning to go to our intended stop for the night – Studholme Hut. As we all had tents, that wasn’t a problem, but it was good to be forewarned so we could drop our packs at the bivvy and just wander up the creek to see the hut. Knowing that it was only a four-bunker, the option of tenting at the bivvy for the night sounded good.
Saying our goodbyes to Julia, we carried on up the hill and down to Kiwi Saddle Hut. On the way, we pulled out a fair number of wilding pines, but it’s just a drop in the ocean when you see the infestation all around.
We decided to move on a bit further from the hut and have lunch in the sunshine on the way to the tops. The weather was almost perfect for tramping. There was a cold breeze but, with the sunshine, we were all happy in shirt-sleeves. Towards early afternoon, we arrived at Castle Camp to find a tent icity. It was obviously the wilding pine eradication team’s site and, with heavy-duty tarpaulins over each tent, it looks as though they intend to stay for some time.
The team was away for the Easter break; we had a quick break there and carried on. Soon we were at Kaiarahi high point, where the breeze was stiffer. From there, it is a short trip round and down, with scree-slope to negotiate at the end.
The tent sites by the bivvy looked good, so we left our gear and moved on up the valley to see the hut. A quick look inside was enough to convince us that five would be too many and we were better off by the bivvy. Lynette and Fiona chose to set up their tents, leaving the bivvy to me for the night. By the time tents were up and dinner prepared, it was getting very cold. The sun had dropped out of sight. So we ate in the bivvy and headed to our sleeping spots.
Even in the bivvy, it was very cold – this was a night to wear the down jacket and beanie in bed. With the cold wind ripping through the tents, the others were even colder, but everyone managed some sleep.
The next morning, by the time we got up to the tops again, it was blowing quite a gale. Although we had talked about walking back to the car via Rogue Ridge, that wasn’t going to be pleasant, so we opted to go down McIntosh Spur and take the turn-off before McIntosh Hut to reach the lower track to the Lakes car park.
When we reached the spot where there was a diversion to the old track, we met a couple of hunters. They hadn’t had any luck with hunting but said that they had come in via the old track and it was quite do-able. So we chose to go home that route, it being slightly quicker. It was fine, although there were places where the track could easily slip away, and we could see why DoC had put in the diversion. We were back at the car park in good time to get home late afternoon. At the car park, we met the guys who had been at Studholme the night before. A family of four had arrived at their hut about 6pm, so it would have been very cosy if we had decided to stay there! They had dropped down from the Kaweka J track, which was why we hadn’t seen them pass by the bivvy. The guys also said they had come down Rogue Ridge and had thought it was only just OK. Our choice may have been better.
It was a very enjoyable trip. Saturday was a long day when carrying an overnight pack and we enjoyed taking our time more slowly on the Sunday with longer breaks. It was much colder up in the hills than when we got down to Napier and hard to believe how bitterly cold it had been in our night when we saw how warm Napier had been over that two-day period. Autumn has definitely arrived in the hills!
Thanks to Fiona for providing the car transport.
Trampers: Lynette Morgan, Fiona Bryant and reporter Juliet Gillick on the Sat/Sun trip with Julia Mackie doing the trip Fri/Sat
Rogue Ridge, Kaiarahi, Castle Camp, Kiwi Saddle Hut, Lakes car park, Friday/Saturday 2-3 April (Easter) 2021. Kaweka FP, Map: BJ37
I headed out a day before the main party, intent on roughly the same route but in reverse. With the wind forecast to increase in the later afternoon, heading for Kaiarahi in the morning looked like a good option. Reaching the ridgeline, I tested the wind and could stand up, so continued. The sun shone and the wind speeds were tolerable. At ‘The Tits’ (1418), I negotiated the sidle to the east. The foot trail exists, but it is badly overgrown with small beech.
When I emerged from the bush, there stood two hunters. They had overnighted in Studholme Saddle Hut, and were pleased that the sun was out.
I took the western sidle around Kaiarahi and headed for Castle Camp. The landscape was unrecognisable. Dead and dying contorta everywhere. Hooray! The Kaweka Liaison Group (to which I belong) has won through and re-focused DoC on the Pinus Contorta Plan which was in place many years ago. The buffer zone is getting a serious pushback, (see map) with a crew contracted to help. (Some NTC members met Alan Lee from DoC and Chris Crosse from East Kaweka Helicopters in November 2020 when the contract was being scoped.)
At Castle Camp, at least six tents were dotted around under the beech, and the shelter (you can’t call it a hut) had been converted to a mess kitchen. But no one was around. The pinus contorta army had gone home for Easter.
After a long lunch break in the sunshine, I made my way along the ridges to Kiwi Saddle Hut. In the distance, the track up from the hut to the junction is easy to see. Once there, I started to get some wood ready for a fire (this hut’s wood-burner is great). Soon, other trampers arrived, but there are 10 mattresses and plenty of room. The sun disappeared and the wind increased, so I was happy to have stopped here.
Next day, it was a quick climb up to the ridge, heading home via the Smith Russell track. Although I’ve done this many times, I always stop to admire the views of Ruapehu (not much snow left when I looked) and the Ngaruroro River. Along the way, I met the other NTC group of three, heading to Studholme Saddle. Turns out that they had a great first day with sun and little wind.
It took me 2.5hrs to reach the car park from the hut, after a great two days in the Kaweka FP.
Tramper and reporter: Julia Mackie