Kiwi Saddle Hut to Ballard Hut
You’ve got to experience a really bad hut to really appreciate a good one. Kiwi Saddle is one of the best. It’s owned by the Heretaunga Tramping Club and is like a newer and slightly bigger version of Howlett’s Hut, which is also owned by the club. It’s a ten bunker and is clearly loved by the locals. Firewood, tools, chairs and a nice white paint job on the inside made for a very homely stay after our internment in Komata Hut.
(Having said that you really appreciate a crappy hut like Komata when that’s all you’ve got and the weather’s bad.) Anyway…
The hunters went off to find some more meat and we headed up the mountains shortly after. We had a bad weather route up our sleeves just in case, but the day was cloudless and still. We were in for a goodie.
As expected there was a fair bit of Contorta to depress us, but we only ever skirted around it. There was evidence of previous control efforts with whole mountain sides covered in the rotting silver remains of the evil tree. Sadly spots of dark green regrowth could be seen everywhere. Some of it was mature enough to seed.
After an hour and a half of ups and downs we came to Castle Camp. Wow.
The four corners of the camp’s ‘hut’ were made of tanalised poles and the walls were framed in four-by-twos that were covered in clear polythene and chicken wire. It had two water tanks, a basic table and shelving setup as well as a dirt floor. Outside were a couple of tent sites that sported outside (and probably illegal) fires and bench seating.
Interestingly, unlike many standard and family huts, the hut book was full of the names and complimentary comments of hunters. As well as being incredibly cheap to make, it seemed to be respected.
After a rest we made our way up to the tops. Ruapehu, Ngaruahoe and Tongariro could be seen to our left and Napier and Cape Kidnappers to our right. Ruahine was but a wrinkle behind us. We thought that we could see Tunupo, the mountain that sits above the Oroua Valley where we do Whio work, but that was possibly just wishful thinking.
To the north stretched Te Urewera and what we think was Mount Edgecomb and the Kamai Range. As vast as New Zealand seems when you walk it, our view that day really made it feel small.
We couldn’t remember the name of the little volcano that sits just north of Lake Taupo but its silhouette let us know we weren’t too far from our next date with civilisation.
We had lunch on Mad Dog Hill and soaked in the scenery. We’d left most of the Contorta behind but the erosion that it was planted to combat was all around us.
Much of the Kaweka was leased to sheep farmers in the 1800s. Sheep don’t really like tussock so the area was repeatedly set alight so that palatable grass might take over. It never really worked and the last burnoff was in 1918.
Nearly a hundred years later and the Kaweka are a bit of a cot case. Everything ‘we’ve’ done in ‘our’ attempts to fix it has just made it worse. The serious erosion is here to stay but if we can remove the pines it may get a chance to heal itself.
Although plagued by this erosion the Kaweka tops are pretty smooth going. Of course there’s not much plant life to get in the way but the mountains are largely smooth and rolling.
After a peak called Kaweka J we saw a figure walking up from the spur below. Then another figure appeared, this one in fluoro. As they neared, it dawned on us that the fluoro figure was a dog.
Angus and his dog Toby were on their way to Castle Camp for the night. They were both pretty knackered, especially six month old Toby who took every opportunity he got to lie down. He’d just graduated from Kiwi aversion training so Angus had brought him into the mountains for a hunt. He’s a Vissler Heading dog cross and Angus reckons he’s got the makings of a great hunting dog.
After a bit of a chat we headed down the saddle and on up to a peak. Angus’s mates had just struggled up from the other side. By the time we got there Jay and Simon had sort of recovered from their ordeal. They were suffering under the weight of their packs, the hot day and the steep terrain. The three guys and Toby had all been choppered in the day before to Ballard Hut and were off to Castle Camp to set up base.
The great thing about getting a Kerosene Taxi ride into the mountains is that it can carry a heap of stuff for you. The bad thing is that if you want to move huts you have to lug it all up and down ridiculous terrain. There’s a sort of mild contempt between some hard core trampers and hunters for this sort of behavior. They like to think that the mountains should only be populated by people that walk into them. We kind of understand this holier than thou attitude…but…Jay and Simon told us that they’d left some eggs and crackers behind at the hut. Angus had said that there were also muesli bars. Long distance hikers aren’t too picky about the politics of fly ins if there’s food to be had. If there’s calories and we can get over our trail-o-rexia we can be pretty adaptable.
So it was with great excitement that we made our way over the last couple of peaks for the day. Ballard Hut, a small four bed ex-Forest Service orange box, sits below a steep and slippy drop off from the track on a beech covered ridge. A noisy little waterfall squirts out the side of the mountain cliffs beside it. Weirdly the water exits the cliff only about twenty metres below the dry scree covered top .
The afternoon sun shone straight into the clearing that the hut sits in as we counted our eggs (before they hatched) and greedily stashed our new crackers and bars.
We washed – ourselves and our clothes – and had everything dried by lights out. The day had been hard and we were sore all over, but the setting for our eventual collapse was perfect.