In December, four friends and I headed off to the Tararuas for our Silver Duke of Edinburgh qualifying tramp. We were very lucky to have the support of Federated Mountain Clubs of NZ and the Maerewhenua Trust, as they had kindly given us a cash grant to support us in our journey. We also travelled with two adults as our shadow party, so we were seven in total.
Silver Duke of Ed is all about planning . . . and plan we did! At times, it felt like all we did was plan. But this was all for the best, as we could assess and cover any potential risks that we might have encountered when we were in the bush. There was certainly a lot of paperwork required to get the trip approved, as well as up and running.
We all took different leadership roles and different responsibilities both before and during the tramp. Even the student who wasn’t officially doing Duke of Ed was still involved in the planning. We had a good weather trip plan and a bad weather option as a backup, depending on which way the weather went over the three days. Both routes left from the same place, Holdsworth Lodge in the Tararuas, but split off in different directions depending on weather factors.
Assessing the weather was the key thing, as well as our capabilities since most of us were 16 years old. This was especially important for the second day, as our ideal route consisted of doing an alpine crossing along the top ridges in the Tararuas. So, we needed to be sure that not only was the wind not too strong to blow us off, but the cloud cover wouldn’t obscure our visibility.
We were due to head off on Friday, 11th of December. On the Wednesday before, we’d had a severe rain warning andThursday had intense rain again in the morning. So we triple checked every river and creek crossings to be sure that they were still possible. By Friday, the weak front was moving north, taking the rain with it. In its place came a strong wind watch with severe westerly gales. The 120km/hr gusts were due to drop by 10am Saturday, which we hoped would be the case! We got up to Powell Hut quite easily by the end of the rainstorm, but definitely felt some strong gusts as we hit the stairs below the hut.
Luckily for us, the dousing of rain meant the cloud forest below Powell Hut was stunning with all the colours of the forest. It was a bumpy night with raging winds outside – definitely 120km/hr gusts! We were so pleased to be in the hut. Despite the double glazed windows, the inside pane was freezing to the touch. Not a night to be outside!
Come 10am Saturday morning, the winds had dropped like expected down to 70km/hr. Visibility was clear, so we decided to go ahead with the crossing. The other option had been to take a forest route to Atiwhakatu, then up to Jumbo.
On the ridge it was still very windy and cold, so we dropped down to the other side into a sheltered area when we needed to rest. We watched our friends for any signs of becoming cold, kept together and ate often. Surrounded by amazing views and alpine flowers, we could see both Kapiti Island and the Wairarapa.
When we arrived at Jumbo Hut, we brewed some tea to warm us up and had fun playing cards on our bunks. Somehow the hut had been overbooked, so the last two people to show up that night had to sleep in the mezzanine with only snow foams donated from others. Luckily they were good sorts and said it was “all part of the fun”.
Another stunning highlight of the tramp was the sunrise on Sunday morning. My friend woke me up at 4:30am to watch it, which was definitely worth the early morning wake up call. I felt like I could see the sun moving. The northwesterlies died at around 6am as we drank tea and watched the sun come up.
Then at 9am, the cold southerly hit and clouds rolled in full force. We headed down through the bush, having had a magical sunrise to start the day. I hope to someday attempt another route up in the Tararuas to see more of what they have to offer!
We’re delighted to share another trip report from recent recipients of FMC’s Youth Award Grant. These grants are awarded four times a year, so if you’re inspired to get some financial support, head over to FMC’s website to apply.