Wet and wild Waiopehu

It was ANZAC weekend and it was raining hard.  Heavy rain in the Tararuas means one thing.  Mud. We had decided to hike up on Saturday to Waiopehu hut entering the Tararuas from Poads Road. The original plan included a second night at South Ohau hut but the rain was determining a shorter duration for us. The entry into the park crosses private land and a working farm before entering the bush. It was hard slog to the hut and like most of the Tararuas straight up. It continued to rain but we had good shelter from the podocarp forest that was thick with ponga, rata and fern. We passed the site of the original Waiopehu hut which was blown away in a severe storm in 1936 wishing that it was still there and we could stop and make a cup of tea. The hike up was excessively sweaty, humid and very damp. We started to smell a lot like wet sheep as the rain soaked our merino shirts. The low cloud meant that there were no views on the way up so we were happy to just make out the hut roof as we waded through the mud puddles in our sodden clothes and wet boots 4 hours after setting off.

There were a couple people at the hut including Nina from Germany a Te Aararo Northbound hiker. Nina was ‘cherry picking’ the good parts of the TA and letting her resupply determine where and when she got on and off the trail. Surprisingly Nina was a smoker and only had 5 rolled cigarettes left so would be heading out of Poads road tomorrow and hitching to Levin. This was her second night at the hut after she woke up and saw the weather and decided to stay another day. I asked her lots of questions about her hike so far and how she had found doing something so physical as a smoker. In her best German accent she replied “Iz great ya, I promise myself a cigarette at za top of each muntonne. It makes me go up”.

As the afternoon drizzle continued more and more groups came to the hut and before long it was completely full. Weirdly most were glued to their phones. Waiopehu hut is one of the few huts in the Tararuas that has cell phone reception. We chatted to some lovely lads who had come up from the Kapiti Coast. I particularly enjoyed their candor about why they were there.  “We thought we would do something different rather than getting shitfaced again this weekend”. The lads worked in roading  and were mad keen on rugby and reggae music spinning a few tunes on their phones as we prepared dinner.

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The rain continued to pour and some thunder slowly rolled in. We made a plan for the following day to loop back to the car park over Gable end ridge rather than press on to South Ohau hut.   At around 8:00pm a disheveled older man entered the hut. His body odour permeating the air as he awkwardly shuffled about trying to find a spot to sit. I don’t think the people in the hut quite registered that a late comer had arrived. He got chatting and explained he had left the drive to last minute and had headed over from Wellington City. I asked how long it had taken him to hike up and he replied “about an hour and a half, but I’ve got a light pack”. It was indeed light, it was just a school bag. I would soon find out why it was so light, in fact the whole hut would.

As we started to turn in I climbed to the top bunk passing the latecomer who had spread out a silver emergency bag. Of course this was his ‘sleeping bag’. This guy had taken light weight thriftiness to the next level. The rain, thunder and constant crinkling sound of the latecomer shifting about in his emergency bag meant very little sleep for most of the hut. At 2am  after the late comer had one particularly audible shift around the people on either side of me started to mutter “oh frgh bwwwrucks sake” and “you’ve got to be bruwking kidding me erghh”. At 5:30am I gave up on sleep and noticed some of the lads who slept in the dining area begging to shift about. Streaks of sun slowly punctured the hut windows. I wondered if there was a view to enjoy. After last night’s storm the weather had cleared just enough to give a view of Levin. Our first view! I headed out to the hut deck and  could see the town of Levin, the lights slowing going on as the town woke up as well as Lake Horowhenua all the way out to the Kapiti coast.   

We started to pack our gear and make breakfast. The latecomer was still in his ‘sleeping bag’ and had obviously kept himself up all night as well. As we set off we were hopeful for the views to continue but as soon as we climbed up from the hut we were back in the clouds. It was more mud and tussock and as we passed the memorial crosses dedicated to Ralph Wood who died in the 1936 storm. Making our way up to the trig point there was not much but grey cloud and the fleeting view of the adjacent ranges for the view as we worked our way along the ridgeline. The ruggedness of the area was special though and we had it all to ourselves. It was a good switch up from yesterdays up hill battle to stay on the ridge for a few hours.  The loop began to descend back into sheltered forest until we hit the Ohau Gorge and joined back up to the six discs track fork leading out to the farm via a swing bridge.  Reaching the car park there was a woman making her way into the park with 3 border collies that gave us a sniff before scampering off. The dogs smelt a lot better then we did. It was time to head home for a lovely cup of tea and a hot shower.  

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