Is it possible?
I’d been wondering for a while if it was possible to get to the start (and end) of a tramp in the Tararuas using public transport. Recently my flatmate mentioned that the Woodside station on the Wairarpa line was fairly close to the start of a track. With Queen’s Birthday long weekend coming up I decided to check it out.
Waiohine Valley Road to Tutuwai Hut via Mt Reeves Track (~4hrs)
There are only two trains each way on the Wairarapa line on the weekends (and public holidays). It’s about an hours journey from Wellington to Woodside Station. If it were summer and you were fit it would be quite achievable to leave work around 4pm on Friday (they are much more regular on weekdays) and be at Tutuwai not long after dark. Queen’s Birthday is not summer however, but rather the very end of May. Given that it gets dark by 5pm and I was tramping solo, I opted to wait until Saturday morning.
The train leaves Wellington station at 9:55am on Saturday morning. I bought return tickets at the office. At $15.50 each way, they’re not actually that cheap. Even though I had a smallish 50L pack I was still directed to put it in the luggage car rather than take it on with me – it’s the one the furtherest from the station. It is worth getting on the train a bit early to get a nice window seat as it can get busy.
Woodside station is strange to arrive at; seemingly in the middle of nowhere! Most of the other people getting off the train jumped into waiting cars and headed out towards Greytown. I turned the other way, into farmland – Google Maps having informed me of an ~50 min walk to the start of the track.
About halfway along the road a car of trampers drove slowly up to me and offered a lift the rest of the way. They were a couple from Wellington planning a similar circuit. In the couple of minutes it took us to drive to the carpark, we had worked out that they were actually on the wrong road. They were wanting to do the circuit in the other direction and so needed to be on Waiohini Gorge Road on the other side of the river! They dropped me off and sheepishly turned their car around! From the small carpark it’s a short walk up a farm road to the start of the Mt Reeve’s track.
It’s a step, and at times muddy track for the first 100 metres or so across a farm paddock and through pine trees. Beyond, the track enters the bush proper and a better track takes over. It’s a well graded and enjoyable walk the rest of the way to the summit of Mt Reeve’s. From here there are good views of the Wairarapa in one direction and the Alpha hut area in the other.
It looks like a long way down into the Tauherenikau valley from the summit of Mt Reeve’s, and my knees knew about but the height disappears quickly as you descend to Tutuwai Hut. I arrived around 4pm, making it about a 4 hour trip from the Mt Reeve’s carpark (including a stop for lunch).
A group of Masterton hunters were already there, having flown in the previous night. Another couple arrived later, also having come up Mt Reeve’s track. This still had the hut only half full – not bad for the Saturday of a long weekend.
Tutuwai Hut to Totara Flats Hut via Cone Ridge (~6hrs)
From Tutuwai Hut the track heads up the valley for around 1hr to the historic (1946) Cone Hut. With some drizzly rain starting, I only stuck around long enough to take a couple of photos.
In order to make my tramp a circuit. I opted to take the long route to Totara Flats Hut via Cone Ridge. A sign points the way from Cone Saddle. It’s a pretty cool walk up to the top, passing through lots of mossy trees AKA ‘goblin forest’. Not having passed anyone else all day I was pleasantly surprised to see the couple who dropped me off, at the summit. The same couldn’t be said for the lack of view and cold wind. It seems like it would be a lovely spot on a clear day however.
The open tops of the ridge quickly gave way to bush and more ‘goblin forest’. The final section down to the hut was step and had me on my ass a few times!
Totara Flats Hut is well situated next to the river, modern and huge! The fire was one of the easiest to get started of any I’ve used; although that probably says more about the dry wood that the previous users had left than of the fireplace itself. I spent a very comfortable night here with an entire bunk room to myself. Of the five of us there that night, I worked out I would be on Zanzibar, Tanzania at the same time as two of them, with nothing other than a ‘Cape Town’ Lonely Planet guide sitting on the table to initiate the conversation! I cooked rice and ate an MTR Indian meal for the second night running – Chana Masala tonight. Highly recommended for solo tramping.
Totara Flats Hut to Waihoine Valley Road (~6.5hrs)
Not being sure how long the walk today would take and knowing the train left at 5:15pm, I left the hut fairly early. Around 8:30am. 3.5 hours walk up and down from the Waihoine riverbed leads to the Waihoine campsite. I spotted a deer on the flats not far after leaving the hut and watched as a helicopter swooped in to pick up the the hunters across the river at Sayer Hut – the guys in Tutuwai had mentioned there was another Masterton group there.
Other than that it was an uneventful morning. Plenty of swing-bridges and boardwalks kept my feet dry. There were a few good patches of Tararua mud though. The Waiohine Gorge swing-bridge was impressive and the toilet on the other side gave me a good excuse to check it out!
Back on the track side of the swing-bridge and just up the first little hill I found the track I was looking for running parallel to Coal Stream to connect with the Mt Reeve’s track. The entrance was partially obscured by a tree and just beyond that a signed warns that this is not a maintained DoC track. It led down and across the un-bridged Coal Stream before climbing steeply for half an hour or so. For an ‘unmaintained’ track it was actually very well marked and the bush was not that thick, so it was obvious where to go. I stopped for lunch about a third of the way up the track where the gradient eases a bit. From here it was a fast walk to meet up with the Mt Reeve’s track.
It took about another hour to descend. The weather was wonderful and quite warm considering that this was the first day of winter. Just as I emerged from the pines I spotted a woman ahead of me, crossing the paddock. I reached the carpark just after her and she gave me a lift to the station. So I ended up not having to walk much on the road at all, without even having to stick out my thumb. Winning!
I had to wait an hour or so for the train – enough time to enjoy sitting in the cute station shelter, finish my pack of sour worms, and yes, turn on my phone and see what had gone in the world during my three day absence. The train was pretty full and I had to go through a couple of carriages to find a seat. After a long day of tramping it was certainly nice just to lean back and relax rather than having to focus on driving though.
So yes, you can go tramping from Wellington without a car! Just have a good book and be prepared to wait a bit. Not having to worry about the security of your car removes an element of worry from the experience and lets you just focus on the adventure.