My first tramp in the Tararua ranges was along the famed ‘Jumbo Circuit’ in 2017. It was a misty experience, with no views and dense fog hiding those incredible views I’d longed to see up here. At the time, Powell hut was in pretty bad shape and was in need of a refurb, to which I was enlightened to hear has just been happening over the last few months. I was based in Wellington at the time and see it is my nearest getaway, I was determined to get back up there again and again with hope that I might catch a good day up on the tops.
After spending several days scanning over the Topo maps plotting a route, I decided I would do a revised circuit of my own, initially beginning on the Jumbo. Beginning at the Holdsworth car park, we set out along the Atiwhakatu stream, a steady and flat 5km where you’ll find the Atiwhakatu hut sitting high upon the bank. A quick snack here, before embarking on the 500 metre climb up to Jumbo hut where we would sleep cosy for the night. With such fantastic weather reports, we definitely weren’t the only ones to be joined here. An early rise the next morning would mean the beginning of a big day ahead of us; I was damn excited. I’d read a lot about the 3 kings and the broken axe pinnacles in my initial research of this route but I would finally have the opportunity to traverse them with my own 2 feet. No haste needed, only time to wander across the tussock ridgeline tops that the Tararuas are renowned for. We would first reach ‘ Angle knob’ a great view point that looks straight across to the Tararua main range. Lurking up ahead, the broken axe pinnacles were as jagged as I anticipated. I was reluctant to give in to the low route, which would mean losing 100metres in the process and so we proceeded along the high route, ever-careful to not slip across down the vertical drops either side.
Crossing the pinnacles took us longer than I thought and with the 3 kings up ahead, I knew it was going to be a long day. Being just as steep as the pinnacles, the kings required more climbing technique to navigate rather than one foot in front of the other.
With one last ascent in front of us for the day, it was safe to say a break was in order before the climb up to Girdlestone. We rested our legs briefly at Adkin peak, looking right across to Mitre Peak where we would descend down the following day. With the late afternoon setting in, we made it to the top of Girdlestone feeling very relieved and satisfied to of completed this big second day. Even more so, the achievement was rewarded with the most magnificent view of all 3 of the North Islands major Volcanoes, Taranaki, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe standing tall above the clouds.
A short descent from here to Tarn Ridge Hut was all that was left with just enough light left to enjoy a beverage on the front deck of the hut looking out to Mitre Peak and the town of Masterton in the distance. An early bed time was in order as we took in the last bit of light and prepared to wake up for another big day for our way back. We summited Girdlestone once more the following morning; I’ve never battled winds like it. I remember having to hold onto boulders and crouch along some stretches to Mitre Peak, almost walking right in order to stay on a straight line. Needless, to say we weren’t going to stick around on the tops for long. After reaching Mitre Peak, it was a steep descent along the Baldy track that brought us to the silver beech tree line. We would then navigate through forest for what seemed several hours, switchback after switchback, ascending and descending; I had definitely underestimated this section of the hike.
We eventually arrived back at the welcoming sight of Atiwhakatu Hut, a break was in order and it was relieving to be back on the flat for the home stretch out to Holdsworth car park.
With so many circuits, crossings and adventures yet to be made, the Tararua’s really are a convenient gateway to the mountain tops. I remember a moment I had whilst resting before our climb up Girdlestone, envisioning what it would be like to tackle the Southern and Northern Crossings, both epic adventures I have heard but not yet experienced. I guess that’s why this place is so special, a quiet yet vast, adventurers utopia.