Kaweka Walkabout (Labour Weekend)

21 – 24 October

The trip combined Hawkes Bay anniversary day with the 3 day Labour weekend for what was to be a 4 day trip of weather contrasts and changeable plans while doing a circuitous tramp of the Kaweka tops. The party headed out from the departure point around 7am on Friday towards an ever darkening and windy sky at the Makahu saddle on the eastern side of the Kawekas.

Light snow flurries and wind greeted us at the Makahu saddle car park. Other folk were at the car park considering their options. Some decided to come back the next day. Others decided to do lower level tramps. And others like ourselves decided to head for the tops or at least to Dominie Biv.

The plans for Day 1 were to go up the Makahu Spur, via the Kaweka J cairn, then down the southern spur to Back Ridge Hut. The higher up Makahu Spur we went, the more the weather closed in, with about 4-5cm of snow on the ground. A break at Dominie biv revealed a member of the Napier Tramping club waiting to see if others from their club were coming and also review the weather situation. Slowly and carefully we decided to push on for the top of Kaweka J. Visibility reduced to about 30m and it was considerably colder.

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A very brief stop at the memorial cairn then down the ridge to the hut.

This wasn’t the place to hang around. Ice was forming track markers and on facial hair. At times one couldn’t make out the next track marker, so members of the party spread out with one at the last marker while others spaced out and moved on until the next marker was seen, then together moving on. It was a relief to get down the bush line with increased visibility and less wind. Back Ridge hut could be seen a long way down in the valley below.

Finally through snow covered bush we arrived at the track intersection down to Back Ridge Biv close to Sterns Saddle. Here Paul left us and continued on to Rocks Ahead hut where he hoped to try his hand at fishing and we’d hopefully see him the next day. Fortunately Back Ridge hut was empty, 4 bunks for four blokes. A fire gradually warmed us up and dried us out. The Napier tramping club member we had met at Dominie hut later arrived having made good use of our snow foot prints over the tops.

Overnight the temperature dropped below zero resulting in a very hard frost, icing on the hut windows and condensation dripping from the inside ceiling.

Day 2 was a complete contrast, fine, sunny, very little wind and the snow on the tops had already started to melt. The Napier tramping club member left ahead of us returning to Makahu saddle car park. Our party retraced our steps back to the track intersection near Sterns Saddle, over the saddle and up to Maminga Peak. Great views for 360 degrees, and in the distance to the west, all 3 of the mountains on the volcanic plateau. Here we had the opportunity practice map reading and compass bearings.

Down and along Back Ridge a brief excursion was made down to Back Ridge Biv from ridge at the track intersection leading to Rocks Ahead Hut. A deer bolted to the bush not far from the biv on our arrival. Down, down and steeply down went the track through bush to the Rocks Ahead hut into a nice sunny clearing. There in the river below the hut was Paul fly fishing upstream of some small rapids. Paul had had an exhausting trip the previous day, arriving on dusk.

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Back Ridge Hut

Our party of 4 had thought of spending the night at Rocks ahead but after an hours rest decided to take the “gentle ridge track” up to Venison Tops Hut. Paul would meet us at the Venison Tops Hut early afternoon the next day as there was more fishing to be done. As it turned out another party of 3 arrived just as we were leaving. But first we had to try the 3 wire rope bridge with full packs, 1 person at a time and hope our footing/hand grip kept us from falling into the river below. Then the long slow slog up the “gentle ridge” to Venison Tops. Three and a half hours later, 1200m higher, just before sunset we arrived at the hut. Then for a well-earned meal, warm fire and a nights rest.

Day 3 for some was to have been a side excursion to Mangaturutu Hut and return. Waiting for Paul to arrive and then all heading onto Ballard Hut. But those who thought they had energy to burn decided a rest day (another night) at the hut would make the trip much more enjoyable. Plus would there be room at Ballard Hut, let alone space for tents? Paul agreed when his weary legs arrived early afternoon. As it turned out the HTC grouping had the hut all to ourselves for 2 nights.

While waiting for Paul to arrive there was opportunity to: go over the use of map co-ordinates, review compass bearings & map orientation / restock the wood bin / clear out dead possums from under the hut and a live one from the wood bin / sun bath and take in the views from the scrubby tops and the Kaweka range to the east with no snow.

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Venison Tops Hut

Just on dawn of the 3rd day on returning from the loo to the hut, Simon saw what looked like a string of 40 – 50 lights traversing the sky from south to north over a period of a minute. These were thought to low orbiting communications  satellites belonging to Elon Musk.

Day 4 started out cool as we left Venison Tops hut around 8am heading down hill to the start of a low gradient ridge line that leads out of the bush to the tops past the turnoff to Ballard hut and onto Whetu peak. As we climbed out onto the exposed tops the weather was fine, but we needed coats on to keep warm in the wind. A glimpse of Ballard hut was seen through the bush down below a steeply descending track. Whetu peak provided great views with parts of the tracks leading to Makino & Middle Hill able to be seen. Turning south from Whetu, we continued, stopping above Dicks Spur for lunch. 

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On further, we stopped just to the south of North Kaweka. A couple of us went to the radio communication site at North Kaweka and struggled to stay on our feet in the wind. Others got water from tarns just below the ridge. Not far to go!  We could see people descending Makahu Ridge and Dominie Biv to the side. Then we were at the top of the track leading down Makahu ridge. 

Down Makahu ridge track nice and slowly, a brief stop at Dominie Biv and then the wind from the south west made descent very marginal. Very strong winds made it difficult to maintain balance, some getting down on their backside, just at the point where the ridge narrows and there’s steep scree slopes either side. Fortunately all got down past this windy point and the wind abated. Within the hour we were all back at the Makahu saddle car park. This had been an 8 hour day

Courtesy of Kurt you can view some of this tramp on YouTube.com


Party: Paul D, Kurt F, Simon W, Murry A, John M.

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