Starting late is a common occurrence when we do our day hikes on weekends. Theres the temptation of sleep ins and pots of coffee with leisurely breakfasts. We often don’t plan our hikes deciding on a whim, usually the night before, where we will head too. After seeing some friends on Friday night and hearing about their plans to head out to Carterton we immediately got ‘outdoor envy’ and decided we would head over the Rimutaka Hill as well. On the way to Mt Holdsworth we made the fortunate decision to stop off at the very sweet town of Featherston grabbing some lunch to take on our hike from Everest Cafe. With the beautiful sweets on offer we decided to stay for a delicious raspberry lamington and flat white.
Heading out to Mt Holdsworth there’s a few must sees including the very talented Paul Melser pottery studio on Mt Holdsworth Road. If you’re a Wellington foodie you have probably already eaten off Paul’s work, particularly his plates at Loretta restaurant on Cuba Street. Paul also has my dream property, a home which he built himself on a few acres of farmland dotted with sculptures and lined with native trees. Birds, including a curious morepork as Paul tells us, often get stuck in his showroom and it’s lucky they don’t cause any damage. The birds including a pair of kereru today seemed to be happy outside in the kanuka tree. We brought a milk jug and sugar bowl to add to our growing collection. It’s become tradition to pop into the studio whenever we hike out here.
Heading down the road to Mt Holdsworth park the snow on the Tararua ranges was impressive. We could hopefully make it in enough time to do a hike to Atiwhakatu hut. But wait, what’s that? Highland cows! Yes, cows with fringes and cute faces. Just before the one way bridge there was herd of them. Jack hollered in delight at her favourite animal and there was was no way I was going to be able to drive past them without stopping. We pulled over and took about 100 photos of them staring at us. They are pretty dam cute. I had to stop Jack from scaling the fence and giving them a cuddle convincing her to get back in the car before the day was over.
Back on the road and into the Mt Holdsworth park entry we went. The last time we were here over new years the campsite was teeming but there was all but one lonely tent today, the obvious chill in the August air making day walks or a stay in the huts a preferable option.It was now 1:30pm. We really had to hoof it if we wanted to make it to the hut. The trail out to Atiwhakatu hut is well formed and easy to follow. The track gets lot of attention from local groups and DOC and considering how popular the walk is it’s easy to see why. The track is also part of the well known Jumbo-Powell Holdsworth circuit which often gets touted as ‘the next great walk’. The circuit and its increasing popularity means that prior booking of the huts has become necessary over the summer months to avoid overcrowding.
Through beech forest we walked passing a group of LandSAR volunteers crowding around a colourful canvas obviously doing some training. We said hello and when i asked what the group was up to one of them quipped “we are learning how to rescue a large bucket of water!” He was right. The dixie of water in the middle of the canvas was rigged at all corners. I believe it was injured person’s recovery they were practicing. The track broke out of the beech tree shelter to campsites near the river. The area known as Donnelly flats is one of the few campsite areas i’ve seen in New Zealand with purpose built fire rings. Winding down the river the track climbs slightly. The section of track to Atiwhakatu hut has the highest volume of swing and wooden bridges for the shortest section of track in the Tararuas. The most fun of all of these is a 1 person wire bridge which is incredibly wobbly but saves you from wet feet. The track is lined with a huge volume of kidney ferns and moss growing on old tree trunks. The views of the valley and snow peaked mountains glistening in the sunlight made for a perfect day. We only had to cross one landslide. The lack of steep sections and scrambling over boulders was a bit of switch up to the traditional Tararuas hike but was a welcome change.
The hut came into view in no time at all. It was empty which seemed a shame. I had a quick leaf through the intentions book. Lots of school groups and scouts had been in recently. Back in April some of our friends from the Tararua Tramping Club had also visited. We ate our savoury brioche from Everest cafe with a side of scroggin outside the hut on a picnic table donated by the Carterton tramping club. It was very quiet albeit the white noise from the fast flowing river directly in front of us. We regretted having to go to work tomorrow and wish we could have stayed the night. We probably would have had the hut to ourselves.
Heading back we made it out of the park just as sun set. We were surprised to see a few families still heading in for an evening stroll. Leaving the park much earlier than we would have liked we made our way back to Wellington as the sun sank behind the snowy peaks of the tararuas, the pink hue following our car all the way back to Rimutaka Hill.