Given that our fitter and hardier minibus companions were embarking on a parallel trip entitled ‘Dundas: the Hard Way’, one could be forgiven for thinking that there is an ‘Easy Way’ to reach Dundas Hut. This would be a mistake. Dundas is a wonderful, challenging, rewarding trip… but easy it was not.
We set off from Putara Rd End in the dark and rain. The track was easy to follow: a well-graded muddy ascent of c.400m (with a few typical steep Tararua tree roots sections to keep us warm). Herepai Hut was tucked away in the bush, with two layers of bunks and a fire (though as we arrived late, we didn’t use it, which I mildly regretted when putting on my damp, cold tramping gear the following morning).
To our delight we awoke to clear, calm skies, so we ate our porridge with fingers crossed that the conditions would last. The route to the ridge was surprisingly easy, and we were on the tops within 90 minutes. The fine weather held all morning, with breathtaking views across the range and north to Ruapehu as we followed the ridge across Herepai, Ruapae, East and West Peaks (where we stopped for lunch). Above about 1100m, patches of snow and ice sat amongst the grass. The ridge was narrow but not too steep either side, so the path was easy to follow and not too terrifying. Things got more challenging after West Peak. The terrain involved steeper descents and ascents, and the uneven ground demanded concentration. Grabbing on to spiky tussock roots for stability turned out to be preferable to travelling on the icy death traps that would normally be a nice grippy rocky path. And then freezing wind arrived, with occasional strong gusts. Our final peak, Pukemoremore (coincidentally, puke more more was how I felt), was greeted without much cheer as we were all low on energy, and as the late arriving clouds obscured the 360 views that were rightfully ours. But once Dundas Hut was in sight, spirits lifted.
Dundas Hut was a wonderful safe haven as we awaited what weather the night would bring (and without fire since there is no wood to burn at Dundas level). A mere five minutes of jogging on the spot brought sensation back to my feet. The hut was sheltered from the wind and rain though so it was a quiet night.
The morning brought a beautiful sunrise, though as we knew our day would be long there was little time to enjoy it. After a quick march up the frozen steps back to the junction, we began the first of two long descents. At the river, there was an easy crossing of an inlet. We’d hoped that the track to the next crossing would be flat and easy to follow but it was tough and slow, sidling alongside the hill. The water was quite high and fast at the second river crossing, and it was a safe but cautious crossing (though we note for future trips that this was close to the limit of safe crossing; this would potentially not be passable after heavy rain and in this situation the route should be reconsidered before leaving Dundas).
A map check made my head spin as I realised we had to reascend 600m before lunch. This was a gruelling two hours, starting with a how-long-can-these-stupidly-steep-tree-root-steps-last phase, morphing to a through a haul-yourself-up-on-grass-and-hope-for-the-best section that seemed to go on for ever, completed by a waste-all-your-energy-slipping-back-down-again scree slope just below the ridge.
Lunch at the mouldy and messy Cattle Ridge Hut was brief as we were now 90 minutes behind schedule. From here it was 90 minutes downhill on a slow but steady grassy path followed by a steep Tararua tree root descent. To our delight we found three energetic Medium Fit [the advanced group] trampers awaiting us at Roaring Stag hut to give us a hand with our bags, knowing we would be shattered. I ended up in the lead for the final stretch. Anxious about being too slow for our MF pals and racing to get out the forest without needing to face the vexed why-is-my-head-torch-stuck-on-red-light issue again, I hiked as fast as my weary legs could carry me, and collapsed into the waiting minibus.
- (Fri/Sat/Sun): hours walked 2.5/8.5/10.25.
- Total altitude ascended: 470m/990m/990m.
- Total altitude descended: 70m/490m/1810m.
- Highest altitude reached: 1474m.
- Peaks summited: Six
- Bruises/scratches gained: too many to count
- Maximum length of time a trip member got stuck in a bush: 5 minutes
- Number of times I had to wash my knees to get the mud off: 3.
- Start Walking from Putara Road End 21:00
- Arrive Herepai Hut 23:30
- 07:45 depart Herepai Hut
- 12:00 lunch on West Peak, for 30 minutes
- 16:00 arrive Dundas Hut
- 07:15 depart Dundas Hut
- 10:15 cross second river before climb to Cattle Ridge
- 12:30 arrive Cattle Ridge Hut; lunch for 30 minutes
- 14:30 arrive Roaring Stag Hut
- 17:30 arrive Putara Road End