A 90 minute drive from sunny Blenheim up the beautiful Awatere Valley lies the Hodder River and the highest peak outside of the Southern Alps. Mt Tapuae-o-uenuku sits at an imposing height of 2885m, half a day's amble from Gladstone Downs in the Kaikoura Ranges. An achievable ascent for the fit and enthusiastic, Tappy affords climbers impressive views as far as the North Island on a clear day. We had first heard about the mountain after watching Jamie Fitzgerald and Kevin Biggar on First Crossings and later after reading Sir Ed's account of his winter expedition in his autobiography.
Shortly after joining the Royal New Zealand Airforce, Hillary set out to climb his first "decent" mountain in three days. Hitching a ride about a third of the way from Blenheim on a friend's motorbike, he ended up walking most of the way into the Hodder and up to Shin Hut. He described his accommodation for the night as infested with both mice and fleas. Ed reached the summit in a white out and had to make the return trip down Tongue Spur in the dark, thankfully we had a slightly more relaxing encounter with the mountain.
We had rung ahead to the owners of Gladstone Downs, Bev and Alan, to get permission to cross their land and let them know we were heading up. Alan met us at the Hodder bridge where we left the car and told us the river was looking good for our trip. The route starts through the gate beside the carpark and follows a 4WD track directly above the river for a little over half an hour. The track then dives down to the riverbed to commence the first of 80 crossings. Expect to have wet feet, all day. The sun was shining and we quickly forgot our soggy socks in favour of goat spotting. At 56 sightings in the 5.5 hours it took to the huts, we could have rounded them up and started our own cheese production.
Navigation is straight forward with the confluence well sign posted and a well formed track towards the top of the valley. We arrived only to disturb three more goats from underneath the huts themselves. As another group had already claimed the larger 10 bunker, we set up camp in the second, equally pleasant 6 bunk hut. Reading the hut intentions book was pretty interesting as it seems a good deal of trampers were getting lost either coming up to the huts or up to Tappy's summit itself. We took a fairly direct route to the top but we found that there were a handful of pretty good variations on the same path.
Follow the track behind the hut and along the shingle scree for 10 minutes until it drops down to the river. Rock cairns lead the way to the far side and onto a track leading up above the gorge. It is easy to follow for the next hour as you make your way into the valley and up to a waterfall. This is the last stop for water before you push for the top so take a moment to fill up. The track skirts around the waterfall before cairns begin leading you straight up the shingle scree. We popped up into a basin and continued to follow the cairns straight up towards the summit. The main track heads to the right up a shingle scree and then around to the left onto the ridge at the very top. We climbed in a straight line up a rocky outcrop and onto another shingle scree directly below the actual summit. We had beautiful clear skies and not a breath of wind at the top so there was plenty of time to drink in the scenery.
It had taken less than 4 hours to summit so we decided to head around to Mt Alarm and see what the ridge looked like over there. In doing so we put a few holes in our hands negotiating the sharp scree below point 2711m. 2 hours later we were standing looking back at Tappy as the clouds rolled in over head. I waited for J at 2500m while he scrambled up the main ridge of Alarm but he returned soon after as the wind was really starting to pick up. Our journey down into the basin again was tedious as we rock hopped down a dry gully of boulders and more scree. If I don't see anymore rocks this month I'll be quite happy.
Return trip from Tappy - 10.5 hours.
Return trip to the car from the huts - 4.5 hours
- most groups reported 6-7 hours between the road end and the huts and 7-9 hours for climbing Tappy.
In New Zealand we don't go hiking, walking or frolicking in the wilderness - we tramp.