This time I decided to break recent tradition and head south down to the Tararua Range rather than sideways (North-East-ish) to the Ruahine Range. Whilst I love the Ruahine Range, it was time to change it up a little bit. Field Hut and Table Top was a track I was going to tackle with Ma. Until she saw the elevation profile. We did Coppermine Creek instead.
I haven’t hiked in the Tararuas before so it was somewhere new and a bit different. Even though my new camera hadn’t arrived yet (I am still a wee bit bitter in case you weren’t sure) I packed my borrowed camera and set out for the day. South. Not North(ish). Woah!
Access Otaki Forks is where you want to start this hike. You can find Otaki Forks in… Otaki, halfway between Palmerston North and Wellington. Head down Otaki Gorge Road until you hit the carparks.
Time 5 to 6 hours return to Field Hut, add an extra hour and a half if you want to complete Table Top as well.
Difficulty The track itself is not difficult to follow, it is well marked. The difficulty lies in the elevation gain. The track starts at pretty much sea level (16m according to my watch) and climbs to 1047m at Table Top.
Fitness You will need to be fairly fit to tackle this hike comfortably.
Facilities Fireplace, a separate toilet is located just down the track,
Booking Required No, first in first served
Fees 1 standard hut pass per night – $5 for adults, $2.50 for youth (11-17 years) and children (under 10) free
A not so early start
I didn’t take my own winter hiking advice this time. Slap on the hand. Instead, I pushed the snooze button a few (6) times and didn’t get to the start of the track until 10am. Luckily I knew from research (I did take that part of my own advice) that I could still get in the full hike just before dusk fell. Though that meant that I couldn’t faff about along the way. Which was probably a good thing.
A wee bit o’ history
Field Hut is an actively managed historic hut that sits just below the bush line at an altitude of around 900m. It boasts being one of the first purpose-built tramping (hiking/backpacking to you non-kiwi’s) huts in New Zealand. It also boasts being the oldest surviving hut in the Tararua Ranges. A Grandpa Hut, if you will, sitting up high in the Ranges watching over all the baby huts.
New Zealand’s first Tramping Club, the Tararua Tramping Club built Feild Hut in 1924 to accommodate the increasing popularity of the Southern Crossing. It is named after W.H. Field who was president of the Tararua Tramping Club at the time. Although much of the original materials have been replaced over time, Field Hut still retains its original character and form.
Up to the Hut
Field Hut Track is a seemingly endless climb up to the hut. Leading you into a false sense of security, for about a kilometre it is relatively flat farmland until you get to the fork that takes you off in different directions to various tracks. From here it is a relentless climb.
The first part of the climb is a wee bit monotonous. The track is a wide exposed shingle track that zigzags up to the bush line. You get the occasional glimpse of the winding river growing ever smaller as you round each bend further up into the hill.
The bush line appears about an hour after setting off. A welcome relief after the monotony of the grassy climb to here. The shade of the trees was a refreshing change of scenery. Tree roots and rocky tracks made for a much more interesting hike as I once again skipped over the various hazards like the mountain goat I am. I only nearly fell over a couple of times.
A few of the various types of tracks
An embarrassing encounter
As I huffed and puffed my way up the hill I could hear voices floating down. I looked around. Nowhere to hide. I peered around the corner. 15-20 high school girls and their male-model teacher congregated on the side of the track on their way back down from Field Hut for the night. I, with my beet red face and sweat pouring down my face, had to pass by them all. There was no way around it.
Normally, I am a friendly person. Just not when faced with a couple of dozen teenage girls plied with makeup and coming down the hill looking as fresh as daisies while I am looking like a tomato that has been sat out in a rainstorm. Not so glamorous. Proof below.
The last haul up to Field Hut
There are a few flats and slight downhills towards Field Hut. Not many but they provide a nice change of pace to get your breath back again.
A movement caught my eye as I rounded a corner so I stopped to check it out (catch my breath). A lone owl was sitting on a low branch, watchfully looking on with its big round yellow eyes. I caaaarefully pulled my camera out of my bag but Mr Owl (or Miss Owl) showed no signs of leaving. He just sat there patiently waiting for his photo to be taken. It’s very rare to see an owl in New Zealand and especially during the day. I often fall asleep listening to Moreporks at night but have yet to see one. Until now. And what a beautiful sight it made.
After coming across another hiker coming down and being warned that it was, “a bit chilly up the top” I rounded the corner and stumbled across Field Hut. It took approximately 2.5 hours of hiking time to get to the hut which wasn’t too bad. I did have a couple of stops along the way so it took me just under 3 hours to get there.
Field Hut nestles amongst the trees, just below the bush line and watches over the valley quietly. A simple, rare two-storey structure with its bright red roof. It is not boastful in the slightest.
Obviously, I had to go inside and have a look around. A short fireplace with a cracked window sits in its alcove adorned with odd socks and tea towels. Bench seats lie upside down on the wooden table that dominates the cosy space. Foam mattresses rest against the wall, propped up side by side waiting for the next backpacker to make the hut their home for the night.
Up a wooden ladder lies the second storey. It is a simple open plan sleeping area. Foam mattresses propped up against the stark white walls either end of the bare room. A couple of large photographs adorn the A-frame roof across from the ladder, telling the story of Field Hut and the Tararua Range.
The dusty windows don’t show much of a view and it is too cold to fling them open.
A last look around as I crunch on my apple satisfied with this lonely hut with plenty of tales to tell
Table Top is another hour past Field Hut. I found this the hardest part of the hike. With the exposed hillside as I left the bush behind me and made my way across the tussocks, there was no shelter from the wind. Loose rocks that shifted underfoot littered the path bruising the sides of feet. A mountain goat darted up ahead not long before he was out of sight again.
Eventually, the track evens out along the ridgeline. The path goes from loose rocks to boardwalk, this also provided a challenge as it was wet and the boardwalk was slippery. After one final push uphill Table Top is within eyesight.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t a fantastic view as the cloud was low. The cold pierced through me despite all my onion layers so it was time to turn back down to the relative calm of the bush. I didn’t linger up at Table Top. I could sense that the light was going to fade fast that day with the cloud cover and the day was slipping away. No dilly-dallying!
The trek back to Field Hut took just over half an hour. I was on a mission. Another quick stop for some sweets and a loo break and down into the bush back towards the car I went.
The trek down
The trek down took just over two hours of hiking time. Some of the downhills were a bit precarious and I was hobbling by the end of the track from the loose rocks up the top. My feet had never been so happy to see my wee blue car waitin’.
I had thought that the trek down would be slightly quicker but it proved to take almost as long as the hike up. Not to worry, it was still a lovely hike and I could actually enjoy the views on the way down without having to wipe the sweat out of my eyes (doesn’t that paint a lovely picture?). It was colder on the way down. I wore all my onion layers the whole way down. Base layer, fleece, waterproof jacket, hat, neckwarmer and all. They weren’t going nowhere!
I found this a tough ole trek, much harder than I should have. I blame not feeling well rather than the fact I am still relatively unfit. That’s my story anyway and I am sticking to it. It was a lovely trek though, Field Hut is a perfect example of a purpose-built New Zealand backcountry hut. The views were beautiful, though slightly dimmed by the cloud and there was plenty of variety in landscape and scenery to keep the short-attention-spanned hiker interested.
Field Hut is also the gateway to the Southern Crossing – a hike I hope to complete in the next few months. It was a good insight into what’s in store for me.
For more photos check out that Facebook Album, the one with all the Field Hut photos in it.
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