Mt Tapuae-o-Uenuku

22 -25 March 2019

At 2,885 metres, Tapuae-o-Uenuku (‘footsteps of the rainbow’) oversees Marlborough from the heart of the Inland Kaikoura Range. Its bulk prompted Captain Cook, who first named it Mt Odin after the Norse god, to then nickname it ‘The Watcher’, because it was visible for days as he sailed down the South Island’s east coast.

Party on the scree slopes below the summit ridge. Photo courtesy of Raymond Ford

Our party of 10 took in its changing profile as we drove through Seddon and headed up the Awatere valley in post-equinox evening light on a Friday. By the time, we stopped at the ‘Camden Cookshop’, owned by Camden Station, for sleep and preparation for an early start up the Hodder River, it was cloaked by night. Watchers - stewards - abound in this special place; the Camden Crown pastoral lease includes much of the land below the peak, the owners of Mt Gladstone welcome recreationists on their tracks downstream of the unavoidable plunge into the Hodder, and the Marlborough Tramping Club offers shelter from the storm in its huts under the mountain. These are long-time, bedded-in relationships; the place feels owned.

With Saturday morning, came the Hodder and its legendary 80-ish crossings. At our moment in time, the water was shallow and warm, and we arrived at the Hodder huts in the late afternoon sun feeling relaxed and in time to korero with the day’s summiteers, who had started returning. Di’s fantastic pasta dinner, including an actual roux, completed a beautiful day.

A Tapuae-o-Uenuku trip, it seems, is a game of quid pro quos. For us, payback for the Hodder’s early-autumn ease was going to be the exacting nature of the mountain’s bald scree (in winter, cramponing to the summit is the reward for the cold hours in the river).

In the end, even the scree was a delight. Tapuae-o-Uenuku’s volcanic whakapapa was clearly legible as we traversed it on the Sunday: Cretaceous greywackes, gabbro, a multitude of minerals (Government platinum mining plans were dropped five years ago). Conversation, picnics, and the sound of high scree moving under feet marked our way to an extraordinary summit.

Ascending, southern and western hills quietly revealed themselves, but the scene from the peak came suddenly. Only repeat climbs could prepare you; it takes your breath away. With a step, the Pacific Ocean, the Clarence valley, and the lower North Island appeared.

We lingered on the summit. It was that sort of day; we revelled in it. Pictures were taken; brief summit phone coverage hastily taken advantage of. Then we exited via a scree run suitable for two, not 10 (Di’s black-and-blue digit was the only casualty), meeting up with our ascent route shortly after. The metres fell away as we rejoined the world of plants and small creatures, and a few conversations, picnics, and dozes-in-the-sun later, we arrived at the MTC’s huts, by now quiet with weekend busy-ness over. The remarkable dinner-for-ten that Sue conjured up would have been something special at home; in the hills, it was magic. Monday’s descent through the Hodder’s twists and drops was easy as a nor’wester built up, coffee in Seddon was thought of, where we enthusiastically greeted by Sue Barker( Johnston), and the chance to look again at the earthquake-changed Kaikoura coast came back to mind.

* Information for trampers/climbers: unformed legal roads almost to the saddle between Mt Alarm (2,877 metres) and Mitre Peak (2,691 metres) allow access up the Hodder River and into the scenic reserve that covers the big Inland Kaikoura tops including those two and Tapuae-o-Uenuku.

The party was: Sue Piercey, Liz Stephenson, Diane Mellish, Aarn Tate, Sonja Risa, Jan Finlayson, Gary Huish, Raymond Ford (leader), Angela Grigg, Calum McIntosh (JF)