East Holdsworth Ridge – Jumbo Hut – Angle Knob – Atiwhakatu Hut: Typical Tararuas

Cam and I needed to recharge our souls.

For months we’d had some days set aside in December for the purpose, but with 10 week old baby Lucy at home I was only available for a short stretch. Rich couldn’t get away from work. So it was just the two of us.

Where to go?

We’d been chatting for some time about a loop from Atiwhakatu Hut up to Jumbo, around to Baldy and back down to Atiwhakatu. Seemed feasible in one night.

There was the additional allure of the mythical Shingle Slip Knob aircraft wreck. For 10 years we’d talked about getting to it. With a promising forecast, this was our chance!


And so on a sunny Tuesday morning at 6.30am I picked Cam up and we headed North towards cloudless ranges.


View of the Southern Crossing from Cam’s place in Kelburn

The great triumph of the trip at this early stage was my effort at packing all my overnight needs (including luxury items including port, a hammock, and my Kindle) into a paltry 40 litres.

“Going smaller” has long been an aim of mine. By pulling back everything and starting from scratch fitting into 40 was a bit of a squeeze but entirely achievable.

A brief stop in Greytown for hut tickets and supplies, and a yarn with the ranger at the Holdsworth Road-end later we were on our way.

Fearful of crowds we decided to take the less-used East Holdsworth approach track to the tops. It’s a bit of a track to nowhere, used mostly for those wanting to do a Holdsworth loop without any Jumbo.

East Holdsworth is a super little track. Varied in steepness and vegetation and lacking in other people. On a glorious summer’s day in the school holidays we encountered just one other tramper. Bliss.

She told us there was a man staying in the 2-man McGregor Biv. That ruled that out. I like Cam, but not enough to spoon.

Over about 6 hours we plodded our way up on to the tops and North to Jumbo Hut. We stopped at the bushline for lunch. Cam casually announced that he hadn’t had any breakfast and had put in a 4 hour uphill effort on the back of a small flat white.

The weather was as good as it can ever be in the Tararuas. It was clear, and windless. Yes, windless. I’ve never seen anything like it. I longed for a hat and bathed in sunscreen at every opportunity.

The views on track and from Jumbo Hut as the sun went down were spectacular. Soul recharge in progress.

At Jumbo Hut we encountered a lovely family out for a Holdsworth Jumbo loop. We played cards (Monopoly, and game called Carcasonne which was interesting) and shared our port with them (luxury item alert).

But mostly we chilled out.

Bad news ahoy, the forecast had worsened. We resolved to get up reasonably sharply and assess our options.

We awoke to gale-force northerlies buffeting the Hut.

Given the state of (a) the weather and (b) my legs we decided that the full Jumbo-Baldy loop was a big ask. But we couldn’t resist a lightweight attempt at the Aircraft Wreck. So we set off about 7 with minimal equipment to see if we could hussle over the Shingle Slip Knob and back by lunchtime.


Windy is an understatement. It was blow-you-off-your-feet insanity. There was a front holding up on the Western side of the main range, and we were walking straight into it. It was slow going and after two hours we hadn’t yet reached Angle Knob.

We boxed on. Out of the mists came striding a chap in a lime-green jacket. Wind behind him, he looked as casual as you like. This was the man from McGregor Biv.

“Bit windy” I opened, “what’s it like up there?” I nodded in the direction of Shingle Slip Knob, entirely obscured by the North-Westerly front. “Not too bad,” said Biv-man. “This next bit is the worst, the wind comes over the saddle. After that it’s better.” The wall of cloud clawing angrily at the Main Range didn’t really agree with him. Neither did I. “Looks a bit clagged in?” I offered. “Just typical Tararuas.” He said, and loped off into the distance.

Typical Tararuas! My ass.

At times, it felt slightly dicey. For the first time in my long (if sporadic) tramping career I thought briefly about those at home: Linds and Jords and Lucy. My margin for error needed to be bigger now. Kick for touch.

So we did. We boxed on for a bit to see if green-jacket’s assertion of improvement was correct. It wasn’t. At Angle Knob we turned back. The Aircraft Wreck will be there next time.

With the wind at our backs the going was much easier, and we were back at Jumbo for an early lunch and by mid-afternoon we’d descended the painfully-steep Raingauge Spur, had a snack at the new Atiwhakatu Hut (very nice), and walked the 6 or so kms out on well-cut track to the road-end.

Time in motion: 12 hours or so over 2 days.
Underratedness: moderate. East Holdsworth highly underrated. The rest rated pretty fairly.
Typicality: atypical. Amazing weather one day. Gales the next. No crowds on busy tracks.

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