By Dugal Thomson, 02 January 2022
I first heard of this fabled Tararua epic, without explanation, at the very first welcome meeting. What a wholesome idea, I thought, to run the odd picnic into the bush for some fun catch-ups. It would be a few months before someone would tell me that this is a very much different kind of picnic, for a different kind of fun. Type two fun. A Carkeek picnic is a 50 km slog over the Tararuas, beginning at Poads Rd, and ending at Holdsworth carpark (or vice-versa). To qualify as a Carkeek Picnic, you must both pass Carkeek hut, said to be the remotest hut in the Tararuas, and polish the whole trip off within 24 hours – cos it’s a picnic, just a wee day trip of 50km.
So we thought (you’ll keep in mind a tramper is a strange being), what better way to bring in the new year than tackle the Carkeek Picnic? With one (1) training run complete and still slightly (considerably) dusty from new year’s eve, Patrick, Alex and myself set off on the 1st of Jan 2022. What could go wrong?
With a complicated car swap complete, we set up camp at the Poads Rd car park, slightly apprehensive of the monster that lay ahead. That night, Patrick got a great sleep. Alex and I didn’t, because I had brought a fly instead of a tent, giving the mozzies free reign to be an absolute pain. Nevertheless, 4am came, and having smartly eaten breakfast and packed tents back into the car, we set off, carrying no more than a plb, food, water, some layers, and a med kit.
The first 3 hours were a wonderful rock-hop up the Sth Ohau. Arriving at Sth Ohau hut (and the rest of the huts along the way), the conversation went something like this:
“Heya! Where you off to? (or for the afternoon, “where’ve you come from?”)
“Oh yknow, heading to Holdsworth carpark”
“Oh nice, good 2-3 days that”
“Yeah nah actually just doing it all today”
“[insert awkward silence and chuckle, as well as a concerned glare or a hearty good luck]"
Leaving the hut, with ‘I may be crazy but I am free’ having lodged itself in my head, we continued, passing Te Matawai and reaching Arete. At this point, Alex felt that with the lack of sleep over the last two nights, a reasonable day trip to Arete and back would be more for him, leaving Patrick and I to head on. By the time we were going over Lancaster, I was beginning to feel similarly burdened. The heat was giddying, and the physical challenge was fast morphing into a mental one. Cheering each other on throughout the trip was incredibly helpful, and it was this plus a bit of fake it ‘till you make it that got me to Carkeek hut for lunch, in 9 hours. Here we found an old hunting geezer, just chilling, having a cuppa. He was the keenest on our trip out of those we met, and also took the photo of us below at the hut. Only the finest photographers keep half a finger over the camera. Also note the picnic bars we're holding. Peak comedy, we know.
We took some more photos ourselves and sent on. Lunch gave me a second wind of sorts, and it was my turn to do some rallying. The route down from Carkeek into the Waiohine was twisty but uneventful. The Waiohine was beautiful, as ever. This brought us to Dorset creek, where the climb up past McGregor Biv began. The start was ok, conversation as good a force as muscle, but by halfway up we were both sore and tired. I found myself honestly struggling, but found to my surprise just how strong mental willpower can be. So long as I kept pessimistic thoughts out, I felt all the more powerful. We climbed on, reaching the ridge at about hour 14. Stumbling down to Jumbo hut, we found it absolutely packed with families. I didn’t know what to say, what would families think of our mission? But a kid solved the problem for me. She asked first from the balcony “Have you done the whole loop [holdsworth jumbo] today?!” I replied “yeah, yeah we have, and we aren’t stopping now!”. This got cheers from most of the kids there, which was a kind and welcome boost, regardless!
We tumbled down raingauge spur, and power walked out from Atiwhakatu hut. Dusk fell about half an hour before the end, and although we had torches we just managed without them. 17 hrs and 10 mins all up. We got a tent from the other car, collapsed, and indulged in eggs bene and a waffle in Greytown the next morning.
So. A Carkeek Picnic renaissance. Lauren and Nick were the next to go, a few weeks later, going the other way. Nick reckons that their way is best, but who knows. Guess I’ll have to try it for myself.