Mt McKerrow Loop (the hard way)

A return visit to Mt McKerrow, a 706m high viewless mountain (from the summit at least) in the Remutaka Ranges, to the east of Wellington. Last year’s hike to the summit from the usual starting point of Catchpool Valley in the south was straightforward. A return visit via backcountry trails to the north and west of the summit was the opposite, an 11 hour adventure along steep, rough and poorly marked / non-existent trails.

I started from the entrance to the Whakanui Track at the end of Sunny Grove.

But rather than turn off to continue on the Whakanui Track I head up an often super steep if scenic forestry road.

From here there is an unmarked track (though on the topomap) into the lush bush.

I don’t remember any markers but the track was easy to follow through pleasant bush. After about 1 & 3/4 hours I reached a sign that had clearly seen better days which told me I was on the McKerrow Track. This connects to the Whakanui Track for a more obvious route, but one that I had previously walked so I came this way for a change.

This was a beautiful spot in the sunshine to stop for lunch before continuing to the summit. I was expecting faster travel along the flatter track, but it was often muddy and overgrown in places making it enjoyably challenging.

At a few spots the bush opened up and there were huge views back toward Wellington City, captured with my telephoto lens.

It’s a quite spectacular place with big views, all the sweeter for there being so few on the track.

And there are certainly none from the summit, marked only by a random metal pole in the middle of the track.

From here is where the day got ‘interesting’ as I followed (or attempted to) a clearly marked track on the topomap that started at the summit. It wasn’t easy to find though as I soon learnt that it was a trapping line, marked with varying degrees of thoroughness by colourful tape, tartan cloth, and even bike reflectors.

There was almost no obvious track but just enough markers to make slow progress down through the bush.

Until the markers ran out and even though I was standing on the track according to my topomap app there was clearly no track. This wasn’t the best time for a huge feral goat to wander by, looking like one of Thor’s chariot pullers.

Having come several hundred metres down a rough track I didn’t particularly want to retrace my steps, so instead I followed my topomap and bush bashed through increasingly thick vegetation downhill where the track was meant to be. When it was getting a bit silly in terms of making any real progress I remembered that I also had the app which also shows tracks. Lo and behold there was a ‘track’ about 50m away so I bush bashed across to it and made much faster progress down it to an unnamed stream.

This was followed by a steep climb up to a T junction on the map. It was getting late in the afternoon by this point so I decided to head to the nearest road rather than continue through the bush back to my car. Unfortunately the shortest way on the map didn’t appear to exist, nor did the second shortest way. After an hour of non-existent tracks and dead ends I took the only real option left, to continue into the bush up a steep ridgeline. There were a few trapping line markers, though they were getting harder to see as the sun set.

There was then a 200m descent down steep and at times slippery terrain requiring care to reach Scholes Creek. I thought the worst was over by now but it wasn’t the case as what looked on the map like a straight forward track running parallel to the stream instead zig zagged across the stream, requiring half a dozen crossings in the near dark.

It was a great relief to finally reach a road at Camp Wainui about 8pm, after starting walking about 9.45am. I still had another hour of road / pavement walking to go though, helped immensely by reaching Coast Road Dairy & Clothing Alterations just before it closed and buying up everything left in their pie cabinet…

Author: jontycrane

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