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  • Writer's pictureSophie Jenkins

Manukau Uwerau Traverse

The Manukau - Uwerau traverse is a classic loop in the Seaward Kaikouras, and a really good winter mission if you want to avoid too much choss. It’s conveniently far enough north that the snowpack seemed to have avoided the persistent weak layer that’s hung around in the Southern Alps this winter.

According to the guide, Manukau was “reputedly first climbed in March 1929 by Ted Brown, a musterer, who did a bold traverse in a single day from the Clarence Valley, over Manakau, Uwerau, and Mt Fyffe to attend a party in Kaikōura. Legend has it he returned via the same route the following day to pick up his dog from high on the slopes of Manakau, where it had refused to go any further.”

We’d been talking about possible ‘suffer missions’ for a while, and finally some good weather showed up on the forecast. Henry managed to score cover for work on Friday morning and it was on. After a quick phone call to collect beta, we quested north on Friday evening and slept in the back of the car at the Hapuku roadend.

We went up the standard Surveyor spur route to a camp at around 1900m. The route follows the Hapuku River track, then takes the north branch after the gorge (the doc track over the gorge is well maintained). This takes you to the base of Stace Saddle and is quick & easy travel. Follow the scree gut up to stace saddle and then travel is easy up Surveyor spur, no need to fight with the scrub!

There’s a large flat-ish area on the ridge at 1900 which is a great bivvy spot, though there is relatively little shelter from the wind, and there would be no water in summer. We met another party who had just come down off Manukau - minus a couple of water bottles - and we made friends over a brew. There were a couple of very average bivvy options further along the route but they were much more exposed to wind.

The next day we started at 4 am and made the most of an unconvincing freeze. There is a slightly steep traverse after point 2210, but the ridge provides straightforward travel up to Manukau. Once we reached the summit ridge, we got blasted by wind which didn't really let up until we were halfway down Uwerau.

The crux of the route is the traverse across to Uwerau - this is a classic slightly committing grade 2 ridge. We had good winter snow conditions and managed to wiggle our way along the ridge, ducking around a couple of small steep sections. It took us 3 hours from camp to the summit of Manukau, and another 4 hours to Uwerau. The snow was starting to become slushy and hollow in the sun, and we were glad to get to Uwerau before midday.

The descent off Uwerau is a bit grotty, and if anyone has found a better way that involves less rockfall it would be good to know! We descended the broad and obvious spur south of Uwerau, which was straightforward down to around 1400. From 1400, we trended skiers right into a bowl of snow and descended the tussock and scree on the true right edge of the creek/landslide that is apparently the standard route. This descent route has seen either quake damage or just a big slip, and rocks regularly fall down the middle. We skirted the true right side of the chute and ran down 700m vert in about 20 minutes - we would not be keen to ascend this route, but it was efficient!

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