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Notable climbers who cut their teeth in the range include Ed Hilary, Graeme Dingle and Jill Tremain. Mount Holdsworth is one of the more easily accessible high summits in the lower North Island.
Mount Holdsworth is well signposted from SH2. 5 km south of Masterton City Centre, turn right into Norfolk Road, where Mount Holdsworth is signposted. After 10.5 km the road veers left, merging with Mount Holdsworth Road. There is a large camping area at the roadend, 5 km further on.
The start of the track is signposted from the far end of the carpark.
Follow Rocky Lookout then Powell Hut track descriptions.
From Powell Hut the track follows the ridgeline over tussock, vast panoramas opening up to the remote watersheds and ridges of the Tararua Forest Park. Most prominent is the Waiohine to the south. Masterton’s central placement within the Wairarapa Plains is apparent as is the flow of the Waingawa River.
A few boggy patches need circumventing on the way to the summit, marked by the trig station.
After the signposted junction to Jumbo Hut, you reach the summit (1470 metres) and the view north opens up. The rugged greywacke pinnacles of Angel Knob, McGregor and the Broken Axe Pinnacles are most prominent. On clear days (the Tararua tops are generally clear on only 80 days of the year) the coast and Kapiti Island sneak in an appearance to the western horizon. Lake Wairarapa and the coast beyond appear to the south.
The descent via the East Holdsworth Track is trickier to follow. Just before Mount Holdsworth Summit, retrace your steps to the Jumbo Hut sign. This follows the lee of the ridge, passing a few tarns. After 15 minutes, just after surmounting a small knob, look for the pole to the right. The track is indistinct, but still decipherable.
Squelch over the tussock, periodically fishing your foot out of boggy hollows, and be vigilant for a small cairn (10 minutes). From here the track descends the rounded ridge, but could easily be lost were it not for the occasional low rock cairns.
At the edge of the bushline (10 minutes) look for two shoulder height rocks as a reference point. The entrance to the stunted silver beech forest is nearby.
The descent along East Holdsworth Track is marked with yellow metal plates, and at times you will need these at the track can be quite difficult to follow. The initial forest is festooned with mosses, ferns and lichens, which mantle the silver beech trees with bulbous spongy appendages. During the descent the height of the trees increases and the understorey remains sparse, save the thatch of fallen twigs and branches. The descent is relentlessly steep and many steps over the root systems require a stretch.
After 1 hour the forest character changes. Sprays of crown fern decorate the forest floor and fields of kidney ferns bank up the trunks of large trees. The gradient eases and the sounds of the Atiwhakatu Stream become audible (30 minutes).
The 30 minute section to the junction with Donnelly Flat Walk is carved into the hillside above the river. After crossing the swing bridge, passing the junction to Mount Holdworth, there are numerous footbridges and structures aiding the track, and a steep drop to the river. In one section a detour is required to circumnavigate a slip.
The track then joins the Donnelly Flat Walk.
In January of 1863 T.H. Kempton, G. Hodder, F. Peters made the first European ascent of Mount Holdsworth. It was trigged in 1865 by Morgan Carkeek, one of the first and most energetic surveyors. He commenced his explorations in 1865 at the tender age of 19 and over the next ten years ventured to many remote corners of the range, climbing peaks and finding new routes. He spent a great deal of his time around Holdsworth, camping by the present day lodge, then making his way up, often staying near Mountain House, then in a temporary bivvy near the bushline, from where he would wait for the weather to clear before venturing higher. The trig was first destroyed by wind in 1881 then again in 1911.
Mount Holdsworth was being regularly climbed from 1889. Charles Bannister was the first guide to escort parties up to the summit. He gained his experience in the Tararuas as a boy, accompanying early photographer James Brigge. With his two brothers, George and John, they climbed many prominent landmarks, leaving a legacy in the naming of peaks and ridges. Charles Bannister wrote a booklet entitled Mount Holdsworth – Valuable Hints for Intending Climbers, and carried up timber for the inaugural Holdsworth Trig.
Bannister was part of the Mount Holdsworth Track Committee, formed in 1907 with J.C. Ewington (chairman), W.M. Easthope (secretary) and Duncan McGregor (treasurer), with the expressed aim of running a tourist route up to the summit of Mount Holdsworth. They built the first Mountain House, a 3-roomed affair with wire netting bunks and separate men and women’s quarters.
Tourists would leave their horses at H.C. Thomasen’s farmhouse near today’s Holdsworth Lodge, where they would hire packhorses. Bannister would accompany them as a guide. Interest was so high that 3 years after commencing the operation they had to extend Mountain House. Visitors travelled from as far as Auckland and Wellington and included schoolboys and women. By 1910, Mount Holdsworth was receiving 1000 visitors a year, numbers which increased from 1919 with the foundation of the Tararua Tramping Club.
The range quickly developed a reputation for wind, rain, mist and fog, heightened by John Pascoe’s derogatory appraisal following his visits.
North Island ▷ Wairarapa ▷ Masterton
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