A classic mountain run in the Tararua Ranges
This 24km loop over Mount Jumbo and Mount Holdsworth is one of the most popular routes in the Tararua Ranges, and for good reason. It is very doable as a day trip from Wellington and includes a great variety of terrain and scenery. You’ll experience a beautiful flowing trail along a lush river valley; a technical, steep ascent (or descent, depending which way you decide to tackle the loop); some true alpine ridge-running with spectacular views; and a long, fast, fun descent down the very runnable Gentle Annie track.
- This iconic loop is one of four “classic tramps” in the Tararuas. Trampers typically tackle it over a weekend, spending a night in either Powell or Jumbo Hut (sometimes both).
- The route is home to the Jumbo Holdsworth Trail Race. Competitors can choose to run the loop in either direction, although anti-clockwise is the most popular and generally thought to be faster.
Distance: About 24kms.
Elevation: Total elevation gain approximately 1,500m.
Difficulty: This is a true mountain run and should not be underestimated. It is steep and technical in places and exposed on the ridgelines. That said, if you take some basic precautions, allow plenty of time and keep your wits about you, it is an achievable introduction to the mountains.
Estimated time: The fastest runners race around the loop in under 2.5 hours, but the mere mortals among us can expect to take 4-6 hours. Start out early to make sure you have plenty of daylight.
Be prepared: The Tararuas are known for the inclement weather, and things can change fast. Along the ridgeline navigation can become tricky if the cloud comes in. Check the weather forecast before you leave, and wait for another day if high winds or rain are likely. Always take a topo map and compass (and know how to use it!), warm clothing, a whistle, safety blanket and plenty of water and food in case you get injured or need to sit out a storm. Even on a hot summer’s day it can be cool on the tops. If possible, take a personal locator beacon and/or run with others. Make sure someone knows where you are going and when you expect to be back.
Start and end point: Holdsworth Road End, Wairarapa. Turn off State Highway 2 onto Norfolk Road, 2 km south of Masterton. Follow Norfolk Road for about 15 km. The road end has a DOC campground, toilets and a river to swim in.
Directions: From the car park at Holdsworth Road end, go through the gate and follow the gravel four-wheel drive road. After 100 metres or so you will come to Holdsworth lodge, a small hut with an intentions book in the foyer. After recording your details, continue along the track and cross the bridge to the other side of the river.
Soon you will come to an intersection and you have a choice to make. You can run the loop in either direction. The anti-clockwise direction is the most popular in the race, and is generally considered to be slightly faster. It has a very direct ascent (i.e. extremely steep – we’re talking hands-on-knees hiking territory) and a long, runnable downhill. The clockwise direction is more popular with trampers. It has a longer, mostly runnable ascent and a shorter, steep downhill. Choose your poison.
If you want to go clockwise, follow the signs to Powell Hut. This will lead you up a steady climb on the Gentle Annie Track, passing Mountain House shelter along the way. The track gets steeper the higher you get, with some sets of steps and a bit of clambering up rocky terrain as you near the top. You’ll reach Mt Holdsworth – the highest point on the loop – shortly after Powell Hut (where a water stop is recommended), about 10kms into your run. The turn-off to Jumbo Hut is shortly before the summit itself, but it’s worth a quick out-and-back to admire the view.
After summiting Mt Holdsworth, undulate your way along the ridgeline for around 3kms, following the signs to Jumbo Hut. Watch your footing on the steep, technical descent down Rainguage Spur to Atiwhakatu Hut (about 2.5kms), then it’s a gentle, flowing 7.5kms back down the river valley to the road end.
For anti-clockwise runners, follow the signs to Atiwhakatu Hut as you meander your way up the easy Atiwhakatu track for about 7.5kms. Don’t run too fast though – save some energy for the tough grind up from Atiwhakatu Hut to Jumbo Hut. Even the most impressive runners are reduced to walking here, and it’s slow-going. But you’ll be rewarded with expansive views from Jumbo Hut (fill up your water bottles here) and, not too much further up, the ridgeline.
You’ve still got some climbing to do though. You’ll lose and then gain some elevation along the ridgeline, eventually topping out on Mt Holdsworth (if you take the short detour to the summit). Signs will point the way. Then it’s all down hill. Follow the track past Powell Hut and back to the Holdsworth road end on the long and very runnable Gentle Annie track.
Now jump in the river and enjoy a cold beer – you’ve earned it!
- There are toilets and water at the Holdsworth Road end. You will also pass three huts along the way (Atiwhakatu, Jumbo and Powell). Each hut has toilets and, usually, water. However, during the summer months the water supply at huts can run dry. If it hasn’t rained in awhile it is worth checking with the Department of Conservation or carrying enough water with you for the whole run.
- The road end is a little ways from civilisation, so it’s best to take some post-run snacks with you. If you’re heading back toward Wellington, you will pass through Carterton after about 20 minutes (try the Clareville Bakery) or Greytown a little further on. In the other direction, Masterton isn’t far away.
- You’ll need a car. Try car pooling with other runners (mountain runs are safer and more fun with company anyway!).
- To get to Holdsworth road end from Wellington, drive toward Masterton. After Carterton and about 2km south of Masterton, turn off State Highway 2 onto Norfolk Road. Follow Norfolk Road for around 15km.