Tramp the Ned - Climbing Blenheim's Mountain
By: Christopher Cookson
Last Modified: 3-6-2021 14:11
It was never my intention to go tramping two weekends in a row, but my daughter Anna had seen in the paper that the biennial Tramp the Ned was happening, and inspired by my adventures, was insistent that we go tramping. She was a bit disappointed that there was no hut, but climbing a mountain would have to do.
Because the Ned is on located on private property, it’s not a mountain that you can just go out and climb whenever you feel like it, even though it’s the closest mountain to Blenheim, and the most obvious, looking south from just about anywhere on the Wairau Plain. Every two years, under normal circumstances, the owners of Tempello hold an open day when the public have the opportunity to climb the mountain. As far as mountains go, at 909 metres, it’s not particularly high, certainly not compared to Taupae o Uenuku, which at 2885 metres is over three times the height, but the Ned is still a good climb, especially for anyone not accustomed to steep walking.
A Maunga with Whakapapa
The last time I climbed the Ned was back in 2014 when I was working on my book about the Taylor River, and wanted to document its source as a small stream beginning from the valley below the mountain. Decades ago, before I was born, Dad climbed the mountain in the late 1960s when he first made Blenheim a permanent home rather than just a holiday destination, back before there were public open days, and access involved getting permission from the land owner. My daughter climbing the mountain would mark the third generation of our family to do so, however Tempello itself has been owned by the Grigg family since 1913, and before that, Rangitāne considered the mountain to be the reclining face of their ancestor Te Hau, so the mountain is steeped in tradition and whakapapa, and even if it isn’t as tall as Tapuae o Uenuku, it has just as much right to be identified as one of the key landmarks of Marlborough.
Although Anna was very insistent that we should climb the Ned, she was not so insistent on getting out of bed in the morning and wanted to snuggle up in bed and discuss climbing the mountain before we actually did the deed, resulting in the two of us being among the last people to begin the tramp. The weather was somewhat uncertain, with a forecast of rain, and dark clouds lurking ominously, but at least to begin with, the sun fought valiantly to break through, resulting in a spectacular rainbow over the mountain as we approached.
The popularity of the event meant that parking in the middle of a normally empty, unsealed, rural road that normally might only have traffic of one or two vehicles an hour or less, was more like trying to find a park in central Wellington or Christchurch, but we eventually managed to squeeze into a spot, aided by direction by volunteers in high viz vests, and start walking. We had to pass through a registration site where we paid our money and had our names noted down to make sure that everyone who went up the mountain came back down again, as presumably the land owners didn’t want to have to track down feral humans roaming an ecologically significant area, although the rugged terrain was certainly an ideal setting for a hunt for wilderpeople, although up the mountain it was more scrubby than forested, so not the ideal place to hide out.
My daughter’s insistence on going ended up being rewarded when she found that her best friend from school was also doing the tramp with her family. That was something of a double edged sword as the two girls encouraged each other on, but if one started wanting to turn back, so too did the other. I’d learnt that an ample supply of chocolate is usually a good incentive to get people up mountains, and that seemed to work, with the two girls teaming up to extract as much out of me as possible.
The Taylor Valley
Since the day was overcast, and I’d climbed the mountain before, I decided that rather than focusing on the landscape, I’d pay more attention to the biodiversity, and see how many interesting organisms I could identify. Photographing birds wasn’t much of an option in the dull light, although I heard and saw quite a few, including bellbirds, fantails, a tomtit, and even a rather unusual looking white duck, presumably of domestic origins, but plants and fungi were plentiful and easy to photograph.
As we walked, I wondered what had led early settlers to be so obsessed with clearing landscapes like this that would have been marginal for agriculture at best. The steep hillsides with rocky outcrops showed signs of regeneration, and as we got further up the Taylor valley, and began to climb the mountain, the landscape seemed less disturbed.
The first couple of kilometres of the walk up the Taylor valley was easy, but then we began a steady climb up a four wheel drive track to a saddle, climbing about 400 metres over a kilometre and a half, and this was where copious quantities of chocolate were necessary as girl fuel. By way of comparison, the track to Mount Vernon on the Wither Hills climbs about the same amount, but over about an additional kilometre, and that has some sections that feel steep.
As we climbed the steep track, looking back down the valley I could see an unusual juxtaposition of plantation radiata pine on the flanks of some of the slopes further down the valley, and the orange-brown of dead wilding pines scattered amongst the native vegetation. Pines certainly make a good export earner for Marlborough, but sometimes they grow too well, and wilding pines are one of the most expensive pest plant species to control. In an ideal world, there would be forestry pines that can’t reproduce easily in the wild, allowing for economic benefits without the cost of controlling wildings.
There was quite a bit of bracken and mānuka alongside the track. These two species both a typical of open country that’s been cleared and begun to regenerate, and comparing Dad's photos from the 1960s to the landscape today, reveal how much regeneration has taken place. There was also quite a bit of matagouri, New Zealand’s only native plant with thorns, and a natural nitrogen fixer. Ubiquitous cabbage trees show up in quite a few places, as did scrubby tauhinu which will grow just about anywhere given half a chance.
Parting of ways
The steep climb ended for a bit at a saddle, where there was a suggestion of chocolate fish and a photo opportunity, however such were the crowds, that the chocolate fish supply had run out, leaving the girls bitterly disappointed. At the saddle, it was also extremely windy and chilly, so Anna managed to organise an impromptu play date with her friend since her friend’s mum had also had enough after the climb to the saddle. Her friend’s dad and I wanted to continue on to the summit, being slightly more intrepid or crazy depending on your perspective.
A biodiversity hotspot
I knew there was an easy section ahead, following the track around the mountain, as it turned out in the leeward side out of the wind, until a steep, rocky scramble of a few hundred metres reached the summit. By the time I got to the summit, the weather had closed in so the view was less than spectacular, although the wind had dropped. I did spot some interesting plants on the way up though, and was even fortunate enough to spot an earthball fungus. These fungi are quite seasonal, usually lurking beneath the ground growing on the roots of mānuka in a symbiotic relationship, to pop up above ground only when the conditions are right to spread spores. I didn’t expect to see many plants in flower being autumn, but did manage to spot a few, including a few pretty white Wahlenbergia or Harebells that are common around rocky parts of Marlborough, along with a Helichrysum, a small shrub with small yellow daisy like flowers.
The summit was a flat tussock area amongst the rocks, with a trig, and some solar powered communications antenna, along with a small shed, presumably to house batteries.
After some hot soup to refresh myself and relieve myself of some of the weight of carrying a full thermos up the mountain, it was time to descend, and I got back to the check-in area just as the rain was starting to settle in, in time for a coffee before I headed back to the car, on a now largely deserted section of Taylor Pass Road.
Cite this page
Cookson, C. (2021). Tramp the Ned - Climbing Blenheim's Mountain. Retrieved June, 19, 2021, from https://www.marlboroughonline.co.nz/marlborough/information/commentary/tramp-the-ned/
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