Urutawa Crossing: Motu Road to Waioeka Gorge

Urutawa Conservation Area

  • 2 – 4 days one way
  • Medium

A north-east - south-west crossing of the Urutawa conservation area from Toatoa on the Motu Road to SH2 in the Waioeka valley.

A 2-4 day trip through some little-tramped country. Not much in the way of views, but plenty of bush, rivers and history to make up for it.

This cam be walked on its own, or joined with a Raukumara east-west crossing, or Waioeka-Uruwera crossing to make a longer trip along the main divide. I walked it as part of a 44-day tramp from East Cape to Wellington - the north island leg of my East Cape to West Cape challenge.

Urutawa Crossing: Motu Road to Waioeka Gorge: Key information
Walking time
2 – 4 days
One way
One way
Whichever route you take you'll spend time in narrow, gorged riverbeds and sidling steep valleysides. Historic tracks are not maintained and have frequent slips and dropouts. Grades explained
No bookings — open access
No — open access
Urutawa Crossing: Motu Road to Waioeka Gorge: Find it
Toatoa, Motu Road
SH2, Waioeka Recreation Reserve
100m – 647m
Altitude change 547m



A crossing of the Urutawa – following the direction of the main divide – is not the uncertain, tough slog presented by the Raukumaras, but is still a challenging tramp.  There are sections of good track in the range, and historically it has been criss-crossed by benched tracks which sidle high on the valleysides: flat and broad - the Urutawa Roads. These were constructed early last century in a project to open the country up to farming.  Now, having walked though the area a couple of times, I have to ask: farming what? Goats? Possums?  There’s barely a single square kilometer of flat land in the whole range, and it’s hard to imagine any domesticated stock coping with the terrain.  But that said, it has left a useful, if crumbling, network of tracks & roadbeds for the tramper to discover.


It is not all easy going, however, the tops are thick and tangled. The riverbeds steep, narrow, gorged and the valleysides choked with windfall and creeper.  Once you get off the tracks, and you must do a few times to cross the park, it is slow going.


A true ‘main divide; trip would probably head up Pakihi to Pakihi Heads Hut (rumoured to still exits), cross the route marked on maps to Wahaatua Hut (again rumoured to exist) and then upriver and over another saddle to Mangamuku Hut (which does exist), exiting down the river to SH2.  This is the route I’d planned, and follows quite closely the North Island main divide (if you ignore the Motu cutting right through the range - a problem to be repeated further south with the Manawatu). However,  it spends a lot of time in riverbeds, and with the dog still limping on blistered pawpads after 10 days on river rocks in the Raukumaras, I opted for the easier, more tracked route described here.



Toatoa to Pakihi Track (2hrs, 13km, Motu Road)


From Toatoa the Motu road climbs, gaining some 200m to the saddle,  before twisting and sidling down into the Whitikau valley 10 km to the south. A further 2km of climb the road to the ridgeline west of the Whitikau valley and the start of the Pakihi Track.  A longdrop and shelter mark the beginning.




Pakihi Track to Pakihi Hut (2hrs, 8km, benched track)


Pakihi is the first of the Urutawa roads that we meet on this trip, and the best maintained.  Once a 6’ platformed pack track cut into the valleyside – surveyed and engineered on a constant gradient, sidling in an out of sidecreeks as it drops to the Pakihi River.  The track was allowed to fall into disrepair, to the extent that the first time I walked it a warning sign at the start warned of frequent slips and dropouts, advising that it was for experienced trampers only.  All that has changed with the coming of John Key’s cycleway. The track has been recut using dingos and is again a platformed roadway, fresh new timber bridges across each creek.


On such a good benched track, it’s an easy 8km downhill walk to Pakihi Hut.  The track actually bypasses Pakihi on the uphill side and it’s necessary to turn off and drop to the hut – unsignposted on my visit, but the only sidetrack you pass.


Pakihi Hut was a standard 6-bunk forestry hut, but a huge verandah has been walled in with Perspex, and an additional 6 mattresses added – though the deck could sleep many more. There’s a woodburner, tank water – and a good outdoor picnic table with views down the Pakihi.





Pakihi Hut to Wahaatua Stream (rough tramping track, 2hrs, 5km, 500m climb / descent)


The new trackworks have completely obliterated the start of the Waahatua track at Pakihi Hut.  Heading from the hut in the upriver direction, and continuing to sidle south from the point where the benched track zigzags up to join the Pakihi Track we picked up the old tramping track sidling and dropping to the Pakihi Stream, upriver of the hut. We cross the river and head a hundred-or-so meters upstream past the next sidecreek on the west. An obvious spur lies just upriver of the sidecreek, and after a crumbly, scree-cut section at the start, an obvious, marked track runs up it.  This hadn’t been cut for a few years when I visited in 2014, but was reasonable to follow with good markers.


The spur climbs steeply, gaining 400m or so, before coalescing into a ridgeline which meanders, climbing and dropping until it reaches the highpoint at 605m. Beyond, the track swings sharply west and drops in a series of steep steps to the Wahaatua Stream.


A well used campsite lies at the foot of the track beside the river.




Wahaatua track-end to Te Waiti Hut, 1hr, 2.5km, overgrown, formerly benched track


Crossing the Wahaatua to the flats on the far bank, triangles lead up the southern valleyside from the back of the flat.  The marked track climbs some 40m before depositing you on another ‘Urutawa road’ (pack track). This one has not had a dingo through it, and is overgrown and crumbling.  Having delivered you onto the pack-track, the markers stop and you are left to pick your way west along it, sidling westwards along the valleyside.  In places it has slipped away and it is necessary to scramble up and round the falls, and pick up the track again on the far side. The track finally emerges onto a flat terrace of tall grass in between the junction of the Whaaatua and Tokenui. A few plastic bags have been tied to trees to mark the start for those heading east, but it’s not obvious.  Here it joins another Urutawa road, which runs down the Tokenui valley, dropping to the river junction in a series of zigzags.  DOC have removed the markers that formerly pointed up this track, and instead a signpost at the bottom points people unhelpfully up the riverbed.


Crossing the river a few times, heading downstream, a good pack track emerges from the flow on the eastern bank and climbs 30m to grassy, sloped terraces. 200m beyond in a large paddock site Te Waaiti Hut.


Architecturally basic, Te Waiiti has 3 ply-clad rooms with a monopitch roof, which also covers a large deck to the south, where there’s a plumbed sink. There’s a woodburner and a table in the kitchen, and a bunkroom on either side. It’s a functional hut, but has easy access up the valley, and receives a lot of abuse. Likely as not there’ll be no firewood, but could light the fire with all the porn-magazines.




Te Waaihi to Midway Hut. (1.5hrs, 4.5km, route along an overgrown once-platformed track)


Back upstream at the river junction above Te Waaiti, we ignore the DOC sign pointing upriver, and climb the worn zigzag track back to the river terrace above.  Heading south along the 1st terrace, and after a buit of nosing around, we finally pick out our next Urutawa road heading into thick low bush.  For the 1st 2km, this wanders in and out of grassy sloped clearings – quite well defined through the bush, but indiscernible across the clearings – meaning it often takes a bit of casting about to pick it up again where you re-enter the bush.  It keeps roughly the same altitude, so don’t make the mistake of climbing/dropping too far. Once past all the clearings it’s an easy walk along the historic ‘road’ to Midway Hut.  Just before the hut there’s a junction, with a branch of the road dropping west down to the river. The track straight on was less obvious and easy to miss.  The hut lies 200m beyond.


Midway is in fact a tent camp, rather than a hut: a canvas structure over a local-timber frame.  The western wall contains a large stone-built fireplace and chimney.  There are 4 bunks with less-than-hygenic looking mattresses.  Functional.  The first time I visited the hut was getting a fair about of use, but in 2014 there were weeds growing up the door and it clearly hadn’t been used for a while.




Midway Hut to Tokenui Hut, 3hrs, 6km. Route partially along old roadbed, partially in river


Above Midway the road deteriorates considerably – some parties prefer to take the river all the way from here, though numerous gorges make that tricky too. Heading upstream along the road, we soon pass an old faded, rotting NZFS sign saying ‘track closed’, and climb, sidling the valleyside. A couple of small slips require circumnavigating in this first section. The road sidles in and out of two major creeks, and is also washed out at the crossings of both. But all-in-all the first 3km are ‘doable’.


Then, on a precipitous section of valleyside, we pass a piece of flagging tape and it all turns to custard.  The track formerly sidled a cliff-face, but at first half, and then all the track has dropped away.  The section is not crossable.  Dropping down (where the flagging tape was) leads steeply down to the river, but that is in a slot gorge at this point, and so must be sidled.  You can climb back to the road after the dropout and follow it for another 500m to another creek, after which it seems to disappear entirely.  Or you can just sidle the creek. Either way, 500m upstream from the dropout, you are going to end up down in the river.


The river starts gorged with pools and narrow chutes of water cut through smooth, slippery rock.  Slowly, it opens to a flat bed of rounded, slippery river-rocks and later to coarse shingle. Sections of fern-forest covered flats appear, where you can get out of the creek and walk on dry land. Later still, track marker make an appearance – white squares, red dots, and finally DOC triangles.  There’s a track junction, with a turn off climbing to the tops. Tall grass appears – taller than me, and the track vanishes under it. Back into the riverbed – still 1km to go up the grassy flats to the hut.


Finally, Tokenui Hut, set back at the base of the slope on the western side of the valley.   4 bunks and an open fire.  A large green short-cropped paddock outside – carpeted with deer sign,  clearly well used.  A collection of previous occupants rubbish in drums outside. Nice!  Signs down the valley have persistently said Tokonui is ‘DOC use only’, but from the hut book DOC are almost never here, and then only to check the place – so I’d say this can be happily ignored.  Suspect it’s just an excuse for now keeping it up to public hut standard.




Tokenui Hut to SH2, Waioeka Gorge Reserve. 8km, track & riverbed route


There’s more tall grass and ongaonga on the flats above Tokenui, 1km of it to where the track climbs out of the valley.  A grunt of a climb up a spur, then a vaguely marked, windfall-smitten sidle track along the western side of the ridge before finally dropping down another steep spur into the next creek.  The track does not drop down the side-creek, as indicated on newer topomaps.


There is no track down the valley, but travel is reasonable – large flats of fern-trees – tramping on the terraces amongst them rather than in the river. Crossing a large side-stream 1.5km above the climb out we come across an old concrete slab and chimney on the western bank – another hut, gone. 


The track out of the valley is obvious if you’re looking fore it – the valley narrows as it turns the sharp bend east. Just beyond, a large DOC triangle marks the start of the track, a signpost on the opposite bank in case you miss it.  The track is wonderful – a broad, platformed pack-track zigzagging its way up the face.  Soft grass underfoot.  Great going – our last Urutawa road.  We climb to the saddle, and sidle down the next valley, crossing the creek 1km from the road.  Finally, drop to a gravel road beside the river, opposite the picnic area.  200m to the west we hit state highway 2.



Waioeka Recreation Reserve to Waioeka River (Redpath's Road) - 10km, 2hrs, highway / gravel road


For those heading on into the Waioeka and Uruweras, the five kilometers down SH2 to Wairata Road are not the most exciting of walking, but the verge is broad and the traffic light. There are then 5km further up Wairata / Redpaths Roads to the Nikau Flats roadend.  At least there are blackberries to eat!

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ID 10231

About this track

Added 26 May 2014 by madpommadpom. 6 revisions, most recently 7 June 2014 by madpommadpom.
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