A Waioeka - Urewera crossing: Redpaths Road to SH38
- 4 – 7 days one way
Continuing my traverse of the North Island's Main Range, this trip crosses the Waioeka Conservation and (former) Urewera National Park, shadowing the main divide between SH2 and SH38.
This trip takes in my favourite North Island valley walk - traversing most of the Waioeka catchment. Deep, clear pools, home to both brown and rainbow trout. Good easy fine-gravel riverbed travel. Crossings no worse than thigh deep (normal flows). Everything a river walk should be.
Running out of river to follow, we then climb to Rangaakapua, - one of very few places in the Urewera range that you can get above the bushline. And to top it off, there's a cozy, little-visited 3-bunk hut sitting right there on the summit.
Entering the Urewera proper, and onto rough tracks in the gloom beneath tall, thick podocarp forest. Finally, a section along the famous 6-foot track to exit onto the Maungapohatu Acces Road, and eventually to the SH38 (Waikaremoane Road) summit.
|4 – 7 days|
Poorly marked in sections (Rangaakapua to Makomako). River travel in the Waioeka - easy in low flows but impassible after rain. Grades explained
No bookings — open access
No — open access
|SH38, Waikaremoana Road Summit.|
Altitude change 1,180m
It should be noted that whilst the Waioeka River is is a moderate-easy walk in low flows, it is a big river and would be impassible after rain. Caveat emptor.
Tokenui track roadend to Nikau Flats roadend. Road walk, 10km, 2 hours
For those coming from the Urutawa Range, the five kilometers down SH2 to Wairata Road are not the most exciting of walking, but at least 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!
Redpaths Road to Nikau Flats. 4WD track, benched tramping track. 10km, 2.5hrs
From the yards and woolshed at the end of Redpaths Road a 4Wd track drops to the river, crosses a sidecreek, and then climbs again to sidle 5km to the bushedge along river terraces. For the most part it passes through rough-grazed farmloand, with intermittent bush sections. After a couple of kilometers it climbs 100m to pass over a shoulder, cutting off a large bend in the river, before dropping again to low flats. After another brief section of sidling a face another set of flats is reached, with a walking track forking east to cross the river, 2km to Kotepato Hut (there is no bridge at that crossing, and the river frequently strands people in Kotepato after rain). To reach Nikau, however, we continue straight along the terraces on the true left. The bushedge is present ahead, and we drop right to the edge of the terrace above the river, where a gate and a signpost mark the start of DOC land and the track to Nikau Flats. 5km, 1.25 hrs
Coming from the Urutawas, the place feels familiar – great going along another old, benched sidle track up the valley. This starts sidling low and flat above the river, glimpses through the bush show deep, still pools separated by gentle rapids. Later the track climbs to around 100m above the river, before dropping again to the side creek just downstream from the hut. After the side creek a slip has wiped out the original track which sidled low (somebody has died trying to cross it, so best not to attempt it) and instead another brief climb and descent is required to bypass the slip and finally reach Nikau Flats and the hut. Benched track, 5km, 1.25 hrs
Nikau Flats Hut is a popular 6-bunker, which gets a lot of use by fishermen and hunters. There are great swimming holes just above the hut. If you get it to yourself it is a beautiful, peaceful place to relax and enjoy.
Nikau Flats Hut to Koranga Forks Hut. 6km, 1.5hrs, riverbed route – many crossings required.
The trip up the Waioeka is one of the highlights of a North Island traverse. A beautiful valley of verdant, mature podocarp forest - strung with epiphytes and supporting a rich understory of nikau palms and ferns. The river is flat, flowing in a single channel down a broader bed of mostly fine gravel – great walking. Deep green pools provide beauty and great spots to cool down, but all crossings are on good, shallow gravel: knee to thigh deep.
After a narrow section and a couple of large bends, the valley opens again – major forks visible ahead. Koranga Forks Hut is obvious, sitting on a low grassy terrace beyond the forks, looking down the valley.
Koranga Forks is another popular 6-bunker. Again, it gets a low of use by fishermen as it is easily accessible down the Koranga River from Moanui Road on a good sidle track. Trampers are alos common at weekends, walking the Tawa-Koranga Forks loop.
Koranga Forks Hut to Tawa Hut – riverbed route & brief track. 10km, 3hrs.
From Koranga Forks to Tawa Hut is more of the same, but longer. It is 9km up the riverbed to the Kahanui / Tataweka forks where the track starts. More broad gravel riverbed, more clear, deep pools, and plenty more river crossings. Again, all are knee to thigh deep in normal flows. Finally, at the bend 50m down from the Kahanui / Tataweka forks a DOC triangle on the eastern bank marks the start of the track. Another good, broad benched track climbs to terraces, and then sidles 1km past one side creek to emerge in thistle-covered grassy flats. Tawa Hut is tucked on a terrace slightly above and upstream.
Tawa Hut is a standard 6-bunk forestry hut with a woodburner and water-tank. It is frequently occupied by possumers, as are the other valleyfloor huts up all major tributaries from here. It also gets quite a few weekend trampers walking the Tawa-Koranga Forks loop, and the usual hunters.
Tawa Hut to Makakoere Hut. 6km, riverbed route, 2hrs
The sidle track heads 500m upriver from Tawa Hut before swinging east up the Kakahui (heading for Moanui roadend). At the bend / forks, a DOC sign should mark a rough track which drops back to the river allowing us to continue up the Makakoere – but this sign was missing on one of my visits, so be vigilant.
Upriver from Tawa, the deep pools, easy gravel and refreshing shaded valley are no more. Instead, the river becomes a small stream in an often-broad, rocky riverbed. Going is not actually hard – except in the sense of sharp hard rocks on soft paws and feet – but in many ways it is more reminiscent of the Raukumaras further north than the Waioeka / Ureweras. Fern forest remains on a few flat sections, occasional markers hinting that there was once a sidle track – but for the most part walking is on the rocky bed. 500m before the hut there’s a section of ‘rapids’ where the stream tumbles over boulders, which although not the size of a house, would make a cozy hut. Needless to say, the tramper must scramble over the same.
Shortly after, intermittent markers on the eastern bank climb though fern forest and cross a side creek to emerge on a terrace at the hut. This route is not obvious and is easy to miss. A more obvious track to the hut climbs from the broad river flats 50m upstream from the hut, doubling back and climbing the eastern face to a terrace where the hut sits hidden. The hut is not visible from the valley floor, and it is important to be vigilant for one of these two tracks to it – many parties report spending nights camped upriver having missed it, only to spot the track on their way back down river. The track is sometimes marked, and sometimes not – there seems to be an issue with the marker being removed.
Makakoere Hut is another standard 6-bunk forestry hut – this time with an open fire rather than woodburner. It is, again, popular with possumers and hunters and like many huts in the area get rough treatment at times. There is tank water at the hut – which is good, as it’s a long walk to the river.
Makakoere Hut to Rangaakapua Hut – 9km, riverbed route and overgrown, steep track. 4hrs
Above Makakoere Hut the valley again opens to broad flats – grass and moss becoming established and making great walking. Sadle this only lasts a kilometer or so, after which normal service resumes: rough river rocks and travel in the riverbed to the major forks. Taking the eastern fork (the Makokoere) the stream narrows further, dense vegetation crowding us into the riverbed. Gradient increases and the rocks become larger, and we spend most of the time scrambling over rocks or hopping over the now-narrow flow. Passing the 2nd (after the forks) major sidecreek on the west, keep a lookout for a large DOC triangle 80m further upriver, which marks the start of the track to Rangaakapua Hut. Slow riverbed route, 6km, 2.5hrs
Now for the hard bit – it’s only 3km to the hut, but a steep 700m climb, most of it in the first kilometer. The track starts vague, but good markers start to appear 50m above the river. What is consistent, however, is the gradient – it’s a steep, overgrown scramble some 300m to the first knob - unrelenting. Shortly before this outlying knob, the track cuts right off the spur and angles across the south face to hit the saddle beyond. A welcome, flat respite, but don’t get used to it, as another 300m near-vertical slog follows to the ridgeline. If, like me, you’ve come 25km from Nikau Flats today, you may be forgiven for feeling a tad tired.
Finally the track emerges onto an old slip, and the summit is in sight. Trees become dwarved, and daylight starts to penetrate. Cresting the ridge, we descend 60 hard-earned-meters to a boggy basin beyond, climb again (“only 2 more”) descend, and finally make one more 160m ascent to reach the 1310m summit. From here it’s a relatively easy kilometer of meandering along the top to emerge from stunted beach into leatherwood and find the very welcome sight of Rangaakapua Hut. Overgrown track, 3km, 1.5hrs
Rangakaapua sits on the boundary of mossy cloud- (‘goblin’) forest and leatherleaf scrub. A great 3-bunk hut, with 3 more spare mattresses to go on the floor. There’s a woodburner in it’s own alcove with amply drying space above, and an impressive library. Insulated and warm once the fire’s going, despite it’s altitude.
Rangaakapua Hut to Mangatoatoa Hut – overgrown track, 4.5km, 2hrs
South-west of Te Rangaakapua, the track starts through leatherleaf and intermittent clearings. Badly marked, and slow going casting around to relocate it after each clear section. The views, however, are impressive: range after range fading into the distance, the sheer face of the scared Maungapohatu to the south. Dropping west the track enters the bush, and immediately becomes overgrown – more slow going. Marking is generally ok, but there are a few crucial sections where it vanishes completely and good map and compass work is required to locate the correct ridge to follow. It seems to take an age to reach the track junction, but when we do it is marked by an obvious. Marked by an aged red signpost, dating from before the days of DOC, the writing pretty much obliterated by time and graffiti, but it’s presence at least marking the spot.
Dropping SSW off the ridge for a kilometer or so, it crosses a small stream, and emerges onto a grassy paddock at Mangatoatoa Hut.
Mangatoatoa is a recently refurbished 8-bunker, in a nice sunny spot. It gets a bit of use by hunters, but is not a busy hut, and is well cared for by Urewera standards. You might even find some firewood in the woodstore!
Mangatoatoa Hut to Makomako Hut. Track (overgrown), 5km, 2hrs
Dropping to the river forks below Mangatoatoa the track heads down a crumbling ridgeline, so crumblesd in fact that on my last visit it was necessary to scramble off it and head down the creek instead. It then climbs up the spur opposite – not the next one downriver, as indicated on some maps. The start of the track is marked, as is the track itself, but it has not been cut in years. Thankfully the vegetation is fairly sparse so it’s more of a route-finding challenge than an actual bush-bash. The climb is only 200m, but feels like more, followed by more smaller ups and downs on the long meandering ridgeline before descending to the next creek - after which we repeat the whole sequence again. This time markers are sparser and it’s very easy to lose the track both on the climb, and where it leaves the ridgeline. Good map & compass work (or a good nose for tracks at least) may be required to locate the track in places. Finally, after crossing a third stream, the track climbs yet again to emerge in the large short-cropped clearing at Makomako Hut, carpeted by deer-pellets.
Makomako is easily accessed both of foot and on horseback, sitting as it does on the 6’ track. It does not fare as well as nearby Mangatoetoe, and cops quite a bit of abuse. It sleeps 8-12 on two platforms, and has a woodburner and an additional fireplace outside in the remains of a previous hut.
Makomako Hut to SH38 (Waikaremoana Road), good track / road. 23km, 6hrs
It’s a long, but relatively easy slog from Makomako to SH38. From the hut the broad, benched 6-foot track sidles contours in a generally southwards direction to the turnoff a couple of km ENE of Maungapohatu. Unfortunately, here the good benched track continues straight on into the private land, and we must turn off it and climb on what is now just a standard tramping track. A kilometer later there’s a DOC signpost – the crossing with Ruas Track – the only time I’ve seen times measured in days on a DOC signpost! Thankfully however, we’re not going that way, and carry on south dropping and climbing through several small valleys to reach the Maungapohatu Access Road at the boundary of the private land. You can drive this far, but no further, and the place has a reputation as ‘a bad spot to leave your vehicle’. 10km, 3hrs
There’s no lift for me, however, and so I carry on by foot for the remaining 13km to SH38. Sidling for a few kilometers the road crosses a creek, swings sharply west, and begins a long, steady climb to the 1200m Huiarau Range. There is no water at dry times from the creek before the climb, all the way to SH38 – be warned. There’s not much to say about the walk, other than that it offers glimpses back into the private Maungapohatu valley, and seems to take forever! There are several good cleared camping spots along the access road, but none have obvious water supplies, and as such are probably used more by people in vehicles.
The old shelter at the SH38 junction is long gone, but if you do need to camp, there is a clearing where it used to sit, 50m before you reach the highway, and there is a small, but reliable creek for water on the other side of the highway, just west of the Whakataka Hut track sign.