A Whirinaki crossing - Waikaremoana Road Summit to Rangitaiki Tavern
- 6 – 10 days
- One way
Majestic podocarp forest - straight-turnked trees, reaching for the sky, bearded in epiphytes, the forest floor below covered in a lush understory of green fern. The constant melody of birdsong.
Wide, platformed, historic pack tracks, so well maintained that many huts are visited by cyclists.
Scrubby faces of sun-baked rock, the deafening chorus of screeching cicedas.
20+km of unbroken rough, scrubby rigeline, uncut since the late 1970s. Huts with hut-books dating to the same era.
Whirinaki: a place of contrasts,
A crossing of the Whirinaki Forest Park from the Waikaremoana Road (summit) to SH5 south of Rangitaiki. The route follows (approximately) the main divide - or at least the highest ranges in the area. This was walked as part of my 'Main Divide of New Zealand' trip from East Cape to West Cape, but could easily be walked on its own.
|6 – 10 days|
1st 2 days are spent on ridgeline 'tracks' not been recut in 40 years. Incl 20+km of ridgeline with no water or huts My route from Waiotukapiti to Mangakahika Hut was the hardest bush-tramping I've ever done, but as discussed, easier routes may exis Grades explained
No bookings — open access
No — open access
|Waikaremoana Road Summit (SH38)|
|Rangitaiki Tavern (SH2 - Napier - Taupo Road)|
Altitude change 902m
SH38 (Waikaremoana Rd) summit to Whakataka Hut. Very overgrown track. 4hrs
This 'short walk into a hut' is a bastard of a trip. There is no more polite word for it. Sitting on SH38 at the "Whakataka Hut 5hrs" sign with 5 hours of daylight left, having a leisurely, if late, lunch, confidently saying 2.5 hours to go – I did not know what I was in for.
The track makes a steep 100m climb from the saddle to the ridgeline, then hangs a left and meanders for 8.5km along the tops to Whakataka Hut: how hard can that be? Within 100m of the road you know you’re in trouble – the track has not been cut in years (once in the late ‘80s according to the hut book). New DOC orange markers are reasonably frequent, but there is no ground trail as you climb to the summit. Slow going, route finding, but not yet the end of the world. However, on reaching the tops things really turn bad. 2m tall fern and scrub cover the ridgeline – hiding all track markers from view until you are on top of them. The only evidence of a ‘track’ is that the scrub parts evenly when you push through it. Get off the track and try the same trick and you’ll know what I mean. I lose the track 4 or 5 times in the first kilometer or so – an experience costly in time, scrambling, through scrub, crawling around looking for it again, generally finding it again several hundred meters later once past the section of bad fern / peppertree / windfall. Very, very slow going - around 1km/hr for me, compared to 3-4km/h expected.
By Rauhatau high point things start to improve. Fern starts to become infrequent, with just bands to navigate through – open beech in between. Forest floor of leaf litter still shows imprints of where the track once went, and it becomes possible to follow the ground trail. The open bush allows you to see as far as the next marker. But it’s still a virtually abandoned track – but followable, with care, all the way to the hut.
Shortly before Rauhatau summit the track follows a small creek, and flat potential camping spots exist, for those who need them.
Whakataka Hut to Waiotukapiti Hut. Scrubby, abandoned ridgeline track & riverbed route, 22km, 12hrs
Whakataka Hut book lets you know what you’re in for. Whilst the tough track from SH38 had been cut only once by DOC since their creation in the ‘80s, they’ve never cut the track on to Waiotukapiti. And it’s 22km.
From the junction above the hut, heading SSW, the bush is mainly beech with only occasional bands of fern and scrub. The ground trail is often visible on the forest floor, and going is reasonable – 2km/h is achievable. Unfortunately the new DOC triangles stop after a couple of km, and track markers become very sporadic – a mix of flagging tape and old NZFS permolat. Careful map & compass work is required on several summits to choose the correct ridgeline down.
Nearing the junction with the Waikaremoana track, things deteriorate. The last 500m to the track junction is solid scrub – mainly crawling, with some climbing. It takes me over 1hr to cover 500m. Don’t waste time looking for the actual junction or ongoing track itself, as both are obliterated by scrub. Just concentrate on making progress in the correct direction.
Beyond the junction, the next 500m is the same, until, crossing a creek, things start to improve. Eventually you get back into open beech, a faint ground trail, and 40+ year old track markers. A few high points offer glimpse views down towards Lake Waikaremoana.
The turn off the ridge is well marked, the track ok for the 1st kilometer. After 1km it swings of the map-marked route, down the next spur north – the one heading between two close-together streams. Track markers become almost non-existent, and the trail disappears in low fern. Around the 700m marker the track swings south, cuts through a creek and basin, and sidles to an unnamed/unnumbered 700m knob from where it cuts down the next spur south – the spur where the map shows it running. It remains poorly marked and hard to spot all the way to the creek, but basically – stick to the spur until you reach water. A signpost at the bottom states an optimistic ‘Lake Waikaremoana, 7hrs’. Potential campspots exist at the track/creek junction.
From the junction you can either climb the ridge opposite & follow that to the Waiau at Waiotukapiti Hut, or follow the creek down. After my experience of uncut unmarked tracks, I take the creek.
To start the river is steep, tight and full of slippery boulders. However, things slowly improve to fine gravel. On reaching the main Waiau river, head upriver for a couple of bends to the hut, which is obvious in a large clearing. At least 1 crossing is required, but 3 make it easier. The river was thigh deep in normal-low flows. There is a cage upriver of the hut to cross in, but sidling to it would not be easy – more appropriate for those that took the ridgeline option.
Waiotukapiti Hut is wonderful. An old slab-built hut, rough native timber - hand hewn – on the inside. But later clad in standard corrugated iron to make it weather, rat and flyproof. A great compromise to preserve a unique historic structure, whilst making it robust and practical. It sleeps 6 in 2 stacks of 3 bunks, has tank water and a sink, and a good open fire which does not smoke in the usual way.
Waiotukapiti Hut to Mangakahika Hut
I cannot tell you how to do this section, only how not to do it.
An old route (pre-DOC) allegedly heads over Maungataniwha from the creek behind Blue Slip, getting up into at least the scrub and maybe into open tops above. However, it has not been maintained in half a century, and whilst hut book logs at both ends show parties heading up there to look for the route, there are no entries showing anyone returning.
A long, but probably easier circuit would take you upriver to Central Waiau Hut, through the untracked Wairoa Gorge, then down the newly recut, platformed track to Mangakahika via Rodgers Hut. Assuming the Wairoa is low, this would probably be the best option. Tracks in the Waiau have not been maintained and this would be a riverbed route all the way to the Rodgers-Skips Track.
What I did:
The following is ‘for the record’. It was ‘doable’ but I would never recommend it.
We headed upriver to Blue Slip – good going on a easy riverbed, with a few crossings. The old sidle track over blue slip is poorly marked, but still followable, climbing steeply to the ridgeline, then swinging west from the summit in an arc above Maungangara Stream. At the low-point of the ridge we dropped west into the stream through good open bush. Camps spots exist by the stream – presumably bases for hunters.
Heading upriver, things start ok. Good terraces come and go, but travel upriver in the riverbed or banks is no problem. A couple of waterfalls require only easy scrambles to pass.
2km above blue slip, at the main forks, we take the north branch, and here things start to go wrong. Heading up, you can see the valley gorging out ahead. Sidecreeks tumble down from the slopes ahead if waterfalls over 100m high. Rounding the bend in the creek & swinging back west, there’s bad news ahead. A single fall of 60m-or-so blocks progress up the main creek. Both valleysides are sheer bluffs at that point and no sidling is possible.
Heading back downstream we find a spot that we can climb the steep spur to the ridgeline south of the falls. This is very steep, crumbly and dodge at first, but once out of the valley we find ourselves on a good, open, climbing ridgeline. We climb until we reach the 1100m contour. Above this the map shows the ridgeline becoming steep & bluffed (later sight confirms this) so we sidle the north face at this height. Bush is open at first to the sidestream 500m short of the saddle, just 2km from the hut. This can be cross with care, and after a scramble we reach another open ridge beyond. Continuing to sidle, we soon reach another (unmarked) sidecreek, and here all options of sidling end. Sheer bluffs lie beyond, and later views from opposite confirm that onward travel would have been impossible. Instead, we drop to the main creek, and climb the spur leading to the ridgeline opposite some 200m E of pt1232. This spur starts ok in open bush, but becomes very tight and scrubby near the top. Thankfully the dog’s nose saves the day and we crawl through otherwise unpenetrable scrub along goat tracks.
Once on the ridgeline and heading SW, things do not improve. Solid, tangled scrub, with steep, bluffed faces below. Occasionally dropping on the face helps, but likely as not leaves you bluffed and exposed. It’s only 1km to the next unnumbered peak, but takes nearly 2 hours.
From here we swing NW, dropping to pt1091. Once off the main ridge the bush opens up, but becomes steep. Goat tracks show the only safe route down. Things become scrubby again below pt 1091, and its tough going finding the spur SW towards the hut: fern and lawyer over constant windfall, but eventually, dropping, you get back into open bush. The turn where the spur swings west is not obvious and it is easy to find yourself instead on a steep, bluffed spur dropping south into the creek, and having to backtrack, as we did.
Eventually, the good spur reaches the creek, which is broad and graveled: easy travel the last 500m to the hut.
Those last 2km from the head of the Maungangara to the hut took over 5 hours.
Mangakahika Hut is a spacious 8-bunker with a big covered deck and a large paddock of short-0cropped grass outside. Bathing pools have been constructed in the stream to the south. After that day it feels like paradise!
Mangakakika Hut to Central Te Hoe Hut. Bemched track, 7km, 2hrs,
Mangakahika hut sits a couple of hundred meters of the main drag. A broad graveled track leads west, crssing the river to the Rodgers-Central Te Hoe track. This has been recently recut by dingo, and regravelled (2014) and is a motorway compared to what came before. Although not officially a dual-use track, many visitors cycle it as far as Central Te Hoe – though not beyond.
The benched track climbs, sidling the vallesyside through tall podocarp forest, with verdant fern and epiphytes below, finally running out of space and execting a couple of short zigzags to reach the saddle into the Te Hoe catchment. There follows a similar gentle, sidling descent. On reaching the valleyfloor a large clearing shows evidence of a former hut, and a pleasant campsite – though the creek was dry when I passed. We follow the river down the valley, as it become larger and the valley narrower. In places the track sidles above the river, and in one it has been eroded away and we’re forced to drop into the riverbed for a hundred meters – what hardship! Passing the Upper Te Hoe turnoff, and crossing a rickety wooden swingbridge, the track climbs and sidles again for some 800m before dropping to large, scrubby flats at Central Te Hoe.
Central Te Hoe is a large hut with a massive kitchen / diningroom, and two smaller bunkrooms – a layout almost identical to Rangiwahia in the Ruahines.
Central Te Hoe to Upper Te Hoe (via track). 6.5km, 2.5hrs, part-benched tramping track
Heading back upriver from Central Te Hoe it’s 800m to the turnoff to Upper Te Hoe. Again, the track is a benched track, though narrower and climbing steadily. Gaining altitude rapidly, it traverses a face of near sheer bluffs, the track cut right into the face. You can see why it’s not a cycle track. Some 200m of altitude are gained this way, before gaining the ridgeline, then returning back to sidle the north face. After another 100m-or-so of altitude, stacked branches block the way forwards along the benched track, and a well-trodden tramping track cuts south to return to the ridge. Though steeper, and slower going on a lower grade tramping track, the walk up the ridgeline is in many easy more pleasant, shaded from the sun by mature bush, tall trunks of hammered bark reaching skyward for the light.
All itn all it’s a pleasant climb to the first of three 1000m+ peaks, the track then rising and falling with the ridgeline over the remaining two. After the thirtd, the benched pack-track returns – god knows where it’s been in the meantime – sidling the western face. With it comes a complete change. Majestic podocarps are replaced by beech; dry faces of sun-bleached rock by fern and moss. Each gully and crevice a trickle of water. The nenched track winds its way I and out of side creeks on a stead gradient – a surveyor-drawn line – all the way to the creek.
A mossy-green wooden bridge awaits, then a sidling climb – another 300m upriver to a terrace and the hut.
Central Te Hoe Hut echoes the Mangakahika Hut plan – this time with the original 9 bunks still stacked 3-high down the long wall. A long deck down the front, on which to laze in the baking afternoon sun.
Central Te Hoe to Pakahunui Roadend. 9km, 3hrs, benched track
The platformed track climbs, zigzagging behing Upper Te Hoe Hut, back in mature podocarp bush. Unlike the track from central Te Hoe, it’s not been maintained for a few years, and is due a haircut (2014). As you climb, a ferny undergrowth appears, covering the track, and slowing progress as you can’t see where you’re putting you feet. We climb to 1200m, 400m above the hut, reaching the junction to Upper Whirinaki Hut after 1.5 hours – the half-way point, and the end of the climb. Beyond, it’s downhill to the roadend (heard that before!), a barely noticeable sidle down the valleyside. Sadly major windfalls interrupt the easy going with tangled scrambles.
Suddenly the bush ends, and we’re on a sandy track – a water-cut canyon through solid scrub. In this vein, it drops for a few hundered meters more to the creek, climbing briefly and emerging onto a sandy 4WD track: the roadend. The former Pakahunui hut is no more.
Pakahunui Roadend to former Matakuhia Saddle Hut site (roadend), 7km, forestry tracks, 1.5 hrs
The 4WD track west of the Pakahunui roadend starts through manuka scrub, but after a few km enters pine blocks. These were being felled in 2014, and though no signage informed those exiting from the Whirinaki of the fact, the road was closed to the public. Luckily it was a Sunday!
Cutting south ,away from the creek, the track climbs into a post-logging wasteland, meanders on bare ridges through a landscape of desolation. After 6km, cresting a rise, an obvious crossroads is reached, the left turn – not signposted – but leading to the former Matakuhia Saddle Hut site, where to destruction ends, and native bush resumes.
All that remains of Matakuhia Saddle Hut is the fireplace, but a handy signpost points down a canyon-like track into the bush: Upper Matakuhia Hut, 3hrs.
Matakuhia Saddle Hut site (roadend) to Upper Matakuhia Hut, benched track, 6km, 2hrs
From the former hut site, a good, platformed track disappears like a canyon into the bush. Maintained regularly by local hunters it is in great condition, and make for an easy walk into the hut. We zigzag down to the river, passing a few side creeks, then cross to sidle on the true left. After sidling easily through good bush, several kilometers before I expect it, the track emerges onto an open river flat, and there in front of us is Upper Matakuhia Hut.
As with the track, Upper Matakuhia Hut has been well cared for by local hunters. Sleeping 8 in a horse-shoe arrangement of bunks, there’s a woodburner built into the original fireplace and a long cooking bench. Water is from the creek, but that’s barely 20m away. A comfortable hut in great condition – well done fellas.
Upper Matakuhia Hut to Matakuhia/Oputeke track junction, 4km, 1.5hrs, track then riverbed route
The well-maintained track continues downriver from Upper Matakuhia hut, despite warnings in the hut book to the contrary. It continues benched, and recently cut (2014), crossing to true right, then back to true left, until finally, 1km before the track junction, all maintenance ceases. Seeing how it was prior to their work makes me only appreciate more the work the local hunters have done to open it up: huge windfall ahs obliterated the track. Tall scub and fern has obscured it. Slips have destroyed it. Following it beyond here is not even worth considering. The best option is drop to the creek and follow that: easy going until a gorge just above the track junction. Here markers point you back up the true left bank, and a faint but followable route sidles above the gorge to where a large signpost <-Upper Hut | Lower Hut -> marks the junction.
The Lower Matakuhia Hut is only 2km down river, but reportedly takes 4 hours from the junction - expect very overgrown travel if you head that way,.
Matakuhia/Oputeke track junction to Oputeke roadend
Dropping west from the junction, the track crosses the creek below a confluence. It sidles, climbing, on the southern face of the sidecreek, though old-growth podocarp, windfall aplenty. The track crosses a scarred-out gully, and is hard to find as it sidles out the far side, slightly higher. At the next gully, the same thing happens again, and I failed completely to find it as it exited the far side. After wasting much time looking, I climb the spur on the far side to the ridgeline – reasonable going though scrubby with low fern, and follow the main ridge west until I pick up the track again where the maps shows it cutting across to the south face.
Beyond this point it has had sporadic, amateur maintenance Scrub is cut off at thight height, so although not great going, the track is at least identifiable. It continues to climb through mature beech, sidling most of the highpoints. The suddenly, the bush ends and 2-4m high regenerating scrub takes over. It’s light below the open canopy, and lots of thick, ferny undergrowth results. Four more kilometers of the same follows along the ridgeline, before finally the track swings best belw Opureke and drops down a face towards the pine forest below. Though going is slow and scrubby, the track is well marked and can be followed with a bit of care.
Another sudden transformation follows – this time from scrub to pine trees. The tramping track ends abruptly at a rough forestry track which leads left or right. With no clue from the map or signposts I turn right (the mnore downhill option), and soon find myself down at the main Waipunga forestry road.
Oputeke Roadend to Rangitaiki Tavern. 18km, road-bash, 3.5hrs
A long and uninteresting road-bash follows – 6km south on the gravel Waipunga track to the old state-highway bridge. Turning right and climbing the hill the new state highway is over the rise opposite about 1km west. Again- the only consolation is blackberries.
Finally, a 12km trudge along SH5 follows to the Rangitaiki Tavern (on the left 5km before Rangitaiki where the map shows ‘historic hotel’). A boring walk, but eased by the fact that I know that NZ’s best burger, and the first beer in over 20 days awaits.
There are basic, but cheep and comforatble cabins at the Rangitaiki Tavern. I left a food drop there, and the owners we very helpful in helping me get other supplies I needed from town when they were going that way. Fully recommended for friendship, service, price and a damn good feed.
I have hitched this road before from Te Haroto, with success – but it is a notoriously difficult road to hitch out from. The air of desolation and remoteness from the post-logging wasteland does not, I believe, encourage people to stop. Both intercity and Naked Bus travel the route, but only Intercity guarantees that it will stop at intermediate points between Taupo and Napier.