The tramp to Waitewaewae is an interesting 4-6 hour walk (each way) which takes the walker through a variety of scenery. It is the first (or last, depending on direction) part of the Tararua Peaks tramp, and is a nice get-away for one or two days from the grind of life. A fit tramper can walk this (one way) in about 5 hours, the less fit in 6 hours (7 on the outside) and a few of the walking elite could topple this in 4 hours each way.
Access to the Waitewaewae track is from the Otaki Forks entrance to the Tararua Forest Park - take the well signposted entrance on SH1 just before Otaki township (if you cross the Otaki river, you have successfully missed the turning) and follow the road until the end. Eventually the farm country largely disappears and the road becomes unsealed and narrow before reaching the end. Park your car at the overnight carpark and sign-in at the caretaker's residence, then walk back about 5 minutes to the swing bridge by the picnic area.
Lead on, Mac Duff (1 hour)
Cross the swing bridge (across the Waiotauru River, which meets the Otaki slightly downriver) and follow the signposts to the second swing bridge (this time across the Otaki River, 20-30 minutes from the first swing bridge). From here, follow the generally well kept track through the recovering undergrowth and fallow farm-land for another 30 minutes or so until you reach the bush line. You may wish to take a break and get some water down - on a hot day this can be a very hot part of the track. The Otaki Forks area used to be farmed until about 20-30 years ago, when it was decided to kick the cattle off and bring the forest back. Sheep were even seen halfway up the Fields Track, though they were so wild that the opportunity for lamb stew was not very great.
Bush edge to Papa Creek and Steam Engine (1 hour)
Once in the bush line the track evens out a bit, twisting and turning as it follows the old steam-tram line. There is plenty of railway iron to be seen. The only real obstacle of note is a nasty slip that the track climbs (after taking you right to the very edge of it for a big look down of course) up and around, and requires a bit of grunt. The track then drops down the other side to Papa Creek, which has a nice rocky patch in the middle to sun-bathe and have a lunch break. Having taken the proffered break, take up packs and walk on for another 5-10 minutes until you reach the remains of the old steam engine at the end of the track. The area around Otaki Forks was extensively logged, with the logs being loaded and carried to the Otaki River where they were dumped in the river to be taken downstream in the next flood. Thankfully this has now ceased, and the track passes through recovering forest on its way to Waitewaewae.
Steam Engine to the Plateau (1-1.5 hours)
From the steam engine to the creek is about 5-10 minutes. Here-after, the track follows the creek up to a saddle known as the 'Plateau'. The track is in many cases little more than a bush-trail and quite often the creek is the track. Getting wet shoes and feet is obligatory, not optional. After following the creek you will eventually get to within a few metres of the top, where a final push is required by climbing up tree limbs and deeply rutted track.
The Plateau to the Wet-Dry Junction (1 hour)
The Plateau is a damp, muddy affair that takes about 30-40 minutes to cross. The track is muddy in many places, especially after a rainfall and to conquer this ponga limbs have been laid down on some muddy patches. Eventually the Plateau comes to an end and drops down towards a creek. The descent is fairly rapid. Eventually the track meets up with the creek, where you have the option of taking a) the wet weather route or b) the other route.
Option A: Dry weather route (20-30 minutes)
Follow the track which proceeds quickly down the creek for about 5 minutes before poking out where it meets the Otaki River. Walk up the bank of the river (that is, opposite to the current) and follow it around the bend until you run out of bank. From here you must wade up the river (recommend the pack-strap method if the current is quick) until the bank on the true-right re-appears (there is a large marker there on a tree). From there it is a chilly 2-3 minutes to the hut.
Option B: Wet weather route (40-50 minutes)
Follow the wet weather track by crossing the river and following the markers as they climb up and around the bend in the river and back down. The track is a little more physically demanding than the other method, but results in more of the body being dry and in wet conditions is probably the only safe choice.
The Hut and Out
Waitewaewae Hut is a small, cosy 1 ticket hut with mattresses, a fantastic warm fire (if you can dry out the wood to get it going), kennels for dogs if you take them in with you and a vending machine*. The hut has a drinkable water supply but no cooking facilities, so bring your own. Getting out the next day is just a process of walking the track in reverse. The times on individual parts of the track will be a little different, but the time to walk out should be less, even if you are tired (for instance, 30 minutes can be shaved off on the descent down the creek, but it takes longer to climb up from the wet weather junction to the Plateau).
*Actually there is no vending machine, but it is a good prank to pull on friends that are newer to tramping. It is a long running joke in my tramping group.