Altitude: 436m to 740m. Gain: 811m. Loss: 711m . Gradient: 7 deg (Moderate)
Skills: - Occasional rivers (3/6)
From the hotel/cafe carpark, a vehicle track heads north just below the main highway. It passes through a gate where a DOC sign warns that the hot springs are unsafe and are closed, and below a house.
Just beyond the house the 4wd track passes through a barely noticeable depression before rising towards a flat grassy area. Just before the low-point of this depression (the stream marked on the map) a very overgrown 4wd track branches off, double back sharply SE - overgrown and now little more than a foot-worn trail through the broom. This is the start of the track to the Matakuhia.
The track doublkes back under the hotel/cafe and winds south a few hundred meters, becoming increasingly boggy bafore turning into a small stream draining into the main river. It meets the river at banks some 4m high - clearly there once was a bridge here, but this is now long gone Insead, follow the small stream that has adopted the roadway a few meters south where it provides a slops down which to scramble to the river.
The river crossing was ok in normal flows - knee-to-thigh deep and slow moving. Wet feet already though. On the far side the foot-worn trail climbs out of the bed, cuts a few meters upriver and regains the overgrown roadbed. Swinging first SE then south, the trail passes through old paddocks, swings round the south end of a predominant hill not shown on the map, then cuts NE. This section is hard to follow on the ground. Once off the old paddocks and into the bush though, the track becomes more obvious.
About 1km from the hotel, the overgrown track is joined by a new, well maintained 4wd track coming from the south. The route is of 4WD standard for the next 2.5km until a little before the Otowhiri Stream. Vehicles clearly use this track, and with consent it may be possible to drive / ride much of the way in to the Matakuhia.
The 4wd track climbs steeply to a saddle though regenerating bush. Taking the right fork at the junction, it then winds its way down towards the Otowhiri. The flats have been cleared and grazed in the past, and the valley is only recently starting to revert to bush. About 300m before the track hits the river, a sidestream has cut into the track, and this is the end of the road for 4wd vehicles. However, 2- and 4-wheelers (motorbikes/quads) continue as far as the last saddle 1km before the park boundary.
Dropping to the gravel riverbed - the map shgows the track crossing and climbing the far side. However, this section is overgrown / gone, and instead the track sticks in the riverbed for about 800m until the last sidestream before the major forks. Soon after hitting the riverbed, we pass between two sheers mud/rock walls where the stream has recently cut directly through a spur, abandoning a former bend in the riverbed.
100m downstream of the major forks, the track cuts east out of the riverbed and doubled back on itself climbing SE onto terraces - the stud 4wd track shown on topo maps. A well used campsite exists by the river, but note that this is still private land. After climbing for some 200m, the track reaches the former roadway running up an down the valley, and we turn sharply north, returning to the former roadbed. This soon reenters older regenerating bush, and winds in and out of sidestreams, climbing on a gently, fixed gradient to the saddle west of pt805.
A large grassy clearing at the saddle shown frequent use as a campspot, but there is no obvious water present. Maybe they just live on beer.
A track forks east at the saddle, but we ignore this and continue north, sidling the western valleyside. The track climbs significantly as it sidles, a fact not clear from the map, gaining some 150m in 1.5km, before a sharp hairpin marks the start of the descent into a tributary of the Matakuhia. After a couple of zigzags, the stream is reached - a shallow (ankle-to-knee deep) crossing surrounded by another large grassy clearing, well used as a campspot and cropped short by deer.
Beyond the ford, the ATV track climbs steadily up a small gully to a low saddle. At the saddle, slips and slumps have partially blocked the track, and most ATV/motorbike users seem to stop here. Beyond, the track becomes quite overgrown and in places hard to pick out for the remaining 1km to the river. Just beyond the saddle is a large clearing, overgrown with kanuka, where the map shows the track forking. I lost the track here briefly, but by heading along the west side of the kanuka-covered area, picked it up again as it cuts in to cross a small gully. Little more than an overgrown benched track the former roadbed winds north for another 1km before swinging east the SE to drop to the river at the forks and park boundary.
There are no good campspots between the river crossing 1.5km before the track end, and flats 1km upriver into the park.