Altitude: 0m to 887m. Gain: 3197m. Loss: 3717m . Gradient: 7 deg (Steep)
Skills: - Prolonged rivers (4/6)
A walk from the Rimutaka Hill Road summit to the Day's Bay Ferry wharf down the backbone of the Rimutakas. Or the river next to it, where that seems more fun.
Apart from a few km of tracks at the start and end, this is an off-track, river-and-ridgeline trip. The ascent of the Pakuratahi River and Descent of the Wairongomai are very long stretches in narrow valleys with little opportunity to stop and camp in any comfort. The saddle between the two also required very good navigation skills. The ridgeline between Wairongomai and Papatahi is scrubby and windfallen - physically hard going, though relatively easy navigation.
One backcountry hut: Waiorongomai, and the option of bookable (expensive) bush cabins in the Orongorongo - but at least one night under canvas required at Summit or in the Pakuratahi..
Not a trip for the unprepared or unfit - but good fun in some different country if you seek some challenging bush tramping.
Altitude: 493m to 556m. Gain: 57m. Loss: 109m . Gradient: 8 deg (Gentle)
A short but unpleasant walk along SH2 from the Rimutaka access at Back Rd to the Tararua access at the summit
Altitude: 287m to 556m. Gain: 329m. Loss: 482m . Gradient: 7 deg (Gentle)
500m west of the Rimutaka Hill Rd (SH2) summit, a parking area and a locked gate on a corner mark the start of Back Rd to the Rimutaka Railtrail. This forestry track is open to walkers and mountainbikes, but not vehicles.
The track climbs from the highway, crosses a saddle and sidles a face onto a ridgeline, before descending in a series of switchbacks to reach the creek and a junction after about 2.5km. Turning right takes you straight to the railtrail, some 500m away. Alternatively head left and follow Back Road which climbs steadily to a saddle before descending to the railtrail summit where camping and a picnic area is found.
Altitude: 329m to 367m. Gain: 31m. Loss: 47m . Gradient: 4 deg (Flat)
A short 1km walk down the graveled roadbed railtrail from the former summit station (now picnic area and campsite) to the Pakuratahi confluence. Access to the river involves a scramble down a steep bank 100m upstream from the confluence, just downhill from the last cutting before the corner shown.
Altitude: 299m to 560m. Gain: 464m. Loss: 204m . Gradient: 3 deg (Gentle)
Skills: - Prolonged rivers (4/6)
The only access to the Pakuratahi that I could find was about 100m up the summit sidestream from the confluence - just downhill from a small cutting on the railtrail. A steep scramble through scrub and grassy slopes led to the small stream draining from Summit. A simple 100m walk down the flat riverbed / valley floor followed to the confluence.
The Pahuratahi is quite large and confined by steep valleysides and gorges for most of it's length upstream. The only spot I hit really deep pools (swimming required) was in the first gorge 300m upriver from the confluence. As such, I;d advise staying on the eastern bank and climbing over a small knob before returning to the river above the 1st gorge - at least I wish that's what I'd done!
Above that, the river is generally knee-to-waist deep in normal flows, and slow flowing, It would be impassible after heavy rain. Travel was for the most part on the stony riverbed with a few scrambles in thick fern & windfall vegetation on the banks for a few short pools & gorges. For the 1st 3km, campspots were frequent, but above that there was almost nothing flat enough, clear enough and big enough to pitch a tent until the headwaters.
As you head upriver, tight gorges become frequent, often blocked by logjams 5-10m tall become frequent. Above each is a flat expanse of gravel and easy going until you get into the next gorge, I remained almost continuously in the riverbed until the last main forks 3km below the headwaters. Going is very slow, I averaged 1.5km / hour, rather than my normal 2-3 for riverbeds.
From the last forks the river frequently becomes tight and choked - but the valleysides are now gentle and open enough to scramble along, and in places even walk! This section was about a 50:50 mix of riverbed walking and valleyside scrambles.
If you're watching your map, the point to leave the rver at the last forks and climb the ridge to the pass into the Waiorongomai is obvious - the now very small stream forking SW / SE.
Reasonable campspots exist on small bush flats between the forks. There are none heading down the Waiorongomai until pretty much the hut,.
Altitude: 361m to 663m. Gain: 104m. Loss: 302m . Gradient: 14 deg (Moderate)
From the last forks in the Pakuratahi head south and pick up a defined spur swinging ESE. Vegetation starts open with very clear game trails. The ridgeline becomes scrubby, but goos siding, again on game trails, follows it just to the west, returning to the ridge for the last 200m to the western shoulder of Bawbaw.
The spur into the Waiorongomai can be hard to find heading south, and very good map&compass skills are required. It is easy to end up on the next spur north dropping into the head of the Waiorongomai, but the valley is barely navigable at this stage so don't do it!
The correct spur, once found, is narrow & well defined, but you must judge your moment to swing WSW towards the forks and avoid continuing south into the choked steep sidecreek.
Altitude: 100m to 361m. Gain: 59m. Loss: 317m . Gradient: 4 deg (Moderate)
Skills: - Prolonged rivers (4/6)
Dropping into the head of the Waiorongamai, 1km below it's source - the valley starts off narrow, steep sided. The stream is small, but where deep pools and small falls impede the way there is no option of climbing the steep valleysides to bypass them. Where it is flowing the river is low - barely over the ankles - but the pools are frequent, as are small waterfalls, and all require scrambles on rock faces to bypass them. Progressing downstream numerous old logjams are encountered - 5-10m tall, having blocked the entire valley and forming a dam for a flat of shingle upstream. All require steep scrambles to descend - and what you do if they prove impassible is unclear. Thankfully on my two visits, all could be climbed.
The valley floor widens as you progress- form a couple of meters to maybe 5 or 10 - all covered by river gravel. On my first visit, you could follow the valleyfloor all the way to the hut, but in 2014 a sharp canyon-like gorge in the mid-section about halfway between the headwaters and hut was inaccessible from above. A streamer of flagging tape marked an ascent onto sloping bush-clad course scree on the true left. A bit of poking around was required to get onto the clear faces, but once there progress was strightforward, avoiding bluffs above and below through broadleaf faces. Some 500-800m downriver the gorge below ended and good flats of gravel riverbed appeared - but good routes descending to the valley floor were very hard to find. Several attempts to nose my way back down to the river were required before a viable route was found.
Once there though a changed valley was encountered. The river was larger now - knee to thigh deep,and 10-20m wide in places. But the slot canyons are gone, and a good stony riverbed leads from this point the remaining 2km to the hut - though frequent crossing are required. Eventually, 1km from the hut, broad flats of mature bush open up on the true right ... later replaced by flats of invasive scrub. predominantly buddleia.
100m above the hut a broad valley of buddleia and mature bush enters from the right - a small stream in its middle. 100m downstream the main flow swings west, with a dry river channel continuing straight on. At this point a clear, but .unsignposted track leads into tall mature bush on the true right, leading 50m to Waiorongamai Hut,.
Altitude: 102m to 887m. Gain: 1113m. Loss: 328m . Gradient: 9 deg (Moderate)
Skills: - Streams (2/6)
From Waiorongomai Hut head briefly north up the riverbed or forested flats to the Oreore Stream, which you must then follow upriver. The valley is open but scrubby for the first 300m to the forks. The northern fork leads to a large waterfall, which many people visit. The ridge in the centre has a good ground trail leading to the Waiorongomai Saddle and on into the upper Orongorongo.
For the main range, I took the southern fork of the Oreore. The valley becomes narrower - but travel is possible, sometimes on scrubby banks and sometimes in the narrow creek. Windfall over the river is the main obstacle. After 2km, the last forks shown on the map are reached. Teh objective from here is to climb the spur in between the 2 forks to pt 720. However, the first 200m of the ridgeline were narrow and scrubby and I ended up heading slightly up the eastern fork before scrambling up onto the spur up what were little more than pig-tunnels through the scrub.
Once on the spur and 100m above the valley floor thing improve greatly. The scrub is left and replaced by open beech forest - a few spots of scrubby young growth, but generally excellent going. A good ground trail runs all the way up the spur to pt720.
Swinging SSW from pt720- onto the Rimutaka main range things start ok - open beech with bands of scrubby young growth, but steadily deteriorate. It appears that the ridgeline cops severe storms, and whole sections of forest have been flattened at times in the past - leading to swathes of windfall or scrubby regen that must be scrambled through. Bush lawyer makes this all the more fun. The worst point is probably around pt860 - the scrubbiest at the least, but even after that there are several more bands of tough going to cross.
The ridgeline is forested, but there are occasional glimpse views down the Orongorongo and to the coast.
Eventually the track enters moss-covered cloud forest for the last 300m to Papatahi highpoint - great going to the summit where you'll find the clear, marked, well-cut Papatahi crossing track.
Altitude: 157m to 882m. Gain: 28m. Loss: 730m . Gradient: 14 deg (Steep)
Skills: - Occasional rivers (3/6)
Starting from the Papatahi summit, going is steady down a cut marked track through cloud forest. The moss and beech is soon left behind, and the track steepens entering scrub - steep faces and slips to the right. The track becomes steeper and steeper - soon becoming a series gravel chutes providing a tricky, crumbling route down the spur. Finally, the cut track swings south off the spur into the creekbed and ends. It is a further 200m down the steep rocky riverbed to the Orogorongo valley.
The Orongorongo is low - ankle to knee deep - in normal flows, but can be impassible after heavy rain..
Below the confluence, the Orognogongo is a broad shingle flat. Travel is easy but exposed to sun and heat (in summer!). The valley swings first left then right. An old 4wd track starts on the northern bank, and soon after the right bend a signpost n the norther bank points into the bush: Papatahi Hut..The hut is 60m above the valley floor - a steep and cruel climb at the end of a long day. This is a 'bush cabin' sole occupancy, bookings required - a combination lock on the door.
Altitude: 141m to 180m. Gain: 4m. Loss: 43m . Gradient: 2 deg (Flat)
Skills: - Occasional rivers (3/6)
From the Papatahi hut turnoff, the Orongorongo is a broad expanse of gravel, the river often invisible in its expanse. The route downriver sticks to the gravel riverbed, crossing at least a couple of times where the river undercuts the north bank.
Whakanui Creek is the next main creek on the right, and the track junction with the Whakanui track is signposted on its western bank.
Altitude: 141m to 630m. Gain: 604m. Loss: 198m . Gradient: 9 deg (Moderate)
The Whakanui track leaves the Orongorongo on the west bank of the confluence with Whakanui Creek, and is signposted at the bushedge. The track is a broad, well cut, well maintained tramping track, and is benched for much of its length.
The track climbs steadily to pt497 through mature forest, after which the gradient lessens and the track meanders with the ridgeline, climbing slowly. The junction shown on maps with a track to pt711 does not exist on the ground, the track sidling the west face is the only one present. Vegetation becomes sparser here, and there are occasional clear spots with views to the west.
The areas to the west of the track is a 'kiwi-zone' and dogs, etc are prohibited within it, but are permitted on the track - on a lead or 'kiwi-safe'.
The track hits the escarpment looking down over tghe Wainuiomata River and township, and swings sharply west. Shortly after, a signpost marks the turnoff of the McKerrow track back to the Orongorongo. This track appears much rougher than the Whakanui - a standard tramping track.
Altitude: 98m to 547m. Gain: 0m. Loss: 449m . Gradient: 10 deg (Moderate)
The track from the ridgeline to the Wainuiomata River is broad, benched, and well maintained. It does, however, descend almost 500m in 2km, so its not a stroll.
Descending off the ridgeline the track sidles to the spur overlooking Skerrets Creek, and follows it all the way to the river. After about 1km, a track junction is reached, with the left turn heading to a roadend on the opposite bank of Skerrets, and the right turn descending all the way to the river.
The track comes out at the cemetery, and there is a road and carpark at Skerrets Creek. Alternatively a footbridge 100m upriver gives access to the north bank.
Altitude: 88m to 98m. Gain: 3m. Loss: 13m . Gradient: 1 deg (Flat)
From the roadend at Skerrets Creek cemetery, head down the west bank of Skerrets Creek to the bank of the main Wainuiomata River and pick up the Wainuiomata RIver Tarck. It is surfaced with gravel, and is flat all the way to Skerrets Creek. The walk starts on the river bank, passes along side sports fields, before returning to the riverbank through parkland to reach the main road bridge..
Altitude: 99m to 213m. Gain: 114m. Loss: 0m . Gradient: 7 deg (Moderate)
From the end of Stanley Road, the Rata Ridge track climbs steadily through gorse and scrub onto Rata Ridge. This section of track is of 4WD standard - broad and easy to follow, if unexciting. The right turn to Ferny Gully is signposted.
Altitude: 205m to 363m. Gain: 204m. Loss: 50m . Gradient: 8 deg (Gentle)
Above the Ferny Gully Track turnoff, the Rata Ridge track climbs into mature bush at last. It is a broad track on a well defined spur, and easy , moderately gentle climb towards Lowry. Occasional pest-control track cuts off this section of track, marked with dots, and should be avoided unless that's really where you want to go.
After a short steeper section, you reach the summit of Lowry - nothing to see but bush - and descend a few meters NW to join the Main Ridge Track, where at last there are views down over the Wellington Harbour.
Altitude: 297m to 361m. Gain: 38m. Loss: 80m . Gradient: 6 deg (Gentle)
From the Mt Lowry turnoff, the Main Ridge Track meanders along (and sometimes east of) the ridgeline between Wellington Harbour and Wainuiomata. The ridgeline is in mature forest, but occasional glimpses of the harbour are the reward. The track drops and climbs past a couple of small saddles, before reaching the signposted junction with Kaitawa Track. Ferry Rd track junction is a few meters further on and is also signposted..
Altitude: 0m to 320m. Gain: 45m. Loss: 365m . Gradient: 11 deg (Moderate)
From the signposted junction with the Main Ridge Track, Ferry Rd Track starts to drop steadily towards Days Bay. The track is broad, well cut and easy to follow, but moderately steep in places.
Soon the mature bush of the ridgeline is left, and you descend through first tall regenerating scrub, and then gorse and low scrub. The lower vegetation offers great views over the Wellington Harbour, and the coastline to Eastbourne.
After making a few short zigzags, the track emerges into houses at the end of Ferry Road. There is a little parking here - but more at the sea shore below. Following Ferry Road through a couple of switchbacks it's another couple of hundred meters to the coast. Days Bay wharf is 200m to the south (opposite a cafe and ice cream shop!) and has ferries to Wellington, on which dogs are permitted on a leash.