Altitude: 395m to 1069m. Gain: 4792m. Loss: 4888m . Gradient: 6 deg (Moderate-hard)
Skills: Alpine weather (2/7) - Prolonged rivers (4/6) Winter - Snow/ice underfoot (2/7)
The Whirinaki is a part of New Zealand that it has taken me a long time to get round to visiting. Not because it is an area who's magnificent bush and diverse and amazingly numerous birdlife did not interest me, but more because I was put off by the well-used tourist highways that circle the park. It seemed a long way to go to walk graveled, benched tracks, stay in mega-sized hut with scores of other users.
So when I came to finally research a trip through the park, I was pleased to see that there is another face to Whirinaki, one beyond the 20-bunk huts and cycle tracks.
The following trip took me from the Tarawera Hotel on the Napier Taupo road, through to Ruatahuna on the Lake Waikaremoana road - 5 solid days of tramping, almost all on less-used tramping tracks and routes. For the most part the trip is along basic tramping tracks, riverbed routes, with one tough day of ridgeline routefinding from Rogers to Central Waiau. River sections upstream from Central Waiau were very challenging after rain, but could be avoided with some bush-bashing / routefinding to locate old sidle tracks.
The one section of mountainbike-highway that the trip did include was that over Moerangi on the Moerangi MTB track. However, this was only taken due to bad weather, and I'm sure a direct route could be found between Mangamate and Moerangi hut, for the adventurous - probably via saddles at the head of the Mangamate near pt988.
All in all it was a very enjoyable trip. I have seen more blue ducks (over 50) in 5 days of tramping than I'd normally see in a year. The walk into the Matakuhia seemed to feature a wood-pigeon up every tree. An almost never was I out of sight and sound of robins, tui, kaka and many more I failed to recognise. The Whirinaki truely deserves its reputation for both spectacular bush and birdlife.
All up the trip took me 7 days, with 2 rest days laid up waiting for rain to stop and rivers to drop, and a short day from Moerangi to Rogers. I also made side-trips not listed here to visit Central Whirinaki Hut and Skips Hut.
The former Tarawera Hotel, now called the Tarawera Cafe. The start of a long 4WD track into the lower Matakuhia. Approximately the half-way point between Napier and Taupo on SH5.
The cafe allows/welcomes camping on the large grassy flat outside, where there are public toilets but no other facilities. With the owners living on site- this would also seem a safe place to leave a vehicle.
Both intercity and nakedbus drive the route, but nakedbus do not guarantee to stop at intermediate stops between Napier and Taupo - so it's down to the driver's good will if you travel with them. Intercity have a scheduled stop at Tarawera - at the old Ministry of Works depot 800m south of the cafe, which is the only place the bus can pull off the road. The cafe is on a blind corner and is not a spot the bus can safely stop.
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.
Altitude: 578m to 604m. Gain: 52m. Loss: 36m . Gradient: 2 deg (Flat)
Skills: - Occasional rivers (3/6)
At the roadend / park boundary, the Matakuhia is 5-8m wide, ankle deep in low-moderate flows. Some maps show a track on the western bank, but forget it - this is bar-room cartography, the track is the riverbed.
The first 800m is steep-sided and most time is spent in the river. Luckily the riverbed is on small river pebbles, and is flat and easy going, so apart from wet feet it's not too bad. After 800m the valley starts to open up. Gravel banks finally let me out of the water and onto dry land. The going steadily improves, except for 2 short (50-100m) gorges which are passable in the water 800m downriver of the hut, a small A-frame bivvy sits on flats inside a large river bend on the eastern bank. Very basic.
The hut sits at the downstream end of a large clearing, covered by a devastation of driftwood. There are no markers. The most obvious access involved passing the hut to reach the clear area and then cutting back down the flats to the hut. The structure is not visible from the stream, but is where the map says it should be, and at the base of the first large clearing coming upriver, so should be easy enough to find.
A basic but pleasant DOC hut at the downstream end of a large sandy clearing, littered with driftwood. The hut has 6 bunks, an open fire, and water from the river some 50m away. The floor is of pinex on 900m spaced joists - far in excess of what the material can cope with, and as such has become an undulating series of dips and ridges. But otherwise, the place is in good shape. About 7 parties per year write their name in the hutbook, though there's probably a few illiterates on top of that. Most are hunters who fly in, though a few visit on foot on day/overnight trips from bases at the upper hut. The remainder are trampers.
Altitude: 596m to 664m. Gain: 87m. Loss: 39m . Gradient: 2 deg (Flat)
Skills: - Occasional rivers (3/6)
The route upriver from Lower Matakuhia Hut is painted as a nightmare in both lower and upper hut books, but I found it a relatively easy riverbed route. I can only guess that either a) previous visitors had tried to follow old overgrown or non-existent sidle tracks, or that the riverbed formerly contained a lot of windfall which has since rotted / been washed away.
After crossing the clearing above the hut, I returned to the riverbed - still a broad, flat flow over good fine river pebbles. Two spots of windfall required scrambling over in the first km or so, but nothing hard or prolonged.
1km below the track junction, 1 slot gorge interrupts the good travel. Going upriver black/white marker tape marked the start of s short route over a low spur, bypassing the gorge on the east (true left) and returning to flats upriver. There were no markers on the route itself, nor at the upriver end, but the ground trail was well used and easy to follow.
300m below the junction a second gorge is encountered. The valleysides on wither side are steep and high, and climbing round would involve a long climb, so I walk through in the river instead. 1 pool required a brief scramble on rocks to bypass, but otherwise it was ok through the gorge in low-moderate flows - knee deep.
Above the gorge the easy-going river pebbles and and large rounded slippery river rocks take over - the river banks become more attractive places of travel. Out of nowhgere DOC triangles start - first on the true right, then crossing to the true left (east). These climb the eastern bank above a third gorge, the track uncut but followable. 10-15m above the river, atop a spur and adjacent to a small confluence, a signpost marks the junction of the Matakuhia and Opureke Tracks, and the mid-point (n time) between the two huts.
The DOC signposts say 2hrs from here to either hut, and given it took me 1hr to each I'll stick with this 2hr DOC time. However, be aware that many people reported trips of up to 7hrs between huts.
Altitude: 645m to 709m. Gain: 123m. Loss: 90m . Gradient: 3 deg (Gentle)
Skills: - Occasional rivers (3/6)
Heading upriver from the track jhunction, the track is uncut but marked with permolat / tape for 100m or so, before it drops back to the river. A sidle track did exist up the next section, but it is overgrown, unmaintained and unusable (though it is slowly being recut, so things may have improved).
The riverbed provides reasonable travel for the next 1km - with windfall providing the only real obstacle. The stream is small - ankle to knee deep in normal flows, but could, conceivably flood. Passing the major sidecreek on the west, a sidle track soon appears some 20m above the river on the eastern bank. There is no indication of where this starts though, so you may just continue up the creek a further 300m to where the map shows the track crossing, and pick up the track as it crosses to the western bank.
From here the track has been recut by local hunters (2014) and is well maintained. There has been a lot of windfall, and so you often still have to climb over fallen trunks on chainsaw-cut steps. Passing a waterfall in the creek, the track returns to the eastern bank, and soon the valley widens and we drop to flats on the valley floor. Upper Matakuhia Hut is on the eastern bank, about 2km above the last river crossing.
A basic DOC hut in the southern Whirinaki. This hut is well cared for by local volunteers who keep, and the track to it from the north, well maintained. Features 6 bunks, a woodburned, sink and water from the river 10m away. a large outdoor picnic table is a good feature.
The hut sits on broad grass / toetoe flats on the banks of the Matakuhia, in a pleasant sunny spot.
Altitude: 682m to 955m. Gain: 312m. Loss: 39m . Gradient: 3 deg (Gentle)
Maintained regularly by local hunters the track is in great condition, and make for an easy walk out of the hut.
From Upper Matakuhia Hut, a good, platformed track heads off up open river flats, before entering mature bush and starting to sidle the eastern face. It later crosses the creek on a modified tree-trunk, and starts to climb the western valleyside on a gentle sidle. It emerges fromt he bush into post-logging wasteland at the side of the former Matakuhia Saddle Hut, of which only the firplace remains. There is parking here, but the last 200m is probably 4WD only, so you may need to leave vehicles on the main forestry road 200m beyond.
Altitude: 887m to 963m. Gain: 99m. Loss: 117m . Gradient: 2 deg (Flat)
Forestry roads provide the legal access through the post-logging desolation between Matakuhia Saddle and the Plateau Roadend from access to the Whirinaki Huts. HEad 2km NW down Main Road, and turn right (NE) following signs to 'Whirinaki Track'. Continue on the signposted forestry track taking the truns signposted 'Whirinaki'. A large, once-marshy clearing is passed on your left, passing through standing pines and again emerging into post-logging desolation. A final left torn leads to the carpark and roadend.
Altitude: 679m to 1002m. Gain: 129m. Loss: 387m . Gradient: 10 deg (Moderate)
At the roadend, the shelter housing the information board has been sites to form an archway over the start of the track. A doorway from the barren, light, post-forestry desolation to the west into the dimly lit, verdant Whirinaki forest beyond.
The first 200m beyond are common between the Upper Whirinaki track and Central Whirinaki cycleway, and so are flat, broad, well cut and well marked. The track junction features not just a signpost, but an intentions book - though this was saturated and unusable when I visited. The right fork leads to Upper Whirinaki Hut.
The track is rough but well cut and well marked. It climbs to a low ridgeline, which it then follows through tall podocarp: totora and rimu with bases broader than my arm's reach. Despite the giant trees, the ridgeline is narrow, climbing ad falling its way over a series of peaks and saddles. After almost 2km of ups and downs, the ridge ends and the track descends a well defined spur to the river - a steep decent of almost 300m.
A signpost on the river bank marks the junction with a rough route downriver to the cave, where it rejoins the Central Whirinaki cycleway.
Altitude: 679m to 698m. Gain: 26m. Loss: 7m . Gradient: 2 deg (Flat)
Skills: - Streams (2/6)
From the track junction on the western bank of the Whirinaki River, the cut, marked Upper Whirinaki Track crosses the Whirinaki River (a narrow stream, ankle-to-knee deep at this point) and heads east up a side-valley to Upper Whirinaki Hut. The track sticks to the valleyfloor - crossing the small stream repeatedly before setting on the southern bank, crossing once more just before the hut to the north. The hut sits in a clearing on the northern river bank.
A typical Whirinaki Hut - sleeping 9 on 3 sets of bunks each stacked 3 high. A large deck across the front of the hut looks over the clearing to the north. There is a woodburner, and water from either the tank or stream.
Altitude: 637m to 769m. Gain: 73m. Loss: 133m . Gradient: 4 deg (Gentle)
Skills: - Streams (2/6)
From Upper Whirinaki Hut, a signpost stating 'River Track 2.25hrs' points towards Central Whirinaki Hut. Counter-intuitively this track climbs out of the valley, away from the river, rounding a spur and following a small gully north to a low saddle.
From the saddle, another climb, in a gentle grassy valley follows - clearly the track shown on the map, dropping from the saddle down a stream, is inaccurate. The actual track must climb onto one of the spurs to the east or west of the gully shown - I'm guessing east, but I could be wrong. Whichever, a good cut marked track follows the spur north for a kilometer or so. Finally, the good cut, marked track runs out of spur to follow and drops to the main Taumutu Stream at the forks.
Once in the stream, the cut track ends, though frequent markers continue downriver. The route follows the river for 1.5km, crossing frequently, until it reaches the confluence with Kakaiti Stream (from the east). Here, a large signpost on the eastern bank marks the start of the track to Mangamate Hut.
Altitude: 596m to 717m. Gain: 221m. Loss: 143m . Gradient: 4 deg (Moderate)
Skills: - Streams (2/6)
From the signposted junction at the confluence of Kakaiti Strean and Taumutu Stream, a good cut marked tramping track leads across flats beside Kakaiti Stream. After a couple of hundred meters, this crosses the stream, and heads up a side gully on the northern valleyside, heading roughly NE. The gully i narrow, its base only large enough to hold the smalls stream which runs down it, and as such travel is up the stream-cum-track. This steadily climbs, gaining 100m of altitude by the time it reaches the saddle.
North of the saddle, the cut, marked tramping track sidles the true left for a while, before dropping to the stream. The story here is the same as to the south. Stream=Path. However, the route is well marked. Soon however, small flats of punga and fern appear, and sections of track cut across them, though still frequently crossing the small stream.
A kilometer or so downriver, on what is now a fairly well established tramping track on the banks, a larger stream joins from the east and the valley widens to broad flats. 300m later the river swings west, and the track leaves it, making a sharp right turn and starting a sidling climb up the eastern face of a gully to the north. The track here in an old benched track which has been recently recut, rebenched and reopened. Very good going, despite the steady climb.
Mangamate Hut site in a clearing just to the north of the saddle at the gullies head. Sheltered from the southerly, the place booms and rattles in a nor-wester. Not helped by the fact that all the windows have broken latches and are stopped from flapping in the win only by loose string.
All streams are small and should not be an issue except in exceptionally heavy rainfall.
A standard Whirinaki Hut sleeping 9 on 3x3 bunks. The hut is unique in that it is the only remaining hut not situated on a valley floor, looking instead north, down the Kakanui SStream from its perch on the saddle at its head.
Tank water and a woodburner.
In poor condition (2014) with window latches broken and frequent reports of rubbish and damage in the hutbook. Surprising, as this is one of the harder this to reach in the Whirinaki, and certainly gets far less use than the huts on the cycleway / circuit.
Note that the hut has been relocated from the valley floor at the forks in the Mangamate 2km NNE of it's current location. Older maps still show the old location. Note also that some maps show the track heading up the main Mangamate valley from the old hut side and swinging west over a saddle at its head into the Kakanui. This is also incorrect, with the track now going directly south via the new hut site at the saddle east of pt812.
Altitude: 422m to 711m. Gain: 61m. Loss: 350m . Gradient: 4 deg (Moderate)
Skills: - Occasional rivers (3/6)
From Mangamate Hut, the benched track sidle the true tight of the valley to the north. Great going, dropping gently towards the valley floor. However, after less than a kilometer, DOC markers point left off the benched track towards the valley floor. The old benched track continues ahead, overgrown and choked with windfall, but we drop down a steep zigzag track to the creek.
The track then becomes a marked route, splashing downriver in the narrow valley. Eventaully, small flats open and sections of track appear, and by the time we reach the confluence with the Upper Mangamate, the tracks are more-or-less continuous.
A large grassy clearing at the forks marks the former location of the hut. Markers start downriver, a cut track through toetoe flats, but soon give in and we're dumped in the river to continue there. The riverbed is fine pebbles and good going, and it is generally only ankle deep at this stage. Periodically, the valley narrows, forcing track cutters to put in sections of rough sidle track on the valleysides, until the valley floor and riverbed again become wide enough to walk down. The DOC triangles eventually give up entirely, but a kilometer or so above the confluence with the Whirinaki they return. They are worth following, as from here on 'real' tracks starts.
Shortly after the markers restart, where the track is on the true right of the stream, a small 'Track' sign is encountered pointing downriver. This sign marks the junction with the old roadbed which climbs NE to the Moerangi Track. Why it is not better marked, I can only guess.
By the lower end of this route the stream is of moderate size: 3-5m wide and knee deep in normal flows. In heavy rain it could easily become impassible.
Altitude: 422m to 548m. Gain: 162m. Loss: 36m . Gradient: 8 deg (Moderate)
A small 'Track' sign (pointing downriver) on the eastern bank of the Mangamate is all that marks the start of the Moerangi link track. The unmarked, unsignposted track is thankfully, clearly visible on the ground, climbing NE from the signpost on what, it becomes clear, is an old roadbed. The roadway is too eroded to drive in any vehicle, but a well trodden track (and stoat trap-line) has kept the old road open as a waling route.
Completely ignoring the straight line shown on the map, the roadbed zigzags and meanders its way up the spur ENE of the forks, finally setting in to sidle the northern face of the ridge. The road drops to cross 2 small streams, and then swings round another spur to approach the track junction from the NW (not SW as shown on the map).
As a result, when you hit the junction, the track to Moerangi is straight ahead, and the track to the roadend cuts back to your left (north).
Altitude: 548m to 929m. Gain: 565m. Loss: 452m . Gradient: 8 deg (Moderate-hard)
The Moerangi MTB track is an old benched track, recently recut and rebenched for mountain bike use. From the Mangamate turnoff, it climbs steadily, sidling the SW face in and out of a number of gullies as it ascends towards Moerangi peak (the straight line up the spur shown on maps is pure fiction). The ascent is quite steep in places.
Finally, gaining the ridgeline, the crosses briefly to the eastern face, before returning to the west for the main body of Moerangi. A clearing at the start of the main peak looks like an old hut site - large trees felled long ago to clear it. But no sign of a hut exists.
The track sidles well below the summit on the western face, continuing to climb steadily as it goes. It finally regains the ridgeline west of the main peak, crosses it, and then starts to sidle down the eastern face. Again, the straight line shown on the map is wrong - the track sidles well up the two sidecreeks south of Moerangi, before finally reaching the valley floor and following them west to the confluence.
Once on the valley floor proper, the benched track crosses the river on a bridge, and sidles low on the eastern valleyside to the confluence with the other half of the Moerangi, which is crossed on a long wooden bridge. The track junction with the Rogers - Moerangi track lies just beyond.
Altitude: 657m to 672m. Gain: 16m. Loss: 18m . Gradient: 4 deg (Flat)
Moerangi Hut lies 500m upriver from the track junction. A good benched track on the southern bank of the river leads to the hut,.
Moerangi is a typical 9 bunk (3x3) Whirinaki Hut in the upper Moerangi valley. A large covered deck sits out the front. There's a woodburner, and water from a tank. The stream is 20m-or-so below the hut.
Altitude: 657m to 672m. Gain: 18m. Loss: 16m . Gradient: 4 deg (Flat)
From Moerangi Hut, a good benched track leads 500m downriver to the track junction.
Altitude: 560m to 684m. Gain: 247m. Loss: 355m . Gradient: 5 deg (Gentle)
A good benched sidle track runs downriver from Moerangi to Rogers. In a couple of places this climbs to some 40m above the creek. At about the half-way point a large clearing marks a former hut site by a sidestream. Still clear and a viable campspot.
(note - route points approximate as track shown on topo map is not correct)
Altitude: 551m to 820m. Gain: 293m. Loss: 299m . Gradient: 15 deg (Moderate)
Skills: - Streams (2/6)
Heading 200m SE along the track from Rodgers you come across a tree marked with a red dazzle blaze - just where the track meets the river. Crossing the river (knee deep, ok after moderate rainfall) another blaze is found on a tree opposite. Heading SSE across the marshy semi-clearing I found no more blazes, but picked up an obvious spur climbing towards pt794.
Once on the spur, blazes return and we climb a roughly marked, but completely uncut route to pt 794. Bush is relatively open with a few sections of scrub or windfall. The dazzle markers ceased somewhere before the highpoint.
Beyond pt794 we dropped to the saddle, sidling slightly east to avoid scrub, then climbed the ridge to the next unnumbered peak 200m to the SE, crossed another saddle, passed 1 spur on the NE, then sidled the face round the head of the next creek to the east, to pick up the 2nd spur, dropping ENE. The spur forks near its base, and we took the north-eastern spur. This deposited up at the small creek, which was easily crossed even after rain. 100m downstream on the eastern bank a clearing marked the site of the Wairoa Stream camp.
Altitude: 411m to 1069m. Gain: 897m. Loss: 1027m . Gradient: 16 deg (Moderate-hard)
Skills: Alpine weather (2/7) Winter - Snow/ice underfoot (2/7)
A good track leads downstream from the Wairoa Stream Camp and we follow that along the eastern river bank to the base of the first spur - just upriver of the first confluence. The spur is badly defined lower down, and is steep and ferny. It makes for a steep, scrubby climb for the first 100m or so, though the good news is that windfall from the big storm of 2008 is finally rotting away,
Once on the spur proper things improve - good open mature bush and a good ground trail (carpeted with deer sign) to follow. Things remain great for the 1km climb until the 1000m contour is reached, just shy of the main ridgeline. Here things turn to rubbish, and remain that way. Mature bush ceases and is replaced by tightly spaced young growth and scrub.
Pt1067 was so thick with scrub that I ended up crossing the ridgeline and sidling the eastern face at around 1000m. This was scrubby too - but a passable bush-bash rather than a crawl. Bush lawyer entwined with the scrub was the main enemy. This approach led me into the head of the creek due east of pt1067, just north of the saddle. From here things improved slightly.
East of the saddle, mature trees returned, and though scrub was still thick underneath, it was more of a scrubby walk than a constant bushbash. We followed the ridgeline east then north to the saddle south of pt990. pt990 itself was very thick, and so we sidled just west of the summit in tangled but mature bush. Passing pt990 we swung east round the head of the creek (draining SE) over another unnumbered summit - no way round this one, and very thick with regen. From this last peak we dropped east to a saddle then swung ESE onto the first spur north of the creek we've been circumnavigating. Here finally the mature bush reasserts itself and the scrubby regen is left behind. The spur was open and good travel until around the 600m contour, where supplejack made its appearance - making the last 150 vertical meters a slower, more tangled affair - but still ok going. We emerged at the confluence of the side-creek to our south and the main Waiau River.
From here, a good ground trail leads upriver over grassy flats towards the Central Waiau Hut. A brief sidle round pools and marshes just south of the hut is marked with doc triangles, and leads to the hut.
Altitude: 415m to 446m. Gain: 102m. Loss: 79m . Gradient: 3 deg (Gentle)
Skills: - Prolonged rivers (4/6)
Upriver from Central Waiau Hut the former sidle track has returned to bush - it could be followed if the river were up, but it is effectively a 3km bushbash with no real track present.
The normal route is now up the riverbed with 7 crossings being the norm - the last at the swingbridge. The river is knee deep in low-moderate flows, and was waist deep (and marginal for a single person) even 2 dry days after a single day of steady rain.
Crossing above the hut, a track cuts off the first bend, returning to the eastern bank 300m upriver, where another track cuts off part of the next bend. No obvious track leads up the next section, and with the river up I was forced to bushbash 500, up the western bank before crossing back to the east. From the slight bend and confluence 800m upriver of pt484, good terraces start on the true left - a bit of a scramble to get onto them just below the confluence, but great going once there. These terraces and 800m later at the start of the flats - 1.2km below the swingbridge - and avoid 4 more crossings.
Once on the flats the river is wider and shallower, and an easy 6th crossing took me back to the western bank, where a good ground trail up grassy flats leads past several good camp spots, ending at the swingbridge.
Altitude: 436m to 473m. Gain: 146m. Loss: 125m . Gradient: 5 deg (Flat)
Skills: - Prolonged rivers (4/6)
The sidle track shown on maps up Parakahi Stream does not exist. The actual route sticks in the riverbed until the next forks downriver from Te Totora.
I traveled this route in moderate flows - we'd had 1 day of steady rain followed by two dry days. Conditions were at best marginal - two unintended swims were included. Though the river was deep and swift, it was flat (no rapids/white water) , and so long as you are a strong swimmer, being swept downriver was merely a case of swimming back to shore and trying again. In low flows / dry conditions, this should be a relatively simple river walk.
The access the Parakahi from the swingbridge, the easiest approach was to start on the western bank, cross the Waiau above the forks, then walk up the Parahaki riverbed. Crossing the swingbridge to the east leaves you high on the face, with steep, windfall-clogged descents to reach the river.
The route is in the riverbed. This starts wide, knee deep and flat on good gravel beds, with the first 500m being relatively straight forward, even at a time when the Waiau was barely crossable. However, as you proceed upriver crossings become harder and harder. The valley gorges out, and you are continuously crossing upriver, against the flow from shingle beaches on one side to another. Depth doubled over the first 500m, to where most crossing were waist deep in moderate flows.
Two short gorges required travel upriver, against the flow in waist deep water - in moderate-high flows this meant hauling yourself against the flow using the cliff-face. Fun.
From roughly the 1st confluence 500m below Te Totora Stream, a sidle track started on the true right, following low terraces upriver. 3 more crossings were required, but the worst was definitely over by this point.
The confluence with Te Totora is not obvious - Te Totora is the larger flow and enters from straight ahead, with the Parahaki entering from the true right.
Altitude: 456m to 476m. Gain: 31m. Loss: 18m . Gradient: 4 deg (Flat)
Skills: - Occasional rivers (3/6)
Above the Parahaki / Te Totora confluence, the Te Totora soon widends to broad flats. The route heads up the south-western bank, and soon a marked, well traveled track starts. A signpost 500m upriver marks the 'overland route' to the Waiau Swingbridge (overgrown and poorly marked), and 300m beyond the grassy flats start and the hut is found on the southern bank (300m upriver of the site shown on many maps).
One of four Slab-built huts in the Waiau catchment (the others being Rogers, Te Waiotekapiti and ???). This is a pleasant 6 bunk hut - full of character but also practical. The original slab-built structure has been clad in iron, and whilst not rodent-proof is cozy and weathertight. There is tank water and a sink - though the stream is only 20m away, and a large (smoky) open fire. A large covered deck has been wrapper around 2 sides.
The hut sits in large grassy clearings beside the Te Totora Stream. Topo50 maps (1st ed) show it some 400m downriver of its actual location.
Altitude: 456m to 476m. Gain: 18m. Loss: 31m . Gradient: 4 deg (Flat)
Skills: - Occasional rivers (3/6)
Downriver from Te Totora Hut, travel is easy on the southern bank of Te Totora Stream. 300m from the hut a signpost marks the old overgrown overland route to the swingbridge, and a track continues downstream for the river route. The track peters out shortly before the confluence, where it crosses to the western bank (for those continuing downriver).
Altitude: 456m to 555m. Gain: 227m. Loss: 146m . Gradient: 4 deg (Flat)
Skills: - Occasional rivers (3/6)
Above the Te Totora confluence, the Parahaki is far smaller and more easily traveled. A brief gorge follows the confluence, but soon you reach broad flats with good travel on grassy banks or shingle riverbed. The good going continues for about 2km to the northern end of Upokoatahi clearing, where good camping spots exist.
After crossing the sidle (wet-weather) route, the river route enters a narrower valley and travel is confined mainly to the riverbed on rounded river stones. Crossings were knee deep in moderate flows, and none were challenging.
After about 3km the wet-weather route rejoins from the west and we get a track to walk on. A further 300m walk upriver brigs you to the end of the bush and the start of a 4WD track. A signposted track shortly before this point leads to Whites Clearing Lodge, which is private.
Altitude: 395m to 621m. Gain: 76m. Loss: 234m . Gradient: 3 deg (Gentle)
Skills: - Streams (2/6)
From Whites Clearing to SH35 a good 4WD track climbs to the head of the Parahaki Stream then descends the Waipunkuri Stream. The northern end has frequent fords which could, conceivably become impassable after heavy rain.
The route crosses private land, and so the usual stuff about dogs on leads, bolts out of rifles, stick to the marked route applies.
A basic roadside campsite on the Lake Waikaremoane Road, 5km west of Ruatahuna. Toilets, picnic tables and a large grassy flat between the river and road.