Length: from 2.0 up to 4.0 days
Distance: 48.4 km (23.4 DOC hours) - Unmarked route, clear - Moderate terrain
Altitude: 356m to 1721m. Gain: 3262m. Loss: 3303m . Gradient: 8 deg (Moderate-hard)
Skills: Alpine weather (2/7) - Occasional rivers (3/5) Winter - Iceaxe/crampons (4/7)

A 2 to four day circuit in the eastern Kawekas, ideally suited to a 3-day weekend with a Friday night walk in to MacKintosh Hut.

This started as a bad-weather circuit taking the low-route from MacKintosh to Middle Hill via Makahu Saddle, but the weathermen got it wrong, and a fine day dawned (see associated story) and so a tops trip resulted.

My route and walking times were as follows (these are my times - times in the routeguide below are DOC times).:

Lawrence Roadend -> Mackintosh: Good track - 2.25 hrs
Mackintosh -> Kaweka J: Good track to ridgeline. Poled route beyond - 2.5 hrs
Kaweka J -> Whetu summit: Ridgeline route - 1.5 hrs
Whetu Summit -> Middle Hill Hut: Good track - 1 hr
Middle Hill -> Kaweka Flats Biv: Good track but rough/steep crossing Nth Makahu - 2.5 hrs
Kaweka Flats Biv -> Iron Whare: Good track - 30 mins
Iron Whare -> Whittle Rd fire dam: marked bush route - 1.5 hrs
Whittle Rd -> Black Birch Biv: Good track - 1 hr
Black Birch Biv -> Lotkow rd: Good track, steep descent - 1 hr
Lotkow roadend -> Lawrence roadend: Good track except 1km of riverbed travel - 2 hrs


The original 'low country', bad weather trip was as follows. This would mean retracing steps from Middle Hill hut back to the Iron Whare turnoff: about 2-3 hours of walking. But would avoid the tops completely if weather was bad.

Lawrence Roadend
Mackintosh Hut
Makahu Saddle
Kaweka Flats Biv
Middle Hill Hut
Iron Whare
Black Birch Biv
Lawrence Roadend


This could be extended further with a loop from Middle Hill to Makino Hut or Te Puia Lodge


NZTM2000: 1896241, 5636392 (alt: 358m)

DOC campsite at the Lawrence roadend. Features toilets, a shelter and grassy flats and picnic area. Accessible by 2wd from the Napier-Taihape road at the signposted turnoff by Blowhard Bush. Final descent to the roadend is steep and might not be advisable in RVs or lowered pocket rockets.

Created by: Madpom on 2014-10-06
Last updated by: Madpom at 2014-10-06 14:31:39

Distance: 1.7 km (0.8 DOC hours) - Tramping track - Easy-moderate terrain
Altitude: 356m to 527m. Gain: 180m. Loss: 20m . Gradient: 7 deg (Gentle)
Skills:
GPX info source: Drawn on map

There’s a swingbridge over the river from the picnic area. The bush is solid mature manuka – tall trees rather than low scrub. On the far side of the Tutaekuri with dry feet, a 2m-wide recently recut track heads downriver before climbing up 100m onto the ridge. It is an easy, gentle climb to the saddle where a signpost marks the turnoff to Mackintosh Hut.

Created by: Madpom on 2014-10-06

Distance: 0.8 km (0.3 DOC hours) - Tramping track - Easy-moderate terrain
Altitude: 376m to 538m. Gain: 25m. Loss: 162m . Gradient: 14 deg (Gentle)
Skills:
GPX info source: Drawn on map

From the track junction, a good cut marked tramping track heads west over a knob and down a spur to the Donald River. Good campspots exist beside the river on the eastern bank.

Created by: Madpom on 2014-10-06

Distance: 5.5 km (2.8 DOC hours) - Tramping track - Easy-moderate terrain
Altitude: 379m to 921m. Gain: 577m. Loss: 104m . Gradient: 7 deg (Moderate)
Skills: - Occasional rivers (3/5)
GPX info source: Drawn on map

The river is small, but wet feet seem guaranteed, and could flood after very heavy rain. The climb up the far side to the Mackintosh plateau is 450m and steep, despite benched zigzags which manage to more than double the distance without seeming to reduce the gradient. On a summer's day, sweat is expended, climbing through a banking landscape of manuka scrub..

The manuka has diminished in size by the time you reach the plateau – sparse scrub remaining, contorta pines filling the gaps. It’s an alien landscape. The map shows the track following the escarpment towards Mackintosh hut, but on the ground it feels more like the middle of a large plateau. The map shows a steady descent to the hut, but on the ground this in barely perceptible and soon the hut appears sitting in a cleared area across a small creek.

Created by: Madpom on 2014-10-06
Last updated by: Madpom at 2014-10-06 14:51:57

NZTM2000: 1893018, 5641170

Standard Hut

Created by: Madpom on 2014-07-17
Last updated by: Madpom at 2014-07-17 20:31:07

Distance: 1.0 km (0.5 DOC hours) - Tramping track - Easy terrain
Altitude: 855m to 908m. Gain: 53m. Loss: 5m . Gradient: 3 deg (Flat)
Skills:
GPX info source: Drawn on map

Taking the track north from Mackintosh Hut leads through a mixture of pines and beech forest towards the base of the main range. Taking the left turn 300m from the hut the trackj continues a further 400m across the flats to a 2nd signposted junction - the turnoff for the track to The Lakes via the former Kaweka Biv site.

Created by: Madpom on 2014-10-06
Last updated by: Madpom at 2015-07-08 15:56:23

Distance: 2.8 km (1.5 DOC hours) - Tramping track - Easy-moderate terrain
Altitude: 903m to 1418m. Gain: 529m. Loss: 14m . Gradient: 11 deg (Moderate)
Skills:
GPX info source: Drawn on map

Leaving the track junction, the beech gives way to manuka at the base of the hill, which is soon overwhelmed by contorta as the altitude rises. The track continues wide and well-cut: a tunnel through pines, opening to red clay-pan and rock, closing in again. Always climbing. The climb is only 450m and soon we're there where the pines stop abruptly at the summit of main ridge

Created by: Madpom on 2014-10-06
Last updated by: Reidpaulnz at 2018-08-21 19:44:24. Experienced: 2018-08-03

Distance: 0.4 km (0.2 DOC hours) - Marked route - Easy-moderate terrain
Altitude: 1374m to 1418m. Gain: 18m. Loss: 44m . Gradient: 9 deg (Gentle)
Skills: Alpine weather (2/7) Winter - Snow/ice underfoot (2/7)
GPX info source: Drawn on map

North of Mackintosh Spur, the poled route follows the Kaweka Main range 500m north through a small saddle to pt. 1408. A signpost on the summit marks the turnoff for the southern access to Studholme Saddle Hut.

Created by: Madpom on 2014-10-05
Last updated by: Reidpaulnz at 2018-08-21 19:21:47. Experienced: 2018-08-03

Distance: 1.2 km (0.8 DOC hours) - Unmarked route, clear - Easy-moderate terrain
Altitude: 1364m to 1576m. Gain: 212m. Loss: 28m . Gradient: 11 deg (Moderate-hard)
Skills: Alpine weather (2/7) Winter - Iceaxe/crampons (4/7)
GPX info source: Drawn on map

From the Studholme Hut turnoff at pt1408 to Kaweka J, the main range track runs entirely above the bushline - and for the most part above even lichen and tussock. Heading north the track drops through a barren landscape of grey stone towards Studholme Saddle. From the saddle the route climbs steeply gaining some 200 vertical meters to reach Mad Dog Hill, initially on bare shingle, but later entering tussock. 200m south of Mad Dog, another track junction is reached where a track drops down the spur east of Studholme Saddle Hut, leading to the hut form the north.

For some reason the ridge between Mad Dog and Kaiarahi (the next peak south from pt 1406) catches the worst of the south-westerly. I have had days that I can barely stand on this ridgeline, but could lay a map on the ground on the Kaweka summit without it so much as moving.

Created by: Madpom on 2014-07-30
Last updated by: Madpom at 2014-10-05 17:44:53

Distance: 1.9 km (0.8 DOC hours) - Marked route - Easy-moderate terrain
Altitude: 1576m to 1721m. Gain: 169m. Loss: 24m . Gradient: 6 deg (Gentle)
Skills: Alpine weather (2/7) Winter - Snow/ice underfoot (2/7)
GPX info source: Drawn on map

North of Mad Dog Hill the ridgeline becomes almost flat & the route meanders along the Kaweka tops to reach the Kaweka J summit, gaining 100m in 1.5km. The route is poled but often the distance between poles is sufficient to lose sight of them in poor weather. Though the ridgeline is obvious in good weather & navigation is straight forward, a map & compass would be advisable in poor visibility. A large cairn & a memorial to Heretaunga Tramping Club members lost in WWII lies just to the NE of the summit & may provide some shelter.

Created by: Madpom on 2014-10-05
Last updated by: Reidpaulnz at 2018-08-21 18:37:12. Experienced: 2018-08-02

Distance: 0.8 km (0.3 DOC hours) - Marked route - Easy-moderate terrain
Altitude: 1688m to 1721m. Gain: 13m. Loss: 33m . Gradient: 3 deg (Flat)
Skills: Alpine weather (2/7) Winter - Snow/ice underfoot (2/7)
GPX info source: Drawn on map

From the Kaweka J highpoint, the main range route runs north across broad, stony tops for 1km to the North Ridge/ Back Ridge Hut turnoff. The route is sparsely poled & easy to lose in poor visibility. The track junction is marked by a signpost.

Created by: Madpom on 2014-10-05
Last updated by: Reidpaulnz at 2018-08-21 18:08:40. Experienced: 2018-08-02

Distance: 3.5 km (1.8 DOC hours) - Marked route - Easy-moderate terrain
Altitude: 1517m to 1703m. Gain: 184m. Loss: 271m . Gradient: 7 deg (Moderate)
Skills: Alpine weather (2/7) Winter - Iceaxe/crampons (4/7)
GPX info source: Drawn on map

Heading NNE from the Back Ridge Hut turnoff, the main ridge is a broad, featureless expanse of fine stone, narrowing towards the mast at North Kaweka. The sparsely poled route skirts the peak to the west, and swings WNW to drop some 120, to a saddle, before climbing / sidling pt1668 on its eastern face.

Heading north again we drop 100m to another saddle, and climb over pt1638, swinging NE on the summit. 500m beyond the top of Ikaha Spur (rising from the east) is reached, which gives access down to Middle Hill.

Created by: Madpom on 2014-10-05
Last updated by: Madpom at 2014-10-05 16:47:55

Distance: 0.9 km (0.5 DOC hours) - Marked route - Easy-moderate terrain
Altitude: 1573m to 1618m. Gain: 45m. Loss: 43m . Gradient: 6 deg (Gentle)
Skills: Alpine weather (2/7) Winter - Iceaxe/crampons (4/7)
GPX info source: Drawn on map

From the top of Ihaka Spour, the main range runs NNW, crossing a gentle saddle and climbing again to Whetu highpoint. The track junction for Ballard / Venison Top is signposted 100m SW of the summit.

Created by: Madpom on 2014-10-05
Last updated by: Madpom at 2014-10-05 16:38:05

Distance: 0.6 km (0.3 DOC hours) - Marked route - Easy-moderate terrain
Altitude: 1558m to 1618m. Gain: 2m. Loss: 60m . Gradient: 6 deg (Flat)
Skills: Alpine weather (2/7) Winter - Snow/ice underfoot (2/7)
GPX info source: Drawn on map

A short 600m walk NE from the Whetu track junction takes you to another signposted junction at the top of Camp Spur (rising from the east). The route is sparsely poled over the stony gravel summit of the Kaweka range.

Created by: Madpom on 2014-10-06

Distance: 2.9 km (1.5 DOC hours) - Tramping track - Easy-moderate terrain
Altitude: 989m to 1573m. Gain: 17m. Loss: 601m . Gradient: 12 deg (Moderate)
Skills: Alpine weather (2/7) Winter - Iceaxe/crampons (4/7)
GPX info source: Drawn on map

There are 2 descents to Middle Hill: Ihaka Spur and Camp Spur, camp spur being the northernmost and better maintained. Turning east at 600m NE of Whetu, the poled route losing 200m in half a km to the bushedge on Camp Spur. The track remains excellent throughout – poled above the bushedge, a 2m-wide avenue though the bush below. From the ridgeline the eastern Kawekas appeared to hold nothing but manuka and tussock, but to my surprise the bush is beech – tall, open and easy going. After 2km the track from Makahu joins from the south at a signposted junction.

Created by: Madpom on 2014-10-06

Distance: 1.1 km (0.3 DOC hours) - Tramping track - Easy-moderate terrain
Altitude: 940m to 989m. Gain: 17m. Loss: 66m . Gradient: 4 deg (Flat)
Skills:
GPX info source: Drawn on map

From the track junction another easy km remains to the hut. Just as I’m beginning to wonder where the hut is, the tall beech ends abruptly and 3m high manuka takes its place – low dense scrub, rattling in the increasing wind. The beech forest makes a last, brief rally – another 100m-wide band – then stops permanently at a large clearing beyond which low scrubby manuka extends to the horizon. Middle Hill Hut.

Created by: Madpom on 2014-10-06

NZTM2000: 1895686, 5652386

Standard Hut

Created by: Madpom on 2014-07-17
Last updated by: Madpom at 2014-07-17 20:31:07

Distance: 1.1 km (0.3 DOC hours) - Tramping track - Easy-moderate terrain
Altitude: 940m to 989m. Gain: 66m. Loss: 17m . Gradient: 4 deg (Flat)
Skills:
GPX info source: Drawn on map

From Middle Hill Hut the Camp Spur track heads WSW through a mixture of beech and manuka. An easy flat walk takes you 1km over the flats to the start of camp spur where a signposted track junction marks the turnoff to Kaweka Flats Biv and Makahu Saddle to the south.

Created by: Madpom on 2014-10-06

Distance: 3.4 km (1.8 DOC hours) - Tramping track - Easy-moderate terrain
Altitude: 750m to 1034m. Gain: 308m. Loss: 389m . Gradient: 12 deg (Moderate)
Skills: - Occasional rivers (3/5)
GPX info source: Drawn on map

From the junction the track south drops to the first of two small streams, returning after each to the plateau that makes up much of the eastern Kawekas. The descents and climbs are easy, the track broad and well cut through open beech.

A couple of km later, the beech again makes a sudden change to manuka. The track starts to drop steeply down a mud-gravel spur. A deep V-notch valley opens in front, below. The 2m wide cut track vanished, replaced by a narrow foot-worn trail, zigzagging down ridgeline, slip, and finally dropping steeply though slippery beech forest to the North Mahaku River.

The river is unbridged but low - I was to cross easily with still-dry feet, though the deep riverbed hints of impassible flows after storms. Large triangles lead 50m downstream to where the narrow trail resumes, climbing what appears to be a steep streambed before finding a ridge to follow back up towards the plateau above. Nearing the summit we leave the thick scrub and enter a landscape of fiercely orange clay-pan, a landscape that could only be here. Cresting the plateau a signpost marks the junction with the track to Iron Whare to the east.

(On topo50 map series 1 this section is completely wrong, showing the track leading upriver some 400m to another spur before climbing).

Having 4 days on my hands, I’ve been looking forward to the challenge of tracking down the historic Iron Whare, some 1km off the main track. I’m slightly disappointed then, to crest the plateau and find a standard engraved-steel Kaweka signpost saying ‘Iron Whare’ and pointing east down a well-cut DOC track. Them’s the breaks.

Created by: Madpom on 2014-10-07

Distance: 1.2 km (0.5 DOC hours) - Tramping track - Easy-moderate terrain
Altitude: 904m to 943m. Gain: 44m. Loss: 54m . Gradient: 5 deg (Gentle)
Skills:
GPX info source: Drawn on map

From the turnoff, the good, cut marked track to Iron Whare follows the escarpment though beech forest to the hut. Flat and broad, the plateau narrows to a ridge just shy of Iron Whare, and starts to drop. The hut sits right beside the track, overlooking the Makahu valley.

Created by: Madpom on 2014-10-07

NZTM2000: 1896016, 5649178 (alt: 907m)

This is a historic hut, but is in great shape. Cut into the hillside, looking out over the Makahu and the plains beyond, it is in a great spot. The walls of the Whare are rough-sawn slabs of local timber, the rear wall of flattened packaging tins. Roofing iron is the only commercial building product used. The floor is dirt, and two wooden slat bunks make up one wall – sadly without mattresses. Old wooden nail-boxes improvise as chairs. The longdrop – the unwalled, unroofed, sit-on-the-box-and-admire-the-weather variety, is 100m further down the ridge,. Sadly, the striking absence is water. There appears to be none at the hut, and the nearest stream on the map is 40 vertical meters below in the valley floor. Surely there must be water closer than that…?

Created by: Madpom on 2014-10-07

Distance: 2.8 km (2.5 DOC hours) - Unmarked route, clear - Moderate terrain
Altitude: 623m to 1067m. Gain: 473m. Loss: 323m . Gradient: 17 deg (Moderate)
Skills: Alpine weather (2/7) - Streams (2/5)
GPX info source: Uploaded from GPS

The route of an old benched track or road heads down the ridge from the hut, passing the longdrop. On satellite photos this track/road is clear, descending all the way to the forks east of the hut. On the ground, however, it quickly become overgrown on leaving the beech, though frequent marker tape helps for a while after which you are left to follow the ridge. Abruptly the ridge stops and drops. On the forementioned satellite photos the track appears to zigzag down the northern face to the forks. For the best route, however, turn south to pick up a side spur heading towards the base of a long slip on the opposite face. The spur is well traveled and marked at it’s lower end with tape– reaching the river just upstream of a small sidestream joining the river from the south. 50m downstream of this confluence, flagging tape again marks a good clear, cut, marked route up the opposite face. This follows the ridge for a bit, then cuts east to the base of the slip. It’s a steep, hard climb at first, the ice-axe again proving useful on slippery clay. As the slope lessens, the clear clay is replaced with scrub, but a cut marked route continues up the ridgeline, exiting the scrub at the fire-dam just west of pt1083.

Created by: Madpom on 2014-10-21

Distance: 1.7 km (0.5 DOC hours) - Road - Easy terrain
Altitude: 1048m to 1076m. Gain: 15m. Loss: 30m . Gradient: 1 deg (Flat)
Skills:
GPX info source: Drawn on map

A short 2km walk down the graveled Whittle Road connects the Iron Whare access at the fire dam to the Black Birch roadend at Littles Clearing. Despite being on a road, the walk is spectacular with the backdrop of the Kaweka main range ahead across the manuka-covered plateau.

Created by: Madpom on 2014-10-21

Distance: 3.6 km (1.5 DOC hours) - Benched track - Easy terrain
Altitude: 1042m to 1090m. Gain: 77m. Loss: 67m . Gradient: 2 deg (Flat)
Skills:
GPX info source: Drawn on map

The Black Birch Ridge track starts across a small beech gully before becoming a wide cut canyon though the manuka scrub to the ridgeline. Here it joins what appears to be an old 4WD track heading south along the summit. First through swamp and tussock, this dries increasingly to barren claypan before the contorta takes over. In places: low, stunted, scattered; in other mature – the track a dimly lit tunnel on a bed of needles beneath the pine canopy. It is very easy going along the stony gravel surface, climbing slowly to the evocatively named summit at ‘G no. 2’. The turnoff west to Black Birch Bivouac lies just beyond. Lying to the west of the ridge, just where the contorta give out to a wall of beech, this is another typical Kaweka dog-box-biv.

Created by: Madpom on 2014-10-21

NZTM2000: 1896492, 5644080

Basic Hut/bivvy

Created by: Madpom on 2014-07-17
Last updated by: Madpom at 2014-07-17 20:31:07

Distance: 3.0 km (1.5 DOC hours) - Tramping track - Easy-moderate terrain
Altitude: 716m to 1080m. Gain: 36m. Loss: 386m . Gradient: 8 deg (Moderate)
Skills:
GPX info source: Drawn on map

Climbing the short track back to the ridgeline, continue south along the ridgeline on a broad track / old roadbed through contorta pine. Protected from the westerly by the pines, it is a pleasant walk. Soon a large grassy clearing appears ahead, scattered with a few lone mature pines. A signpost points left to the Lotkow road.

The track drops east off Black Birch Ridge the valley below is revealed – an unbroken sequence of native bush. The descent is steep and slippery, but the track well cut as it drops down the narrow spur. Lower, the spur levels, become a ridge dividing the valley into two separate catchments, one flowing north, one south. A gravel road climbs from the valley floor to the north to meet us at the southern end of the track.

Created by: Madpom on 2014-10-21

Distance: 1.6 km (0.5 DOC hours) - Road - Easy terrain
Altitude: 695m to 733m. Gain: 54m. Loss: 72m . Gradient: 4 deg (Gentle)
Skills:
GPX info source: Drawn on map

A short 1.5km walk along the graveled road links the Black Birch track to the start of the Lawrence track. Note: A sidetrack cutting up onto the ridgeline 500m south of the Black Birch roadend no longer exists,

The road is open to vehicular traffic, but was blocked to vehicles by a slip 500m from the southern end when I visited (2011).

Created by: Madpom on 2014-10-21

Distance: 3.1 km (1.5 DOC hours) - Tramping track
Altitude: 434m to 720m. Gain: 128m. Loss: 310m . Gradient: 8 deg (Gentle)
Skills: - Streams (2/5)
GPX info source: Drawn on map

The track climbs south from the northern roadend for a few hundred yards to a saddle, steep and slippery on the bare mud surface. A track branches west, signposted Don Juan. Ahead, the track to Lawrence roadend plummets into the valley head beyond. At first still a roadbed, steeply descending, soon deteriorating to a slippery trail, zigzagging down the slope, benched only by the passing of feet. On reaching the valley floor it sidles the steep and crumbling valleyside, still steep, still slippery. Finally it reaches a large slip and vanishes, the tramper left to scramble down the remaining 10 yards to the streambed and continue there. Most of the next 1km is spent in the river, Then, increasingly, sections of track start to reappear on the river banks. The valleysides become gentler, the valley floor widens beyond the width of the stream. Suddenly the ferns, creepers and cabbage trees end, a dry monoculture of manuka taking their place. The track begins again: a 2m wide cut swathe through the bush, benched in places. A Kaweka norm returns.

We follow the eastern valleyside to a fork where the river swings west, cross a sidestream, and climb briefly to reach the saddle where a signposted junction marks a track heading west towards the Donald River and Mackintosh Hut.

Created by: Madpom on 2014-10-21

Distance: 1.7 km (0.8 DOC hours) - Tramping track - Easy-moderate terrain
Altitude: 356m to 527m. Gain: 20m. Loss: 180m . Gradient: 7 deg (Gentle)
Skills:
GPX info source: Drawn on map

From the Mackintosh Hut track junction, the broad marked, cut track sidles gently down to the Tutaekuri River, which it follows briefly upstream to cross on a swingbrige at the picnic area.

Created by: Madpom on 2014-10-06

Comments: