Access: Two hundred metres beyond the Waingawa River bridge on SH2, the Masterton bypass leads L from the highway. Nearly 3 km along this at a rounabout, Upper Plain Rd leads L to Upper Waingawa Rd and its road-end, some 16 km from the start of the bypass. DoC notice boards here give track advice. Park clear of farm gates.
Overview: This road-end, (Topo50 BP34 104 712, NZMS260 S26 204 329), is commonly known as ‘The Pines’ (though those trees are no more) and gives access to the Waingawa Valley and to Mitre, the highest point in the Tararua Ranges.
Major side-streams of this valley arise on Mitre itself, and the farthest headwaters come from country only slightly lower in the heart of the ranges. These uppermost reaches of the Waingawa are rough and bouldery, then the valley becomes a gorge between Arete Forks and Cow Creek as it cuts across the Table Ridge – Cattle Ridge alignment. The middle reaches of the valley follow a major fault system and give pleasant, easy travel, with occasional grass flats. Below Mitre Flats the river again narrows through a fairly easy gorge. [revised April 2016]
Three and a half to four hours from road-end to Mitre Flats Hut, on the TL almost all the way.
From the Waingawa road-end, by the DoC notice boards, a cattle stop leads onto a farm road and 25 minutes along this brings a shearing shed and yards. Pass through a small gate to a track which drops to the low riverside terraces. After crossing Blake Stream, follow along the river-edge manuka flats and enter the bush to regain the high terrace, then cross a stile at the Park boundary.
Fifteen minutes from this stile, the first of several minor streams is crossed and the track, though notoriously up and down, keeps more or less to this height. A good 1½ hours from the road-end, the ‘halfway’ point is marked by a flat open area on the track; a precipitous drop at its edge provides fine views. This is a good place for a spell as, soon after crossing the next stream, the track is steep for a few minutes. Several streams later, the track enters a small level ‘valley’ (probably an earth-fault rent), which is about 15 minutes from Mitre Flats. The track soon descends steeply towards the river. Across the bridge, Mitre Flats Hut is 2 minutes up-valley and sleeps 14 in comfort. [revised April 2016]
Mitre Flats vicinity
About 3½ hours along the track, on the TR almost all the way.
Up-valley: From Mitre Flats Hut the trail heads up-valley past the bridge through manuka and bush and 30 minutes from the hut the wet-weather trail starts to rise away from the river. In fine weather the riverbed itself may be followed from here all the way to Cow Creek, and this route is perhaps 30 minutes shorter than the track. The wet-weather trail, not particularly well marked, climbs steeply to cross first an eroded gully, then Peggy's Stream (30 minutes), then North Mitre Stream (20 minutes). After a further 40 minutes it drops close to the river, 20 minutes below Cow Creek Hut. These streams, especially North Mitre, can be difficult to cross after heavy rain.
Down-valley: From Mitre Flats Hut, proceed upstream 5 minutes and cross the bridge. The trail down-valley now climbs to pass over the top of the slip opposite the hut, and drops to a ‘bridge’ sign, about 25 minutes from the hut. From here it rises a little, and then keeps more or less to the same level until within 50 minutes of the road-end. Eventually the bush gives way to scrub, the track crosses a stile, and drops to manuka flats at river level. Cross Blake Stream, and climb again to the terrace-edge where the farm road leads R to the stile at the Upper Waingawa Road, some 3½ – 4 hours from the hut.
From Mitre Flats Hut to the road-end, a pleasant fine-weather alternative is to travel via the lower Waingawa Gorge. This is simple travel with several river crossings but no troublesome pools or real gorge until almost the end. From terraces on the TR, the scrubby hillside opposite is seen that marks the start of the farm-edge country, and just downstream is the only significant pool. You can swim/packfloat this pool, or can bypass it by climbing the rough scrubby faces on the TL to gain the track where it drops to the high terraces just before the stile. Time down the gorge is much the same as the track: 3 hours or so to the road-end.
About 2½ hours from Mitre Flats to Atiwhakatu Saddle (aka ¿Pinnacle Ridge saddle).
Southwards: Down-valley of Mitre Flats, cross South Mitre Stream on the bridge 100 metres upstream from the Waingawa. The track on the TR now zig-zags up the spur for 30 minutes to a high terrace, where the track to Baldy forks to the R and that to the Atiwhakatu Saddle leads L. Sidling round the terrace-edge, the trail soon drops to the first major side-stream ¿Chert Creek, notable for its bright-red chert boulders. Travel upstream on the TL 25 metres or so, then cross by a huge beech-tree bridge – about an hour from Mitre Flats.
From here the well-defined and lightly benched trail leads to cross a mossy minor stream in 30 minutes and soon after, drops steeply to the forks in the next stream, 15 minutes on. This stream, with conglomerate boulders, has extensive slips in its headwaters and a conspicuous shingle face below on the TR. Cross the first branch just above the forks, then follow up the more southerly branch for 50 metres before climbing out on the TR. The grade of the spur soon eases off to reach point 670, the Atiwhakatu Saddle, 30 minutes from the conglomerate stream and about 2½ hours from Mitre Flats.
Northwards: Travel SE from Atiwhakatu Saddle for 1 minute, then L down the straightforward spur to ¿Conglomerate Stream. Descend the streambed 50 metres to the forks and cross the other branch just above the forks, to an iron standard above the TL bank. The track just beyond this stream is a little confused due to slip and windfall, then descends a few metres before commencing its climb proper. At one point, an unfinished bench-track to the R should be avoided in favour of the steeper climb, but within 10 minutes of leaving the creek, the track becomes better defined. At the spur beyond Chert Creek, take care to follow down the edge of the spur terrace and not to gain the spur crest. About 2½ hours from Atiwhakatu Saddle to Mitre Flats Hut. (In future years, the descent through Conglomerate Stream and the climb beyond may be moderated, when a better-graded track swings from the Atiwhakatu Saddle across the Conglomerate Stream headwaters towards the better-formed route in the vicinity of the minor mossy stream.)
Up: From the top of the zig-zag beyond the South Mitre Stream bridge (see 5.5), the trail to Baldy climbs steadily. Fire-damaged bush-edge is reached after a 2½-hour climb, and a further 20 minutes brings the cairned knob, 7 minutes before the broad top of Baldy.
Down: The spur leaves the flat featureless top of Baldy in a NE direction and in 7 minutes reaches the cairned minor knob where the track to Mitre Flats forks from that to the Atiwhakatu Saddle. Less than 15 minutes down-spur from this minor knob you should reach bush-edge below an old burn. From here the trail is fairly well defined at first, but poorly defined lower down. The usual rule applies: if the track has got lost, go back to the last place you were definitely on the track, and cast around again for it. About 2½ hours from Baldy to Mitre Flats.
The route to the Mid King and biv starts across the South Mitre bridge, as for Atiwhakatu or Baldy above, but does not climb the zig-zag. Instead keep to the TR of South Mitre Stream, a bit rough for a few minutes, until the large stream Baldy Creek comes in from the L (the SW). Crossing this, the route now travels up the spur between the stream forks. (If South Mitre is low, you could travel up its TL until Baldy Creek is opposite, before gaining the spur.) The spur itself is well defined, though the track marking is less so, and 2½ hours from the Mitre Flats will bring a flat portion of ridge at bush-edge. Mid King is less than an hour up easy tussock from here.
The biv lies out of sight, secreted just inside bush-edge, in the basin to the W of the flat ridge. Travel to the biv is easier inside the bush-edge. This standard bivvy sleeps two or three people. There is a good tent-site close to the tarn just S of Mid King, a magnificent spot on a clear dawn; and there are good camp sites near the large Adkin Saddle tarn. A similar easily travelled spur leads from further up the South Mitre Stream basin direct to North King. You may find a small litter of aircraft wreckage at this bush-edge.
The trip up Mitre from the flats takes 3 – 4 hours, depending on spells.
Up: The track to Mitre leaves the flats about 75 metres down-valley of the hut. It climbs a succession of terraces for the first hour, followed by a steeper ridge for about 30 minutes, then a series of ridge terraces for the next 30 minutes. This brings you to bush-edge, just above a small campsite, about 2 hours from Mitre Flats. A narrow belt of scrub gives way to open tussock, with the track reasonably well marked by cairns on the rockier slopes.
Past point 1330 the ridge is better defined and passes a large slip on the SW about 15 minutes short of the top of Mitre itself. About 60–75 minutes from the bush-edge to Mitre.
This is a grandstand viewpoint, as befits the highest peak of the Tararuas. The next peak along is Brockett, with Table Ridge branching N from it; and seen to the N beyond that again are Bannister and Waingawa. A glimpse of Tarn Ridge, on the Northern Crossing, is seen beyond Brockett. Girdlestone lies to the W of Mitre, and here the Northern Crossing joins the Holdsworth – Mitre Ridge. Running S from Girdlestone, beyond the South Mitre headwaters, are Adkin and The Kings, of the Holdsworth – Mitre Range.
South Mitre Stream and North Mitre Stream both have significant waterfalls. In South Mitre Stream the headwater falls in the Brockett-Mitre basin are easily by-passed by sidling on the left to a scree gully off Mitre, then drop to the Girdlestone – Adkin basin. Below bush edge are the higher falls, but not difficult to sidle. In North Mitre Stream, when you come to its falls, sidle out to the right to a shelf in the bush, and follow this for a little before again descending to the streambed.
Down: Ten minutes down from Mitre is Peggys Peak, and the trail soon descends more deliberately, over cairned erosion fields, to the bush-edge less than an hour from the top. Fifteen minutes of easier travel in sub-alpine bush gives way to steeper going through taller forest for 20 minutes or so, then the first of the terraces with their giant rimu. From the start of these curiously elevated terraces, the river flats are 40 minutes distant, 2 hours or more from Mitre. There are several false trails on these terraces and a little more care than usual is needed to keep on the ideal trail.
Cow Creek vicinity
Up: The common route to Cow Saddle crosses the Waingawa immediately by Cow Creek Hut and picks up the trail to Cow Saddle about 50 metres down-valley on the TL. The trail soon climbs steeply as it sidles across the crush-zone sources of Cow Creek to reach the saddle with surprising suddenness, 30 minutes from the hut.
At Cow Saddle, the trails to Cattle Ridge, Waingawa 1423, and Cleft Creek, are one for the first 50 metres or so of westerly travel. The track to Cattle Ridge and Waingawa is comfortable whilst in the bush, but above bush-edge note carefully where it joins the leading spur that carries on to Cattle Ridge and Waingawa. About an hour to bush-edge, the same to Cattle Ridge, and 20 minutes beyond to Waingawa 1423.
Alternately, from Cow Creek Hut, a less-used trail used to lead directly to the Waingawa 1423 bush-edge, by-passing Cow Saddle. This route climbs the spur across from the hut, to reach the bush-edge in 90 minutes. Note carefully the entry from the scrub into the bush.
Down: Fifteen minutes down from Waingawa summit the ridge broadens before the broad rock-strewn summit of 1360. A slotted standard and a cairn mark the turn-off to Cow Saddle before 1360. Follow down the spur. Just below a knob with scrub saddles fore and aft, is a flatter section of spur. Here the small spur to Cow Saddle drops L. Poorly defined at first, the track improves once in the bush. Cow Saddle is reached in less than an hour. Note that this track is more challenging in misty conditions. But this bush is not tiger country.
There are two routes from Cow Creek Hut to the Blue Range: the ‘Cow Saddle’ route and the ‘direct’ route. The saddle route is 30 minutes longer but much less steep. It is 2 hours via the ‘direct’ route to the Blue Range Hut turn-off.
Climb to Cow Saddle as in 5.9. The climb from Cow Saddle towards Blue Range is simple, and 60 minutes from the saddle should bring the point on the ridge that connects with the ‘direct’ route from Cow Creek Hut. Another hour brings the Blue Range Hut turn-off, with the Kiriwhakapapa road-end a further 80 minutes on.
If the river is low, follow the streambed to the foot of the climb; stay on the TR on the trail downstream from the hut until 200 metres down-valley of the bridge – this avoids bouldery going – then gain the grass flats. Cross and re-cross the river until opposite the lower end of the large grassed slip on the TL, about 600 metres down-valley of the hut. A 3-metre-high flat-faced rock lies just inside the bush-fringe on the TL about 10 metres downstream of the slip. Cross and pick up the trail immediately downstream of the rock. The trail climbs to a terrace and crosses a stream before heading up the steep spur to the watershed ridge. The ridge is a good hour from Cow Creek Hut, and the Blue Range Hut turn-off is another hour away.
The old cage that crossed the Waingawa near Cow Creek has now been replaced by a footbridge at (Topo50 BN34 102 829, NZMS260 S25 202 446). If the river is up, cross the bridge and follow the route downstream on the TL through a neck of bush, then travel along the foot of the slip. At the lower end of the slip, pass behind the tall flat-faced rock to pick up the terrace trail.
About 3½ hours via the track, on the TR all the way.
From Cow Creek Hut, the track passes the bridge across the Waingawa and skirts close to the river for 20 minutes or so before swinging away slightly to cross North Mitre Stream, then Peggy's Stream and an eroded watercourse before dropping to the river terraces again 20 minutes upvalley of Mitre Flats Hut. The trail is adequate but could not be considered well marked. The early streams can prove difficult after heavy rain and deserve care.
If the side-streams are too high, the emergency exit is across the river on the Cow Creek bridge, and on to Kiriwhakapapa via the Blue Range: less than 4 hours.
The trip down the river itself; from Cow Creek Hut to Mitre Flats Hut, is pleasant on a finefine day and takes about 3 hours. This trip is mostly in bush fringes and grass flats alongside the river.
From Brockett, about 3 hours to Cow Creek Hut.
Down: From Brockett, Table Ridge swings N through a slight saddle to reach the large tarn in 20 minutes. The ridge now bears roughly E over an intermediate knoll to the end of Table Ridge proper. (From point 1478 a spur branches NNW direct to Arete Forks.) Beyond this, a deeper saddle brings the broader top of knoll 1390.
Notes for the next half-hour section are in some detail because the complex terrain may be difficult in fog. From 1390 bear 70º true to pick up the series of cairns, which then bear 50º true. About 50 metres of altitude down from the knoll, a small rock-bluff is passed on your R and the trail takes a sharp R jog. Five minutes below the first jog is another jog to the R, at scrub-edge, leading E down the scrubby face to the bush-edge. In the bush-edge the trail crosses an embryo gully to the R and picks up occasional blazes and discs on the spur beyond.
From the bush-edge, 35 minutes down-spur brings the turn-off to the Arete Forks sidle trail and, in another 20 minutes, Cow Creek Hut itself. Track markers are intermittent. From knoll 1390, several other spurs also leave. A major spur parallel to the tracked one leads into the Waingawa a little up the sidle track, and a smaller intermediate spur finishes in a stream at the bush-edge.
The river route can be enjoyable in good weather and low flow, but otherwise the sidle track is a little quicker and is recommended, even if it is rather rough in places. The signposted time of 3 hours is appropriate for the very fit or lightly laden; a more usual party time between Cow Creek Hut and Arete Forks Hut would be 4 – 5 hours. Arete Forks Hut is on a terrace out of sight of the stream, 150 metres upstream of the forks.
Up: From Cow Creek Hut, the trail climbs for 35 minutes to the junction of the Table Ridge and Arete Forks tracks. Turning up-valley, the trail mostly keeps 200–300 metres above the river – a little higher than indicated on the map – scrambling in and out of a succession of steep gullies, to arrive on the final spur about 10 minutes from Arete Forks Hut. There are excellent campsites both at Arete Forks and 100 metres up-stream of the hut.
In the damp but open slip going around Stream No. 3, try to avoid stinging nettle. At the active scree slip before Stream No. 5, cross level to the regenerating area, then drop to the stream just below a tiny fall. In the reverse direction here, there is a cairn at the down-valley bush-edge. This trail tends to be badly overgrown in the many open areas.
Arete Forks vicinity
Note. The route marked on earlier maps as running up alongside the upper Waingawa River is riverbed travel only.
Up: This was once described as an excellently marked but otherwise non-existent track (a culler short-cut track!), but is now more used and is currently (May 2017) adequately cut and marked. From the base, it is better to access the spur from slightly up Arete Stream where the terrace edge is easier gained. Around 2½ hours up.
Down: Twelve minutes W of Waingawa is a cairn atop a large rock, and 20 metres W of the cairn, this spur drops. The scrub is rather fierce at the top; indeed, this Bannister – Waingawa territory has some of the most extensive scrub in the Tararuas. The spur has a pronounced R jog about halfway down.
«» The stream running to the saddle between Bannister and Waingawa 1423 is a fair route without surprises.
«» The spur from above Arete Forks to 1513 is good going. You may have to access the spur foot from a little up the above-mentioned side-stream.
Down: Apart from its length, this spur is unremarkable. Beyond the large tarn on Table Ridge lies knoll 1478, and from here this spur runs NNW. Forty minutes or so down, but still in scrub, the spur trifurcates with the target spur rising out of the face between the other two. At its foot it joins the sidle track from Cow Creek to Arete Forks a few minutes above the hut.
The track is well cut and marked through the bush (May 2017). Up: This route travels Pinnacle Spur (to be distinguished from Pinnacle Ridge to the E of the Atiwhakatu). Cross the river where convenient and pick up the trail that climbs steeply up the spur to the bush-edge in an hour, and tussock in another hour. Thirty minutes beyond the first tussock knoll, the ridge becomes a series of small humps, variously sidled, finishing at an iron standard at the head of the Waiohine Pinnacles: 2½ hours in all.
Down: On the way down, the spur is a steep face for the first 50 metres of height, but is easy to follow once the humps are reached. At the tussock knoll, bear L past some cairns to pick up the track in the scrub. The route is clearly marked and well cut. [<<revised May 2017>>]
The new Tarn Ridge Hut is now on the Northern Crossing at (Topo50 BN34 055 817, NZMS260 S25 155 434), between Blatchford's Cross and 1435, replacing the old hut on Tarn Ridge proper. (Blachford was a deer hunter who died in the ranges and is buried nearby.)
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 New Zealand License.