Access: Proceed up SH1, then SH57 to Shannon, about 120 kilometres from Wellington. At the S entrance to Shannon, follow the bend L into Shannon but then turn immediately right and follow Vogel St to its end. Turn R into Stafford St and in 600 metres angle L into East Rd and Mangahao Valley Rd. From here pipelines are seen sinuously descending to the Mangahao Powerhouse. The road continues towards the hills, sealed as far as the powerhouse at 5 km. The first summit is at 10.4 km, and Reservoir No. 3 (Arapeti Dam) at 12.8 km.
The Te Araroa trail crosses the road, joining from the N along Tokomaru Rd, and from the S at a small carpark 2.4 km further along. The next hill-crest is at 16.7 km. Soon spectacular views into the Mangahao Valley emerge as the road zig-zags downhill to reach Reservoir No. 2 at 18.4 km and Reservoir No. 1 at 22.5 km. This road is possibly better travelled at night, and even in daylight your headlights will make you more visible. Remember that your stopping distance on a gravel road is thrice that on a sealed road!
These dam structures are working industrial sites. Access to them and across them is entirely dependent upon the needs of the owners. Industrial workplaces contain unusual hazards, and extra vigilance is needed. Park cars well clear of work areas and structures.
Overview: This valley rises under Pukematawai and the farthest headwaters are quite rough – the name Staircase Creek is suggestive. The middle reaches of the valley are simple travel with fine forest, then lower down the river flows through a long gorge to emerge north of the Wairarapa. Much of the forest, especially on the western slopes, was very badly damaged by the 1936 storm, but in many areas is at last recovering well.
Reservoir No. 1 has no public accommodation, but there are toilets, water and plenty of camping sites. From here tracks lead to Burn Hut; up the Mangahao Valley past Harris Creek to Mangahao Flats Hut; and beyond this again to Te Matawai Hut or the Ohau River. Routes also exist up spurs to Ngapuketurua, West Peak, Dundas, Tawirikohukohu; and there is an old route behind Island Ridge to Harris Creek.
Most of the unsightly dead trees of the lake area are now removed, part of the tidying-up efforts of the owners of the Mangahao Power Scheme; and only a few remain towards the head of the reservoir to recall the desecration caused by the original flooding of the forest. Adequate warnings are now posted about the danger of river floods caused by the automatic tipping of the 3-metre spillway gates. [revised February 2018]
From Reservoir No. 2, the track enters the bush on the TR below the dam and crosses a couple of minor streams before reaching the bridged third stream in 40 minutes. The trail is well padded but not spoilt by over-marking. About 10 min down from the dam a trackside iron standard marks easy access to the riverbed – the simple access for gorge trips. You may travel in the riverbed as far as stream 2 if you wish, but gorgy going begins before stream 3.
A few minutes over terraces beyond stream No. 3, the track climbs the spur determinedly for a good 50 minutes to the bushline. Beyond, the well-cut but in places overgrown track undulates to Burn Hut in 45 minutes. Fine views are to be had of the Managhao Gorge.
Southwards from Burn Hut the well-marked and well-cut track climbs to the Taramea-Ngapuketurua ridge, eventually swinging W to travel over .835 and descend the spur to the College Creek forks, 1¾ hours from the hut. Dam 1 is now 1½ hours away. For directions inwards via this route, see 19.3. [revised February 2018]
Burn Hut is a Bivvy or Basic hut, located at -40.620373, 175.528573. It has 6 bunks with mattresses, toilets - non-flush, water from tap - not treated, boil before use, and water supply. Bookings are not required, usage is first come, first served.Burn Hut alert
Burn Hut toilet unavailable
The toilet at Burn Hut has blown over and is unusable.
First published on 25 October 2023. Last reviewed on 16 November 2023.
19.2 Dam No.1 to Harris Creek via valley trail
Inwards: The track up-valley to Harris Creek starts from the TL of Reservoir No.1, just above high flood-line. The track is substantially level to where it crosses the bridge to the TR, 90 minutes from the dam. When the reservoir is not high, there is simple travel from the dam over the mud flats and streambed as far as the bridge. Beyond the bridge the river flows through a gorge and the track has several climbs on the TR as it bypasses this gorge, then drops to flats to cross Dick Creek. This track is almost certainly the worst aligned of any in the Tararuas, with its repeated climbs and its sometimes vestigial nature. Harris Creek lies 12 minutes beyond Dick Creek or 3 hours from the dam.
From Harris Creek, at normal water, one may pack float the short gorge downstream.
19.3 Dam No. 1 to Burn Hut, or Harris Creek via Baber and Dick Creeks
The early portion of this route now serves the College Creek access to Burn Hut. This old route was used before the Mangahao was bridged below the Harris Creek gorge, and also gives access to Ngapuketurua.
At the TR of Dam No. 1, find the high-water track that stays inside the bush-edge and (almost) above flood-line as far as Baber Creek. A small stream is reached 200 metres before Baber, and the track goes down this before swinging around the spur to Baber Creek, some 25 minutes from the dam.
At lower water one may scramble along the grassy banks above the dam’s control zone, to camping flats in Baber Creek just above high water. But be extremely careful of any slumping caused by reservoir scouring and of grass still slippery after wetting.
Ten minutes or less up Baber Creek brings the junction with College Creek. Heading up the bouldery College Creek, its forks are reached in 40 to 50 minutes. The track to Burn Hut begins a little up the TL branch and in an hour reaches .835; from here the track undulates pleasantly to Burn Hut in a further 50 minutes.
If proceeding further up Baber Creek, the next part is somewhat gorgy, but flats follow to the upper fork at (Topo50 BN34 102 970), about 1 hour from Baber Forks. [The following directions may need revising: The upper forks are cairned, as are the next forks. From here climb the rough spur to knob (Topo50 BN34 097 965), beyond which a spur drops to the Dick Creek fork at (Topo50 BN34 093 958).] Easy travel follows to the track-crossing, about 10 minutes down-valley from Harris Creek.
When heading out towards the dam from Baber Creek, the high-water track starts just above high flood-line and, once past the small stream, is never far above the grassy banks. Remember to watch for slumping of the grass banks above the reservoir. [revised February 2018]
The trail from Baber Forks emerges, in less than 2 hours, from the bush to swing SW along the long spur towards Ngapuketurua. The spur running over .840 and 833 towards Taramea has recently had a track cut. (This track comes from Burn Hut - see 19.1.)
From Ngapuketurua to Harris Creek the spur down is fairly defined, but most of the higher spurs in this area and towards Ruapae carry a good cover of scrub.
19.5 West Peak
The spur to West Peak from Harris Creek is often travelled by hunters but it is not marked and is overgrown in parts in the scrub belt. [revised January 2021]
Cross the Harris Creek bridge then over the bush terraces beyond. Stay on the Mangahao TR until past the Barra Stream bridge – 30 minutes from Harris Creek. Not far above Barra Stream is a short section of rough going and a high sidle track on the TR may be used if the river is difficult. Either route returns you to low river terraces. The fine Mangahao Flats Hut, at (Topo50 BN34 059 926), sleeps 25. This replaced both Harris Creek Hut, and the old Avalanche Flats Hut further upstream.
Avalanche Flats are passed in about 60 minutes, and the Upper Mangahao Forks lie perhaps 30 minutes beyond. The river is not yet small, and its bed is rather bouldery in these upper reaches, needing care in crossing. Travel time will vary accordingly. The well-marked turn-off to Girdlestone Saddle is about 2 hours from Mangahao Flats Hut, and the saddle itself is a short 10-minute scramble from the river.
At the saddle, a well-marked track leads uphill to Te Matawai Hut. The track crossing the saddle to the South Ohau is not as well marked, but 10 minutes suffices to reach the streambed, (see 18.11) where the going gets better. From the saddle, either hut is 75 minutes distant. [revised April 2016]
Note. An earthquake in 2003 damaged the terrace upon which South Ohau Hut sat, and the hut was temporarily removed.
Mangahao Flats Hut
Mangahao Flats Hut is a Standard hut, located at -40.691785, 175.43601. It has 16 bunks with heating, mattresses, toilets - non-flush, water from tap - not treated, boil before use, and water supply. Bookings are not required, usage is first come, first served. Mangahao Flats Hut
Most of the spurs to this prominence carry storm damage.
An old track over Tawirikohukohu has been re-cut and provides good access to Square Knob and beyond. The track starts from the toe of the spur on the NE side of Tawiri Stream (this is the stream which drains from Tawirikohukohu; the name is misplaced on current maps). It sidles the north side of Tawirikohukohu just below the top. (An old route used to drop into Waiti Stream from the saddle near .794 and in those times there used to be falls in the upper Waiti, but these now seem buried.) Going the other way, begin climbing the first knob some 750m E of Tawirikohukohu and watch for a cut track in the scrub on the R. [revised 2010]
19.8 Avalanche Flats to Triangle Knob and Dundas QOT
The track to Mt Dundas runs up Triangle Spur from the area once known as Avalanche Flats, some 2.3km or 45 minutes up-valley from Mangahao Flats Hut: watch for old markers.
Up: About 80 minutes to the bush-edge and another good hour through scrub to Triangle Knob. Fifty minutes more to the Main Range.
Down: The trail drops W from the Main Range near a small tarn 4 minutes SW of the summit of Dundas. In fog, do not mistake the spur leading northerly beyond Dundas. Thirty minutes or so down the spur and through the saddle to Triangle Knob, then 45 minutes down the well-defined spur to the bush-edge. In the bush the trail is only fairly defined, and leads to the valley in an hour. [revised January 2021]