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Tararua Footprints Otaki River System

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14 Otaki River System

Access to Otaki Forks: Trampers planning to use the Otaki Gorge Road are advised to consult the Kapiti Coast District Council road status page. This is also accessible as a quick link at the bottom of their homepage.

The simplest access is by crossing the railway line on to the Otaki Gorge Road just S of the Otaki River bridge on SH1, and following it to Otaki Forks. But most trampers, coming from Wellington, turn R over the level crossing at Te Horo on to School Road and Hautere Cross Road. Either way, you soon pass the Waiohanga suspension bridge which crosses the Otaki River and (with permission of the landowner) gives access to Tangata and Mick, etc.

The gravel road soon narrows to climb round the first of the gorge sidles. Remember that your stopping distance on a gravel road is thrice that on a sealed road! The concrete ford is passed, 0 km (dry your brakes), the Pukehinau at 1.4 km, the Blue Slip at 4.0 km, and the Otaki Forks, marked by the pioneer memorial, at 6.0 km. At about 7.0 km the picnic area of Boielle Flat is obvious 300 metres down a branch road, the caretaker’s house with the overnight carpark is at 7.3 km, and the road-end and camping grounds of Schoolhouse Flat are at 9.0 km.

There are several access points from the road to the river. But be careful: children near water require continuous adult supervision. This is a big river!

«» A track (Bridgeview Track) just upstream of the Waiohanga (aka Kaitawa Rd) suspension bridge, starting from a small parking bay, gives a good exit from the river for rafts, kayaks, etc.

«» Seventy metres before the pioneer monument (where parking is available) at Otaki Forks proper, and opposite the old Post Office site, an old track, somewhat bouldery, leads to an extensive beach and the sometimes deep ford across the Otaki River. The river has in the past cut away the bottom of this track: there is now a 2 metre climb down a rock bank to the shingle beach. See Early settlement of Otaki Forks.

«» Two hundred metres beyond the high point of the road between the forks and Boielle Flat, a track drops L to the Waiotauru River and across it to Otaki Forks – a convenience for those coming down the Waitatapia. The roadside end of this is quite obscured but any believer should be able to find it.

Overview: The Otaki River system is by far the largest of the catchments within the Tararuas. The region known as Otaki Forks has as its focus the forks themselves: the junction of two large rivers (Otaki and Waiotauru) and, almost contiguously, the smaller Waitatapia Stream. This cross-shaped junction is seen from a small grassy flat beside the road, about 650 metres beyond the Roaring Meg. It was to this flat that timber and passengers from the mill on Sawmill Flat opposite were swung over on a wire cable. This site now displays a memorial cairn to the pioneers of the district.

The Otaki River rises under Pukematawai in the northern ranges and, as its valley lies along a fault line, for much of its length it is a delightful series of open flats and forest terraces – and the occasional slip. Near Waitewaewae Hut, the extensive Waitewaewae River system joins, and below this point the river soon flows through the curve of a major gorge to emerge at Otaki Forks. Here the Waiotauru River joins and the combined rivers now flow through a lesser gorge to arrive on the coastal plains. All three river systems, Waiotauru, Otaki and the Waitewaewae, are well forested, though there has been in the past much logging in the Waiotauru, and in the vicinity of Otaki Forks. [revised January 2019] See also Otaki Forks Field Hut (WRS, DoC).

Otaki Gorge Road

14.1 From Otaki at Kaitawa (Waihoanga) Road Bridge to Tangata Maunga and Mick QOT

Climbing Tangata Maunga from the Kaitawa Road Suspension Bridge has been an option for many decades, but the access is over private property almost to the ridge top overlooking the Waitohu valley. There are at least three old logging roads which lead to the crest of the ridge. These 4WD roads appear to have no status, and the land on the cleared lower slopes is being increasingly subdivided so that each road runs through the property of more than one owner. Unless private arrangements can be made with the landowners, Tangata Maunga is now better approached from the Waitohu valley (see 15.1). [revised June 2019]

Otaki Forks vicinity

From Otaki Forks, tracks lead to Waitewaewae, the Otaki River (and Penn Creek), Field Hut and the Southern Crossing, etc., and the Waiotauru River. Within easy reach of Boielle Flat there are also several short local walks that are not described here. Information about these walks is displayed at the caretaker's house. Please fill in the intentions book at the caretaker's before and after your trip. The phone at the caretaker's is not available for toll calls, but is available for local calls (Otaki and Levin) and for collect calls. Its number is 06 364 3111. [revised January 2019]

14.2 Otaki Forks to Waitewaewae Hut via the Plateau QOT

A trip of 5 hours or so nowadays. About 3˝ hours from the Forks to the Plateau Saddle, and a further 1˝ hours to the hut. In the 50s this trip used to be only 3 hours for a medium fitness party. Track and stream degradation, including large slips, then made this trip much longer. A new track avoids the worst sections but has not significantly reduced the time. (For the return journey, see 14.12.)

From Boielle Flat, cross the Waiotauru swingbridge and follow the old tramline which swings L to reach the higher terrace. (Parawai Lodge, sleeps 18, is nestled out of sight on the R on the lower river flat.) Once on the high terrace proper, the track forks. The track for Field Hut and the Southern Tararuas turns R. The Waitewaewae track on the L heads SE near the terrace-edge above the TL of the Otaki River.

Sawmill Flat is the high terrace seen to the NE across the Otaki River and the remains of the sawmill's steam boiler may be found at the NE corner. This mill (Corrigan's) was destroyed in the immense 1936 storm. Seen up the valley beyond is Plateau Saddle, with Shoulder Knob presenting as a high spur in the farther distance.

A few hundred metres along the terrace-edge, the Waitewaewae Track descends and crosses the Otaki River footbridge, 20 minutes from the carpark. It then climbs to regain the matching high terrace on the TR opposite.

Ten metres along from the TR of the bridge you will see the anchorage of the 1950s cullers' cable whose cage used to land on the prominent rock.

From the lip of Sawmill Flat the track turns R for a few metres before swinging sharply L to climb the gentle sidle track clearly seen to the NE. Thirty minutes from the bridge, and after a steepish climb to avoid an old slip, the trail drops slightly to cross the first significant sidestream, where it joins the old tramline. Much of the tramline formation from here back to Sawmill Flat has been destroyed by erosion and slump. From the stream the trail follows the old bush tramline alignment, though bridges over the streams have rotted away and it is hard to credit that the tramline had a fairly uniform grade. The Otaki Forks Fault runs close to this track alignment, and just before Papa Creek a good 400 metres of the country is slipping down to the Waitatapia Stream. This slippage can be expected to increase. A rough sidle above the worst of the washout is possible but is no longer maintained.

There are now two routes to Plateau Saddle, neither very satisfactory, the first being safer and clearly marked, the second, some think, more pleasant.

  1. The new track to the saddle, clearly indicated, begins 20 minutes along the tramline, and although it is slow and sometimes rough, it avoids the slips and eroding creek-bed in its climb towards the saddle. Two hours brings the high point of the of the track, which then drops to meander across a flat area, in a further 20 minutes reaching Plateau Saddle at the head of Saddle Creek.
  2. The old route to the saddle continues along the tramline towards the slippage before Papa Creek. Before reaching the slip, at Topo 50 BP33 907 740, drop on a cleared route to the Waitatapia Stream, and climb back up beyond the slip. This option should be avoided if the stream is running high, or during or after heavy rain when there is a risk of falling rocks. In such conditions, you could consider the older way of avoiding the slip, by climbing around the top. But there is currently no cut route through tangled bush at the very top and the new track to the saddle might well seem preferable.

Beyond Papa Creek the old log-hauler boiler is passed, marking the end of the tramline, and just beyond this the trail drops sharply to Saddle Creek – perhaps 2 hours from Boielle Flat. Note carefully the exit from Saddle Creek if planning to return this way. Up Saddle Creek are intermittent tracks about half the time; otherwise the route is in the creek-bed. Soon after crossing a rough and recently washed-out side-stream on the TL some 80 minutes from the boiler, a smaller trickle is crossed and the track, on the TL, swings away from the main headwater and up the trickle towards Plateau Saddle - a turn-off that is not conspicuously marked. This area is the crush zone of the local fault and the eroding rock porridge is rather unstable. The saddle is reached 10 minutes after the washout stream – 90 minutes from the traction engine.

A few metres beyond the saddle, and surprisingly close to it, Plateau Stream is crossed. In the foreseeable future this headwater of Plateau Stream may be captured by Saddle Creek, an event that would lead to massive and long-lasting erosion in this vicinity. Two further crossings follow quickly, and the track then meanders over the Plateau's deep loam for 20 minutes or so before beginning the descent to Arapito Creek. The track now generally sidles the TR faces above this creek; beware the odd false pad leading off. Forty minutes from the saddle, it reaches the stream bank. Arapito is another European-generated Maori name and means 'the end of the track'.

Two routes offer to Waitewaewae Hut from here:

  1. The high (wet-weather) sidle crosses the creek and travels the hillsides above the big slips on the Otaki River, then drops to the head of the bush flats downstream of the Waitewaewae Hut. This fine hut, sleeps 16, is located on the TR of the Otaki River on the flats S of .380. (At the head of the bush flats the route to the upper Otaki continues to the N over a small saddle; the upper river can also be reached by crossing the swingbridge beyond the hut.)
  2. In normal weather one may decline the stream crossing and continue down intermittent trails alongside Arapito Creek to its junction with the Otaki River. Follow alongside the river until past the slips, then splash up the river itself, with a few crossings, to reach the hut. It may be necessary to go a little further up the river to make the final crossing.

About 90 minutes from Plateau Saddle to the hut by either route. [revised March 2019]

14.3 Otaki Forks to Penn Creek via the Gorge Track QBN

This track is no longer recommended. It has suffered major slip damage above the Otaki Gorge, and again above Penn Ck itself. The slips above the Otaki are quite exposed. Creative route-finding and BN skills will be examined on this challenge (although currently unofficial markers are helpful). The attempt on this route by the insufficiently experienced has caused several SAR callouts. Some work, not by DOC, has recently cleared the track, and provided ropes at exposed places, most essentially at the large slip in the stream draining the catchment between Tirotiro Knob and Table Top. The route across and down this slip is exposed and unclear, though the track beyond is, sparsely, marked.

From the terrace above the swingbridge leading to Waitewaewae, a sign indicates 'Otaki River' and leads to the start of the sidle track which begins beyond a stone wall. Immediately inside the bush-edge a well-marked track branches down to grassy campsites on the TL riverbank. This track provides easy egress to the Otaki Forks carparks for appropriately-equipped travellers who have come down the Otaki Gorge, but it has deep pools both above and below it. [revised February 2019]

14.4 Otaki Forks to Penn Creek via the River Route QOT

This route in the gorge proper between Otaki Forks and Penn Creek is usually taken downriver (see 14.11). Although the first author of this Guide said it is a 'pleasant journey on a summer day', it is not to be undertaken lightly. Confidence in deep river crossing is required, and the bed under the river is changeable and mostly bouldery. But the many crossings can usually in summer flow be forded without sidling. And the deep pools above Sawmill Flat can be bypassed. Four hours between the Forks and Penn Creek junction in either direction, and another 30 minutes to the hut.

The pools above the bridge can be bypassed in two ways:

  1. By a track on the TR for the first kilometre. Cross the bridge as for Waitewaewae and climb to the edge of Sawmill Flat. At this point, where the Waitewaewae track begins to swing L, keep level and find a track through rata scrub and fern. In 100 metres or so, the benched bypass track will be found at the bush-edge. A few hundred metres along, the track drops to a grassy terrace. Down and across this, and back under trees near the western point of the terrace, find the old hut site and a track angling down R to the riverbed below.
  2. By travelling along the old TL gorge sidle track till past the grassy terrace on the other side and nearly opposite the next TR side-stream, then dropping steeply through tangled bush to the river as convenient. At normal water, travel up the river is then a series of crossings (but see note above). The travel up the bed of Penn Creek is straightforward. [revised March 2019]

14.5 Otaki Forks to Field Hut QFG

From the high terrace across the Waiotauru River from Boielle Flat, the Waitewaewae Track heads L and the track to Field Hut, Kime Hut and beyond heads R. Field Hut is 2˝ – 3 hours from the Forks. Tirotiro Knob and the spur leading to it are visible from the pioneer cairn at the Forks.

From Boielle Flat, cross the Waiotauru swing-bridge and follow the old tramline which swings L to reach the higher terrace. (Parawai Lodge, sleeps 18, is nestled out of sight on the R on the lower river flat.) Once on the high terrace proper, the track forks. The track for Field Hut and the Southern Tararuas turns R. At the foot of the hill, pick up the graded track towards Field Hut, that climbs steeply for 20 minutes and then more gently along a grassy spur, to enter the bush about 45 minutes from the Boielle Flat bridge. The trail now drops slightly but soon rises again to eventually level out at a pronounced L bend, an hour from the Forks. Most of the tall trees on the forest spurs here were destroyed in the great 1936 storm, and some of their fallen trunks and root discs may still be seen. The trail beyond the bend undulates upwards, sidling L or R of the ridge, to reach the zig-zag before Tirotiro Knob. Soon Field Hut appears about 2˝ – 3 hours from the Forks. [revised January 2019]

W. H. Field was a founding member of the Tararua Tramping Club and was MP for Otaki for several years. The hut was constructed in 1924 from timber pit-sawn at the site, and much of the original material remains. Field Hut sleeps 25 and has water tanks and a toilet. A good selection of interpretative panels tell of this historic hut. Beyond Field Hut, Table Top (30 minutes) and Dennan (60 minutes) both provide excellent views of the central ranges – well worth the visit.

14.6 Field Hut to Kime Hut QOT

This route may quickly become BN grade in snow, storm or fog. Between Bridge Peak and Kime Hut the alpine meadows are very exposed and the trail can become indistinct. Storm gear must always be carried on any trip above the bushline. Field Hut to Kime Hut, 2˝ – 3 hours.

From Field Hut the trail soon climbs out of the bush and sidles Table Top to gain the main ridge about 20 minutes above the hut. The track here has been reconstructed, and the easy going underfoot masks the often alpine nature of the climate. The track crosses alpine wetland and by-passes a deeply eroded section before climbing a zig-zag towards the sidle of Dennan, an hour from Field Hut. Beyond Dennan an undulating saddle gives way to a steeper zig-zag, then the exposed alpine meadows near Bridge Peak. The trail from here is marked by intermittent standards and cairns, but in snow or fog these may be difficult to follow. The route first heads S, then veers L over a mound, through a slight dip and up Hut Mound. At this top, swing gently R to descend the rutted slopes towards the always welcome sight of Kime Hut, about 2˝ hours from Field Hut. [revised January 2019]

The original Kime Hut was also partly built from timber pit-sawn at the Field Hut site and carried by pack horse to Kime, hence the sidle tracks and the zig-zags somewhat atypical of trampers’ trails. The hut sleeps 20 or so and has water tanks and toilets. Water collected from tarns below the hut should be boiled before use. Do not pollute the upper tarns or use them for washing. This high hut may be cold – ensure you have sufficient clothing.

For the trip from Kime Hut to Alpha Hut, see 20.2.

Down: From Kime Hut the trail first climbs Hut Mound behind the hut. Here it swings L at the top, drops through a small dip and, beyond the next rise, swings R towards Bridge Peak. The trail leaves the alpine meadows some 200 metres W of Bridge Peak and descends towards Field Hut and the Forks. Two hours or less to Field Hut. This route down is not further described. Make sure the Kime Hut door is well closed when you leave.

14.7 Otaki Forks to Pukeatua QOT

This is a section of the Te Araroa Trail. 1.3 kilometres past the turn-off to Boielle Flat and the track to Field Hut, and 300 metres before the road-end and the Schoolhouse Flat camping ground, is the start of the Fenceline Walkway, beside a DOC information noticeboard. After 800 metres of gentle climb, the Pukeatua track branches off directly uphill. The top of the spur is 45 minutes from the carpark. Here turn L, and after 2 hours of undulating climb the cleared top of Pukeatua is reached. For the track beyond to the South Mangaone road-end, see 13.2. [revised July 2018]

Penn Creek vicinity

Penn Creek Hut is an ex-Forest Service hut and sleeps 6. The toilet has been re-located to the grass flats, a convenience for those camping there. The stream continues to nibble at the flats, and this hut may have to be moved a little. Stream-level grass flats are often a temporary feature, created as a flood-plain behind large slips. Other local examples include Mitre Flats, Avalanche Flats and Mangahao Flats.

Your best emergency exit from Penn Creek is out over the Table Top track.

14.8 Penn Creek Hut to Pakihore Ridge QOT

This major ridge leads to McIntosh on the Main Range and takes about 4 hours.

This ridge is sometimes used as an emergency route out from Maungahuka Hut. However, Penn Creek is difficult in heavy rain and the Otaki Gorge sidle track is now impracticable. From the tops the route out via Concertina Knob – Neill Forks – Totara Flats is longer but is much less exposed and has bridges across the major streams.

Up: Two minutes up-valley from Penn Creek Hut, the stream is reached and immediately crossed. The track will be picked up opposite, where it climbs river terraces then sidles upstream. This section is not well marked and can be difficult coming downhill. After 15 minutes it crosses a washout gully and now begins to climb, with an occasional zig-zag, until it reaches a spur-crest. This spur provides good travel with occasional windthrown evidence of the 1936 storm, and reaches the crest of Pakihore Ridge about 2˝ hours from the hut.

From the knob junction of spur and ridge, this rather enjoyable and generally broad ridge gains height gradually and the bush-edge is reached in an hour. Less than 30 minutes of further climb through tussock brings the junction just N of McIntosh, where the Main Range bends to the NE.

Down: Where the Main Range bends NE just N of McIntosh, turn sharp WNW. The Pakihore Ridge leads easily down tussock to enter the bush on the SW face of the ridge. A few minutes inside the bush, a clearing with water offers a pleasant brew spot. The ridge is generally easy travel, with occasional discs. The knob where the spur branches off to Penn Creek is minor but obvious and is marked with an arrow – about 2 hours from McIntosh. A few minutes down-spur a little confusion may occur at a swampy saddle, again at places where the spur forks, and about two thirds of the way down watch for false trails on the R. At the washout gully, stick with the track, easily picked up again on the TR of the washout, and continue carefully through the overgrown bush till Penn Creek is reached. Cross it and the track will be picked up immediately, 2 minutes up from Penn Creek Hut.

14.9 Penn Creek to Vosseler QBN

From Penn Creek Hut to the Main Range: 3 hours. An old culler route that does not make the list of 200 best-marked trails; BN fun downwards. Not a maintained track.

Up: The forks of Penn Creek are 10 minutes upstream from the hut, and the spur between is easily mounted. After several minutes on terraces the trail starts climbing. The spur is sometimes ill-defined, and even in the up direction the intermittent markers may be mislaid in the windfall areas. A sharp change of direction 90 minutes up signals that the bush-edge is half an hour distant. From the bush-edge there is a belt of untracked scrub, though threading through is not difficult. The scrub thins and a steep tussock spur leads to the Main Range.

Down: Ten minutes NE of Vosseler a cairn marks the turn-off from the Main Range. Below the steep tussock face, the route soon engages the scrub. There is no cut trail, but you may find marks L and R from predecessors. The bush is entered on the R in less than an hour. Fair going continues for about 30 minutes, where the spur makes a sudden swing from WNW as it drops to continue N. Thirty minutes down from here is an extended area of windthrow; only intermittent markers will be found on the spur, and overall it is less sharply defined than one might wish. Some of the better-rutted portions of the game trails address private destinations.

Once in the better bush clear of the windthrow, roughly 45 minutes should bring the stream forks. The penultimate section of track is over terraces. The hut is 10 minutes down from the forks. If the stream is high, the Table Top trail on the W may be picked up, a good 20 metres height above the stream.

14.10 Penn Creek Hut to Table Top QOT

Up: Time – 2 hours. One minute above Penn Creek Hut are some extensive camping flats, and another minute brings the track to the stream-edge. Don't cross the stream. The track to Table Top climbs 20 metres R to a higher terrace and proceeds upstream. In 20 minutes a major side-stream is crossed and the spur to Table Top now climbs with resolve.

This spur, like many others in the region from Mangahao to Kapakapanui, has few mature trees – a tribute to the intensely destructive storm of 1936 – but the young forest is now flourishing. The bush-edge is reached 80 minutes from the spur-foot, and the main Southern Crossing track in another 40 minutes or so. The spur is less well defined towards the main ridge.

Down: The track turn-off is some 250 metres beyond the end of the flat section of track S of Table Top, and 30 to 40 minutes from Field Hut. It is marked by a DOC sign. It heads at right angles from the main track, to where an iron standard will be seen. The route then follows the spur for a little before dropping steeply R down a face to gain a small indistinct spur that improves as it leads to the valley. The trail is currently well padded but still needs close attention above the bush-edge in snow conditions or in heavy fog or rain. At the spur-foot the trail crosses a side-stream then traverses high TL terraces to the hut in 20 minutes.

The track down the TL of the Otaki River is dangerous – see 14.3. [revised January 2018]

14.11 Penn Creek Hut to Otaki Forks via River Route QOT

Travel in the bed of Penn Creek is straightforward. But travel down the Otaki River is not to be undertaken lightly. Confidence in deep river crossing is required, and the bed under the river is changeable and mostly bouldery. Still, the many crossings can usually in summer flow be forded without sidling. And the deep pools above Sawmill Flat can be bypassed. The first of the impassable pools near the end of the gorge is obvious, and can be avoided on either the TR or the TL.

On the TR: once at the pool, look for an old track, starting near a clump of large boulders, up through trees to the terrace above. Cross the grass clearing to its far top corner and follow the old benched track along to the Waitewaewae track at Sawmill Flat.

On the TL: just before the pool, find a way up through steep tangled scrub to join the Penn Creek sidle track.

Those who can swim or float the pool will find a good track out on the TL a couple of hundred metres further on. [revised March 2019]

Waitewaewae Hut vicinity

14.12 Waitewaewae Hut to Otaki Forks via the Plateau QOT

Travel to Otaki Forks should take 5 hours or so. Thirty or forty minutes from the hut is the crossing of Arapito Creek, and two routes offer to this point: the riverside route, and the wet-weather sidle.

  1. From Waitewaewae Hut the quickest route is to wade down the river until easier travel becomes available on the TR just before the slips. (It may be necessary to look up-river for your first crossing.) Pass under the slips to the Arapito, where discs on its TR mark the start of the route up the stream. This route, often in the stream-bed itself, joins the wet-weather sidle in 5 minutes or so.
  2. The wet-weather sidle track, the alternative track from the hut to the Arapito, follows the terrace-edge down-valley for a few minutes, then strikes up a small spur. The climb continues quite high, to (almost) pass above the heads of the slip country, before turning S across several small streamlets to descend and cross the Arapito just below its major forks.

From the Arapito crossing the track is easily followed up the TR, sidling through branch creeks to gain the Plateau and eventually the crossings of Plateau Stream near the saddle, 70 to 90 minutes from the hut.

From the Plateau Saddle there is a choice of route: the new track which is well marked and safer, or the old route which in the opinion of some is more pleasant.

  1. The new track wanders S over a flat area, rising, in 20 minutes, to its high point. It then sidles down for 2 hours to reach the old tramline.
  2. The old route from Plateau Saddle drops down the crush-zone porridge to the headwaters of Saddle Creek and follow this down for 70 minutes to the tramline exit. This turn-off is marked by a cairn on the TL and an orange triangle. When found, the obvious track climbs on the TL, and past the traction engine (log hauler) follows the bush tramline beyond. Past Papa Creek an active slip is avoided by dropping to the river below. Once past the foot of the slip, climb back up to the tramline when 20 minutes brings the junction with the new track. (If the river is running high, or during or after heavy rain when there is a risk of falling rocks, consider climbing around the top of the slip, even though there is currently no cut route through tangled bush at the very top.)

From the junction of the two routes, it is less than an hour to the Otaki Forks carpark.

An alternative to the tramline is to travel down the Waitatapia itself. Below the tramline exit in Saddle Creek a short gorge leads to the Waitatapia Stream. This stream-bed is then easy travel down to the Otaki Forks. (There is nice camping down Papa Creek towards the Waitatapia.)

At the Forks proper, the Otaki River can be forded at two places. A deep ford 50 metres down from the Waitatapia leads to a beach from where a track climbs to the road 70 metres down-valley from the pioneer cairn. The rough start of this track is by the last rock of the rockface on the TL of the river.

A shallower but more bouldery ford crosses the Otaki 50 metres above the Forks, to the Waiotauru TR corner opposite. It is then 500 metres up-valley to the Boielle Flat carpark. (There is a now little-used track to the road 250 metres up from the Forks.)

These crossings of the Otaki are only worth considering if the water is low and your party confident. Otherwise climb to Sawmill Flat and, keeping towards the Otaki edge of the terrace to avoid softer going, make your way up-stream to the footbridge. [revised March 2019]

14.13 Waitewaewae Hut – Oriwa Ridge QBN

This route travels a ridge badly damaged in the 1936 storm but now not so difficult. It is usually travelled in the Oriwa – Waitewaewae direction. Two common access routes are used from that direction: from Waiopehu through the low saddle to Oriwa; or up Makaretu Stream and the spur directly to the old bivvy site at Lake Hollow. Essentially untracked, good bushcraft skills are needed to navigate the whole ridge. Up to 8 hours from Oriwa to Waitewaewae Hut.

Waiopehu Hut to Oriwa Lake Hollow: Climb to the track sidle of Waiopehu. Just before the descent to the Twin Peak Saddle, there is a tarn above the track. The Oriwa Ridge starts here and drops to the immediate saddle through open storm damage, then along a flattish bush ridge to the climb towards Oriwa. About 3 hours to Oriwa. A trail cuts through the final scrub at Oriwa Lake Hollow to display the basin and the old bivvy site, 600 metres NNE of Oriwa. For the route from the Makaretu, see 17.1.

The Oriwa Lakelet or tarn was present in 1905, but had 'recently drained' by 1928. The drainage sink is obvious not far behind the old bivvy site. Because of the inward drainage, ensure that toilet wastes are distant.

In the reverse direction, beware the blaze heading E to .1024 from .1015. The earlier parts of the climb to Waiopehu may be easier just inside the Makaretu bush-edge than in the ‘open’ of the ridge proper.

Oriwa Lake Hollow to Waitewaewae Hut: From Oriwa Lake Hollow the route S leaves the end of the clearing and regains the ridge on the W and the minor bump Oriwa. Beyond the next saddle, Notoriwa provides a fair preview of the ridge farther down. There are no significant navigation difficulties in the next section, though the going may be testing at times.

Twenty years after the storm, this section was toilsome indeed but, almost 70 years on, much of the debris has rotted and the regrowth has thinned. There used to be high aerial traverses over jumbles of logs, alternating with strenuous muddy grovelling beneath them, but these athletic exercises are now (almost) eliminated.

About (Topo50 BN33 951 812, NZMS260 S25 051 429) the ridge bifurcates and your compass work will need to be good to follow the spur right to the Waitewaewae – Otaki Forks.

In the uphill direction, no great problems present. Up to 8 hours to Oriwa.

14.14 Waitewaewae Hut to Junction Knob and Anderson Hut QOT

Up: Allow 3 hours or more to Junction Knob. This is one of the steepest and most unrelenting climbs in the Tararuas. Up-river from the the hut, cross the bridge and pick up the track where it leads L a little before swinging up the spur faces. The track is simple on the ascent apart from an unexpected jog to the R through a small gully just before the bush-edge. Above the bush the route is marked by cairns and an occasional standard until it regains the ridge towards Shoulder Knob. There is usually water near the saddle between Shoulder and Junction Knobs. Junction Knob is marked by a small cairn.

Another hour of straightforward going along the Main Range southwards will bring Anderson Memorial Hut. There are good views on the way of the seldom-visited headwaters of Kahiwiroa Stream, and a couple of ridge-top tarns to slake the thirst. (35 minutes northwards from Junction Knob will reach the flattish summit and iron tube of Crawford.)

Down: From Junction Knob the track drops through the saddle towards Shoulder Knob, which offers excellent views of the Plateau and Otaki Forks; about 30 minutes from the Main Range. From Shoulder Knob the track follows the ridge down for 3 minutes and, just past a jumble of rocks, swings L down to the basin on the S. Iron standards and cairns provide guidance over this section in fog. A small spur on the L develops and leads to an erosion gully that is eventually crossed to the R inside the bush-edge. The track descends a little, then re-crosses the gully back to the spur on the L, where it remains. From here down, the spur is without significant landmark apart from a couple of flat sections, reaching the river terraces 2–2˝ hours or more from Junction Knob. Cross the bridge and turn down-valley to Waitewaewae Hut. [revised February 2019]

Waitewaewae headwaters

Overview: The main Waitewaewae branches, West and East, form a broad circle with Prout Stream bisecting. The junction of the two major branches of the Waitewaewae is Waitewaewae Forks. Island Forks is the junction of Prout Stream and the West Waitewaewae, so named for the conspicuous rock island at the junction. There are only a couple of minor tracks in the system, and the only hut, misleadingly named Island Forks Hut, is a two-bunker, with ample pleasant camping, on the TL of the East Waitewaewae a short distance up from the Waitewaewae Forks. Bushcraft skills are well-enjoyed in the furthest headwaters, and you need be quite sure which headwater you are entering.

River travel between Waitewaewae Forks and Waitewaewae Hut is straightforward, with occasional bush terraces and grass flats relieving shingle and boulder hop. Two hours between Island Forks and the Otaki – Waitewaewae Forks.

There are a number of routes to the W from the Waitewaewae basin. Mick has two old blazed routes to it: one from the grass flats and big slip below Chaney Creek (no longer named on the topo map). The route begins ESE of .975, but is seriously overgrown where it emerges into scrubland. The other starts from the headwater forks of Mick Stream. There is an established route along the main Tangata – Thompson Ridge with logging roads to the W off Thompson and Tangata, and a good track down from .860, N of Mick, to the Waitohu Stream. [revised January 2019]

Two peaks in the Tararuas are called Thompson, both about the same latitude, but you'd be unlucky to confuse them. In poor weather, there is no easy exit from the East Waitewaewae. From the West Waitewaewae there are the routes described above, and in 15.1 and 16.3.

14.15 West Waitewaewae QOT

The usual entry is from the Waikawa over the low saddle at (Topo50 BN33 925 850), or down the old pack track on the spur from .828 SE of Thompson. (This round trip makes a satisfying day trip, see 16.6.) The river presents no problems, and Island Forks is less than 3 hours from the low saddle. [revised January 2019]

14.16 Prout Stream QBN

Named after Ron Prout, seriously injured here in the 1950s, necessitating a four-day carry-out in a chilly autumn. Entered from Waitewaewae .939 or .969 (see 16.5) - choose a spur to the top forks to avoid rough gullies. The several minor falls and gorge normally give no grief to the experienced. Four hours or more from ridge to Island Forks. [revised January 2019]

14.17 East Waitewaewae (minor and major headwaters) QBN

The minor headwater is usually entered from Makaretu Stream by the saddle W of Oriwa (see 17.2). The early part of the minor headwater is poor travel, with stream gutters and logs concealed in the high grass consequent on the storm. In this branch, one of the few campsites is NNE of .815, just up-valley of the low saddle.

The major headwater is entered from .969, 700 metres E of Waitewaewae .939. This major headwater is truly delightful in the upper reaches and, including several TR-sidled falls, provides simple travel. From its own lowest forks it enters the minor branch via a gloomy passage that is easily overlooked from the minor branch.

Travel from here down is dominantly gorge, with the pool below the one fall sidled on TL, or swum from TR. Camping is scarce till almost at the Waitewaewae Forks. Seven hours between .969 and Waitewaewae Forks; less for the minor branch from Makaretu Saddle. [revised January 2019]

Otaki River headwaters

The removal of the Oriwa Biv has converted all the Upper Otaki into a remote experience area.

14.18 Otaki River, Butcher Saddle to Waitewaewae Hut QOT

The headwater bend in the Otaki may be reached directly down the stream from Butcher Saddle, or down a spur near .810. Butcher Saddle is 90 minutes up Butcher Creek from South Ohau Hut. About 2 hours in all by either route from South Ohau Hut to Otaki River. Sidle the falls in Butcher Creek on the TR.

From the headwater bend, the river travel is simple with swimming holes and camping flats as desired. A good 4 hours and many river crossings to Waitewaewae Hut – time will vary with party size and their river travel experience. Along this major fault alignment, new slips will occur from time to time. If the river is up, travel on the TL becomes increasingly easy, with a trail developing below the old Mid-Otaki Hut site on the TL, below the Murray Creek junction. This may be followed to the bridge above the new Waitewaewae Hut.

14.19 Mid-Otaki to Kelleher and Main Range QOT

Up: Thirty minutes above Kelleher Creek at the second major group of flats, the Mid-Otaki Hut site (now vacant) is reached. From these flats head over the bush terraces to pick up the track leading up the Kelleher spur. If coming down Otaki, you can pick up the track at the spur foot opposite Murray Creek. (An old culler blaze also runs up the Murray Creek – Oriwa spur). At the bush-edge the track sometimes favours the S faces of the ridge to avoid bluffs and reaches Kelleher within 3 hours of the river. This track is neither well-padded nor well-marked.

Kelleher lies W of the Main Range. Descending to the Main Range, the trail S drops sharply R into a gully from a small cairn. The top of Kelleher was burnt off as part of the search for the pioneer aviators Hood and Moncrieff who may yet be found.

The trail N continues E for a further 50 metres or so before swinging N into the bush.

Down: From Kelleher the trail follows down the spur, burnt in the upper reaches, and once in the bush the going on the spur is good. At the bush terraces above the river the track, now less-defined, heads slightly downstream and over them to reach the river by the old Mid-Otaki Hut site.

14.20 Otaki Head Bend to Butcher Saddle QOT

From the headwater bend in the Otaki River, follow up the creek draining Butcher Saddle, sidling the falls on the TR as necessary: 25–30 minutes to the saddle.

14.21 Otaki Head Bend to Te Matawai Hut QOT

There is a culler trail from near .810 to the Otaki headwater bend, but between Te Matawai Hut and the Otaki, any of the short spurs may be followed.

14.22 Otaki Head Bend to Butcher Knob QOT

The Otaki makes a sharp bend in its headwater just by the stream draining Butcher Saddle. From terraces on this bend head up the spur towards Butcher Knob. Excellent travel right to the main ridge, where the spur-top joins the Main Range in tussock on the last clear knob SW of Butcher Knob: 2 hours.

For the route down, leave the main ridge from the knob SW of Butcher Knob; the knob close to bush-edge. Following this spur gives pleasant reward for modest navigation skills.

A pair of 'relatively recent' fault traces cross many of the spurs a few hundred metres above the main valley floor, paralleling the east of the Otaki, particularly from Kelleher Creek upvalley.

Waiotauru River system

The Waiotauru River system has many traces of logging activity but not many other tracks. The eastern side of this activity was the old State Forest boundary: a line extending through Renata and Oriwa. This territory is now included in the Park. The area logged in the 1930s extended up-valley of Sheridan Creek. The region logged in the 1960s includes much of that to the west of the old forest boundary; upstream of the 1930s halfway point, and runs well towards the Renata – Alpha Ridge.

14.23 Sheridan Creek QOT

This stream is occasionally used as an alternative route out from Field Hut. The bush on spurs from Field Track into the stream is not difficult (the spur WSW of .866 is the obvious choice), but travel in the stream itself can be rough, depending on flood damage and waterflow. Allow 5 hours or more for the trip. Taken in the reverse direction, the circuit makes a full day trip.

In the lower reaches, a track was marked from the Schoolhouse Flat campsite - see DoC Otaki Forks info sheet - to the best preserved boiler and log-hauler in the area. Neither track nor markers are currently in good order, and a visit cannot be recommended as a family walk. [revised November 2015]

14.24 Rae Ridge to Dennan QBN

An enjoyable trip, a good 5 hours from river to Dennan, 8+ hours overall.

Beyond the road-end camping ground at Schoolhouse Flat, cross the river to the TR and the flats beyond to the start of Rae Ridge, just past Sheridan Creek. There is good access from the Sheridan Creek side of the toe of the spur. After the first steep pinch, the early part of Rae Ridge is fairly open, with traces of the 1930s logging tracks gradually giving way to better bush. Despite windfalls, the ridge is good going, regenerating nicely from earlier storm and logging damage and, while reaching point .668 is pardonable, beware of the markers enticing beyond to the Waiotauru river. With care the saddle at (Topo50 BP33 876 687, NZMS260 S26 976 304) will be found with a small wallow beyond. The ridge is easy from here, with several storm clearings towards the bush-edge. A small scrub belt, then tussock, brings the summit of Dennan with its panoramic views, from where the N spur leads down to gain the track. [revised March 2017]

14.25 Waiotauru Forks to Kime (Tregear Spur) QBN

From just before the camping ground at Schoolhouse Flat, 2 km upstream of Boielle Flat, a good trail leads up the Waiotauru TL to Waiotauru Forks: less than 90 minutes. Cross to the TR of the Southern Waiotauru and climb to the logging road into the Eastern Waiotauru, crossing to the TR where there was once a logging bridge, to the Tregear – Snowy Forks: 25 minutes from Waiotauru Forks. Twenty metres up the Snowy River, pick up an old bulldozed track which leads up the spur between the streams to about the 500m contour. Thereafter the going soon becomes easy and casual markers may be found to the saddle past .594. The spur steepens towards the bush-edge; then a 50-minute climb brings the main Southern Crossing route, right at the head of the Kime Hut basin. Make sure that the Kime Hut door is well closed when you leave. About 5 hours from the Tregear Forks to Kime. A good long day of 11 hours for the round trip back to the Forks. [revised February 2019]

The walk back to the car from the Forks can be avoided by scrambling down to Schoolhouse Flat from the western end of the Arcus Loop Track and fording the Waiotauru.

14.26 Ngatiawa - Waiotauru Saddle (Maymorn Junction) to Otaki Forks QOT

Less than 2 hours down the old logging road from the saddle brings the Waiotauru Hut, currently being rebuilt. Here the road formation crosses to the TR and soon runs fairly high above the river before heading into the Eastern Waiotauru (Snowy); a track drops to the footbridge at the Waiotauru Forks, an hour from the hut. Most of the spurs on both sides of the river have logging tracks on them, now rather overgrown, some climbing quite high. These are not described but exploring them gives reward. The graded foot trail now stays on the TL to the road-end near Schoolhouse Flat. Some 30 minutes from the footbridge, the track crosses an old slip face and is crumbling dangerously over a vertical drop. There is another dangerously exposed section at a creek not far from the road-end. Only the first section has a marked bypass. It is 90 minutes down from the Waiotauru Forks to the road, and another 20 minutes to Boielle Flat. From the Saddle to the Otaki Forks: 4–5 hours. [revised May 2019]

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