Access: Eleven kilometres N of where the Masterton bypass rejoins SH2, it crosses the Ruamahanga River. Fifty metres S of this bridge, an old sealed road formation may be followed on the L for 500 metres to the DoC information sign, before the woolshed of Reef Hill Station. Cars may be left near the DoC sign – not by the woolshed. This access crosses private land – be sure to leave all gates as you find them.
Overview: This access point leads to the Ruamahanga River, Cow Saddle, and the tops of the Northern Tararuas. This valley rises among the higher peaks of the ranges, and the headwaters are steep, rough and scrubby. In the middle reaches, where the valley follows a fault alignment, there are extensive grass and forest flats and these also continue some way up the Ruapae Stream. The upper gorge, to the NW of Cattle Ridge, is fairly rough, but the lower gorge between Cleft Creek and the road-end is gentler.
About 3½ hours to Cleft Creek on the TR all the way. The common access to Roaring Stag Lodge is now from the Mangatainoka road-end, thus this less-used track down the Ruamahanga has regressed. It reasonably well marked and traverses fairly easy country. On farm country, dogs must be on a lead, and rifles unloaded.
Up: From the DoC signboard, cross the stile and keep close to the fence on the L to the gate at the far end of the field. Do not use the old route close to the woolshed. Beyond this a farm road leads up-river across the paddocks to a trail fork in 10 minutes, then passes over the spur to regain the terraces in 25 minutes. This road formation now leads beyond the line of pines to the terraces end and continues along the hillside almost to bush-edge: 25 minutes from the pines and 75 minutes from the road-end. In the bush the trail descends briefly to within 15 metres of the river to cross a narrow stream, then regains terraces beyond.
The track before the narrow stream crosses the toe of talus slopes, and there are plans to improve its definition. Beyond here, the trail is in good condition and in less than an hour a major side-stream, Paddys Creek is crossed. Beyond this, apart from a scramble past a small slip, the going continues over level terraces. The signposts at (Topo50 BN34 125 851, NZMS260 S25 225 468) are found on the high terrace a few minutes before the Cleft Creek junction, less than 3 hours from the woolshed.
«» To go up Cleft Creek, follow the trail L over forest terraces before it drops to cross the creek, 20 minutes from the signposts. The trail to Cow Saddle can then be picked up less than 50 metres upstream (see 2.4).
«» To go up the Ruamahanga, drop down to the river from a little beyond the signposts, to good crossings below and above the Cleft Creek bluffs. (see 2.2).
Cleft Creek vicinity
On the high terrace down-valley of the Cleft Creek confluence are the signposts. From here one route leads upstream, close to the river most of the way, to Roaring Stag Lodge. A second trail leads down-valley on high TR terraces to the main highway. A third trail leads up Cleft Creek to Cow Saddle.
From Cleft Creek confluence to Roaring Stag: 1½–2 hours via the shorter route.
The Ruamahanga River narrows to its lower gorge just above the Cleft Creek confluence. If the river is high, it will be best to gain the old sidle track to bypass this bluffy section. This adds a good 45 minutes to the journey. See sketch map. This original Cow Saddle–Ruamahanga pack track used to follow N from the extensive flats and high terraces on Cleft Creek’s TL, to beyond the first active slips on the Ruamahanga’s TR. This trail is almost unmarked these days, but is straightforward going. The track following the TR lower reaches of Cleft Creek is more recent.
Up: On the high terraces downstream of the Cleft Creek/Ruamahanga confluence are the signposts at (Topo 50 BN34 125 851, NZMS260 S25 225 468), and a few minutes up-valley of these a small stream is crossed. Drop now to the main river where convenient, cross it and once beyond the bluffs around the Cleft Creek mouth, re-cross to the TR for the rest of this journey. Eventually, large manuka flats are reached upstream of a high TR slip and the bridge at Roaring Stag Lodge is reached 10 minutes further on.
If it is difficult to cross the Ruamahanga around the Cleft Creek bluffs, proceed up the trail on the TR terraces of Cleft Creek towards its usual crossing place about 20 minutes up from the signposts. Keep an eye on the matching terraces on the TL of Cleft Creek, for you’ll soon want to be on them. Cross the creek and follow these TL terraces down Cleft Creek, never far from the edge – some of the early travel may be rough. On the terraces you will be out of sight the Cleft Creek/Ruamahanga confluence, and the route keeps a little above the river until past some active slips at (Topo 50 BN34 121 856, NZMS260 S25 221 473), about 25 – 35 minutes from your crossing of Cleft Creek. From here, the travel close to the river is simple up to Roaring Stag, apart from a few minor bluffs that may need to be sidled if the river is high - there is no consistent trail till above the big manuka flats.
Three hours or less from Cleft Creek to the road-end.
Down: Below the Cleft Creek confluence, an 80-centimetre-deep ford with a good bottom allows you to regain the TR of the Ruamahanga River. Follow downstream for a couple of minutes, then scramble to the high terrace to pick up the track heading down-valley. A small side-stream is crossed and in a few minutes, the signposts are reached. The track now stays on these high terraces most of the way to the bush-edge, interrupted only by a small slip and a few streams.
Forty-five minutes from the signposts, drop to cross Paddy's Creek – an enchanting spot, and five minutes further on, a sign encourages with ‘2 hours to Mt Bruce’, i.e. the main highway. Thirty minutes on is a steep-sided, narrow stream, close to the river, with a short climb to minor terraces beyond and soon the bush-edge. These last few minutes of the trail are now better marked and padded, and old farm road is picked up soon beyond bush-edge. Thirty minutes from the bush-edge brings the first of the farm terraces and 30 minutes on, the last of the terraces before the climb over the spur.
From here two routes are available: over the spur; or through the river.
«» The former climbs through the fringe of manuka and up the grass spur to the road formation at the top, then drops to the terrace again on the down-valley side, 25 minutes distant.
«» For the river route, follow the higher terrace to its end where a gate leads down to twin crossings of the river, a few hundred metres apart. The first crossing is rocky, but the second crossing has a better bottom (75 centimetres deep at normal water). A farm track then leads up to a gate at the TR terraces. This route takes less than 15 minutes, terrace to terrace. Fifteen minutes from this gate is the road-end stile at the DoC signs. The latter part of this route crosses the field, now keeping to the upper fenceline, away from the woolshed.
Several sections of this trail have been destroyed by slips and the going is currently, 2003, very rough. In the distant future this track segment may be re-positioned farther to the east.
Up: From the Cleft Creek/Ruamahanga signpost, follow the trail up terraces on the TR of Cleft Creek for 20 minutes or so until it drops to the creek. Fifty metres upstream, cross to low terraces on the TL. Continue up these terraces for 4 minutes until a side-stream comes in on the TL. Do not cross this side-stream yet, nor the slip face beyond. The track climbs steeply on the TL alongside this side-stream to soon cross it and gain the extensive flats. This Cleft Creek basin offers a fine display of mature forest. Beyond these terraces lie several climbs and sidles, and the trail is a little rough as it nears Cow Saddle, which is reached in less than 2 hours from the Ruamahanga.
Down: From Cow Saddle the trail heads towards Cattle Ridge for a few metres before dropping R towards the Cleft Creek basin. With recent major slips, the trail is neither well graded nor particularly well marked over this section, but eventually it reaches fine forest on extensive flats above the stream. A significant side-stream is crossed and the trail now descends steeply to low terraces on the TL alongside Cleft Creek. Follow these down for 5 minutes, cross the creek and follow down for 50 metres before climbing out to higher terraces on the TR. Pick up the padded trail leading downstream and, after crossing a small side-stream, the signposts at the main track junction are reached: 20 minutes from the creek crossing and 90 minutes from Cow Saddle.
If you are proceeding to Roaring Stag Lodge, you can avoid the double crossing of the Ruamahanga at the Cleft Creek junction by picking up the high terraces above Cleft Creek's TL. See the sketch map and advice in 2.2.
Roaring Stag Lodge Vicinity
Roaring Stag Lodge nestles on a river terrace and is the node of several routes in the Ruamahanga Valley. The lodge sleeps 15.
Out: From Roaring Stag the track leads up-valley to gain a higher terrace, then crosses two small streams to the foot of a spur – 20 minutes. Sixty minutes up this easy-graded spur brings the watershed ridge close to a large boulder and 30 minutes N over small knobs brings the Roaring Stag/Herepai Track junction. Turn R and 35 minutes down from here is the first bridge over the Mangatainoka; the second, another 30 minutes on, is close to the road-end. About 2½ hours in all from the lodge.
Down: Cross the bridge at Roaring Stag and follow the trail downstream to the large manuka flats. There is no continuous trail further downstream until past the Cleft Creek bluffs, 1½ hours from Roaring Stag. A double crossing of the river is usual around Cleft Creek: the second crossing has a good bottom but it is 80 centimetres deep.
If the river is higher than normal, the old route on the TR of the Ruamahanga can be taken. It follows the edge of high terraces above the Cleft Creek bluffs, reaches that creek and crosses it about 20 minutes up from the Ruamahanga. A good place to gain these high terraces is by the active slip near (Topo50 BN34 121 856, NZMS260 S25 221 473), but take care on the unstable slip. If heading for the road-end, keep reasonably close to the TL terrace edge, and cross Cleft Creek and gain the terraces on the TR where the well-padded track will be found leading back down the creek to the signposts. Then see 2.2 and 2.3 above.
For the trip down the Ruamahanga River itself to the road-end, see 21.2.
About 2 hours to Cattle Ridge Hut, and another 2 hours to Waingawa 1423.
Up: Cross the bridge from Roaring Stag and follow downstream for 2 minutes to a track forks, where the Cattle Ridge track swings away from the down-valley track. Turn right, cross the flats and a small stream, then climb the spur to Cattle Ridge Hut, about 2 hours from Roaring Stag. Standard hut – sleeps six – tank water.
Cattle Ridge proper is gained about 10 minutes above the hut where the turn-off is marked with an iron standard.
About 10 minutes up the ridge is another iron standard with a disc on it and 50 metres W from this is a third standard, which marks the top of the track that drops to cross the upper Ruamahanga towards Dundas Hut – see 2.8.
Following up the ridge, the quality tarn at Pukeroa 1318 is followed by a sharp saddle and then the broad top of Pukekino, about 75 minutes from the Hut. The reverse of this route, from Pukekino to the sharp saddle, is difficult in mist and opportunity should be taken to memorize the trail.
Beyond Pukekino the ridge is pretty flat and broadens beyond 1384. The turn-off to Cow Saddle at 1360 is not conspicuous but is marked by a cairn and slotted standard. (See 5.9) Just beyond this turn-off, the ridge narrows before the short climb to Waingawa itself: a little over 2 hours from Cattle Ridge Hut.
Down: Travelling down Cattle Ridge from Waingawa, the ridge broadens once past the Cow Saddle turn-off and the going is fairly flat until just beyond the broad featureless top of Pukekino. Where the ridge-top swings NW, a slotted standard will be found marking a swing of the route to 60° true; a line of stones on the ground confirms this. A hundred metres distant is a similar standard. About 5 minutes down-spur from the second standard are some cairns, and the spur drops sharply 75° true to the saddle. This face is steep and scrubby, and its western edge may be slightly better. A climb brings you to 1318 with the split ridge beyond. A tarn nestles between the ridge arms – follow down the western one.
Ten minutes down from here, you will be pass the twin standards at 300° true that mark the top of the Dundas Hut track. A further ten minutes down-ridge from these, a standard and cairn mark the turn R to Cattle Ridge Hut. This hut, about 7 minutes down from the ridge, lies in the scrub – around 2 hours from Waingawa.
Below the hut, drop to the tarn then swing L up the small spur for 100 metres, where a stake marks the turn R for the spur to Roaring Stag. The early bush is pleasant totara and toatoa, though these die out further down. The track makes one or two wide sidles on the way down as it passes steep country above slips and false pads may mislead. Eventually it crosses a small stream and joins the main valley track 2 minutes down from the Roaring Stag Bridge: a little over an hour from Cattle Ridge Hut.
For the route from Waingawa 1423 to Cow saddle, see 5.9.
Dundas and Pukemoremore exchanged names on the 1:100 000 map around 1960. The hut was then close to what was known as Dundas. About 3 hours in either direction
Westwards: Ten minutes up Cattle Ridge from the Hut turn-off, two standards will be found at 300° true, 50 metres apart. The first of these has a disc on it. These standards point towards the Dundas Hut track. Cairns also mark this turn-off, particularly one by a large rock near the edge of the ridge. From here, cairns lead steeply down through scrub and rough bush to cross the Ruamahanga headwaters in 75 minutes.
West of the river, the track sidles high above the stream opposite, to avoid rough going, to the stream forks about 20 minutes up. A well-cut track leads up the spur between the forks for 75 minutes to above the scrubline. Dundas Hut lies on the N face of the spur and about 20 metres below the spur-crest. The drop-off point is before the spur-crest becomes ill defined.
Point 1415, (Topo50 BN34 080 898, NZMS260 S25 180 515), on the Main Range is less than 10 minutes up the spur above the hut.
Eastwards: The minor summit of 1,415 on the Main Range, carries several small tarns (with another one in the saddle northwards) and marks the turn-off to Dundas Hut.
This turn-off is not conspicuous. From the northernmost tarn on the 1,415 summit, turn SE and the face will soon develop into a blunt spur. Dundas Hut lies about 20 metres down the N face of this spur, about 200 metres below 1,415.
From Dundas Hut, gain the spur crest above and drop down the spur through scrub to the stream forks. The track then sidles the lower part of the stream on the TL, to reach the main river about 75 minutes from the hut. Cross the river and gain the track uphill – 90 minutes of straightforward climb brings the open Cattle Ridge. Ten minutes down-ridge are the cairn and standard marking the top of the eroded track to Cattle Ridge Hut.
This was the normal route to the (long-gone) Haukura Biv. Beyond the river flats at the Ruapae/Ruamahanga confluence, the traces may be picked up of the trail which climbs the spur for 2 hours to the knoll before the old biv site. Beyond the biv site the ridge has about 90 minutes of rather rough and rocky travel to East Peak. (There is a small lake concealed on these forest flats at spur foot.)
For the descent from East Peak, see the last few paras of 20.8.
This route crossed Ruapae Stream from the foot of Bottles Track and climbed the bush spur to the knoll before the old Haukura Biv site. The route is now ill-defined but quicker than 2.9. About 90 minutes from stream to knoll.
This track leads from the upper Ruapae Stream towards the saddle below Herepai Hut.
Up: Travelling up Ruapae Stream, where the valley starts to close in and take a distinct W turn, a small stream at (Topo50 BN34 134 920, NZMS260 S25 234 537) joins on the TL clearly draining the saddle to the N. [Ruapae Stream has a short gorge just above this area.] The track is soon marked by a cairn on the TL a little way up this side-stream from the junction and discs soon follow. The main Herepai Track should be reached in 20 minutes.
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