Three great days on the Hikurangi Range of the Ruahines
29, 30, 31 March 2009
The Hikurangi Range is an area of tussock tops on the western side of the Ruahine Range; bounded in the south by the Pourangaki River and in the North and East by the Kawhatau River. Road access is just north of Mangaweka where the Kawhatau Valley road is followed to the Upper Kawhatau road. As we had decided to start at Purity Hut and travel north along the range, we turned off onto the Mangakukeke road and drove to a rather secure looking road end with two farm houses close by. Ken dropped Colin, Warwick and I off and drove to our exit point at Kawhatau base where he would leave the car and return to the Manhakukeke road end by bike. In the mean time we carried Kenís pack to the forest park boundary just below Ruahemi trig, spot height 931m, where we stopped for a longish lunch. From the park boundary there were fantastic views west to Mt Taranaki and north-west to Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe. The differing agricultural land use was reflected in a patchwork of varying colours. After Kenís arrival we resumed our ascent to Purity Hut along a very well maintained track of moderate gradient. On the way we passed some impressive stands of Kaikawakas. Purity Hut is located just above the bush edge and has great views north, west and south. The hut is new with six bunks, a wood burner, is well insulated and has double glazed windows. The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing with hot drinks and enjoying the late afternoon sun on the west facing deck. As the sunset became more spectacular so the temperature dropped and we retreated to the warmth of the hut and a three course meal.
The next morning was cloudy to start but that was soon burnt off by the warmth of the sun. As we were about to leave, a hunter, whom we had talked to the pervious day, returned from the tops where he had spent the night. We set about climbing to Wooden Peg, a gradual climb of about 372m. As we gained altitude there was a cool wind which was soon to all but disappear. On reaching Wooden Peg we found a spot out of the breeze and started to orientate our selves and to admire the fine views on offer. The conversations covered past trips to areas which were now visible such as Te Hekenga, Saw Tooth Ridge, Whanahuia Range, Waipawa Saddle, Rangi Saddle, and some of the huts which had been visited got a mention such as Iron Gate Hut, Triangle Hut, Howletts Hut, Waikamaka Hut and Waterfall Hut. Eventually we were on the move to Iron Peg - a climb of around 30m.The map NZMS260 sheet U22 shows only one tarn on the Hikurangi Range but in reality there are several, the first being on Iron Peg. There is a DoC sign on Iron Peg indicating times to McKinnon Hut, our next destination, and to Purity Hut. The tarn is of a reasonable size and there are some camp sites nearby. The 30m climb to the high point of the trip (Mangaweka at 1731m and also the highest peak in the Ruahine Range) is gradual after a small saddle off Iron Peg. The summit of Mangaweka is broad and flat and marked by a broken wooden trig. Another great spot for us to admire the views and to discuss the merits of different spurs to access Waterfall Hut. It was time to consider a lunch stop and a distant tarn was selected on a narrow ridge just past bump 1718m. Along this section of the ridge the foot pad was not very well worn and because of the overall broadness of the ridge, navigation in the mist would be quite a challenge. The lunch spot was a superb and provided another opportunity to admire the many potential trips offered by the range. The section of ridge leading to Hikurangi 1714m is gradual with a few ups and downs. Once on Hikurangi the view North is of a descent of about 100m followed by undulating tussock gradual climbing to the turn off to McKinnon Hut about one and three quarter kilometres away. While on the summit of Hikurangi, a possible trip on a bush covered ridge to the east covering the area from Rongotea at the southern end of the Mokai Patea Range to Rangi Saddle in the south was discussed. The best route from Hikurangi was to drop to the lowest point and then to climb below two bluffy sections towards a tarn before a final climb to the signpost to McKinnon Hut. Once at the signpost there was a sit down and a discussion of yet another trip involving Colenso peak, the Moki Patea Range and Crow Hut.
Part of the descent to McKinnon hut is quite steep however the track is in generally good condition. McKinnon is a typical NZFS 6 bunk hut which is in a great location and is in very good condition. We soon positioned our selves at the sunny western end of the hut armed with a hot drink and later, with soup, until the sun set, when we retired inside to enjoy the next two courses of our meal. The golden weather departed us for our trip out but there was only cloud and no rain. While tramping past the turn off to Crow Hut, we sighted a stag on the distant ridge line, about 1471m, and a rather feeble attempt to roar and attract the stag failed so the animal continued with the dayís business, ignoring us. The track to the Kawhatau is mostly a reasonable gradient except for the last 100m or so which is in poor condition and down an old steep slip face. Once at the cage over the Kawhatau River, Ken and Warwick opted for the dry boot option but Colin and Dave decided to wash their boots in the river and then have a little off- track adventure to get to the road. A great trip with plenty of time to enjoy some very good tops travel under a calm cloudless sky. I rather fancy that the Ruahines will lure us back in the future.