Tag Archives: Huts

Pouakai Circuit, Taranaki, New Zealand

A couple of days after my hike in the Tararua Ranges, I drove to Taranaki for another hike. Like that earlier hike, the weather got in the way, but I still got to walk on Mt Taranaki after trying several times this year.

Since being back in New Zealand, I’ve been planning the Around the Mountain hike in Taranaki. But in February, a wave of heavy rain came over the North Island on the week I was to do it, so I flew to Queenstown and did The Routeburn trek instead. In March, another wave of heavy rain took the entirety of NZ, so again I cancelled it. As the cooler months were upon us, I left it until the end of the year. The Around the Mountain track has high and low trails along most of its length to allow for people wanting different grades of difficulty. However, there are three parts where there is only one option, and during the winter of heavy rain, a slip wiped out the largest of the three, closing the hike indefinitely. So I was left with its baby sister hike, The Pouakai Circuit, which can be done over 2 days, but I decided to split it over 3.

Day 1 – North Egmont Information Centre to Holly Hut

I stayed in a hostel in New Plymouth and on the morning of the hike, watched cloud cover the entire region. I couldn’t see the mountain from the city, but the weather was due to clear up. So, in the afternoon I headed out to the North Egmont Information Centre. Even as I approached the mountain, it was enveloped in clouds. I spoke to the lady at the information centre and watched the repeating weather forecast on their TV.

At 1pm I finally set out up the manicured wooden steps following the sign that said I should be walking that way.

According to the topographic map on my phone, I had about 90 minutes climbing before I met the trail that would take me around the mountain and then another 2 and a half hours until I arrived at Holly Hut. After 30 minutes, the clouds blew off and I finally got a good look at the mountain.

The climb wasn’t difficult and the steps made it easier. After a while, as I pushed on, the steps turned into a stony trail.

The main Holly Hut Trail was muddier with fewer of the wooden steps and more raw rock to climb over. However, beside the trail were pallet sized stacks of wrapped wood dropped off by chopper. It looked like they intend to lay a kind of boardwalk along the track, which would stop the mud and would also make it easier, not to mention more accommodating for tourists. I walked on and eventually came over a ridge to see the Ahukawakawa – the Sphagnum Moss Swamp – nestled in the crown of several lesser peaks.

The muddy trail continued joining a boardwalk for the last hundred metres to the Holly Hut. In the hut were two other walkers, an American girl and a local guy. We chatted and drank Korean alcohol she’d brought with her from the Pouakai Hut the night before. Then when the hut lights came on – solar powered with a darkness sensor – we all retired to our separate sleeping rooms, of which there were three in the Hut.

Day 2 – Holly Hut to Pouakai Hut

The sky was clear overnight and plentiful stars were out and it stayed that way into the morning. The local guy had left early, and the American girl and I ate breakfast and chatted. Then after she headed off, I walked the side trek down to Bells Falls behind the hut. As today’s walk is short – 2 hours – adding an extra hour would give me something to do. I headed out down a less defined track avoiding large puddles and pushing grasses aside to get through. I even got a good view out to the sea in the west.

I followed the trail attached to the side of a large mound The Dome, dropping some two hundred metres in height until I came to the junction with the closed Around the Mountain trail. Five minutes later and I was rock hopping across the side of the river to see Bells Falls.

I climbed back along the trail back towards the hut. I had almost arrived when I heard a chopper overhead. When I came out at the hut, there were workmen there and the chopper that had delivered bags of firewood. They were also swapping out the shit crates – the large plastic crates the long drop toilets sit on that fill up with… well, shit, and toilet paper. I had to wait until they’d finished and flown away before I could continue.

I donned my pack and headed off just as two ladies with day packs arrived. I walked the 10 minutes back to the junction and took the route downhill towards the Ahukawakawa swamp. The trail is a wooden boardwalk all the way, and half way down I met a girl sitting in an information booth. We chatted before I continued on.

When I got down to the swamp itself, it was mostly tussock grass. I continued across it and over the Stony River on a footbridge – the river flows to the west where it cascades down Bells Falls. I climbed the hill on the far side on manicured wooden steps and a fair way up looked back to see the Ahukawakawa, the river, the mountain and the little green dot that was the Holly Hut at it’s base.

I pushed on, getting to the top of the ridge and around to a nice rocky outcrop beside the trail where I stopped for lunch. After eating, I continued on behind a large mound poetically named Hump. On the other side, I came to a rocky area with the trail heading down. I followed it for several minutes before arriving at the hut. I chose a bed and dropped my pack. Many groups of day walkers were coming up from the Mangorei Track. They would come across the deck to use the toilets, or go inside and have lunch on the tables. Across from the hut is another mound, this one unnamed. I chose to climb it to get away from the daywalkers and sat looking back at the Pouakai Hut.

Later, an older gentleman arrived, and we chatted for the afternoon. He’d come up from the Mangorei road end just for the night to relive his youth where he’d climbed Taranaki six times. Later an older couple arrived for the night, they’d walked the same route I had, but instead of stopping at Holly Hut had crossed the Ahukawakawa. They would be finishing the circuit the next day with me.

That afternoon I got several shots of New Plymouth when the clouds weren’t hanging low over it.

And even one in the dead of the night.

Day 3 – Pouakai Hut to Mangorei Rd

In the middle of the night, the wind picked up and the clouds swallowed us. When we awoke, visibility was at 20m or so. To finish the circuit, the three of us would have to climb over Henry Peak with the heavy wind gusts. I climbed up to the junction without my pack to check out the situation and found the winds rather strong.

We decided that climbing a mountain without any cover would be dangerous. The lone older guy offered to drive us around to the information centre when we got down, which sealed the deal for the three of us. We headed down the manicured wooden steps for the next two hours.

At the bottom, the lone man’s wife met us with their camper van and were driven to the end. This is the route we should have taken it.

Overall
Without completing the last part of The Pouakai Circuit, I would rate the walk as fairly easy due to much of it being manicured. I do like how they are making it more accessible for tourists and day walkers and I hope they fix the trail for Around the Mountain so that one day I can come back and complete.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

The Alpha and Omega Track – Tararua Forest Park, Wairarapa, New Zealand

At the beginning of Spring, I set out on a road trip around New Zealand’s North Island to see some friends and walk a couple of hikes. After several days I found my way to Masterton preparing to head into the Tararua Ranges.

As I didn’t wish to spend the entire walk in the forest, I planned a walk across the open ridges, staying in huts as I went. The weather can change quickly in the ranges, and being a cautious walker I was prepared to change plans if needed, and indeed, I did. So, this hike is different to my original plan, which is described later.

Day 1 – Waiohine Gorge Carpark to Alpha Hut

I set out from my accommodation in Masterton and drove into the Tararua ranges on a dirt road, parking at the Waiohine Gorge Carpark. I then headed out from the carpark laden with pack and across the swing bridge over the Waiohine River.

On the other side, the trail began climbing steeply immediately. The track was thin and knotted with roots, moist and slippery underfoot, with puddles of mud along the way. I began at around 170m above sea level and climbed to around 570m before it flattened out a little.

I continued on, climbing another 100m over a longer distance before the trail headed down, to come out at Cone Hut built in 1946. I stopped here for lunch. I also noted that a previous walker had marked in the hut logbook that they had left a small bag in the Alpha Hut. I would keep an eye out for it.

To continue, I had to cross the river and had bought sandals for this occasion. Before changing I spent some time looking for a way to cross, but with not luck I waded across in my sandals and up the bank. Back in my boots, I began climbing up the Bull Mound Track towards the Bull Mound, although I never did figure out why it was called that.

The first climb of the day had been rough, but this trail was worse, steeper, muddier, more tangled in roots. At one point, it was entirely blocked, forcing my to take time to find a way around. My river crossing was at around 320m, and three hours later I reached the sodden top of Bull Mound at 1060m. After 900m, the trees had begun to change, growing barely taller than myself, and almost completely covered in moss.

And, of course, the best view when climbing so long in the forest, the exit into the high alpine region.

But, I couldn’t take a rest as it was cold and wet crossing the open area, so I pushed on and into the cloud layer. Fifty metres later and I crossed the top of a small hill blanketed in sodden moss.

Stepping carefully, I marched on before beginning a descent onto a saddle known as Hells Gate. Icy wind swept up from one side to another, but thankfully there were plenty of thin trees.

On the other side, I climbed to nearly 1200m, thankfully leaving the wind behind, but my breath was coming icy and temperatures had dropped. I descended to below 1100 before climbing again. The topographic map I was following on my phone didn’t have my hut on it, so I assumed to was near the summit of Alpha, still 200-300 metres higher than I was. But not long after, I came out of the trees to find the hut.

I rushed inside, and tried to get the fire going to get some warmth, but alas, none of the wood would light as it was all wet, and not being a serviced hut, firewood wasn’t periodically dropped off. I quickly cooked some food, changed into warmer clothes and still freezing, got into my sleeping bag in hopes of getting warm. During this time I did locate the small bag left behind and squirrelled it away in my pack.

Day 2 – Alpha Hut to Tutuwai Hut

I’d gone to sleep breathing into my sleeping bag, and woke up in a cloud of warm air even though it was freezing outside. I even had to throw my sleeping bag off, and remove some of my thermal clothing as I was too hot. There had been a change in weather overnight, the icy clouds were getting a push along by some pretty heavy gusts of wind. The next couple of days were to have been spent in the open ridgetops, and as a cautious hiker, I felt that high gusts on the icy ridges was not going to be safe (or fun), so I decided to descend back to the lower huts for the rest of the hike.

After packing I headed back along my entry the trail. I descended to Hells Gate, which was again windy, but not as cold as the afternoon before, and on the other side I came to a junction and headed up towards the summit of Omega which opened out onto the rocking area. Low clouds hung over the area but I got my first views of the low lying lands of the Wairarapa. I also had reception on my phone and contacted the owner of the small bag, informing her that I would send to her when I exit the park.

The trail down was similar to the Bull Mound Track I’d climbed the day before. But I would imagine climbing it would have been more difficult. Eventually, after several hours, I came out at the Tauherenikau River I’d crossed upstream the day before. Again I studied the best place to cross, swapped into my sandals and headed across. I’d decided that I would be staying in the Tutuwai Hut that night, and as that was not far from where I’d crossed, I kept my sandals on and walked up the track. I got to an open area with a lunch table, but no hut. It took me a few minutes to locate the hut hidden up the hill – the sign had been smashed. I settled in for the afternoon, found dry wood and got a fire going. Practicing fire making skills is always a good thing!

Just as darkness fell, a pair of young guys appeared, the only other people I’d seen in the two days I’d been in the Tararuas.

Day 3 – Tutuwai Hut to Totara Flats Hut

After a warm night in the hut, I contemplated whether to exit the park or find another hut to stay in for the night. I’d set aside four days in the Tararuas so I located another hut far enough away to give me a fair walk, but also within a fair walk ofwhere I’d parked my car. I followed the river for an hour back to the Cone Hut I’d stopped at on my first day, passing three middle aged guys going to the Tutuwai Hut.

I stopped at Cone Hut for a bit as it had begun to rain lightly, but when it didn’t stop after 15 minutes I headed on. I climbed up the track I’d come in on the first day but split off towards the Cone Saddle. The sign said 30 minutes to the saddle, but I’d discovered that most of the timeframes on the signs are works of fiction, often heavily underestimating the times… it says 1 hour to the hut, 3 hours later I arrived. In many cases, other walkers had scratched off the original times and added more realistic ones. I climbed on, and arrived at the saddle 45 min later.

Perhaps I should have climbed the extra 500m to top of Cone peak and followed the ridge down, but I chose the easy path and headed down towards the Waiohone river. I crossed a small plateau and stopped for some lunch before continuing down to the river.

For the rest of the day, I followed the trails beside the river where I could. There was little climbing and I could take a rock hopping option instead of going up onto the knoll. There were plenty of flat areas, although this is also where the muddy ground is most prevalent. At one point the trail led me up a knoll and I decided to try rock hopping instead, but ran into a dead end and would have to wade into the river to get past, so I went back.

Then I came out onto the Totarani Flats, and for the next 45 minutes it felt like I was crossing a grassy paddock, but in slight drizzle. At one point I found a dry covered spot to have a rest, but was harassed by sand flies, so after five minutes continued on. The trail headed into the woods, and soon after the hut appeared.

As with the day before, I set about making a fire and got ready for the evening. An hour later, a lone runner appeared, stopped in to say hi and sign the hut book, the ran on again. She had started her ‘jog’ 12 hours earlier and still had a bit to go. Trail runners are insane.

Day 4 – Totara Flats Hut to Waiohine Gorge Carpark

The next morning, the weather was fine and once ready, I headed down to the bridge to have a look before donning my pack and leaving. I retraced my steps along yesterday’s trail through the flats, enjoying the sunshine. I crossed the long sections of flat trail and mud to eventually arrive at the the junction I’d passed coming from Cone Saddle. The sign said 2 hours, but who knows.

The trail turned out to be more difficult, with plentiful knotted roots and rocks. It felt like I was climbing over hurdles, up and down and up and down. 2 hours in and I was only half way towards the carpark. The final hour of the walk, and I noticed the trail was more manicured, with sections of boardwalk, cut steps lined with wood and long easy trails. I eventually arrived at the bridge I had crossed at the beginning and crossed over to my car, where I took a rest, changed and prepared to exit the path. After I’d left the Tararua Ranges, I stopped at Carteton and shipped the small bag back to the lady. Later that day, as I was relaxing at my friends’ farm south of Palmerston North, the clouds over the ranges where I’d just been looked ominous.

The Original Plan

The original plan had me going past Alpha hut, along the ridge lines known as the Dress Circle up to heights of 1500m plus to Kime hut, then the next day along the open ridge line to Maungahuka hut. In the cold wind and under cloud cover, the walk wouldn’t have been fun, and with no guarantee of heating at the huts I feel I made the best decision. Then from Maungahuka hut to the carpark I estimate the day would have been between 10 and 12 hours, with long steep descents and a huge climb. If I had done in mid summer it would have been more fun, and perhaps I would have split the last day.

Overall

The walk was good although as I had chosen to not go into the high open ridge tops, the majority of the hike was in the forest. The huts were pleasant, well, the ones where I could get the fire going. I felt cozy and enjoyed the warm solitude of the place. I was prepared for the possibility that I might not be able to get to the higher areas, and had alternative options. Perhaps if I’d chosen early summer, I would have had a different experience: more heat, more alpine, but then more people to contend with on the trail and in huts. Still, I give it a good rating and add it to my experience.

I think I would walk in the Tararua Ranges again.

The Lone Trail Wanderer