Tararua Tramping Club

Te rōpū hikoi o te pae maunga o Tararua   -   Celebrating 100 years of tramping

Tararua Footprints Introduction

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This guide is an aid the tramper (or tangata hīkoi, walker, backpacker, hiker) of moderate fitness who is going on a particular trip for the first time. A few trips are simple road-end walks, but the majority are tramping trips that need boots, pack, and the usual tramping gear. The region covered is the Tararua Forest Park and its foothills, bounded roughly by the main roads along the Wairarapa and Horowhenua, the Akatarawa–Waikanae road, the Manawatu Gorge, and the Remutaka Hill road.

Map grid references link to Aotearoa Topographic Map, as do topographical map inserts, and GNSS recorded tracks.

See also fixture card trip grading

Grading system

Trips are graded according to the difficulty of navigation – not fitness. Comments on trip length/fitness follow lower down.

The three navigation grades used are:-

 Family Group FG – This grade is for trips suitable for adequately prepared Family Groups. Trails will generally be well defined and the route-finding should not be hard. If the trail is mislaid, it should not be difficult to regain. Nonetheless, trails may be quite long and require fitness. See the paragraph below regarding suggested times.
 Ordinary Tramper OT – Trips of this grade are those for the Ordinary Tramper. These require the navigation and bushcraft skills learnt on a typical five-day bushcraft course. The route-finding may require concentration and, if the trail is lost, care will be needed to regain it. ?Have you done a five-day Bushcraft Course?
 Bushcraft and Navigation BN – These trips are for those fully experienced in Bushcraft and Navigation and of a high standard of fitness. Even these resourceful and experienced folk may sometimes find challenge. Often no trail markers, and loss of route may put you in even more difficult country than you intended.

These gradings are not fitness or time gradings. They refer to the

  • difficulty of route finding and navigation;
  • amount of bushcraft knowledge needed; and
  • adequacy of track marking.

Naturally, there is a continuum of route-finding difficulty, and the division into three types is for convenience. Some OT trips will be not much less difficult than a BN, and others will be almost as easy as a FG.

In adverse conditions the grade will increase. Emergency exits are suggested for the occasions when plans must change, but cast your eye over these options when on other trips.

On less demanding tracks, and where less experienced groups travel, the notes are fuller and provide more frequent guidance. On the routes where the very experienced may venture, the notes may be marked by exiguity. With this in mind, a full measure of resource and skill may be needed.

Suggested times are those that a small weekend tramping party of good fitness (by tramping club standards) would take for the route. They allow for 50 minutes travel in each hour. When the time you have taken for an early part of the trip is different from that suggested, allow a similar change for the remainder of the trip - or modify your trip. But Hey! Remember you are here to enjoy the forest, the country, and the companionship of others.

The ground formation of many trails have deteriorated over recent years. E.g., in the 50s, the track from Ōtaki Forks to Waitewaewae Hut used to take 3 hours for a moderate fitness party. Today’s time is closer to 5 hours!

Fitness and times

Commonly used trip fitness ratings suggest that:

Easy trips
3 to 5 hours duration. Family groups, the ordinarily fit, or those with interests in photography or botany may well take up to twice the suggested times.
Moderate trips
6 to 9 hours duration. These folk will take about the suggested times.
Fit trips
over 10 hours duration, and seldom will even the very fit take less than half of the suggested times.

Conditions change and the following will alter the time taken for a trip:-

  • the size, age, and fitness of the party;
  • your burden, your hunger, and your weariness;
  • the weather, particularly on the tops in storm, snow or fog;
  • whether by daylight or torch light;
  • the track conditions underfoot, and your familiarity with the route.

Organisation of the guide

The contents are arranged by the main valleys of the park, and their trips within, are dealt with in clockwise order, starting with the Mangatainoka Valley in the NE, and finishing with the Mangahao Valley in the NW. Valleys are dealt with from their common access point. Access notes are biased towards trampers arriving from the south.

In a given valley, a group of tracks that start from the same general vicinity are normally discussed in clockwise order, and in groups proceeding upstream. (But occasionally different.) Thus in the Waiohine Valley, the tracks near the Waiohine road-end are described first, then those near Totara Flats, followed by those near Hector Forks, and so on.

Tracks are described from the valley from which they climb. Tracks on spurs are often described in greater detail in the downhill direction, for this direction is usually more difficult to travel. Most trips will combine portions from several track descriptions.

The main ridge trips such as the Major Crossings are the next group in the guide, followed by the major river Gorge Trips. The guide finishes with some Extra Bits associated with tramping.

«» In the text, a choice of alternate route is indicated by the mark «».

If your route becomes lost, the best plan is to go back to the last place where you were definitely on the route and to cast around again for the correct passage. Striking off across country is only for the very experienced or the foolhardy – sometimes the same.

All of the main tracks in the Tararua Ranges are covered in this guide, and a number of popular routes where there is no track. Many interesting routes are not mentioned – prizes you may have the fortune to discover for yourself! A number of these have been described in the journals of local mountain clubs and, occasionally, in early newspapers. Hut books may give additional or up-to-date notes: read with caution or an open mind! See also comments on informal tracks under 9.24 – but please – do not mark informal trails.

If you feel that a particular track/route should have been included or omitted, or if its description is unclear, please contact Paul McCredie -> mailto:ttc [period] chief [period] guide [snail] ttc [period] org [period] nz?Subject=Query from TTC website on 021 477 617 with your suggestions. This guide has taken years to compile and some data will not be perfectly up to date. Your input really is welcome.


This guide does not replace essential pack companions such as knowledge of the Mountain Safety Council’s Bushcraft Manual, and your map, compass and notebook. These are always necessary. Every person should carry these minimum items and know how to use them.


Current topographic maps are the Topo50 series at 1:50,000.

Online maps are also of use. See the Walking Access Mapping System Ara Hīkoi, interactive topographic map, and TTC recommends New Zealand Topo Maps app for Android by ATLOGIS.

The 1:50,000 scale maps show more detail and are the most accurate. Not everything is mapped. Notably, most waterfalls are not marked. Use the most up-to-date maps you can because some huts have been changed or removed; river features alter, and there are changes in some heights and names. Information can also be got from other sources such as DOC offices and mountain clubs. And – though very rarely – your map may be in error. See LINZ web site for more information.

The Topomap 50 map series is the source for map references used in this guide. Changes since the issue of the maps are noted in the text when known. Signposts in the ranges may have variant names on them, e.g., Baldy Knob and Mt Mitre. Sometimes this guide uses either common-usage names or new names to serve descriptive need. Attention is drawn to such names in the text. These unofficial variants will not be on the map, and have no official sanction.

The no longer available Parkmap series 274, Tararua Forest Park (1:100 000 scale), is less useful and is considered inadequate by many trampers embarking on more serious trips. It does, however, have the whole park on one map, indicates DOC-assigned track-maintenance grades, and indicates the boundaries of the park.

Aerial photos are very useful, and their cost is about that of a few tens of dollars. Their resolution is impressive: individual trees can be picked out. These are available from Land Information NZ. Today we have access to satellite derived photos from Google maps, Bing maps, and On Wikimapia you may add your own adventure marks such as where you shot the big deer, or where you had the wet camp. These systems may have different colour palettes, and different degrees of cloud cover.

Compass bearings in this guide are given in degrees true, sometimes known as ‘grid’, i.e. directions that correspond to those on the map itself. Add 24° (the Magnetic declination) to change a magnetic bearing to a true bearing. Bearings given as cardinal points, such as NNW or 'eastwards', are only rough.

L and R are used where a body-related direction is intended: e.g. ‘… turn sharp L’.
TL and TR (true left and true right) refer to left and right of a stream, when facing downstream: e.g. ‘follow the TR….’ [The direction the stream is travelling]

Grid References. On the NZTopo50 series, grid-references are given as, e.g., BN34 073807. East-ings is the first group (073); North-ings the second group (807).

Heights. Three- or four- digit numbers refer to spot heights shown on the map, unless the context indicates otherwise - e.g., obvious dates. Occasionally spot heights mentioned have had their legend removed from the recent map issue. The spot referred to should be easy to infer.

Distances. Both horizontal and vertical distances are measured in metres. To distinguish, horizontal distances are denoted as so many 'metres' while vertical distances (or heights) are usually denoted by the abbreviation 'm'. Where common usage requires the use of 'metres' for height, the context should make this clear.

GPS (Global Positioning System) instruments obtain data from satellites to indicate latitude and longitude. They are less accurate in a deep valley, under a forest canopy, or when only a few satellites are within sight-line. Their altitude indications are barometrically derived and indicate to 100 metres or so accuracy. These devices are about the cost of a modest camera, and their use will become increasingly common. Beware that GPS instruments may fail during solar storms.

Tararua Footprints

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"I'm afraid that he'll catch cold with lying on the damp grass," said Alice who was a very thoughtful little girl."

Lewis Carroll

Page last modified on 2023 Dec 16 22:22

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