The common access to the Tauherenikau Valley is along Marchant Road at Kaitoke.
A lesser access leads from the Wairarapa to the Tauherenikau's Lower Gorge where it exits the ranges near Featherston. There are pleasant picnic and family recreation areas here.
Two further minor access points in this vicinity are at Abbots Creek and Remutaka Summit.
All these access points are on map sheet Topo50 BP33. [revised March 2017]
Rainfall data is available from the GWRC station at Bull Mound.
Wairarapa Plains Access
Just inside Featherston, and 200 metres W of the railway crossing, Wakefield St leads L becoming Underhill Rd at the town’s fringe. Four and a half kilometres from SH2, along Underhill Rd, is Bucks Rd, which steeply climbs L the 10 metre earthquake fault scarp; the road-end is 2.8km from Underhill Rd. This road-end has two minor tracks running from it: one leading to the big Horseshoe Bend in the Tauherenikau River, the exit point for the trip down the Lower Tauherenikau Gorge; the other track bypassing the lower portion of that gorge. Other routes, not further described, lead to Mt Frith and Tauherenikau .889.
The big Horseshoe Bend is 10 minutes or so along the level track from the road-end.
The benched Tauherenikau Gorge Track which climbs high to reach the river a little above the last section of its gorge also starts here, just a few metres L of the track to the Horseshoe Bend.
Pleasant camping and picnic areas are extensively available at the road-end; at the river below the road-end; and at the Horseshoe Bend. There are even some wild alpine strawberries for the keen-eyed.
Taits Stream access is not described, and permission to cross the farm property on the TL should be obtained from John Randall, 06 304 9233. [revised March 2017]
Abbots Stream and Remutaka Summit
These are the two minor entry points to the park. From them, routes lead to the Tauherenikau Valley, Kaitoke, the powerline tracks and Frith, etc.
The Abbots Stream access is on the N side of the twin bridges on SH2, 3km W of Featherston. At the Remutaka Road Summit, access to the ridge N is from the NE corner of the carpark.
Remutaka Trig station, about 600 metres S of the road summit, gives extensive views of the Wairarapa and has a signposted, well-made track leading to it from the first major gully on the Hutt side of the road summit. These routes are not further described. [revised March 2017]
Te Marua dairy (last refreshments) is 3km NE of the Akatarawa Road and SH2 junction; SH2 crosses the Pakuratahi River a further 7km on. Marchant Rd turns L immediately at the end of the bridge, by the YMCA Kaitoke Outdoor Education Centre sign, and 1.9km on Kiwi Ranch Rd turns R. There is a carpark 700m along this road.
Two of the more popular entry routes to the Tararuas start from here, one to the Tauherenikau Valley and beyond, and one to the Marchant Ridge.
Overview – Tauherenikau Valley: The Tauherenikau is one of the most popular of the enjoyable Tararua valleys. It has a gentle river and extensive flats, simple access, a well-developed track system and comfortable campsites backed up by 3 huts.
The river rises under Mt Hector, the highest peak in the Southern Tararuas, and has several quite rough and gorgy headwaters. Between Cone Hut and the Smith Creek area, it transforms into a gentle stream with frequent grassy flats, sometimes manuka-clad lower down. It is these middle reaches that are usually referred to when the Tauherenikau Valley is mentioned. Downstream of Smith Creek the river once more cuts a gorge through the ranges, to emerge near Featherston.
There is a good track running the length of these middle reaches, with several tracks from it to the ridge crests on either side. Access is usually over the Puffer Track from Kaitoke and down Smith Creek. Routes beyond the valley lead to the Waiohine Valley and Mt Holdsworth, and to the Southern Tararua tops. Travel down the upper and lower gorges is discussed under Gorge Trips: 21.5 and 21.6.
The track from the Kaitoke Entrance Carpark leads to the Smith Shelter in less than 2 hours or to the old Dobson vicinity on the Marchant Ridge in about 90 minutes. [revised January 2018]
Kaitoke road-end vicinity
From the carpark at Kaitoke, a new track sidles through beech forest and flying foxes before climbing to an old road 15 minutes or so above. Note this turn-off point if planning to return. (Just before the climb begins, a sign leads on up-stream to the old 'Puffer Track', which at the moment (October 2019) is of interest rather than use.) Two minutes along the old road formation, the graded track proper sidles up the western side of the ridge dividing Wellington from the Wairarapa, passing the turn-off to Marchant Ridge and Alpha Hut in a further 15 minutes. Continue round the hillside to reach Puffer Saddle – 45 minutes or so from the carpark. Glimpses of the emerald pastures of the Kaitoke basin below can still be caught through the growing kamahi scrub. The Puffer Track was named in the days when the track followed a steeper zig-zag more directly from the farmland below.
Beyond the saddle, the trail continues generally NE into Smith Creek, sidling through second growth. It then descends a spur zig-zag to reach mature bush and crosses to the TL of a lesser headwater of Smith Creek in 25 minutes.
The trail now stays high, crossing several small sidestreams, to reach Canyon Creek, an open scrubby and often dry streambed about 55 minutes from Puffer Saddle. There is occasional trouble with slips on the last part of this much-frequented track, caused by the earthquake fault alignment. The footpad may be rough and not as safe as the graded track. Signs indicate a high sidle above the slips, but a short spell in the streambed may sometimes be preferable if the slips deter. From here on, you travel up the Tauherenikau Valley; in 2 minutes the Smith Creek Shelter is reached. Smith Shelter sleeps 25 or so in somewhat unpleasant and airy conditions; water is available from a stream and there is a toilet. [revised October 2019]
Most of the graded trails so far are a permanent memorial to the track workers of a training scheme supervised by the Forest Service. These tracks are the home of many orchids in spring and summer months, and the many insect-eating plants may also be seen doing their thing in season.
From the first crossing of the Smith Creek tributary above, access can be gained to the 10m waterfall in the major Smith headwater near Topo50 BP33 894 499. This would not usually be combined with travel through the Tauherenikau valley but it does make an interesting day trip in its own right. Less than 20 years ago this was an easy 40 minute trip. Floods have since played havoc with the stream bed and its banks, and a visit to the waterfall is no longer to be recommended to family groups.
At the foot of the hill from Puffer Saddle and 25 metres before the first crossing of the Smith Creek tributary, strike sharp R (SE) through the bush to gain the major branch of Smith Creek some 50 metres distant. Take careful note of where you join this branch if planning to return the same way.
The streambed is followed upstream. Fifteen minutes before the waterfall a small bluffy section in the stream offers a challenge. Allow 90 minutes to the falls.
A satisfying circuit may be completed by scrambling up the TL bank a little below the falls and climbing to the ridge 200m above, where a track runs down to Puffer Saddle. [revised October 2018]
Heading towards Kaitoke from Canyon Creek, a group of huge podocarps is met within 100 metres. A trail drops off L here just before the podocarps, and crosses Smith Creek in 75 metres. In the forest on the TR of Smith Creek is the site of the old Smith Shelter. This was possibly the oldest hut site in the valley, dating from 1901.
Down-valley from here a track on the river-edge terraces leads for 150 metres or so to the prominent bluff on the TR, where there is a fine swimming hole. There are no formed tracks any further downstream.
The old Dobson Shelter is long gone. The site is 1½ hours or so from the Kaitoke carpark and is one stage of a round trip via the valley and Smith Shelter; or a longer one via the Block XVI track.
The Kaitoke entry point also gives an alternative direction for the Southern Crossing; Alpha Hut is 5 - 7 hours from Kaitoke. If the weather prevents a crossing from this end, you can at least complete a round trip back to Kaitoke via the valleys. This is sometimes the preferred direction for a ‘Moonlight Southern’ in winter.
Proceed from the Kaitoke carpark to the Marchant Ridge and Alpha Hut turn-off (see 10.1) and turn L. Another 10 minutes up the graded Marchant Ridge track brings the hilltop near 529 where the track is followed N for several minutes along an old 4WD. Beyond this a graded foot trail leads R through regenerating bush and scrub to the lower bush-edge in another 25 minutes. This is followed by an easy 20-minute climb through bush to a more open ridge which leads in a further 15 minutes to the site of the old Dobson Shelter on the once-open spaces of the lower Marchant Burn – 1½ hours or so from the carpark.
Less than ten minutes up-ridge from Dobson's site, the upper edge of this part of the burn is met (actually the site of the original Dobsons). This vicinity is an occasional camp site, but leave it tidy. A trail here leads L through the bush to get water from the headwater of Phillips stream, about 150 metres distant.
The Dobson name comes from Dobson's Mistake, knob 705, along the watershed spur that finishes near Pakuratahi Forks. Before the days of well-defined tracks, sometimes folk coming down Marchant Ridge continued along over Dobson's Mistake 705, for the minor spur to Kaitoke is less conspicuous. Thus the remainder of the spur to Pakuratahi Forks was named Folly Ridge on old maps. Some travellers even descended Phillips Stream, but this is not to be undertaken casually.
There have been long-range schemes to make a track along this ridge to the clay road (11.3) W of 592, but for the moment it must be regarded as OT+ country. The saddle near (Topo50 BP33 886 529, NZMS260 S26 986 146) can prove tricky.
For the Marchant Ridge that beckons beyond the Dobson area, see 10.19. [revised January 2018]
Smith Shelter vicinity
Up-valley: From Smith Shelter the trail continues up the TR of the broad valley, manuka scrub soon giving way to mature bush, to cross Marchant Stream in 15 minutes. Marchant, as is true of several of the Tauherenikau’s side-streams, can be uncrossable after heavy rain but will fall within a few hours. Beyond this stream the trail rises, but in 2 minutes abandons the old benched track and drops sharply to the bridge. The track further on up the TR side of the valley remains marked but is no longer maintained. Across the bridge, the new route, marked and well used, remains on the TL, mostly at first on bush terraces and away from the river. The short climbs between different levels of terrace can be quite steep – the graded sidles of the old track across the river were made for pack horses. About 100 minutes from the bridge, a bluff provides a good view up the valley. The track immediately drops to cross Slip Stream, the large slip here offering rough travel – part of our earthquake and fault zone heritage – but the trail will be picked up again on the grass flats beyond. It then rises through manuka into bush and generally keeps close to the river edge of the bush terraces. A few minor streams are crossed before the track emerges on the large grass flats below Tutuwai Stream with Tutuwai Hut beyond – 20 minutes on from the bluff. If the flood channel at the edge of the flats is in use, a sidle trail to the hut can be picked up in the bush. There is good camping on the grass flat below the hut. (For the reverse direction, see 10.11) [Revised October 2019]
Tutuwai HutTutuwai Hut is a Serviced hut, located at -41.010152, 175.325088. It has 20 bunks with heating, mattresses, toilets - non-flush, water from tap - not treated, boil before use, and water supply. Bookings are not required, usage is first come, first served.
Tutuwai Hut alert
Access to the Mt Reeves Track through private land on the Waiohine Valley Road is closed.
This is a long term alert.First published on 21 July 2020. Last reviewed on 26 July 2021.
Outwards: Two minutes from Smith Shelter the trail crosses Canyon Creek and continues, well graded, across several small sidestreams to cross a Smith Creek headwater about 50 minutes from the Shelter. Occasionally slips along the track cause some trouble as the temporary sidles are rough and steep; another part of our fault-line heritage (See 10.1). A short zig-zag leads to second growth beyond the bush, then a gentler sidle to Puffer Saddle. From the saddle, the carpark is reached in 25 minutes – less than 2 hours from Smiths. [revised January 2018]
About 80 minutes to Dobson vicinity. This is a slightly quicker but steeper track from the valley than the Marchant Stream spur route (see 10.6). Dobson Shelter itself is long gone.
Up: Back up the Smith Creek Track a few metres from Canyon Creek, the turn-off to the Dobson's vicinity is well marked. This track is more or less continuously steep right to the bush-edge, where the grade eases off to the old peneplain downlands. It continues up and over the fire-cleared knoll to drop through a small saddle, then climbs to the old shelter site. (The Marchant Burn was razed by fire in 1938, which shows the slow rate of forest regeneration!)
Down: The track descends through a saddle and over the scrub-covered knoll plainly visible from Dobsons. At the far end of the knoll the track veers R to enter the bush-edge. Five minutes inside the bush-edge is a confusing fork in the track – keep R. There are only two or three brief flat portions on this track which otherwise drops steeply down to the valley floor, some 60 minutes from Dobsons. [revised January 2018]
About 80 minutes to the old Dobson Shelter site.
Up: One minute down-valley of Marchant Stream, this route strikes across the flats to the lower face of a terrace and the spur proper beyond. This spur is steep but the route is reasonably well padded. After 25 minutes of steep but straightforward climbing, a welcome change of grade for 35 minutes through rather pleasant forest brings the bush-edge of the lower Marchant burn. Three minutes more of careful track-work joins with the better-padded track up from Canyon Creek, less than a minute up from its bush-edge. From here, the track heads over a knoll and through a minor saddle to reach the old Dobson site.
Down: The track to the valley descends over the scrub-covered knoll as given for Canyon Creek, 10.5. Where the track to the creek veers R about a minute before the bush-edge, the track to Marchant Stream turns off L. This junction is not conspicuously marked, nor is the early part of this track well padded. Inside the bush, 30 minutes of easy-graded spur soon becomes steeper, and the route is clear from here to the river. In the easy-graded section, watch for forks in the spur. On the last steep sections before the river flats keep towards the Marchant Stream edge of the spur. [revised November 2017]
About 75 minutes between the valley and Marchant Ridge in either direction. Blocks XVI, XVIII, and XIX are the only three reminders of the 50-odd possum-trapping blocks surveyed for work creation in the Tararuas in the 1930s depression. These spurs formed block boundaries.
Up: The track up-valley from the Tauherenikau bridge crosses a number of side-streams, the first four of increasing volume. Fifteen minutes beyond the fourth, Rodgers Stream, the track drops to a river-level manuka flat (where the concrete foundations of the old bridge can still be found). Coming down-valley, this spot is 10 minutes below the high bluff at Slip Stream. Directly opposite, across the river, a DOC notice board may be glimpsed, but easier access to the manuka flat will be found some 200 metres down-valley. Block XVI track is then reached by heading through the manuka flat, away from the river. The track is clearly marked. It soon sidles up a terrace face and continues a few minutes up a gully before climbing out on to the spur. The spur provides good going, if steep on occasion, to become more sharply defined not far below the knob where it joins the Marchant Ridge. Dracophyllum scrub and stunted trees foretell the imminent top of the track. There are reasonable flat areas where XVI and Marchant join – a good spot for a spell.
Turning R at the top will take you to Alpha Hut in 2 hours, or turning L will take you along the Marchant Ridge to Dobson vicinity in about 3 hours.
Down: From the prominent knob at the junction of the XVI and Marchant Tracks, the trail follows down the spur, occasionally sidling to the L and R early on. Ten minutes down, it steepens but remains well padded and marked all the way to the river. Here the river has cut into the terrace edge and easier access to the river will be found 200 metres down valley. The well-marked valley track on the TL lies a short distance through the manuka flat. Should the river be high, the old TR track, unmaintained but still marked, can be followed down-valley to the Marchant Stream. [revised January 2020]
Block XVIII Track, from the Tauherenikau Valley to the top of Omega, is a valuable escape route off the tops in storm or in deep snow. It is not always well marked and requires a little skill to follow. About 90 minutes.
Up: Omega Stream enters the Tauherenikau River 10 or 15 minutes minutes above, and across the river, from Tutuwai Hut. The Block XVIII Track starts up the dividing spur, on the TL of Omega Stream, and in the uphill direction poses no problems other than gradient.
Down: From the knoll atop Omega, a neck of bush gives way to a series of small clearings in scrub. The trail leaves each of these clearings slightly to the L of their lower edge, and a few cairns assist – particularly in snow-cover. Once in the bush proper the track is fair to follow. Thirty minutes from the top, the track swings abruptly R through a series of mounds and hollows, and this is followed by half an hour of steep descent with the track not always perfectly marked in its sudden changes of direction. This hour from the top brings the first of the high river terraces, and 20 minutes descent through these heavily bushed terraces brings the top of the final drop to the river. There is usually a good ford across the Tauherenikau a hundred metres above the Omega Stream junction.
If the main river is high, the TR bank can be followed down to the Block XVI Track, though crossing Omega Stream may prove difficult and the bush travel may be rough. On the TR, just above the foot of the Block XVI Track, is a bluff-slip with the gut of Gorge Stream halfway along it. One may be able to creep around the base of this slip if the river is not too high.
As always when passing under slips in wet weather, beware of falling rocks and trees. If in any doubt take the high-level track that starts on the flats above the slip. This climbs high over the slip and descends to the river terraces a little above the Block XVI Track. [revised January 2019]
From Tutuwai flats the trail follows over grassy flats and bush terraces; about 40 minutes above Tutuwai it crosses an old slip. At the head of the next grass flats (good camping) the trail climbs a little inside the bush-edge to reach Cone Hut in 4 minutes – less than an hour from Tutuwai. Cone Hut, rebuilt in 1989 in the pioneer style of totara slabs, sleeps eight or so on a bench and an adventurous one or two on the flying bunk. Water is from the stream behind the hut. [revised October 2017]
A little under 2 hours from hut to Reeves.
Up: The trail to Reeves starts from behind the woodshed at Tutuwai and presents no difficulties other than grade. Forty-five minutes from the hut, and joining from the L on the gentler main spur, is the now indiscernible packhorse track that once climbed from Reeves Stream. About halfway to the top, this is a good spot for a breather. From this junction the trail is gentler and in 10 minutes you enter the Reeves burn, still slowly regenerating. The packhorse track and the Reeves burn are both 100-year-old relics of the short-lived Greytown-Otaki Tourist Club. In heavy snow the track through the scrub may be difficult to follow.
Down: From the top of Reeves, the track for the first 15 minutes follows the main ridge through open scrub and then drops down the spur coming up from the Tauherenikau over .646; the scrub soon gives way to regenerating bush. Ten minutes down from the first of the mature bush, and at the end of a level portion of the spur, the old packhorse trail (now abandoned) forks R to the mouth of Reeves Stream. The trail from this junction (45 minutes from Reeves) to Tutuwai Hut is straightforward and well padded – another 45 minutes. [Revised October 2017]
Tutuwai Stream may be crossed in the bush, or the grass flats below the hut can be followed to where a flood channel is crossed near some large boulders. Pick up the trail again on the bushed terrace-edge. Twenty minutes below Tutuwai, the track descends through manuka to the river edge and a large active slip soon presents on the L. Pick a route around the slip to regain the track on the bush terrace below it. Sometimes there is no stable track over this section. From this terrace the track continues on the TL to the bridge a kilometre up-valley from Smith Creek Shelter. Marchant Stream can be troublesome during heavy rain. All these steep-falling sidestreams have large boulders which can be awkward, but with their generally small and low-altitude catchments, these streams fall quickly once the rain stops. Allow 1¾ to 2 hours. [Revised October 2019]
Cone Hut vicinity
Cone HutCone Hut is a Bivvy or Basic hut, located at -40.987586, 175.344776. It has 6 bunks with heating, toilets - non-flush, water from stream, and water supply. Bookings are not required, usage is first come, first served.
Cone Hut to Cone Saddle: 40 minutes. Cone Saddle to Cone: 90 minutes.
Up: The track to Cone Saddle starts immediately by the hut and heads up a zig-zag and the spur beyond for 7 minutes. Here it leaves the old pack track, which branches R to the ridge-line and Walls Whare. The route to the saddle now sidles in and out of several small gullies to reach the saddle 40 minutes from Cone Hut. The downhill journey is a little quicker.
At Cone Saddle four tracks join. From the NW end, the track to Cone Hut and Tauherenikau Valley drops; that to Cone 1080 climbs. From the SE end of Cone Saddle, the track to Makaka Creek and Totara Flats descends; that to Reeves and the Walls turn-off climbs.
Cone Saddle to Cone
Up: The trail to Cone itself leaves at the NW end of Cone Saddle and for the first 100 metres or so is a well-benched track. It then swings L to regain the ridge and climbs steadily to the junction with the Block XIX Track, 20 minutes on. Observe this junction carefully, as it is sometimes overshot on the way down from Cone. A good view above some open slips, of Alpha and Bull Mound is soon obtained across the Tauherenikau headwaters. Good track routing by early bushmen leads the track on sidles around several knobs rather than frontal assaults, and steady climbing brings the subalpine silver beech, then the bush-edge of Cone – 90 minutes or so from Cone Saddle. The highest point of Cone, 1118 lies to the L, 10 minutes away. The Cone Trig site to the R, point 1080, was the site more suited to the surveyors.
At this bush-edge there are campsites on both sides of the track and water may be found either close by, or 200 metres NE at the Cone Tarn. If you camp here, please leave the campsites tidy, as this is one of the magic places in the Tararuas. From the Cone bush-edge one route traverses the Cone Ridge to Totara Flats or Neill Forks, and the other route takes you out along the Neill – Winchcombe Ridge.
Down: From the Cone high point 1118 the track drops E through alpine forest to the extensive tussock meadows at the head of Cone Ridge. A cairn marks a dip in the bush-edge on the R that leads to the well-defined trail to Cone Saddle, 90 minutes distant. About 20 minutes before Cone Saddle, the Block XIX track heads straight ahead while the track to the saddle drops off L. This junction needs to be watched for (but is currently well marked). Cone Hut is reached 30 minutes down the track from the NW end of the saddle.
About 35 minutes bush travel from Cone Hut to the Walls Whare spur, and another 90 minutes to Walls Whare.
Out: The track to both Cone Saddle and the Walls Whare spur starts immediately by the hut. After 7 minutes, the main track to Cone Saddle continues ahead. The track to Walls Whare swings R up a gentle spur to reach the main Cone—Reeves ridge in 25 minutes. Seven minutes S along this ridge is the top of the Walls Whare spur, where the track swings L to the Waiohine River: see 9.3. [revised October 2017]
From Cone Saddle the start of the old graded pack track is easily picked up as it gently zig-zags uphill. After 15 minutes, the pack track turns R down to Cone Hut while the Walls Whare track continues on reaching the Mt Reeves turn-off in a further 7 minutes.
The turn-off is where there is a change of direction in the main track from S to E. From here the route to Reeves is reasonably well marked and travelled. The first few minutes take you through a saddle; then mostly good bush leads to a distinct knob in 30 minutes. General ridge travel follows, then an easy face leading to an abrupt direction change at (Topo50 BP33 978 575). This point must be watched for in the reverse direction, as the spur invites one into Coal Stream; permolat markers are helpful here. Soon the route emerges through the Reeves burn to reach the Tutuwai—Reeves Track a minute short of the hilltop on the Tauherenikau side and a good 1½ hours from the Walls Whare track. The last part of the route, through the burn to the track, is quite ill defined. Thus far OT travel.
The further route over Mt Tauherenikau and on to Smith Creek provides a good navigation exercise, particularly in the downwards direction. Bush navigation should be a series of small steps from one known and identified point to the next. This spur provides many knobs and saddles, including a number too small to feature on the map scale. Below the 800-metre contour, there are several twists and considerable skill is needed to keep on the correct route, though various marks will be found — not necessarily all helpful. More useful may be a look at Google Earth's aerial view, which shows well the sinuous windings of the ridge.
In the upwards direction 4½ hours would be a good time from Smith Creek over Mt Tauherenikau to Mt Reeves. Time taken for navigation ensures the downhill route is not shorter. [revised December 2016]
From Cone Hut the trail stays on the TL to the bridge before Marchant Stream. It is then just over a kilometre on the TR to Smith Creek Shelter. An hour or less to Tutuwai Hut and 3 hours all-up to Smith Creek Shelter.
From Cone Hut a few minutes of bush brings you to grassy flats, and below these the trail enters the bush again at a small stream. A short sidle is followed by travel over bush and grass terraces – Tutuwai Hut is reached in 60 minutes. (From here see 10.11).
In fine weather one may travel down the grass flats and shingle alongside the river from the Cone Hut flats right to Smith Creek Shelter, crossing as desired. From the large slip 20 minutes below Tutuwai Hut, it may be preferable to travel on the track as there are fewer grass flats below this. [revised October 2017]
The Bull Mound Tack was part of the route of the short-lived Greytown Mt Hector Tourist Club. Their pack-animal route traversed Reeves, crossed the Tauherenikau on a bridge, then climbed an easy spur to Bull Mound and Alpha beyond. Since then, a trampers route up a more direct spur from the Cone Hut vicinity has replaced the original one, so Bull Mound Track has two lower ends. Almost 2 hours between valley and ridge in either direction.
Up: Where the track down-valley from Cone Hut reaches the first open flats, there is a slip on the TR of the river. The track to Bull Mound starts from the bush terraces immediately downstream of this slip. The trail is a little steep at first but soon eases off, and 75 minutes from the valley the long spur that passes over point 614 joins. Easy grade follows across the swampy clear summit of Bull Mound, then a level section and a gentle rise over more subalpine wetland towards bush-edge. Here the formed trail drops R down a sidle to join the Alpha – Omega Track in a few minutes.
To go down the Marchant Ridge, stay on the upper wetlands to bypass the sidle and pick up the Omega – Marchant Track more directly. Remember these sub-alpine wetlands are a fragile environment.
The track of older days started from the river on the TL of a small stream upstream and opposite of Reeves Stream. With diligence, No. 8 wire from the old bridge may be found at the TR river edge. This track is indistinct on the bush terraces but may be picked up once the spur starts to climb. These lower reaches are not now marked below the 880-metre contour where it joins the modern route.
Down: Some 10 minutes towards Omega from the Hells Gate Saddle, is the well-marked junction from which the Bull Mound Track sidles NE to gain the boggy subalpine grassland of the flatter hilltop. Twenty-five minutes from the turn-off, the top of Bull Mound itself is reached. This is again in alpine wetland and the track follows a series of bush-fringed clearings to swing to a more ESE bearing. Notable on the ridge are large erosion-resistant tors. An easy grade down the bush spur leads one past the obvious junction of the two lower tracks, some 30 minutes from Bull Mound.
The old track is a not a difficult navigation challenge, but the branch straight ahead to the Cone Hut Flats is simpler. This branch follows down the defined spur to come out at the head of the slip opposite the Cone Hut Flats. Swing R to the bush terraces below, then cross the river to the TL.
This trail is no longer maintained but is still quite a usable route: 45 minutes down, 60 minutes up.
Up: Diagonally to the R from the front of Cone Hut, drop to cross the Cone Hut Stream. About a minute along terraces close to the river, the larger stream draining Cone Saddle is crossed. Swing upstream 50 metres on its TR, where the Block XIX Track will be found climbing the spur.
The spur is steep at the start but has an extensive flatter portion before it joins the track to Cone.
On the flats at Cone Saddle Stream the indistinct game trail following further up the riverside terraces was used to service the short-lived Evans – Patterson memorial bridge.
Down: From the track junction about 70 minutes down from Cone, the Block XIX trail follows a flat outlier spur for several minutes before dropping to the valley. Apart from a short swing to the R away from the spur on a steeper section, and the occasional windfalls, the trail is not too difficult to follow to the valley. When the river is met, swing across Cone Saddle Stream and follow the terraces for a minute to the Cone Hut Stream, then gain the hut terrace.
This long ridge is the usual exit from a Southern Crossing: 5–7 hours between Kaitoke and Alpha Hut. From it, several tracks drop down to the Tauherenikau Valley – these are often used to avoid either snow or monotony on the ridge.
Alpha HutAlpha Hut is a Standard hut, located at -40.98575, 175.281914. It has 20 bunks with heating, mattresses, toilets - non-flush, water from tap - not treated, boil before use, and water supply. Bookings are not required, usage is first come, first served.
Down: Ten minutes after leaving Alpha Hut the site of the original hut is passed near the swampy clefts, and a 15 minute climb leads to the top of knob 1187. This is followed by a steep descent to the Hells Gate Saddle, 10 minutes on. This major fault saddle is marked by a little volcanic intrusion material and much red-baked greywacke. The turn-off to Bull Mound is passed 10 minutes on from the saddle, and 10 minutes further brings the swampy slopes leading to Omega – 1 hour from Alpha Hut.
The Omega Track turns off L here and is a probably the best escape route in storm or heavy snow. This is also called Block XVIII track.
From Omega the track down the Marchant Ridge passes over knob 1060, then drops down the steepish Golden Stairs through a saddle to the prominent knoll at the top of Block XVI – 45 minutes from Omega.
The Marchant is said to be uphill in both directions, and a variant route out of the hills is to drop down XVI to the valley. The routes from here to Kaitoke, via either ridge or valley, both take 3½ – 4 hours.
From XVI the trail along the ridge is well marked and drops generally to the locality known as Axehole, a swampy cleft in the ridge about 40 minutes from XVI. Beyond Axehole the trail rises again steadily to reach the bushed top of Marchant – 90 minutes from XVI.
From Marchant top the ridge opens out into a burnt-over area, which, dating from 1938, emphasises the slow rate of bush regeneration at this altitude. Ten minutes from Marchant a sharp saddle and short steep rise lead across a burnt-over knoll, then through a small stream about 25 minutes from Marchant. From these open tops the lower burn, the site of the former Dobson Shelter, may be seen in the distance down the ridge – 1 hour from Marchant.
Soon after the stream, the track leaves the ridge rather abruptly to sidle on the Tauherenikau side through the bush and emerge on the lower burn – 10 minutes above the old Dobsons site.
From the old Dobsons site, tucked down off the ridge-top, the track swings R then down the open spur and through a broad belt of bush to reach the lower bush-edge in 25 minutes. After a further 25 minutes of travel in scrub, the remains of a bush road are followed for a few minutes; first along the ridge, then down R to where the graded foot track swings sharply L and downhill to meet first the Puffer Track, then the carpark – 75 minutes from Dobson.
Up: Above Dobsons the track soon enters the bush. (Just inside the bush-edge is a nice campsite – collect water from a Phillips Stream headwater about 150 metres distant.) The trail sidles at first, then regains the ridge in the upper Marchant burn – some 60 minutes from the old shelter site. An open section leads across a small welcome stream, then over an open top and through a sharp saddle to the bushed summit of Marchant, less than 2 hours from Dobsons.
From Marchant the trail drops for 50 minutes to pass Axehole, an unremarkable swampy cleft in the ridge, then rises to reach the knoll at the top of the XVI Track in another 40 minutes or so. Beyond XVI the trail passes through a dip, followed by the climb up the Golden Stairs and over knob 1060, to reach Omega, 50 minutes from XVI. From Omega the trail crosses swampy flat and bush for 10 minutes, then drops sharply to the Hells Gate Saddle 15 minutes beyond, passing the Bull Mound turn-off on the way. From here a steepish zig-zag leads over knob 1187 to reach Alpha Hut about an hour from Omega. Dobsons to Alpha Hut – 5 to 6 hours.
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