Overview: The Waiohine is significantly the longest river in the ranges. Its northernmost extremities rise under Pukematawai and to the west it drains the Main Range from Pukematawai to Hector. To the east, it drains the country from Arete, past Girdlestone and south to Holdsworth. A major tributary is the Hector River, rising near Mt Hector, the Southern Tararuas highest peak. There are quite long sections of gorge travel in these valleys, but a geological crush zone gives us the attractive broad grass flats of Totara Flats. Down-valley of Totara Flats lies an easier section of gorge, leading to the Walls Whare road-end.
Where the Waiohine exits the ranges, the river has road access on both sides. That on the TR, from Woodside vicinity, leads to Reeves, etc. That on the TL, Walls Whare vicinity, gives access to Cone Saddle, Cone Hut, Totara Flats, etc.
Access: Just inside Greytown’s southern boundary is Humphries St, the turn-off for Woodside 5 kilometres away. Just beyond Woodside, Waiohine Valley Rd turns R to the road-end a few kilometres on. Park cars considerately.
Up: From the car park at the Waiohine Valley road-end on the TR, the route crosses a small culverted stream, follows N along a farm road, and then rises away from the river to a terrace about 15 minutes from the car park. From this first crest of the road, the route is marked by a small green and yellow sign in a paddock behind an electric fence. After a steep 5 minute climb to the paddock’s top, the route enters pines near a large orange triangle. From here, the benched track to Reeves will be picked up leading L. This is the start of the old Greytown - Otaki Tourist Co's track. One hour from the road-end an open top offers a good spot for the first spell at .569. Beyond this, the track drops through a small saddle to enter better bush, then climbs to the track junction near knob .745, another hour on. From .745 the old well-defined pack track climbs gradually through bush, then old burn areas to the summit of Reeves, some 45 minutes distant – less than 3 hours from the road-end.
About 15 minutes past the track junction near .745, there is a small cairn marking a 100-year-old camp site, probably used by the original track makers. Five minutes further on is a large plaque marking the centre of New Zealand's Extended Continental Shelf.
Down: From the top of Reeves the track leads through a scrubby burnt area, reaching better bush as it descends towards point .785. Forty-five minutes from Reeves, the track forks near knob .745.
Just before the knob the track to Woodside heads R, and that to Walls Whare climbs towards the knob to swing L and descend to Coal Stream. The Woodside branch sidles S to descend the spur towards the road-end. The track is only lightly marked but very well padded and, 45 minutes down, breaks out of the bush to reach the open top of .569. Another hour or less brings the farmland and the farm road to the car park: perhaps 2½ hours from Reeves. [revised October 2018]
Walls Whare vicinity
Access: On SH2 just N of the Waiohine River Bridge is the Beef Creek Bridge. Immediately beyond this, turn L, for the Waiohine Gorge, into Matarawa Rd. After 5 kilometres, turn R into Moffats Rd (a sign indicates Waiohine Gorge) and 2 kilometres further on turn L into the Waiohine Gorge Rd, which soon becomes a narrow gravel road leading to the Waiohine Gorge road-end 15km from SH2. There is a small ford just before the bluffs; Devil Creek, with a culverted ford which could be difficult after heavy rain, is met further on. The farms on the left just before the bluffs may provide space for parking if you fear either lack of security at the road-end or the Devil Creek ford. Parking here is a privilege not a right — be courteous — and ask permission first.
Overview: There is parking just inside the Park boundary, which is marked by a cattle-stop. Immediately on the L of the cattle stop is the Waiohine Shelter, with a little picnic/camping site. Access to the river here is down a track just outside the cattle-stop. The Waiohine Gorge road-end is a good 2 kilometres inside the Park boundary. This vicinity is referred to as Walls Whare in this guide, though the hut is no longer. There are toilets here, and picnic and camping sites.
At the far end of the carpark is a DOC notice board. To its L is a track down to the river giving fair access for rafts and kayaks. There is a good exit point at Devil Creek, 3 km down-valley where the road runs within 100 metres of the river. Prospect this exit point on your way in. To the R of the notice board, a track leads to the footbridge over the Waiohine River, giving access to Mt Reeves, Cone Saddle and Totara Flats. This footbridge is about 75 metres long, and is the highest in the ranges. Across Fern Stream, point 532 offers BN access to Mt Waiohine and the Sayer Track beyond. [revised October 2017]
Up: Cross the bridge at Walls Whare and bear L along the track on the bush terrace. In 1 minute the track to Cone Saddle turns steeply uphill, while the route to Reeves drops steeply to Coal Stream, so called after the shiny black argillite rock. The walkwire marked on older maps has long been removed. The trail crosses Coal Stream and climbs steeply at first, but once in beech forest its gradient begins to ease until it reaches knob .745, some 1¾ hours from the carpark. Here, the track from Woodside joins on the Reeves side of .745. Travel to Reeves is now on the old well-defined pack track, climbing gradually through the bush and several old burn areas. Fifteen minutes from the junction, a cairn marks an 'old camp', so-called in 1920 and likely used by the original track makers. Another 5 minutes further on lies a large plaque marking what GNS calculates to be the centre of New Zealand's Extended Continental Shelf. The summit of Reeves is a further half hour away, less than 3 hours from Walls Whare.
Down: From the top of Reeves the track leads through the old burnt areas, still slowly regenerating, reaching better bush as it descends towards knob .785. Forty-five minutes from Reeves the track forks just before .745, with the track to Woodside heading R and that to Walls Whare climbing the knob just a little before swinging L for its descent to Coal Stream. The track, well marked, becomes progressively steeper as it approaches the precipitous side of the stream. Cross Coal Stream and scramble up to the high terrace on the Waiohine TR and the swing-bridge. Alternatively, in low water, the ford across the Waiohine at the mouth of the stream gives quick access to the TL, where a track will be picked up in the tutu just below the bend, leading up to the road-end. About 2½ hours from the top of Reeves to Walls Whare. [revised October 2017]
Inwards: Cross the footbridge at Walls Whare, and on the bush terrace bear L along the track to cross a small stream. Within 1 minute the climb commences towards the ridge that connects Reeves to Cone. A rather determined climb of 25–30 minutes brings the second of two groves of large rimu. From here the spur grade eases noticeably from the gorge faces to the gentler angle of the ancient downlands. These belong to an earlier age before the current phase of mountain building and river down-cutting. The grade decreases more, bump .572 is passed, and within 90 minutes the track swings NNW, where the main ridge is met, and the route from Reeves joins on the L.
Seven minutes N towards Cone Saddle, the old pack track provides a shortcut to Cone Hut. (Cone Hut is some 25 minutes distant from here – 2 hours travel from the swing-bridge.) From this point on the main ridge, 15 minutes of easy travel brings Cone Saddle – less than 2 hours from the bridge.
Cone Saddle is the cross-roads of the Tauherenikau – Totara Flats track with the Reeves – Cone track. Cone Hut is 30 minutes down the gully to the L from the NW end of Cone Saddle.
Outwards: In the reverse direction, the old packhorse trail climbs SE from Cone Saddle and in 15 or 20 minutes the point is passed where the pack track drops R to Cone Hut. From here, 7 minutes S along the ridge brings the turn E on to the spur down to the Waiohine River and Walls Whare. This track is reasonably well marked and padded and is of gentle grade apart from the final 25 minutes. Where it reaches the high bush terrace above the Waiohine River, swing L along the track for 1 minute before dropping to cross the Walls Whare swing-bridge – 90 minutes from the main ridge. [revised October 2017]
Over the bridge at Walls to the Waiohine TR, then upstream on a good track along high terraces to Totara Flats, about 3¼ hours away.
Cross the bridge and turn R upstream. Move over easy terraces for 10 minutes and cross a small stream; 35 minutes further brings the sharp drop to the bridge over Clem Creek. The good trail continues on high terraces beyond the creek for 20 minutes, where it is interrupted briefly by a manuka-clad slip. Terraces continue again beyond this and, in a further 25 minutes, the turn-off to Cone Saddle will be reached – 90 minutes from the road-end.
The track now drops 30 metres to a terrace above the river, but do not follow this terrace all the way to overlook the river. The track drops sharply L off the terrace-edge down a steep bank to the bed of Makaka Creek which it briefly follows down before crossing the bridge, 10 minutes from the turn-off.
From Makaka Creek to Totara Flats, you may either follow up the river edge or follow the track on the bush terraces – both routes take about an hour.
The track up-valley from Makaka Creek crosses 2 slips. The first recent slip is so far not a problem, but a large slip 30 minutes from Makaka Creek has to be passed at river level. In flood conditions, you may have to sidle very high on a marked trail. When passing slips, beware falling rocks and trees, especially in wet weather. Up-stream of this slip, pleasant flats commence and from the head of these, the track enters the bush to gain the lip of a terrace overlooking Totara Flats. From this terrace-edge the panorama of High Ridge and Mt Holdsworth beyond, winter or summer, provide one of the most striking views in the Tararuas. The trail follows the terrace-edge L for a few minutes before dropping to the flats.
Once the flats are reached, strike towards the river edge and keep close to this until well up the flats. The new hut (2003) is inside the bush at the upper end of Totara Flats, opposite Totara Creek. [revised November 2017]
Totara Flats vicinity
Totara Flats HutTotara Flats Hut is a Serviced hut, located at -40.932584, 175.403127. It has 26 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.
About 3¼ hours, most of the way on a track on the TR. The new Totara Flats Hut is now opposite Totara Creek at the upper end of the flats – not at mid-flats.
From the new Totara Flats Hut head down-valley over the flats and towards the prominent terrace and bluff at the foot of the flats, about 30 minutes distant. Below mid-flats, avoid swampy going by keeping close to the riverbank until within 200 metres of the end of the flats and opposite a bare scarp on the high terrace to the R. Fifty metres up-valley of this scarp a trail scrambles up to the terrace-edge. Follow round the lip of the terrace and beyond it return to river level at pleasant grassy flats. These offer good camping.
At the foot of these flats, a small bouldery stream is crossed, just beyond which the trail enters the bush. However, a few hundred metres down-valley the track has been destroyed by a high slip, forcing a descent to river level (or a very high sidle). Travelling at river level, the foot of the slip is passed (somewhat awkward if the river is high) and the trail regains the bush terrace (watch for signs) for a few hundred metres before dropping again to a second small riverside flat.
From this flat you may follow the bush trail downstream, or scramble along at river edge. On the latter, a 400-metre bouldery section ends at a conspicuously large rock, and 800 metres down-valley of this is the confluence of Makaka Creek - bridged 2013: a little over an hour from Totara Flats.
You should very cautious when crossing any small stream just above where it joins a major river – the hazard of being swept into the larger river has to be considered carefully. The trail down-valley from here is in the bush well above the river and this is the route described. In summer, when the river is lower and the water warmer, a very enjoyable trip may be made down the length of the river, right from Totara Flats, crossing and re-crossing as necessary. No 'essential' swimming, as the pools can be easily by-passed if you really must.
You may see shags or herons fishing these waters. In autumn, the usual gorge travel season, you'll find some of the almond-scented autumn orchid on the rocky areas. This orchid is usually an epiphyte (tree-perching) species, but will also grow in crevices in bare rock. Another plant taking advantage of the gorge-side environment is the lavender-flowered native broom, notable for its paucity of leaves.
The exit to Walls Whare is about 300 metres down-valley of the Walls Whare bridge. Also see 21.4.
On the TR of Makaka Creek, enter the bush and climb 10m to a small terrace, then 20m more to an extensive terrace. The track for both the Tauherenikau Valley via Cone Saddle and for Walls Whare are the same at this stage. Turn R to go uphill – a tempting-looking trail leading to the L here provides botanic study only. A further 30m climb brings a terrace where the trail to Cone Saddle and the Tauherenikau Valley turns off uphill. This junction is well sign-posted. The track to Walls Whare turns L along the terraces and is well marked.
Stands of very tall rimu are here a spectacular feature, as are giant rata – the trees around which they first grew having long since succumbed to the embrace. About 25 minutes beyond the turn-off, the terraces are interrupted briefly by a manuka-covered slip face but continue beyond it. Nikau palms here suggest the mild climate prevailing in the Waiohine Gorge.
About 45 minutes below Makaka Creek, the track descends sharply to the bridge over Clem Creek. Here the spur N of the confluence affords a spectacular view of the river and rewards the few minutes taken to obtain it.
Regaining the high terraces down-valley of Clem Creek, the track swings uphill a few metres before descending gently to the terraces once more. Travel is now over good river terraces, and 35 minutes from Clem Creek a small rough stream is crossed. Another 10 minutes brings the turn-off to the bridge over the river and the Walls Whare site. [revised November 2017]
About 3¼ hours from the flats to Cone Saddle, and 30 minutes more to Cone Hut.
Up: The route from Totara Flats Hut to the bridge that crosses Makaka Creek takes about 75 minutes, and after a further steep 15 minute climb reaches the well sign-posted turn-off for Cone Saddle – see 9.5.
From the turn-off the track climbs steadily, rather steep at first then gentling to traverse the broadly rounded summit of 572, and drops to the fault saddle beyond about an hour from the turn-off. Here a gully running SW brings a Clem Creek headwater in 8 minutes. Pick up the track again in the bush about 50 metres downstream on the TR of Clem Creek. The track becomes reasonably graded as it sidles through minor headwaters of Clem Creek, finishing with a short zig-zag to Cone Saddle itself, about 45 minutes from the fault saddle. From the NW end of Cone Saddle the track drops L to Cone Hut, some 30 minutes distant.
Down: From the SE end of Cone Saddle the track to Totara Flats drops first down a zig-zag towards the Waiohine Valley. Watch the track carefully on the zig-zag, as a false pad continues ahead while the track turns L. After sidling minor headwaters, follow round a spur to reach the major Clem Creek headwaters about 35 minutes from Cone Saddle. In the last few hundred metres to Clem Creek several parallel trails develop.
Ascend Clem Creek 50 metres and pick up the track on its TL, where it heads up a shallow gully to reach the fault saddle in 10 minutes. Occasionally from here one may get a distant view of Totara Flats through the foliage – recalling ancient schemes for a better track alignment to the flats. The track now swings to the SE to pass over the top of knob 572 in 10 minutes. A broad swing of the track brings it round to the NE and, after following a small sharp-sided gully, the track steepens for the final descent to the terraces high above the Waiohine, where the track from Walls Whare to Totara Flats is met. From this junction, the track drops 30m down some minor terraces and, before the farthest edge of the lowest terrace is reached, drops quite abruptly L off the edge of the terrace to reach Makaka Creek below – 1 hour from the fault saddle. For the remainder of the trip to Totara Flats, (see 9.4). [revised January 2019]
Totara Flats is the node of several trails. From the TL of the Waiohine Bridge at the head of the flats, three trails start, these lead to; the Holdsworth High Ridge; up Totara Creek to Mountain House; and over the spurs to the Mangatarere. There is also a route to Sayers Hut.
On the TR of the bridge the trails go down to the flats; and up to Cone High Ridge. The route to Hector Forks is overgrown and no longer described.
From the head of the Totara Flats grass, trails will be picked up leading through manuka, then bush, to the new (2003) Totara Flats Hut. Another 10 minutes up-valley brings the bridge over the Waiohine River. Up:
Less than 4 hours from Totara Flats to Cone, about 3½ hours down.
From Totara Flats Hut proceed up-valley and follow the track on the TR past the bridge. A series of terraces is followed by a steep face climb. This face is rather windswept and bare in parts, but soon better bush is reached with easier grades. Beyond the second swampy gully is the knob at the head of the spur from Hector Forks and, 30 minutes up from here, the Neill Forks turn-off is reached: 2–2½ hours from the bridge.
From here, the Cone Ridge is broad at first and without a good trail but following the ridge should not prove difficult. About 90 minutes from the Neill Forks turn-off to the Cone meadows. For the route from Cone to Cone Saddle, see 10.12.
Down: From Cone, a swampy alpine meadow leads to the bush-edge beyond the Cone Tarn. After 30 minutes the undulating narrow bush ridge starts to descend gently and broaden out. Forty-five minutes from Cone is reliable water in a ridge-top cleft. The ridge now broadens appreciably and care is needed here, for some folk have discovered familiar footprints. But the Leatherwood scrub is now less challenging than in prior times. Keeping towards the NW edge of the ridge seems a good plan, even though the ridge sometimes appears higher on the Totara Flats edge. Twenty to 30 minutes after this broad region of uncertainty, a cairn and signpost mark the junction of the track from Neill Forks, some 75 minutes down to the NW. This junction is about 80 minutes from the top of Cone.
From the Neill Forks turn-off the trail is better marked and soon sidles to the NW around 957. Twenty minutes from the Neill Forks turn-off a knob is reached, just past a long swampy gully. This is the knoll where the spur from Hector Forks joins the main ridge. The trail now descends more certainly, passing some more attractive mossy clefts. About an hour below the swampy gully, the trail descends faces steeply for 15 minutes to reach the first of the Waiohine river terraces. A few minutes of this section is through a flaxy grovel.
Four terraces form this series and from the lowest one a track drops to the Waiohine bridge. A few minutes down-valley from the bridge is the new Totara Flats Hut.
Down-valley of the hut are the grassy flats of Totara Flats themselves, with a group of small totara trees at mid-flats marking the site of the old Black Whare.
The bare faces above the four terraces are a tribute, not only to poor and unstable soils, but also to the ferocity of the winds that funnel through the gorge. The High Ridge of Cone and the Holdsworth High Ridge form a barrier across the grain of the country. This wall is broken by the Waiohine Gorge above Totara Flats, and consequently the wind funnel is great.
A straightforward 2 hour climb to Flaxy Knob, then 2½ hours along High Ridge to the junction with the Holdsworth Ridge proper.
Up: Cross the bridge at the head of Totara Flats to the TL and proceed up Totara Creek Track for a minute or so, where the trail branches L for High Ridge. Leaving the valley terraces behind, the track starts to climb, but about 35 minutes from Totara Creek the grade eases off and no problems are encountered on the way to Flaxy Knob.
A few minutes beyond the top of Flaxy Knob there is a dip in the ridge and a small swamp here on the NW offers the first reliable water, though good water is also found in hollows further on. From Flaxy Knob the route travels the clefts and hollows up High Ridge to reach the bush-edge in 2 hours. Tussock slopes lead over a small knob and past the Totara Creek headwater slip, to reach the marker post on the main Holdsworth ridge, 30 minutes away. Holdsworth lies 40 minutes to the L, and Powell Hut 15 minutes to the R.
Some 15 minutes up the ridge from Powell Hut, the turn-off to High Ridge is marked by a post on a minor knoll. The route drops down the tussock slopes of High Ridge, past the impressive slip in the Totara Creek headwaters, through a small neck of bush that sprawls across the ridge and over a tongue of grass, entering the bush proper some 20 minutes from the turn-off post. For 15 minutes the route then sidles the SE slopes of the ridge through goblin forest until the height of the trees increases and the ridge broadens.
In the bush, the early part of the ridge-top is rocky and rough, and the windswept and stunted bush of the NW slopes, though these are gentle of grade, forces the sidle along the SE slopes. The spur seen to the NW across Isabelle Creek drops in a series of impressive plunges to the falls guarding the creek headwaters. This stream has been descended, but ropes are needed to follow it closely. The major (about 40m high) fall above the forks is easily bypassed on the TL. Several smaller falls continue to the main river. This is memorable BN travel. The branch of Isabelle Creek from the Isabelle-Holdsworth Saddle is straightforward.
Much of High Ridge is broad with ridge-top hollows and wallows, and an enjoyable 2½ hours from the turn-off post brings Flaxy Knob. Flax once grew here when storm damage exposed the knob; it has since been suppressed by returning forest. High Ridge is perhaps the most pleasant terrain for navigation practice in the whole Tararuas. No major misleading spurs but sufficient rewarding challenge on the ridge-crest as you identify your progress.
From Flaxy Knob, routes descend to Totara Flats and to Hector Forks. For the route to Hector Forks see 9.13.
The route down from Flaxy Knob has been marred by fallen trees and the loss of markers: take care. To the E of Flaxy Knob, and 5m below it, a tempting shelf leads to the R – don’t be tempted. (There are several easily-climbed trees on Flaxy Knob which give a good view of the spur). The correct route drops from the L of this shelf down a steepish face SE to a saddle 10 minutes distant. From here the spur, now tending SSE, is much better developed, despite a few knobs at first, and offers no difficulty. Some 45 minutes down from Flaxy Knob a long cleft along the spur top is passed, and a few minutes below this the route leaves the main spur to sidle L for 7 minutes across a series of gullies and small spurs before settling on the spur it follows down to Totara Creek. This is the tricky part of the trip! Do not be tempted to proceed until you are on the correct route. The small spurs that head towards the Waiohine lead to steep faces overlooking the gorge. These unstable slopes may only be held together by the lawyer, supplejack and kiekie that clothe them. Follow the small spur down and cross terraces to reach Totara Creek at its lowest manuka flats, just up from the Waiohine bridge. About 2 hours from Flaxy Knob, or 20 minutes from the spur-top cleft. [revised January 2020]
The old trail up Totara Creek on its TR became badly eroded and DOC has made a new track largely on the TL with a bridge over Totara Creek. The old track is later rejoined to reach Gentle Annie Track just below Pig Flat. About 2½ hours. [revised November 2017]
Up Cross the Waiohine by the bridge. (The ford near the bridge is fair and can save time if the water is low and the party large.) Two minutes up Totara Creek from the Waiohine Bridge, the turn-off for Flaxy Knob is passed on the L, and soon the trail squeezes through some large rocks, inhabited by the delightful almond-scented autumn orchid Earina autumnalis. Four hundred metres beyond the next side creek, Totara Creek is crossed by a bridge. The track now sidles high above Totara Creek and after the next bridged side stream climbs 300m before dropping to reach a saddle. This lies between the headwaters of Carrington and Totara Creeks. The trail now steepens but is well marked.
This wide trail was the original cattle trail, cut by Sayer, over which cattle were driven from Totara Flats to the Wairarapa.
About 20 minutes up from the saddle, the bush suddenly changes. The mature forest trees abruptly stop, to be replaced by much younger forest. This is the lower edge of an ancient fire, and its regrowth is one of the better examples of succession forest in the Tararuas. The lower reaches are kamahi dominant, with a good representation of silver beech and Hall’s totara – the high-altitude totara with its conspicuous bright red-brown paper-thin bark. As you progress up the trail, the trees become smaller, relict manuka/kanuka will be seen in the forest, and the needle-leaved dracophyllum makes its appearance. Up beyond Pig Flat towards Powell Hut, the mature forest starts again quite abruptly, marking the upper edge of the ancient damage.
Soon after a short sidle to the L on a small shelf, the top of the climb is reached, 35 minutes from the saddle. Here the grade eases and 7 minutes of muddy sidle brings you to the Gentle Annie Track up Mt Holdsworth. From this junction, the Mountain House shelter is about 30 minutes distant to the L over the boardwalks of Pig Flat.
Alternatively, the Holdsworth road-end is about 75 minutes to the R down the well-graded Gentle Annie.
From the point on the track where the grade eases and the muddy sidle begins, an unmarked short-cut (OT grade) heads directly to Pig Flat; useful if you wish to indulge in the pools of the Atiwhakatu on a warm afternoon. This short-cut climbs straight through the fringe of bush to a ribbon of scrub and joins the main Pig Flat Track at its highest point. The River Track junction is reached 7 minutes later, or the Mountain House shelter 20 minutes beyond that. This short-cut is lightly padded but otherwise quite unmarked. In the reverse direction, at the bush-edge, it is important to swing S and not to go straight down the slopes, otherwise you will miss the Totara Creek Track. [revised November 2017]
Gentle Annie Track to Totara Flats
Down First travel the Gentle Annie Track to the Totara Flats turn-off, 75 minutes from Holdsworth Lodge – see 6.2. Turning W, the trail sidles muddily across bush faces for 7 minutes to the head of the spur leading down to Totara Creek. Ten minutes down from the head of the spur the trail steepens, and 8 minutes later reaches the broad saddle that separates Totara Creek from the swampy headwaters of Carrington Creek. From this saddle, a new and well-marked track climbs 80m before dropping towards Totara Creek; it then sidles well above the stream before crossing over a bridge to the TR. NOTE: This bridge, for some time unsafe, has recently been repaired (November 2018). The first of the grassy manuka flats is soon reached, below which the trail creeps past some large rockfall. From this rocky confine the valley opens spectacularly to the full width of the Totara Flats geological crush zone, though the grass flats themselves cannot be seen from this angle. A few minutes more brings the suspension bridge across the Waiohine River – an hour from the saddle. One minute down the TR of the Waiohine River is the old Totara Flats Hut site and almost immediately the new (2003) Totara Flats Hut.
Following towards Totara Flats proper, the trail skirts inside the manuka fringe of the bush-edge to find open grassy leads onto the flats themselves. Five minutes down the flats, between a grove of kahikatea on the R and the river on the L, cross the rough delta of a stream that drains Cone Ridge, about 20 minutes from Totara Flats Hut.
Catastrophic floods can scour these mountain valleys. One such flood within the last few hundred years created the grassy Totara Flats we know today, over which debris was dumped up to 2 metres deep. The gravel flats left behind were soon clothed with mosses and grass, and are now being reclaimed in their upper reaches by manuka. Manuka is a good nursery plant, encouraging totara and rewarewa in its moister shade. The re-growth on the flats after the ancient floods was last cleared by fire for cattle grazing in 1878.
Although totara is among the most durable of woods, most of the old stumps left by the flash flood have now rotted. A few are still visible and many more locations are marked by holes in the ground on the flats. These can be up to 2 metres deep and are dangerous. Keep to the trail.
Well down the flats, Sayer Creek joins on the TL and a hundred metres up this on its TR is Sayers Hut. Behind Sayers Hut a trail climbs to the visible boundary ridge. A fair ford crosses the Waiohine near the rough stream delta at mid-flats, and a track to Sayers Hut is concealed in the bush beyond. [revised November 2017]
The TL of the Waiohine River can be followed from Totara Creek Junction to Sayers Hut. There is no track but the going is not difficult. Cross Totara Creek and below the slip on the TL, travel a little inside the bush-edge over intermittent game trails. After a major and a minor side-stream, a higher terrace will be found. Keep near the river edge of this to pick up a track that leads from the ford at mid flats. This track follows up an erosion fan of Sayer Creek to emerge on the grassy flat some 5 minutes upstream from Sayers Hut.
This track may be found from the Sayers Hut end if you head NE from the hut, then up the grass flats to enter the bush towards the top of the second flat. It then swings W of N to the river opposite mid flats. From Totara Creek Junction to Sayers Hut: about 50 minutes.
The current Sayers Hut was originally clad with totara shingles: both walls and roof. Those from the roof have gone, but some in the walls may still be seen. The hut sleeps six and has water tanks and a toilet.
The hut was originally built to operate the grazing lease held by Sayer over Totara Flats until the late 1940s. An earlier hut, Black Whare (1909), stood at the grove of totara trees on the TR near the middle of the flats. For several years after the grazing lease expired, the odd cow and horse still survived. The cattle were driven up Totara Creek and over the old Gentle Annie Track – the reason why this track is wider than most. Servicing of the hut was by pack-horse over Sayer Track to Kaipaitangata, hence the well-padded zig-zags on the steeper parts of Sayer Track.
Sayer HutSayer Hut is a Standard hut, located at -40.945943, 175.394845. It has 6 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.
From the Waiohine bridge follow the track up Totara Creek for a minute to the start of the first grassy flat. Cross Totara Creek to the TL and scramble into the bush on the low terrace opposite. Continue upstream for 50 metres, then climb the face of the high terrace (just inside the bush-edge) diagonally upstream to its lip. Strike off SE across this high terrace to find the foot of the spur. The first few hundred metres up the spur has several large windfalls, but it soon becomes better defined and the track pad will develop. It climbs steadily to the spur top, where it swings sharp R along the ridge. Twelve minutes along the ridge, the route swings L around a knob to gain the spur heading to the Mangatarere. Ninety minutes from Totara Creek to this knob. The track down to the Mangatarere from this spur is described below (see 9.12). [revised October 2015]
From Sayers Hut, the track at the hut’s E end leads up alongside Sayer Creek, and 5 minutes from the hut starts to climb from right beside the stream. The first 40 minutes of zig-zag give way to a better-graded spur to reach the ridge 90 minutes from the hut. (Here the old Sayer Track swung S along the ridge to exit at the Kaipaitangata Stream.) At the ridge, swing L (north) for 12 or 15 minutes to where the trail sidles to the R of the knoll at the top of the spur.
The track down the spur to the Mangatarere is well padded and has only one point to carefully watch for. This is about 10 minutes down from the top on a flat section where the track drops sharply R, while a tempting game trail heads straight on. Otherwise the track leads down through bush, then grass and scrub to reach the stream crossing at the foot of the spur, an hour from the top and 2½ hours from Sayers Hut. [revised October 2015]
Hector Forks vicinity
The Hector Forks vicinity commonly includes the region of the low saddle between the Hector and Waiohine Rivers, some 400 metres upstream of the true Hector Forks. That convention is used here. The lowest section of gorge in the Hector is not often travelled.
A route to Flaxy Knob, then a fair padded trail to the Holdsworth bush-edge. Two and a half to 3 hours to Flaxy Knob, and 2½ hours further to the Holdsworth Ridge.
Up: The spur starts beside the big pool where the Waiohine emerges; alongside the low Hector/Waiohine saddle; from its middle gorge. The route poses no problems and the early going above slip faces gives memorable views of the gorge in both directions.
Down: Those with good navigation skills will be able to follow the route all the way. An upper portion of the spur from Flaxy Knob is split but re-forms. Bends to the W, before and after 814, need careful note, as small spurs lead off to the Waiohine Gorge. The terminal razorback is followed to within 30 metres above the river, where an easy dismount is made to a beach downstream of the gorge mouth.
The gorge below Hector Forks is benign; that above is not. On no account drop into the Waiohine above the gorge mouth without adequate intention.
The old trail down the TR of the Waiohine gorge is not recommended; it is overgrown beyond description and there are many windfalls. That trail, and the one to here from Concertina Knob, once formed a storm escape route from the Main Range. Today the recommended escape route from Maungahuka is via Neill Forks then Cone Ridge to Totara Flats or Walls.
Routes to Totara Flats from Hector Forks, all OT routes, are:–
«» Travel up the Hector to Neill Forks, through the one tiny gorge, and out via Cone Ridge.
«» Climb the spur from Hector Forks direct to Cone Ridge then out to Walls or Holdsworth.
«» Travel down the river itself: around 2½ hours to Totara Flats. Not recommended for trampers unless the river is low. There is then only one ‘essential’ swim, by the red rock jumble of the stream below Flaxy Knob (pack-float or plastic bags in the shirt suffice). The Hector between the low saddle and the forks is uninteresting. [revised February 2018]
Up: This section of the ancient emergency route from the Main Range has now regressed, though occasional markings reward a positive attitude. The route starts rather steeply from the upstream end of the low saddle. It meets that from Neill Forks at a small flat on Concertina Knob. Enjoy 2½–3 hours to Concertina Knob.
Down: The downhill route offers more challenge and bushcraft proficiency will aid. This route is not shown on current maps, but occasional old markers will be found. At the small flat on Concertina Knob, the track to Neill Forks turns distinctly S, a turn to be watched for, as the pad towards Hector Forks is not expected by those bound for Neill Forks. Avoid dropping into the Waiohine upstream of the gorge-mouth at Hector Forks. [revised February 2018]
Neill Forks vicinity
Neill Forks HutNeill Forks Hut is a Standard hut, located at -40.932698, 175.356147. It has 6 bunks with heating, mattresses, toilets - non-flush, water from stream, and water supply. Bookings are not required, usage is first come, first served.
Up: Travel up the TR of Neill Creek for 4 minutes to the next terrace, where the track turns steeply uphill. One hour up is a relief flat, and 90 minutes from the Neill Forks hut brings Cone Ridge.
Down: From Cone Ridge the trail is a straightforward descent to Neill Forks – 75 minutes down. One or two of the steps are high.
Up: Cross Neill Creek where convenient and pick up the trail leading over the terraces and up the straightforward spur to Neill. In the upper reaches the spur peters out and the route swings L across a face or basin-head to gain a small but more prominent spur to the SE, not far short of the Cone – Neill track. Memorise this swing point, as it is a source of angst to some descending the spur. Two hours between Neill Forks hut and track junction in either direction.
Down: About 7 minutes E of the top of Neill and below the bands of leatherwood, the trail to Neill Forks leaves that to Cone at a small flat. After a few minutes, storm-damaged bush is left behind and good forest is reached. Take great care here, as the tempting spur you are on is a false one that descends steep faces to the headwaters of Neill Creek. These headwaters are not difficult travel apart from a disproportion of large boulders. After 5 minutes in the bush proper, the route swings L across faces to gain the proper spur to Neill Forks.
From this height there are no major false spurs into the Hector, and you should be on a well-defined NE spur above faces that fall steeply to the Hector. The trail down the spur is fairly easy to follow from here, with only a couple of vague spots, and it eventually exits over terraces to Neill Creek. The Neill Forks hut is on the TR of Neill Creek near the forks, and sleeps six.
Up: The Hector River joins the Waiohine River through a small gorge which, though more wet than difficult, can be avoided by going 400 metres up the Waiohine and crossing over the low Hector–Waiohine saddle. The Hector River then offers no problems to Neill Forks, despite a small gorge halfway. Allow 1½ to 2 hours.
Above Neill Forks, there are no compulsory pools, and even a pleasant grass flat 20 minutes below Tarahanga Stream. Above that junction, the stream bed steepens with large boulders. To the top forks, above Corkill Stream, 4 to 5 hours.
From the top forks, scramble 15 to 20 minutes up the TR branch to the top of a prominent double waterfall to find a shingle gut on the TL which provides access to very steep but secure bush above. Easy tussock from the bush-edge leads to the track of the Southern Crossing near the saddle between Field Peak and Mt Hector.
Down: NOTE: A descent into the upper Hector is not recommended because of the difficulty of avoiding rock walls before reaching the stream bed, or waterfalls thereafter.
Just past the saddle between Field Peak and Mt Hector, a flattish spur develops leading N then NE between two headwaters of the Hector River. This spur gives easy travel to the bush-edge. From the small knoll inside the bush-edge, the best plan is probably to drop SE towards the more southerly branch (there are serious waterfalls in the more northerly branch). If bluffed approaching the stream bed, seek a way down further up valley, though this may lead to trouble with waterfalls. 
Up: The Hector is crossed by the bridge at the Neill Forks hut and the track climbs fairly steeply for 2½ hours to Concertina Knob. Thirty minutes along a pleasant ridge brings the Maungahuka bush-edge, and another half-hour through tussock brings Maungahuka itself.
Down: From Maungahuka summit, the ridge is well defined at first, with only a little equivocation above the bushline. Inside the bush seem to be several pleasant campsites, and from the deep notch the trail climbs to the summit of Concertina Knob, about an hour from Maungahuka. The track swings sharply R here at a small flat and is well defined down to Neill Forks – 75 minutes distant. Beware of the old trail, now quite difficult to follow and not marked on current maps, that runs straight ahead to Hector Forks from the Concertina Knob flat.
The appealingly direct ridge that runs S, from above bushline over point 1068, gives easy OT travel to the Hector River and to the Neill Winchcombe Ridge beyond.
Mid Waiohine vicinity
Mid Waiohine HutMid Waiohine Hut is a Standard hut, located at -40.874157, 175.381718. It has 6 bunks with heating, mattresses, toilets - non-flush, water from stream, and water supply. Bookings are not required, usage is first come, first served.
For Isabelle Creek, see Holdsworth High Ridge to Totara Flats, 9.8
Up: From the Mid Waiohine hut the trail leads away from the river across terraces for a few minutes, then climbs up the good spur towards Isabelle. There is a small flat in the bush 10 minutes below bush-edge. A good 2 hours to the bush-edge, 20 minutes to Isabelle, and 40 minutes to Holdsworth.
Down: From Holdsworth drop through the saddle to Isabelle, 30 minutes away, then swing SW down-spur for 12 minutes to the cairns marking the turn-off to Mid Waiohine Hut. The bush-edge is quickly entered, and 75 minutes down the well-padded but intermittently marked trail should bring the Mid Waiohine hut – 2 hours in all from Holdsworth. Sleeps six, water from river. The toilet is a short distance downstream.
Up: The 20-minute trail down the TL from the Mid Waiohine hut to the bridge, is not well marked. At one point it is forced above a slip, then follows terraces to a view of the bridge. Once over the bridge the trail swings up-river for 250 metres, then climbs to a spurlet overlooking the side-stream to the S.
At normal water it is quicker to travel from the Mid Waiohine hut down the riverbed until 200 metres upstream of the bridge. Scramble up the TR bank to pick up the trail where it sidles upstream. Many do this, hence the poor trail on the TL. Across the side-stream to the S the trail climbs steadily towards the bush-edge, some 2½ hours distant, with a little gentle relief halfway up. The summit of Aokaparangi is 30 minutes up from the bush-edge.
Down: Aokaparangi Peak has a small cairn where some benefactor has left a billy to collect rain-water. An iron survey tube is a little down the tussock spur, and the trail skirts the SW faces of the scrub as far as it can before entering the bush. The trail then continues SE for a few minutes before swinging sharp L to cross a small gully and regain the spur proper under the bluff that caused this diversion. From here down the spur is fair travel and the trail reasonably padded but not well marked. At the spur foot, cross the small stream upstream to gain the spur on its TL that leads to the river or bridge. Less than 2 hours from Aokaparangi. For Aokaparangi Biv see 20.8, Main Range.
Park Forks vicinity
Nichols HutNichols Hut is a Standard hut, located at -40.810234, 175.37592. It has 6 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.
Up: A good campsite at Park Forks is inside the bush-edge on the TR 75 metres up the Park River. Markers for the track to Nichols leave from the campsite. A steady 100-minute climb will bring the Nichols bush-edge, and 20 minutes further on is Nichols Hut nestled in the basin.
Down: From the hut gain the SE spur of Nichols and the occasional cairn marking the start of the track to the forks. Inside the bush, intermittent markers continue down but there is little sign of a pad. About 2 hours in all.
About 45 minutes down into the bush, the fork will be passed that leads directly to the good campsite on the Waiohine TR below the Dorset Creek junction. The McGregor spur may be gained from here, up-river at the Dorset Creek confluence, or downriver by a sharp but safe spur. [revised December 2018]
Five hours or so from Park Forks to Lancaster, fairly padded and lightly marked.
Up: The start of the track up the Carkeek Ridge is marked by a cairn on the TL of the Park River between the campsite on the TR and the forks. Less than 2 hours brings Carkeek Hut, just below the bush-edge, and a further 3 hours or so brings Lancaster. [revised December 2018]
Down: The summit of Lancaster is 10 minutes from the main Northern Crossing route. Lancaster’s W face is quite steep, and beyond the saddle some of Thompson may be sidled, taramea permitting, to reach Carkeek about 45 minutes from Lancaster.
Twenty metres up-ridge of Carkeek is the top of the good spur that leads to the crossing, via the upper Park, to Butcher Knob and the Otaki headwaters. On the western Park faces, this spur marks the interface of the bush and the scrub.
The southern slopes of Carkeek are steep and care is needed where a very steep erosion gully from the SE eats away at the track. Less than 2 hours from Carkeek should bring the six-bunk hut just inside the bush-edge. A feature this hut shares with https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/wellington-kapiti/places/tararua-forest-park/things-to-do/huts/dracophyllum-hut/ opposite is a set of discarded helicopter rotors, used here as a ditch crossing.
This spur has always been pleasant travel. Thirty minutes below the hut is a mossy depression, below which the track zig-zags a little down a small face. Below this the spur is good travel again and Park Forks is reached in 90 minutes from Carkeek Hut.
From 1080 below the hut, a BN route descends to cross the Park, and climbs to 1031 on the Main Range. From here a further route descends the spur to the lower forks of Kelleher Creek and the Otaki. A useful route in a storm if the Park can be crossed.
Carkeek HutCarkeek Hut is a Standard hut, located at -40.790221, 175.396302. It has 6 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.
Up: The trail up Dorset Ridge begins some 30 metres up the Waiohine River above the forks. The spur flattens halfway to the bush-edge, 2 hours distant, and 40 minutes above the bush-edge is the double summit of the side-spur on which Dorset Ridge Hut lies. The usual turn-off to the hut is from the next knoll, 8 minutes up-ridge. One hour beyond this summit Dorset Ridge joins, 10 minutes beyond the big tarn, the main ridge between Girdlestone and Tarn Ridge Hut.
The excellent Dorset Ridge Hut is sited at bush-edge about 35 minutes down a southern side-spur. The route to it sidles the NE faces of the spur at first.
Down: Dorset Ridge is one of several major outliers of the Main Range between Holdsworth and Arete. It joins the main Northern Crossing a few minutes to the N side of the Girdlestone Pinnacle. Ten minutes down Dorset Ridge is a large tarn, and another 35 minutes of undulating and sometimes poorly defined ridge brings the signpost pointing L to the Dorset Ridge Hut.
Most of the huts in the interior of the ranges were built to aid deer control. The hunters made many tracks more or less directly between each of these huts, for example, from South King to Dorset Ridge Hut, from Dorset Ridge to the stream forks (Topo50 BN34 039 816, NZMS260 S26 139 433) then Carkeek or Tarn Ridges, from Carkeek Ridge to Butcher's Knob and 1031 on the Main Range, and the short routes from Arete Forks towards Waingawa and Bannister, &c, &c. These routes may prove useful if you are forced off your trip in bad weather, though they are neither marked on the maps nor maintained. Your bushcraft skills will improve as you investigate them, but please do not mark them more plainly. The route into the Waingawa off Mid King is better than that off North King, as Baldy Creek is a little smaller than South Mitre Stream.
The spur forks where it starts to drop, then continues towards Park Forks. The bush-edge is reached within 45 minutes of the hut signpost and the spur is now better defined. After an hour in the bush an easy flat area of open forest between 1093 and 978 should be reached, then the route turns sharply NW to Park Forks – another hour distant. The route inside the bush is not well padded though markers may be able to be followed right to the forks.
A lightly marked track from Dorset Ridge Hut dropping directly to Dorset Creek offers an alternative exit to Mitre Flats or the Atiwhakatu. At the creek end it is marked by a cairn. The route continues just upstream on the TL, less well marked, to the bush-edge, and to the cairn S of South King and to Baldy.
Dorset Ridge HutDorset Ridge Hut is a Standard hut, located at -40.807518, 175.42247. It has 6 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.
Dorset Ridge Hut alert
No access to Tararua Forest via Putara Road end. This is because of damage to the first swing bridge. The swing bridge is closed until further notice.First published on 13 October 2020.
The 30 minute journey down-river from Park Forks to the Dorset Creek junction is not difficult in normal riverflow.
About 150 metres and one pool downstream of Dorset Creek junction is a fine campsite on the TR of the Waiohine. The spur on the TR just up from this campsite provides an old route to Nichols, joining the track from Park Forks about 45 minutes below the bush-edge. To descend, a compass may be needed. The first spur on the TL downstream of the campsite provides a steep but safe route to the cairn on the ridge above; the descent is not well marked.
Up: From just up Dorset Creek the route to McGregor Biv is straightforward, though the spur has more swampy hollows than might be expected. A minor knob just beyond the bushline but before the tarn marks the turn-off to McGregor Biv. Two and a half hours to the biv and 40 minutes more to the main Holdsworth – Mitre Ridge.
Down: The spur to the McGregor Biv leaves the main Holdsworth – Mitre ridge about 50 metres N of the second tarn N of Angle Knob. This tarn has a tor beside it and is just before a minor knoll. Cairns lead L off the ridge, and the spur soon develops to lead, in 20 minutes, past a tarn just above bushline. A minor bump here marks the turn-off to the biv, out of sight on the northern bush-edge. If the biv is crowded, fair campsites exist in the bush on the shelf N beyond the biv.
From the bivvy knoll the route continues down the spur, past a large cryptic tarn in the bush, over knob .1118 and down to point .1000. Here it swings N and steepens to reach the river just up Dorset Creek, 2 hours or so from the biv. This route is reasonably well marked; the final steep toe may be avoided by an early (if not too early) drop off into Dorset Creek. [revised October 2018]
McGregor BivvyMcGregor Bivvy is a Bivvy or Basic hut, located at -40.832098, 175.410925. It has 2 bunks with toilets - non-flush, water from tap - not treated, boil before use, and water supply. Bookings are not required, usage is first come, first served.
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