This article was first published in the Tararua Tramper in August 1997
Rangiwahia - Howlett's - Iron Gate - Rangiwahia
A Ruahine Classic
This trip has to be one of the best two-day round-trips that are available in the main North Island mountain chain.
The walk up to Rangiwahia Hut at the edge of the tussock plateau is spectacular, and only about one hour because the road end is at 800m. Rangi is a two-ticket hut and quite popular; elsewhere on this trip, just after New Year, we only saw one other person until we stopped there again at the end of the trip.
Our first full day was the crossing to Howlett's Hut via Te Hekenga (1695m). On reaching the crest of the Whanahuia Range, this peak looked massive and so far away. And that was only two-thirds of our day's journey. With brilliant sunshine, it seemed as if we were in for a long, thirsty day. However, there were tarns at regular intervals along most of the route and a running stream not far below the start of the 300m climb to Te Hekenga. Travel proved quicker than expected along the tussock tops, with impressive views everywhere, especially into the steep eroded Pourangaki catchment with Sawtooth Ridge at the top end. We were on the top too soon for lunch. The other side of Te Hekenga is impassable by the direct route; one has to drop down some steep loose ground and scree on the right-hand and then regain the ridge. You just go down until you feel confident about sidling across.
It is easy travel to Howlett's Hut after that. The flat summit area of Taumataomekura has lovely camp sites and tarns. Tiraha can be sidled until the track down to the hut is picked up, but as the clag had come in by then we found this area to be deceptive - we had to sidle further than we first thought, and then the track didn't follow the obvious route down - because the obvious route is not the right one.
We arrived before 4pm. Howlett's is a neat little hut with dormer windows, and sits in a slight hollow just out of the bush, a perfect spot for a hut. In fine weather there are great views of the Hawke's Bay lowlands and north along the ranges; we saw nothing of Hawke's Bay because of the lingering effects of a tropical cyclone. Of the many huts in the Ruahines, there are only three belonging to clubs; this one is well looked after by the Heretaunga Tramping Club.
Day two's morning travel to Iron Gate Hut was interesting and mostly straightforward except that with the clag coming and going we had to check compass bearings occasionally. In fine weather the views here are wonderful but today the most impressive was the inside of the rich high-altitude forest of kaikawaka and many other plants on the long ridge leading from the Ngamoko Range westwards to the hut.
At one point on the descent from the Ngamoko Range before the bush is reached it is easy to lose the track, as I had found on a previous trip. On the rounded part where the track peters out, avoid the temptation to keep on the apparent line of the ridge heading to the right. Look for the track - the line of mud and water-filled leg-breaking holes - underneath the long grass.
After a late lunch at the pleasant Iron Gate Hut, we decided that instead of following the usual route via Triangle Hut, we would try a short-cut via the spur leading directly from the track near spot height 1037 up to Mangahuia. This turned out to be easy travel to the leatherwood, through which an unofficial track has been cut and marked with blue plastic tape. We got to Rangi at about 5pm, and headed out the next day.
- Trip members
- Dave Reynolds, Hugh Fyson (scribe).