This article was first published in the Tararua Tramper in August 1998
''Maps: U19, U20. A TTC eight-day circuit in the Kaweka Range with Lindsay and Sue Cuthbertson (leader) and Tony Balcombe.
Sunday 5 April. We left Wellington in fine weather about 8am. Apart from chasing around Hastings looking for colour slide film (successful) we had an uneventful 390km drive to the roadend at Makahu (3pm). We were surprised by how dry Hawkes Bay was - rain was badly needed. Several parties came out as we were changing into our tramping gear - one hunting party had a nice Sika head. We were off by 3.30pm and enjoyed the easy Mohaka River track to Te Puia Hut (5.35pm). I noted that DoC has blasted out a shelf on the rocky bluff where previously a wire rope had assisted trampers to get around. Te Puia Hut is large (20+) with gas heating and cooking and is very nicely placed near the river with a grassy area and seating outside. After making a log book entry we continued across the Makino River bridge and reached the hot springs on dark (6.30pm). DoC has made further improvements to both the springs and camping areas. We soon had our tent erected and meal cooking on the primus. Then it was into the waters of one of the two upgraded pools, to enjoy the warmth and chat by the light of the moon and our candle - it was a magic still evening and a new experience for Tony.
Monday 6 April (fine). Another session in the pool before departing at 8.15am. Then into the Mangatainoka River which joins the Mohaka River just above the hot springs. Soon the track ends and travel is a bit rough. Since previous visits more windfalls are blocking the river and these have to be climbed over (or under), than a short section along one bank, another slippery river crossing, then some sharp toi toi grasses to push through and so on. Sue and Lindsay were carrying ski poles (with a view to buying folding Lekki poles). We found them very helpful, especially in the river crossings. By 10.30am we were approaching the waterfall and small gorge area. Last time we bypassed on the true right but this time we thought we would try the true left. The initial climb from the river is steep but after that it is easy and by noon we were back in the river above the falls and enjoying our lunch stop in the warm sunshine. The true left is easier and once one knows the unmarked route probably half an hour would bypass the falls. There are two or three hunters' camps in the river between the falls and the forks (3.15pm) - all this area is Maori land. Deer sign was numerous but we did not actually sight any animals. The empty Mangatainoka Hut (six-bunk, Corker Cooker wood stove) was reached at 5.30pm. It is in good order, little used - we soon had it warmed up and enjoyed an excellent night.
Tuesday 7 April (fine). We left the hut about 9am and resumed our upriver travel, glad of fine weather. Both Tony and I took a few knocks on the legs. At 12.40pm we reached the well-marked junction where we left the stream. A sign advised that the route over the ridge to Tussock Hut was marked with plastic strips. We climbed steadily, stopping for lunch in the sunshine and reaching the top at 3.00pm. The descent to the open tussock took forty minutes. We followed the track to Tussock Hut (4.45pm). This is a standard six-bunk hut with wood stove. A hunting party had left plenty of food and bag of coal so we dined "on the house". It was a lovely night with the moon nearly full and sky full of stars.
Wednesday 8 April (fine). Thanks to the hunting party we enjoyed fresh eggs for breakfast. By 8.30am we were on our way down the valley - the tramping this morning in the wide open tussock valley being a great contrast to that of previous days. At one point we watched a falcon chasing a small bird which we think it caught. All too soon we were traversing the stream and reached Harkness Hut at 11.10am. This standard six-bunk hut with stove was upgraded some years ago to include a verandah, modern windows and solid bunks. Here a hunting party of six from Hamilton was preparing to fly out later that day. They seemed disappointed that they had shot only one animal. However, after chatting to them we realised that they were not very experienced. More food (bread, butter) was offered. We enjoyed a cooked lunch. We left just before 1pm and climbed steadily up Te Pukeohikarua - the summit (1501 m) was reached at 3.10pm. From the trig point great views open up towards Tongariro Park. Although the weather was fine it was starting to look as if a change was on the way. By 3.30pm we were at Te Pukeohikarua Hut (six-bunk with wood stove).
Thursday 9 April (very wet). We left about 8.30am. Mangaturutu Hut (six bunks with open fire place) 11.10am. Three hunters were happy with their tally of 3 Sika and 1 red deer. One was Kelvin Burt, an ex-TTC member - he was interested in catching up on club affairs. After lunch we left about lpm. There were rolls of thunder and a few lightning flashes as we made our way over the ups and downs of the ridge. Tira Chalet, a newer three-room hut was reached at 2.45pm. We were glad to get in out of the rain. There are bunks for 12 people but it could sleep twice this number. The Corker Cooker stove was soon going and starting to dry out all our wet clothing - Tony was soaked through! A feature of all the Kaweka huts is the candleholders which fit into special slots placed around the hut at strategic points. Kaweka huts also have an outside meat safe for hunters to store their meat. All the huts were remarkably tidy with little rubbish left around. We all slept well that night.
Good Friday 10 April (fine again). Soon after 8.30am we were admiring the views from the open tops near Tira Chalet. At the bush edge we noted several new "test" enclosures erected by DoC. A long descent to the Ngaruroro River and Rocks Ahead Hut followed. There is a three-wire bridge spanning Rocks Ahead stream which Tony crossed. The main river, which we did not have to cross, has a cage. Rocks Ahead Hut is not particularly attractive, has 4 bunks and an open fireplace. We had early lunch there and a brew before leaving at 11.45am. A long steady climb followed. At 2.45pm we reached the sign indicating nearby Back Ridge bivy which we decided to visit. There was considerable deer sign in this area. The bivy is nicely located at the bush edge. It is very small with a few mattresses and not used very much. By 3.30pm we had left the sign on the ridge again and continued climbing towards Back Ridge Hut which the sign said was one hour away. It took us one and a half hours. Generally we found the times indicated on the signs, particularly the older signs, to be fast-more suited to an unladen young hunter, rather than pack-carrying trampers! Back Ridge Hut is of metal construction and seems to have suffered some roof damage at one end. It has 4 bunks (only 3 mattresses) and a Corker Cooker stove with a plate on it indicating that it had been donated in memory of John Bilkey. We soon had it warming the hut up and cooking our evening meal. These stoves are very easy to light with the help of the small SR primus we were carrying, as they fit nicely under the open slotted base grate plate and quickly get the timber burning. Incidentally we each carried a pint of fuel which was adequate for the week but another pint or so would have been required had we not been able to supplement our cooking with the wood stoves - all huts had plenty of wood which we added to with the help of our fold-up saw.
Saturday 11 April (fine). A bit nippy this morning at this altitude and the ground covered by a white frost. We left Back Ridge Hut at 8.40am. A short 10-15 minute steep climb brought us back onto the ridge and we continued upwards in the morning sunshine clambering over a few eroded rocky knobs. However, further back towards the summit a heavy cloud bank was sitting on the tops. We eventually entered this cloud and arrived at the summit war memorial cairn (Kaweka J, 1724m) at 10.30am. The route along the tops is well poled but all the signs have taken a battering from strong winds, etc. - some are missing altogether. We expected to meet other trampers, and sure enough we met first a couple of local women doing a long day trip and a little later a party of 4 trampers. We stopped for lunch at about 1pm shortly after the Dicks Spur turn-off. By 2pm we were at the Ballards Hut turn-off and started the long descent, reaching the bush-edge again at 3pm. Arrival at Makino Hut was just after 5pm. This is another six-bunk hut with stove, recently relined and fitted with a new water-tank. Although no one was there when we arrived two of the bunks had gear on them and a dog was tied up outside. Just on dark the hunters returned with a nice Sika head. One of the hunters was a DoC staffer (Paddy Williams), who obviously knew the area well and updated us on DoC Kaweka policy and news.
Easter Sunday 12 April (fine). One of Sue's Easter eggs went down well to start the day! We left at about 8.30am leaving Paddy and his mate salting their skin and cleaning up the Sika head. We reached the road at 10.30am The short 2km road walk to the carpark was quickly covered. Many more vehicles were parked in the area. Before changing out of our gear we drove the vehicle back the couple of hundred metres or so to the hot pool carpark. We were pleased to find that this hot pool has also been upgraded by DoC. It was just delightful to soak in the hot water before drying off and getting into clean clothes again - what a way to end a trip! We left for Wellington at about 1pm, stopping at Dannevirke for a fresh salad meal at the hotel and were in town by 8pm.