This tramp offers a real challenge, great views, great variety of scenery and two huts. It also involves some river tramping, which means wet feet are guaranteed. A good level of fitness is required to maximise your enjoyment.
I’d been scheming at ways to visit this hut for some time, but just could not find the time to do so. The farm’s taken up a lot of time and effort this year (2013), which meant nowhere near as much tramping as what I’m used to. The only decent one this year was taking my bro-in-law, Ronald, on the Milford track in February – amazing, and a must-do rite of passage for every Kiwi (and visiting) tramper. So worthwhile, but that’s another story!
To continue, the opportunity finally came up to go to Cattle Creek Hut in the Ruahine Ranges by being a bit creative. At this time of the year it only gets dark at around 9 pm, and from previous tramps to Stanfield Hut, remembered that the walking time from Stanfield to Cattle Creek was 2 hours. From the car park to Stanfield is also 2 hours, so I figured that if I started my tramp by 5 pm, I should make the hut before dark. As it went, my plans worked perfectly, and by 5pm on a Friday I was on the track.
To get to the start, drive to Dannevirke in Southern Hawke’s Bay, and turn into Ruahine Road. Cross the railway line and at the third intersection, turn right – this is still Ruahine Road, which becomes Umutaoroa Road about 500m further on. Keep going until you get to the intersection with Top Grass Road – turn left, and 2.5kms further, right into Tamaki West Road – follow this to the car park at the road end.
Starting the hike
To start with, there is a choice of either the river route, up the Tamaki River West branch, or up and over the Holmes Ridge. I chose Holmes Ridge, being slightly quicker, and tramping to a deadline. Tramping upstream against a river’s flow is quite taxing, and I thought that Holmes Ridge would take less energy, at least as far as Stanfield hut. This assumption proved correct – more later.
From the carpark the track almost immediately crosses a boulder field, with a deep gully through it. It used to be a small stream a few years back, but with every heavy rain event, more and more rocks and debris piled up, until it looks as at does now. There is a way around it, quite easy to see.
On the other side of the boulder field you’ll see a track with a fork – keep right, and you’ll get to the picnic area. This by itself is a nice place to spend a day with the kids, or to camp a night or two. It has toilets and a shelter with seats and tables. There is also a very nice information panel to the left of the shelter – worth having a look at. The way to Holmes ridge is about halfway between the info panel and the shelter, across the river. There is a large orange marker on the other side, which may be obscured by some scrub on a small island in the middle – go around the left of the island, and the track is just by the marker.
Now starts a solid 20 min uphill slog until you reach a farm track. Turn left, and follow the track uphill. Some great views to the main range on the left, and the occasional view to the right over the plains to the east. After another 30 mins or so a viewpoint is reached, with awesome views down to, and up and down, the river, and a signpost; Stanfield Hut, 45 mins. The track now starts dropping down to the river, which you’ll reach in about 30 minutes, by a sign saying, Stanfield Hut, 20 minutes. Turn right, upstream. From here you can expect wet feet, as there is no defined track. Another 15 minutes or so will bring you to a tributary stream coming down from the main range on your left – by now you’ll have seen the two large orange markers, indicating the access track to Stanfield hut, about 5 minutes away.
Stanfield is set in a grassy clearing, and is a pleasant, comfortable hut with room for 8 people. If by now you’re feeling really tired, consider staying the night here! If carrying on, enter your details and intentions in the hut book. Then take the indistinct track north (on the opposite side from which you approached the hut) from the front door – this was the original access point to the hut, and it almost immediately drops you back into the river.
Onward to Cattle Creek Hut
Turn left and go upstream for about 5 – 10 minutes. This will bring you to a fork in the river – go up the left fork. Keep an eye out for a large orange marker and signpost on the right, another 5 minutes further on. This is the start up the track to Cattle Creek – now the hard work really begins, and where your fitness comes into play! It’s a pretty steep track, which for me was hard going, but about 45 minutes of heavy breathing brings you to a signpost stating: Cattle Creek, 1 hour. Here the track swings sharp right, up onto the eastern ridge. The highest point on this tramp (903m) is another 15 minutes away, with some breathtaking views opening up along the way.
A striking feature from now on are the many dead trees to be seen all around. From here the ridge track is wide and easy to follow. There is a bit of up and down, but nothing too strenuous. Not too long after the high point, the bright orange Cattle Creek hut comes into view in the valley to the left, situated next to the headwaters of the Pohangina River. The track down to the hut is signposted, and indicates 15 mins to the hut. It’s quite a steep descent – take care. At the bottom you’ll have to cross the Pohangina River, walk downstream for about 20 m to find the exit out the river, and grunt your way up the final short uphill to get to the hut – a killer! To top it all, I saw several deer between arriving at the signpost and the hut, including two grazing behind the hut itself. And no rifle – not that I had any energy left to deal with a deer anyway…
Arriving at Cattle Creek Hut
I arrived at the hut at 9.10 pm, not bad going considering a 15 min stop at Stanfield, and another short stop near the high point. It was just about dark by now, and I was very tired, and happy to be there. If you’re contemplating doing the same thing as I did, do so between late November and early February, the months when daylight hours are the longest.
Cattle Creek is of similar design to Stanfield, with a two-tier sleeping platform and 8 mattresses, an inside sink bench with running water and a wood burner. It’s been done up recently, and is very warm and comfortable. After a late dinner and a bit of reading, I hit the sack.
A breakfast of hot oats and a large mug of coffee got me going the next morning – very necessary for the steep climb back up to the ridge. Time wise, it’s about the same walking time to or from Stanfield hut – work on about 2 hours and 15 minutes each way. This time I was able to enjoy the awesome views up and down the Pohangina River valley in better light from the ridge, as well as from the high point further along.
For those looking for multi-day hiking trips, the ridge track continues north from Cattle Creek, and you can reach Leon Kinvig, Makaretu, Longview, Howletts and Daphne huts this way, obviously with a few more days and a pickup at the other end. Take note that some of these sections are either poled, marked or unmarked routes, can be hard going, and best suited for experienced trampers with navigation skills.
Once back at Stanfield, I had a couple of muesli bars and some water, whilst looking through the hut book for any familiar names – sometimes it’s interesting to recognise names of either people you know, or have met before on other tramps.
The last section back to the car was down the Tamaki River West Branch. It was great to cool the feet in the river – wet feet are unavoidable, and quite pleasant on a warm day. I found the going harder than on previous tramps – the river had been scoured out by some heavy rain a few weeks prior, and it took a lot of effort and concentration to place my feet on rocks that did not move. Almost took a tumble once or twice!
Sections of the river that were previously quite smooth were now deep gullies, with large rocks – not large enough to cause grief, but still large enough to make steady walking difficult. It would be very easy to sprain an ankle or injure a foot or leg in a moment’s inattention, so take care – a walking pole or stick will be a huge help to maintain balance. As a result of the conditions, the walk back to the car from Stanfield hut took about 2 hours 20 minutes – 20 minutes longer than expected, but including a 15 minute rest break.
Knowing when you’re back near the picnic site start point, and looking for a way out of the river, is the last challenge. The first exit point is where the river takes a sharp left turn, and the bank in front of you has been undercut by the water. The track from A-Frame hut to the picnic site is just above this, and you should be able to get onto it by scrambling up through the bush just to the right of the undercut section. Otherwise it’s another 5 minutes or so until you see the large orange marker where you started this tramp.
- Be prepared! Take clothing and provisions for all weather possibilities – the weather can change in a matter of an hour from beautiful sunshine and warm temperatures, to rain, snow, sub-zero temperatures and very strong winds, or a combination of all of these.
- Check the weather forecast – don’t do this tramp just after heavy rain, or if heavy rain is forecast, as rivers quickly rise to dangerous levels. If you do get caught out, stay put and wait until the river drops to a safe level.
- Good to very good fitness required – at least 8 to 9 hours total walking required (from the car park return), with an altitude gain of 600m one way, and 200m back, plus difficult river walking conditions.
- Suitable for children from 12 years and over (suggest overnight only).
- Tell someone where you’re going, and what time to expect you back.
- Fill in the hut visitor’s books – it could save your life.
- Take a map – NZ Topographical map BL36 Norsewood refers, which can be purchased from Sportsworld or Dave Hern in Waipukurau.
- Tale a locator beacon – not cheap, but your life’s worth a lot more!
There is a small charge for staying overnight at this hut – tickets available from any DOC office, the I-site in Waipukurau, or the General Store in Ongaonga.