The hike to Ellis hut is an easy but reasonably long one at about 5 hours return, but does offer a few variations and possibilities to make it more interesting. It is also the oldest hut in the Ruahine ranges, with a notorious history, and that alone makes a visit worthwhile!
To get to the start, turn west off SH50 into Wakarara Road, towards the mountains. It is a good, sealed road, which eventually becomes a good, but narrow, gravel road where it enters Parks Peak Station. Keep going (about 20km from SH50) until you get to a farm gate. Go through, and leave the gate as you found it. From here it might be rutted and pot-holed, so take care. About 500m further you’ll get to another gate – do as for the first gate, and follow the road-now-turned-into-farm-track through a third gate until you get to the car park at an information panel on the bank of the Makaroro River. This area used to be the site of Yeoman’s Mill, and there are some remnants and relics remaining, including an old, rusty boiler and a few chimney remains dotted over the paddocks.
Wade across the river to the other side – it’s a good idea to bring some sandals or sand-shoes for this purpose, to leave on the opposite bank for your return. Now follow an old track which goes up the bank towards your left – it is marked with a large orange triangle, easily spotted. About 250m up the track you’ll arrive at the forestry road intersection of Makaroro and Wakarara roads – turn left here, and proceed up Makaroro road for another 800m or so, to the signposted intersection with Yeoman’s Track on the right. Keep right here, and pretty soon one enters the cool forest.
The undulating track is generally wide and easy, and climbs upward at a very gentle gradient toward a signposted junction with the track to Parks Peak, which veers off to the left. Again, keep right. The track, which used to be a logging railway line, features interpretive signs and panels at regular intervals, highlighting the logging history and flora of this area. It is hard to believe, looking at the lush forest around you, that logging only ceased here in the 1960’s.
There’s not much in the way of views from the track, but the abundance of regenerating trees, shrubs and flora are a pleasure to look at and inspect. There are some impressive stands of cabbage trees to be seen (cordyline spp), as well as some beautiful large beech trees. A number of crystal-clear streams, all bridged, are crossed en route, with beautiful tasting ice-cold water. It should be safe to drink, but if you have a sensitive stomach, or are unsure, better stick to the bottled variety.
About 20 minutes before Ellis hut the track emerges onto a clearing, which used to contain a saw pit – an interpretive panel explains it all, although there’s little evidence left of the pit, except a derelict chimney and some wooden rails in the ground. Just past the clearing the track morphs into a forestry road, and immediately forks. There is no signpost or marker to show the way here, but go down the right fork, and fairly soon you’ll arrive at the division between native bush and plantation forest. The plantations are managed and run by PanPac, who also own and operate the huge pulp and sawmill at Whirinaki, just north of Napier.
About 5 minutes before the hut you’ll arrive at the intersection with Ellis road – keep right, and 100m further on is Ellis hut, on the right. At first appearance the hut looks quite derelict, but DoC have spent considerable effort and time in restoring the hut, whilst maintaining its character and charm. It is the oldest hut in the Ruahine ranges, being built in the mid-1880’s. It is also known as murderer’s hut, the reason being explained on an info panel inside the hut. Unfortunately it has been subject to some vandalism, mainly graffiti. But some of this graffiti goes back a long time, to the era of government hunters and cullers, whose names have been carved into the walls.
The hut is divided into two rooms, the main one containing a fireplace and not much else, and the smaller room, four bunks (no mattresses), a table and a chair. The walls still have some remnants of newspaper stuck to them, some dating back to 1910 – makes fascinating reading. It seems folks in those days were keen on wallpapering their accommodation with whatever was available at the time!
There is a toilet outside, as well as a water tank behind the left side of the hut. The tree next to the hut provides a pleasant grassy area to enjoy lunch on.
For the return trip, there’s a choice: return the way you came, or via the forestry roads (Ellis and Wakarara roads). Don’t forget to sign the hut visitor’s book before you leave. There is also the option of turning this tramp into an overnight trip, and visit Poutaki hut on the way back from Ellis (see article on Poutaki hut for information on access & tracks). On this trip we chose to return the way we came – I’ve done it via the forestry roads before, which are uninteresting, boring and monotonous, although there are a couple of good viewpoints along the way, as well as the option of doing the last kilometre or so via Dutch Creek, if you don’t mind wet feet (see Poutaki hut article for details).
On the way out, stop for a coffee and cake at the OngaOnga General Store – an interesting experience in itself, as it’s the hub of this small town, with locals frequently popping in for food, groceries or fuel.
- Be prepared! Take clothing and provisions for all weather possibilities – the weather can change in a matter of hours.
- Check the weather forecast – don’t do this tramp if heavy rain is predicted, as the river can rise rapidly. If you do get caught in bad weather, do not cross the river if it is fast-flowing and discoloured. Rather wait it out than lose your life trying.
- Moderate fitness required. Total walking time is about 5 hours return.
- Suitable for children from 7 years upward.
- Tell someone where you’re going, and what time to expect you back. There is no cellphone reception.
- Take a map – NZ Topomap BK37 Tokokino refers, and can be purchased at Sportsworld or Dave Hern in Waipukurau.