Hiking to Sunrise Hut

If you love tramping, this is one you can’t miss when visiting Hawke’s Bay. It offers easy hiking, beautiful bush and scenic views, and plenty of photo opportunities. It is also pretty safe under most weather conditions, is family and child-friendly and is therefore the most popular tramp in the eastern Ruahine ranges, for good reason.

The start is at a well-signposted car park near the end of North Block Rd. The easiest way to get there is from SH50 in Central Hawke’s Bay. Turn down Wakarara Rd, towards the mountains, and follow this for about 22km, then turn left into North Block Rd. About 4km further on you’ll get to the intersection with Carsons Rd – keep right, and continue on until you arrive at a farm gate, the first of three. Please leave gates as you find them, as the road passes through a working farm. The car park is about 0.5km after the third gate.

There is a toilet and a very useful information panel at the car park – well worth looking at (the sign, that is!). The start is over a stile just to the right of the panel, after which you follow an indistinct farm track for about 10 minutes, before arriving at another stile, which is the boundary of the Ruahine Forest Park. A couple of minutes after this you arrive at a track junction; to the left, the Swamp Track loop, to the right, to Triplex Hut, and straight on, the Sunrise track proper. If you have some time to spare, pop into Triplex hut for a look-see – it’s only a minute’s walk from the junction.

From the junction, the Sunrisetrack dips down towards a stream bridge, and then starts its relentless upward climb on a wide, metalled and benched track. It is a pleasure to walk on, and other than the fact that it’s relentlessly uphill, poses no real dangers to the moderately fit hiker. A short while after the bridge another track junction is reached, where the other end of the Swamp Track loop joins up with the Sunrisetrack – keep right here. As you climb higher, keep an eye out for the occasional view points through the trees. Eventually the track levels out, and about an hour’s walking time after leaving the car park, another track junction is reached, with a bench seat. It’s a great place for a snack or drink, and to contemplate the beauty of the surroundings. The seat was erected by the Central Hawke’s Bay branch of Forest & Bird in honour of one of their long serving members.

Ignore the track going off left to Waipawa Forks hut, and carry straight on, upwards, once again! Along this section there are some good viewpoints towards the east, as well as to the forested spur across the valley. Note how the vegetation starts changing the higher you climb – the lush bush starts giving way to horopito and mountain beech, and the canopy becomes lower and lower as you continue. About 1.5 hours after leaving the junction, one suddenly emerges from the bush onto Buttercup Hollow, and Sunrise Hut. There are superbly grand views from here, well worth a lingering break to take in their grandeur. Once you’ve had a good look and taken some photos, the hut’s a nice place to relax for a while, and enjoy lunch. Then take the opportunity to pop up a short rise behind the hut onto the ridge. There even more grand views open up. If the weather’s clear, the main Ruanhine range lies before you, across a valley forming the headwaters of the Waipawa River.

In winter the tops are covered in snow, and the beauty is breathtaking. I’ve had the good fortune to tramp up to Sunrisehut in snow a number of times, which really adds to the experience. However, if there’s a strong gale blowing on the tops, the wind-chill factor demands that you get inside the hut as soon as possible, both for comfort and for safety. If the weather’s clear, and wind is not an issue, take a 15 – 20 minute stroll to Armstrong Saddle. The track starts up behind the hut, to the right. From the saddle you can see Ruapehu and Tongariro on a clear day, and enjoy even more great views back towards Sunrise hut and the main range. There’s also a very large slip into the Waipawa headwaters, worth a look. Photography opportunities abound!

The hut itself is quite a large one, with bunks for 24 people. It is also the most popular hut in the Ruahine Forest Park, and can consequently be quite full and busy.  It has an outside toilet, water tank, and gas heating and cooking facilities. It’s a great place to bring the kids for their first overnight hike, as it’s walkable in most weather conditions.

Once you’ve had your fill of what this place has on offer, the walk back to the car will take you an easy 2 hours or so. If not, there’s always the option of staying overnight, and rising early to catch the sunrise after which the hut was named. Note that there’s a charge for this, and that hut tickets can be purchased at the I-site in Waipukurau or at the Onga Onga General Store.

On your way home, take the time to stop at the historic General Store in Onga Onga for a cuppa and a muffin – we’ve made this into a tradition whenever we’ve been for a hike in this part of the Ruahine Range, and it’s one we hope to maintain – somehow a good latte just tastes even better after a solid, satisfying tramp!

Important notes:

  • 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 snow and sub-zero temperatures.
  • Moderate to good fitness required – at least 4.5 to 5 hours total walking required, with an altitude gain of 700m.
  • Suitable for children from about 8 years and over.
  • 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 BK36 Taoroa Junction refers, which can be purchased from Sportsworld or Dave Hern in Waipukurau.
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