Poutaki Hut – a lesser known hiking trail

Most people haven’t heard of Poutaki Hut – as a result it’s not often visited, and is mostly used by hunters. The fact that the track to the hut is not marked on the map may have something to do with that.  It’s the only hut on the Wakarara Range, and is not difficult to get to. It is a hidden gem, however, and well worth visiting. The added bonus is that when the main Ruahine Range is covered in cloud, or inaccessible due to weather, often the Wakarara Range is not! And don’t forget the camera…

I’ve done it a couple of times as a day-tramp, but it’s quite a long one – about 3 – 3.5 hours to the hut, and about 2.5 – 3 hours return, depending on the return route chosen – more about this later. For those less fit, it’s better as a short overnighter.

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. 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. Turn left, walk upstream for about 30m, then turn right for about 20m, and follow an old track which goes left up the bank. You may have to scout around a bit for this, but it’s well-defined, and should not be hard to find. It may have an orange marker to indicate this, but it was missing the last time we went.

About 250m up the track you’ll arrive at the forestry road intersection of Makaroro and Wakarara roads – turn right into Wakarara road. Don’t expect to see much more than endless rows of pine trees for some time from here on, as it’s a commercial forestry block owned by Pan-Pac. After 1 to 1.5 hours of walking up Wakarara Road, turn right up Leatherwood road, and follow this up to its end. Just at the end on the left is a gap in the scrub, with a sign – this is the start of the track. It immediately drops quite steeply into a gully, and then steeply up a spur almost directly opposite – it is marked with a large orange marker. Take care, as it’s rocky to start with, and the going is a bit slippery on the sometimes gravelly track. As soon as you’re up and over this bit, the track becomes quite well-defined, and winds its way steeply upward. It’s not difficult to follow, and is reasonable well marked with small orange markers. The surrounding bush is comprised mainly of pines and a bit of native scrub most of the way up – a bit disappointing, but the unfolding views behind you make up for this in spades. Stop often and you’ll soon see why this tramp is quite unique and special. The last time I did it was in winter, and the unfolding views westward to the main Ruahine Ranges were quite awesome – snow-covered peaks, contrasted by green slopes, farm paddocks and river valleys – unforgettable.

After about 50 minutes of fairly relentless upward trudging, you’ll arrive at the top of the spur, and emerge onto the main Wakarara ridge. The track here crosses a small scree slope, and then abruptly turns left, or north, on the eastern side of the ridge. From this point views towards the east open up, and again, it’s worth a breather to admire these for a few minutes. Continue up the track, which undulates up and down for a while, crests the ridge and continues on the western side, before clambering up the centre toward Poutaki peak. You’ll now see the microwave and repeater tower looming before you and it’s with a real sense of achievement that you arrive there. Drop the pack for a well-earned rest and a snack – Poutaki is the highest point in the Wakarara Range, at 1020m a.s.l., with an almost 360 deg. view. On a clear day, stunning is the only way to describe it. It’s hard not to get lost in the views, but it’s the cold, biting wind which more often than not blows here which prevents one from sticking around for very long! From here the track is unmarked, but is well defined – it continues on, on the western side of the trig and tower, and almost immediately drops down steeply and turns east, into manuka scrub. Another 5 minutes further on the track emerges onto a grassy clearing, with Poutaki hut immediately in front and below. Good views towards the east can be had from here.

The hut itself is quite small, a dinky 4-bunk affair, but quite cosy, and a great spot for lunch. It has 4 bunks with foam mattresses, a water tank, and outside toilet. There is a small bench and seat in the hut, as well as a small pot-belly stove. I’ve used one of these before in the Nelson Lakes area, and they’re very efficient. If you’re intending to stay overnight, and there are more than 4 in your group, some may have to sleep on the floor, or camp outside – this may be difficult, because there’s no real level area around the hut. There might also be a few resident mice in the hut – quite entertaining, but if staying overnight, hang your food from the roof beams!

The return journey to the car is pretty much the way you came. However, there is another choice from the concrete bridge over Dutch Creek on Wakarara Road. If you don’t mind getting wet feet, drop down off the bridge into Dutch Creek, and follow it downstream to the confluence with the Makaroro River. It’s a delightful 30 minutes or so; made even more pleasant by cooling the feet, which by now will be somewhat sore from walking on gravel roads! You’ll pass some really lovely native bush, interesting bluffs and landforms on the way – well worth considering. When you reach the confluence with the Makaroro River, turn right, and walk about 30 minutes upstream to the car park.  On the way, admire the impressive mudstone cliffs on the right.

On the way home, don’t forget to honour the by now established tradition of a cup of good coffee and a snack at the General Store in Onga Onga. No, I don’t have shares in the business, but a good cuppa just makes for a great end to a great tramp! If you’re heading south towards Dannevirke, there’s a good café in Norsewood, with great fruit cake.

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.
  • 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 fitness required (especially if done as a day walk) – at least 6.5 – 7 hours total walking required (from the car park return), with an altitude gain of 600m.
  • Suitable for children from 10 years and over.
  • Tell someone where you’re going, and what time to expect you back. Consider taking a locator beacon!
  • Fill in the hut visitor’s book – it could save your life.
  • Take a map – NZ Topographical map BK36 Tikokino refers, which can be purchased from Sportsworld or Dave Hern in Waipukurau.
  • There is a small charge for staying overnight at this hut – tickets available from the I-site in Waipukurau, or the General Store in Onga Onga.
  • Take some old newspapers to leave in the hut for starting a fire in the stove.
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