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Colenso came this way

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February 2021 Issue

Te Atua Mahuru, Ruahine Forest Park

When missionary, explorer and botanist William Colenso came this way in 1845, he was attempting to cross the Ruahine Range.

Of Te Atua Mahuru he famously wrote, ‘When at last we emerged […] on to the open dell-like land just before we gained the summit, the lovely appearance of so many and varied beautiful and novel wild plants and flowers richly repaid me the toil of the journey and the ascent – for never did I behold at one time in NZ such a profusion of Flora’s stores!’ Then he proceeded to stuff his hat, shirt and pants with specimens.

Colenso had sent his most capable Māori guides ahead and was anxiously awaiting their return. They eventually arrived with dispiriting news of an abandoned village where Colenso had hoped to get food, so the whole party turned back down the spur now named after the missionary.

When taking this photo, I was also farewelling a companion. Chris Maclean was departing for the west, following the rough route of Colenso’s first successful crossing of 1847. I was headed back to the Makaroro Valley.
Access to the undulating summit of Te Atua Mahuru (1534m) is up Colenso Spur from the lower Makaroro River, where trampers can observe a memorial plaque to the missionary, set in a small, unpretentious rock cairn.

As Colenso found, the route involves a solid 1000m climb, steep enough to test lungs and limbs, especially at first. Higher, slips eat away at the ridge in places, dropping off to scree-filled gullies – the sort of terrain the vertigo-suffering Colenso found difficult, but it won’t faze experienced trampers.

After taking in the broad views from the summit, it’s possible to traverse the tops south to Sparrowhawk Biv, where a track descends back to the Makaroro River, completing a satisfying round-trip.

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Distance
16km
Total Ascent
1493m
Grade
Moderate
Time
Car park to Te Atua Mahuru 5-7hr; To Sparrowhawk Biv, 2-3hr, To car park 4-5hr
Access
Makaroro Road end
Map
BK36, BK37