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June 2011 Issue
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Great views after relentless climb

Denise in the tortured forest. Photo: Peter Katz
Car park to junction 15min; Junction to summit, 2-3hr
Kapakapanui Hut (6 bunks)
From the end of Ngatiawa Road, 10min from Waikanae
Kapakapanui Track, Tararua Forest Park

Mount Kapakapanui on the Kapiti Coast stands afoot of the Waikanae River headwaters on the east and west of the Tararua Range.

After a cold week, Kapakapanui emerged into view with snow down to 800m – a level not often seen. Having never climbed the mountain while it is covered in snow I felt inspired to get out there.

The track is a well-marked circuit with one hut – Kapakapanui Hut – en-route. From the Ngatiawa Road end we followed the Ngatiawa River for 15 minutes to a river junction requiring four small river crossings, (usually no more than shin deep). On this trip, as usual, in order to encourage Denise to climb Kapa, I had to agree to carry her plus our day packs across each river crossing.

At the junction we chose the southern route up west-facing spurs making the track relatively dry and fast compared to the alternative route. A relentless 700m climb through changing undergrowth of mosses, ferns, colourful fungi and bush is delightful but tough.

At around 900m the track sidled to the east side and entered my favourite section – the forest of old tortured trees, bearded with hanging lichen, that have withstood the harsh weather elements.

We now started to encounter snow and the dim light made the forest a gloomy place to be. Soon after the track broke out into a clearing for the first views over Kapiti.

The next few minutes we picked our way along the narrow path between large tufts of flax. From past experience we knew the snow, like a trap, covered deep bog holes underneath and soon enough into a hole I went. I then discovered that if I followed footprints of a lone deer I could stay on firm ground.

We climbed gently through another section of mystical tortured forest and bog before reaching the top clearing and trig. In 1903, a wedding party from Waikanae accidentally set fire to the forest on top of Kapa which has provided the clearing today. I believe the views of the Kapiti Coast and Tararuas are unsurpassed compared with anywhere else at this height in the Tararua Range. We ticked off the landmarks: Ruapehu, Otaki River flats, Table Top, Bridge Head, Field Peak, Mt Hector, Honeycomb and Alpha (another favourite trip), Mt Egmont/Taranaki and the South Island.

We headed down the same route, a personal choice, but for first timers the round trip via the hut is a must.

Kapakapanui Track offers rewards through all seasons. In summer with an early (6.30am) start you can get the quick tramp fix and be on top by 9.00am and back by midday. In spring and autumn, early starts bring crisp conditions and often a special mystic feel as the morning mist or filtered rays of sunlight accentuate both the ground cover and twisted trees in the tortured forest.

– Peter Katz