Ruahine Forest Park
The long and narrow Ruahine Range stretches between the Manawatu Gorge in the south and the Taruarau River in the north. Most of the range is protected in the 95,000ha Ruahine Forest Park, though, curiously, the highest peaks in the park are not actually on the crest of the main range, but on a subsidiary ridge lying to the west called the Hikurangi Range.
Spanning about 10km in length, the broad, high range is bordered by the Kawhatau River to the east and north, while the Pourangaki River drains the southern flanks. Hikurangi Range connects with the main Ruahine Range at Ohuinga. Tramping and hunting remain the main outdoor pursuits in the area, but the flat, rolling tops offer great scope for winter ski-touring trips too.
1. Purity Hut
Easiest access onto the Hikurangi Range is on a track from the Mangakukeke roadend to Purity Hut. A marked route crosses farmland before climbing a steep spur onto a forested ridge. Higher up, the distinctive conical shape of pahautea (mountain cedar) dominates the canopy. The six-bunk hut is a grand place to watch the sunset and a useful base from which to launch trips further afield.
2. Wooden Peg and Iron Peg
From Purity Hut, a poled route climbs along a tussock ridge to Wooden Peg (1672m). Here, the route to Kelly Knight Hut begins, initially following poles down a ridge to the south before joining a bush track that descends into the Pourangaki Valley. Alternatively, a climb from Wooden Peg to Iron Peg (1703m) leads to other unmarked tops routes north towards Mangaweka or south-east to the head of Pinnacle Stream.
At 1731m, this is the highest peak in the Ruahine Range and one of the North Island’s highest non-volcanic peaks. It lies about 2km north of Wooden Peg. On a good day, the summit offers outstanding views of the Ruahine Range, the Rangitikei Valley and as far north as the peaks of Tongariro National Park.
4. Waterfall Hut
From Iron Peg, trampers can navigate their way along the tops south-eastwards to a signpost near a large slip at the head of Pinnacle Stream. After an initial scree-run to the stream, a straightforward boulder-hop leads to the Kawhatau River junction. Nearby is Waterfall Hut, which DOC recently identified as one of the most authentic SF70 ex-Forest Service six-bunk huts remaining in Ruahine Forest Park.
5. Kawhatau River
From Waterfall Hut, trampers can follow the Kawhatau River through a tight gorge as far as the track to McKinnon Hut, or beyond to Crow Hut. Although travel is simple during fine weather, the gorge quickly becomes impassable when river levels rise.
6. Crow Hut
This classic ex-Forest Service six-bunker occupies a river terrace on the true left of the Kawhatau River. The hut reputedly got its name because it was the last place in the Ruahine Range where North Island kokako – sometimes called the New Zealand crow – were observed. From the hut, tracks lead onto the northern Hikurangi Range and the Mokai Patea Range. For experienced trampers, the lower Kawhatau River provides challenging gorge tramping as far as the cableway near Kawhatau Base.
7. McKinnon Hut
From Kawhatau Base, a track descends to the cableway across the Kawhatau River. Not many of these cableways remain in the backcountry and crossing the river in the small open cage provides an exciting reminder of times when many more of these existed for deer-cullers. A steep track climbs to the bushline, where a poled route leads to the six-bunk McKinnon Hut.
Second highest peak on the range at 1718m, Hikurangi lies north of Mangaweka and is most often reached by traversing the range between Purity and McKinnon huts.
9. Kelly Knight Hut
The eight-bunk Kelly Knight Hut makes a good weekend destination for less-experienced trampers. Permission from the farmers at Kohunui Station (06 382 5577) should be gained to cross their land from the Mangakukeke roadend (access is denied during the spring lambing season). From the farm boundary, a well-benched track leads up-valley through beech forest, before dropping to cross a swingbridge over the Pourangaki River to reach the hut.
10. Pourangaki Hut
Pourangaki Hut (eight bunks) can be reached by experienced trampers boulder-hopping up a gorgy section of the Pourangaki River. Alternatively, a track connects the two huts over the northern Whanahuia Range. From Pourangaki Hut, a track leads onto the Hikurangi Range, just south of Pinnacle Creek, making a trip to Waterfall Hut possible.