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November 2013 Issue
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Kahikitea Country

306 Bridges assist progress. Photo: Phillip Donnell
1km along Fullerton Road, off Te Anga Road just before Waitomo Village or from the southern end at Brook Park, off SH3 north of Te Kuiti

Pehitawa Track, Pehitawa Forest Reserve

Pehitawa is a recently-opened 12.5km track from Waitomo Village to Te Kuiti and has gained significance as part of the Te Araroa Trail.

We experienced the track as a walk of contrasts: town and country vistas, forest and farmland habitats, public and private land, native and exotic flora and fauna, historic and contemporary features, urban bustle and rural serenity. The track had us puffing at times, with 150m ascents and descents. It was generally easy to follow, except for a few obscure twists and turns, and well-served with stiles, marker posts, and bridges.

Leaving the northern end, we soon dropped into an open pasture basin beneath somewhat obtrusive pylons. A sudden swing to the left found us grunting up a grainy goat track grasping gorse, then down to a picturesque pond complete with maimai. This was the first of three steep bush-covered hills which periodically afforded panoramic views. After the effort of the climbs, we enjoyed pausing on the ridgelines to stare across the King Country’s rich agricultural landscape. Low, tumbled limestone hills rose to formidable volcanic summits in the distance – north to Pirongia, Kakepuku and Maungatautari, east to Pureora, and south to Ruapehu.

A downhill dash to a deep ditch led to loping along a level farm race before reaching the small suspension bridge over the Mangapu River, a sluggish channel with steep banks. We stood, staring silently into its murky depths, a sad reminder that 90 per cent of our lowland waterways are now so seriously polluted as to be unswimmable.

At this point, the track entered the 18.5ha Pehitawa Forest Reserve, which is Queen Elizabeth II Trust-covenanted land (purchased in 2001) and one of the finest remaining remnants of mature pole stand kahikatea trees in the North Island, some aged around 120 years. Although small, it is self-sustaining and in near virgin condition. We also noticed fine specimens of mature swamp maire, matai, titoki and pukatea, and the ground cover was in excellent condition. Such forest originally occupied 41,000ha in the Waipa Ecological District, but is now (tragically) reduced through clearance to only 158ha, one-third of it in the Mangapu Valley. It was therapeutic to lie on the ground gazing into the towering treetops, while listening to tui, kereru, pukeko and shining cuckoo. This reserve was the highlight of our day.

Once out of the woods, the rocky outcrop of Oparure pa came into view, an ideal lunch-stop. We crossed the sealed road (of the same name) and climbed briefly to two stiles. A short distance from here we discovered two old trees, a British holly and a pohutukawa, standing as symbols of a fascinating story of utu, shrewd politics and even humour, namely Te Kooti’s rescue of a survey party kidnapped by Maori chief Mahuki in 1883. The rescue was a ploy to curry favour with the government for his pardon.

From the two trees, it was just 3km to the finish – through paddocks, across Gadsby Road, then over undulating terrain and a rather roundabout rising route to trig point 263 overlooking Te Kuiti. The trig marks the site of Motakiora, a fortified pa constructed in the 17th century by Rora, a son of Maniapoto.

Continuing beyond the trig, we scrambled through a pine plantation containing woodlots of gum and black walnut, along with the Blackman conifer collection of over 300 species. It was a pleasant spot to recline on the thick carpet of autumn leaves and bask in the afternoon sunshine. The reserve’s Red Trail, then Blue Trail, guided us to the exit on SH3 at the northern outskirts of the town and, happily, adjacent to a well-appointed café.

It is unlikely that Pehitawa will ever become one of the most popular sections of Te Araroa, but it does have enough noteworthy features to make it a worthwhile investment of time and energy. In particular, it offers an opportunity to sample a unique forest type that once covered extensive areas, but has been largely destroyed.

– Phillip Donnell

Note: he southern part of the track is closed for lambing during August and September. More information on the route can be found at