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December 2011 Issue
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Less remote than expected

Lunching just below the summit
5h Return
From the Round the Mountain Track or Whakapapaiti Track
Topo50 BJ34

NOTE: Access to Hauhungatahi from Erua Road, as described below, is no longer possible. Trampers should contact DOC for the latest information on access, or approach the mountain from the Round the Mountain Track, Whakapapaiti Track, or, possibly, Mangahuia Track.

Hauhungatahi, Tongariro National Park / moderate

On the western side of Tongariro National Park, lies the Hauhungatahi Remote Experience Zone, the centrepiece of which is Hauhungatahi, a 1521m peak.

Friend Brian Laing knew of a secret track and had unfinished business with the peak – on a previous summit attempt he ran out of time and had to turn back before reaching the top.

We parked our car at Erua, next to the lodge – usually a secure parking area – and followed the side of the railway tracks south for about 300m. A small sign saying ‘track’ on the other side of the railway, marked with pink tape, indicating the beginning of the trail to the summit. It was tough going at first as we forced our way through overgrown bracken, flax and other scrub. But it didn’t take long to enter mature bush and more open terrain.  

The track we followed was once the main way up the mountain, before DOC turned the area into a remote experience zone. It is reasonably well formed, of a generally good gradient and well marked by an assortment of markers such as various colours of tape, orange paint and even animal ear tags.

After about an hour of walking we left the bushline and the gradient dramatically lessened. This was the lip of the gently upward sloping plateau.

Here the vegetation changed to subalpine scrub and the track became less defined but was still marked by wooden poles. A pretty campsite near a dirty-looking tarn looked recently used. The summit proper was now in view, and looked closer than it was. We pressed on through boggy patches for another 90 minutes before we scrambled up the rocky outcrops onto the summit around an 800m height gain from Erua.

The views were rewarding, even on this slightly grey day. There were unhindered views all around, most impressively to the east where the massive bulk of Ruapehu lay. We lunched just below the top, out of the cutting wind, and looked down on swampy land filled with multiple tarns, and into the forest-covered upper reaches of the Makatote Stream.

This is supposed to be an idyllic peaceful wilderness experience, yet we could still hear the odd plane and even an Iroquois helicopter. Most of the way up the steep climb we had heard traffic noise and the odd train heading its way up or down the main trunk line. The noises made us question the whole concept of remote experience zones, particularly when some people clearly know about this area and there are ‘secret’ tracks.

Later we were to hear that the original track carried on, heading northeast from the summit and eventually joining up with the branch track to Mangahuia campsite. Parties still do this unmarked route.

We returned the way we came. Without the strenuous climb we had more time to admire the flora and fauna, particularly the impressive mountain cedar and some red coloured flying insects.

We arrived back at the car happy with the trip and at having knocked off another peak.

– Malcolm Peak