Whanganui National Park
Connecting inland Taranaki with the Whanganui River, the Matemateaonga Range arcs roughly from west to east. In an otherwise complex, deeply-riven landscape, the range’s crest is curiously level – reflecting its origins as an old peneplain. No wonder Maori had a route along it and Europeans planned to build a road over the crest, too. Some work on the road was completed in the early part of the 20th century but, happily for trampers, it never became much more than a dray road. Plans to settle the area were abandoned during the 1920s and 1930s, after which the range was left to the occasional tramper or possum trapper.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, in the heyday of the walkways movement, the Department of Lands and Survey built huts and developed the Matemateaonga Track, with the long-term aim of it becoming one section of a proposed ‘Cape Egmont to East Cape’ walkway. Although the longer walkway never eventuated, the 42km, 3-5 day section has remained in use ever since. It’s now a well-formed, all-weather track, suitable for those with minimal experience.
Transport difficulties are the main reason the walkway does not get used more often: the road-ends are hundreds of kilometres apart, and jet boat access is essential too. However, local tramper Baz Hooper says an alternative approach is becoming possible. An old but neglected road (a part of Tahunaroa Road known as the ‘Cream Track’) is being re-developed from a remote farm at Aotuhia. This road will provide access to the Tangarakau River, a significant tributary of the Whanganui. From a landing on the Tangarakau, it will be possible to arrange a jet boat pick-up and transfer to the Puketotara landing (the eastern end of the walkway) on the Whanganui River. Once you have walked along the track to the western end, it’s then a short distance along the Upper Mangaehu and Whangamomona roads back to Aotuhia. Not only would this allow an almost-round trip, but with a bit of added time in the area, you could visit both the Bridge to Nowhere and the Bridge to Somewhere.
– Shaun Barnett
1 Omaru Hut
This eight-bunk hut is the first reached when embarking on a west to east crossing of the Matemateaonga Track.
2. Mt Humphries/Whakaihuwaka (730m)
Mt Humphries is the highest point on the track (but not on the range) and makes a good viewpoint. Its Maori name, Whakaihuwaka, translates to ‘made like the prow of a canoe’. On a short 30min sidetrack, trampers can reach the summit which offers excellent views over Whanganui National Park, Mt Taranaki and the mountains of Tongariro National Park.
3 Pouri Hut
Pouri (12 bunks) is the second hut on the track.
4 Te Mapou (746m)
As Te Mapou is slightly higher than Mt Humphries, it has the distinction of being the highest summit on the Matemateaonga Range. There’s no official track to it, but trampers with a GPS should have no problem navigating along the bush ridge to the summit.
5 Ngapurua Hut
Until fairly recently, Ngapurua used to be an open-sided shelter, but in 2010 was replaced by a new 10-bunk DOC hut.
6 Puketotara Hut
Puketotara Hut (eight bunks) lies on the eastern edge of the Matemateaonga Range, above the Whanganui River. The descent to a landing on the riverbank is one of the few steep sections of the entire track.
7 Whanganui River
The Whanganui River and its tributaries drain much of the Matemateaonga Range. Access to this end of the track from Pipiriki requires a jet boat.
8 Trains Hut
Alternative access to the Matemateaonga Track lies on this long bush track through the Waitotara Conservation Area. The track initially follows the Waitotara River, with the six-bunk Trains Hut the first shelter en route.
9 Terereohaupa Falls
This attractive waterfall cascades over an escarpment a short distance downstream of Trains Hut.
10 Tahupo Hut
Tahupo is a modest six-bunker, located on a bush ridge between the Waitotara River and Omaru Stream.
11 Puteore Hut
Puteore Hut (six bunks) lies about a kilometre from a peak of the same name, where there is a track junction. Both branches lead to the Matemateaonga Track, the north-westerly branch ending near the walkway’s start, while the north-easterly branch joins it nearest Pouri Hut. The latter route requires fording Omaru Stream, which can be difficult in high flow.