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August 2015 Issue
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Mission Impossible

Upper Matakuhia Hut. Photo: Hazel Phillips
Road end to Upper Matakuhia Hut (eight bunks), 2.5hr; Upper Matakuhia Hut to Lower Matakuhia Hut (six bunks), 7.5-8hr
Pine Milling Road from the Napier-Taupo Highway or from Minginui via South and Boundary roads

Lower Matakuhia Hut via Upper Matakuhia Hut, Waipunga Forest

They said it couldn’t be done, and when someone tells you it can’t be done, you know you want to try.

According to DOC, the track from Upper Matakuhia Hut to Lower Matakuhia Hut wasn’t worth attempting. I read a couple of blogs from people who had tried and failed. There was too much river debris, one said. Takes too long, gave up, wrote another.

I thought it sounded like the perfect trip for a long weekend.

I rounded up a couple of victims, told them it would be fun, that we should probably take a tent, a GPS and a PLB and lured them along the track with a prime selection of treats.

You can begin the track on Pine Milling Road, off the Napier-Taupo Highway, which is quicker and more efficient, or do what we did: come from Minginui via South and Boundary roads, which is a thrill in itself, with all the potholes and logging trucks.

The track starts at the site of the defunct (and now non-existent) Matakuhia Saddle Hut, and wiggles its way easily down a hill and along the Matakuhia Stream. Cross a large log bridge, weave through loads of toi toi and womble along for two and a half hours and you’ll reach the Upper Matakuhia Hut.

Approaching the hut, we were comforted to see a spiral of smoke emerging from the chimney. Inside was a group of hunters from Tokoroa. One of them, Ron, had been coming into Upper Matakuhia since his childhood and sort of considers it his hut – he does loads of maintenance on it and the track, as well as progressively cleaning up the track to Lower Matakuhia Hut. Ron makes the trip in every two weeks to check on the place, have some quiet time and service the pest traps.

Over the years he’s carried in all manner of creature comforts, such as kitchen items, a gas cooker and even a 9kg gas bottle. There’s also a proper fireplace, which he tramped in over the course of about six weekends and assembled on site.

A peek in the hut book shows that visitors are mostly Ron, his mates and a selection of hunters.

The next morning we farewelled Ron and co, who were tramping out again, and set off with some trepidation down the track to Lower Matakuhia Hut. Ron reckoned we’d reach it, but we made a plan to pull the pin if we hadn’t reached the junction of the Lower Matakuhia Track with the Opureke Track by 1pm.

For the first 45 minutes the going was easy. We crossed the stream with a waterfall on our left and it became more rugged for an hour or so as it sidled the valley.

Soon it got tricky and we gave up looking for track markers and instead just stuck to the river bed.

We easily made it to the track junction by our 1pm deadline and decided to keep chugging on. The weather was clear and although the forecast was sketchy, the going wasn’t tough, just slow. There was endless windfall and debris to negotiate, which sucked up most of the time. Two small gorges en route could be problematic if it rained, but we found a bush route around one of them.

There were plenty of blue ducks watching us, though little other wildlife of note.

After eight leisurely hours, Lower Matakuhia Hut appeared in a clearing surrounded by windfall. Storms have caused flooding here in the past and it shows, both in the mess around the hut and the state of the hut’s floor.

The hut book shows only a few visitors, most of whom come via the Opureke Track and have strong words about it.

We spent a comfortable night there and retraced our steps the next day, stopping at Upper Matakuhia Hut for the night. The temperatures were sub-zero (Ron has installed a temperature gauge) and the fire was appreciated. Our fourth day was an easy womble back out to the car and home again, stopping at Kerosene Creek hot pool for a soak.

Upper Matakuhia Hut is a great spot. As for the lower hut, take it or leave it, but definitely make the trek in to see Ron one day. He’s generous with his venison, beer and yarns.

– Hazel Phillips