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January 2011 Issue
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Climbing to Longview Hut from the car park
Car Park to Longview Hut,1.5-2hr; Longview Hut to Makaretu Hut 3-4hr; Makaretu Hut to car park via Awatere Hut, 4-5hr
At the end of Kashmir Road, reached off SH50
Topo50 BL36
Makaretu Hut, Ruahine Ranges, Hawke’s Bay

Kashmir Road was in better condition than the last visit winding its way through the foothills of the Ruahine Range inland from Takapau in Central Hawkes Bay. The near empty car park reflected the morning. Gloomy, misted in and far from the previous night’s forecast. An elderly hunter joined our pre-departure cuppa before he decided that today wasn’t his day and slowly drove away.

The track to Longview Hut, the first corner of our journey, is direct. A straight up journey starts in regenerating bush, reclothing the slopes stripped bare by a catastrophic fire in the 1950s. Though the misty conditions blocked views of any distance, we saw glimpses of the north branch of the Makaretu River, part of the route of the fourth side of our ‘box’. As height is gained, tussock takes over, clothing a series of flats joined by short, steep pitches before the hut is reached.

The first ‘long side’ of the journey is on gently undulating tops along the main Ruahine Range. In fine weather it offers 360-degree views. It is a paradox that the main divide dwells beneath the Ngamoko Range to the west and some 300m lower. The valley between is occupied by the Pohangina River which eventually flows into the Manawatu River on the western side of the ranges. Recent track maintenance had resulted in a wide path with, at times, hedge-like leatherwood bounding the track.

When the track returns to stunted forest, it turns down to the Makaretu Hut, the third side of the ‘box’. The standard of track is maintained, though at times made a little tricky by windfall – casualties of the storms in September last year. At the bottom of the descent, the South Branch of the Makaretu River is reached and a crossing is required to reach Makaretu Hut, perched on a low terrace in a grassy forest clearing beside the river.

The final side of the ‘box’ contrasted greatly with the previous three, heading downstream along the south branch of the Makaretu River. The previous three or four days of fine weather allowed travel through and beside the river. The going was mostly uncomplicated and was gorge free. In the early stages, travel through riverside scrub had been made easier, courtesy of a large, contented Hereford cow. She had obviously escaped confinement and was in fine condition. We left her peacefully browsing, whilst watching our footing – there were many deposits left by our bovine companion to avoid!

Shortly further along on a river flanked with lush forest a pair of paradise ducks with young ducklings were disturbed by our approach. Parents took to the air downstream while the six youngsters paddled frantically after them riding, to the tiny birds, giant rapids which would have barely covered our boots. With some stealth the party eased past the brood and with a carefully placed boulder splash encouraged them to head up stream.

At the confluence of the Makaretu’s branches, we chose the north and immediately the riverbed became wider and travel easier, all the while flanked by beautiful forest. When the orange painted Awatere Hut appeared, set slightly back from the riverbed on our left, the exit from the river appeared on the opposite side. The large triangular marker is only visible from directly in front of the entrance as it is set back a little into the bush. Look for pink streamers tied to trees that line the riverbed.

Entering the forest, the track almost immediately crosses a stream, an ideal place for a break. Then follows a climb up to Moorcock Saddle, and an easy ridge top stroll back to the car park.

– Iain Galloway