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April 2016 Issue
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Queen of the south coast

Heading up the Orongorongo River. Travel is often easiest in the riverbed. Photo: Peter Laurenson
Total Ascent
Car park to Mt Matthews turn-off, 2.5-4hr; Turn-off to Mt Matthews Summit, 2-3hr
From Coast Road, 12km south of Wainuiomata, take the side road up Catchpool Stream to the car park
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Mt Matthews.Rimutaka FP (gpx, yo 38 KB)
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Mt Matthews, Rimutaka Forest Park, Wellington

The Rimutaka Range is the most accessible high country on offer to Wellingtonians and, while it might not be the loftiest, the range has a rugged Tararua-like aspect to it.

With Mt Matthews, 941m, the highest point, even on its summit you don’t breach the tree line, which is normally around 950m. But you still get a lovely view through the moss-draped beech trees of the south coast and the Wairarapa.

There are also views to be enjoyed en route. From South Saddle, at 545m, and between the valley walls, you can see Palliser Bay to the south and an expansive northward panorama.

But it’s not just the views that make Mt Matthews worth a visit. Despite its close proximity to Wellington, beyond the Turere Bridge it’s still a rugged landscape that deserves respect. I’ve been in after heavy rainfall when it’s all too apparent how brutal the Orongorongo River can become – uprooting trees and scouring the valley walls. Under those conditions, once the river level subsides, it’s much easier to just plod up the river bed than to wind around and under the broken foliage and dodge the oozing mud along the track.

It’s quite feasible to make a return trip to the summit of Mt Matthews as a day trip. But if you prefer to spend a bit longer, there are six huts along the route, administered by DOC, which must be booked in advance. There are also a host of other privately owned huts along the Orongorongo River.

A reasonable level of fitness and agreeable weather conditions are required to climb Mt Matthews because there’s nearly 900 metres of ascent involved.

From the Catchpole Valley Reserve car park, join the Orongorongo Track and follow this for about 4km until the trail joins the Orongorongo River at the Turere Bridge. From here you have the option of either continuing along the trail for a further 3km through bush on the true right of the river, or just walk straight up the river bed – an easier and quicker option if water levels are down and you don’t mind wet feet.

Access to the summit route is via the true left of Matthews stream. At the point you leave the stream and head into the bush, take care to locate the big DOC orange triangle, which is not always immediately apparent.

The first half of the climb is through native forest, on an easy to follow and fairly steep trail, to a point at 550m, where the trail branches right to South Saddle. To reach the summit stay left and keep climbing.

Above South Saddle, the trail cuts through areas of grass and flax before heading back into a typically root-covered forest trail. At about 900m you reach a small gravelly clearing, created by a slip, providing another view northwards and another point where you need to keep an eye on the trail. I was inclined to head straight up the exposed section of ridge, not realising the trail swung right, back into the bush.

From the top of the slip face it’s only a short slog to the summit. The route here isn’t immediately obvious due to the tree cover, so look for the clearing through branches to the Wairarapa coast.

This route is a nice place to easily escape the hustle of the city, grabbing a lovely native bush fix, while keeping the body match fit for loftier objectives further afield from Wellington.