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June 2014 Issue
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Red carpet treatment

Whakapapa River near Owhango. Photo: Phillip Donnell
3-4hr each way
Ten Man Hut, eight bunks
Whakapapa Bush Road, off SH4 from Owhango
BH34; Tongariro Forest Adventure Map

Ten Man Hut, Tongariro Forest Conservation Area

 Our group had decided to walk the 25km Owhango Loop over easy undulating terrain in the northwest corner of Tongariro Forest Conservation Area, a compact triangle bordered by the Whanganui and Whakapapa Rivers and SH47 and encompassing 25,700ha.

Decades of logging has reduced the primeval grandeur of this forest to a decimated wilderness criss-crossed by metal roads and tramlines. Between 1903 and 1978, some 43 mills systematically felled the best timber. Hundreds of millions of board feet were extracted before a dwindling supply of accessible trees saw the decline of the mills. A proposal to convert much of the forest to farmland and pine plantations met strong protest from local community groups. It was eventually added to the conservation estate in 1987, and the long process of rehabilitation began.

The tracks in this area are not signposted or straightforward, so navigation skills are required.

From Owhango, we crossed the bridge over the Whakapapa River and along the gravel road for 3.5km before turning right into Water Supply Road. At the roadend car park, the remains of skids and waste dumps testified to the exploitative past. We continued southwest along a 4WD clay route (Climo’s Track), skirted by young and vigorous forest which has hidden old tree stumps and reclaimed many of the logging trails. It was easy to miss the left turn, but reaching rocky-bottomed Falls Creek indicated we had overshot by 150m. Retracing our steps, another 2.5 km brought us to the start of a well-used track marked by an old tram wheel. Veering right here, it was only a short distance to the hut.

Ten Man Hut is full of character with red carpet gracing the floor, tongue-in-cheek letterbox and telephone, wood furnace and battery-powered lighting system. It is also a great base for further exploration. Botanists may search for the threatened woodrose and wetland orchids. Hunters can expect to bag red deer, pigs and goats. Bird watchers may notice kereru, falcon and kaka soaring above the clearing, or whio/blue duck in the adjacent stream. Fishermen sometimes catch trout or eels. As we lay in our bunks in the darkness, the cries of brown kiwi could be heard, now growing in numbers under the protection of a specially-designated sanctuary which no dog may enter without avian aversion certification.

The swirling mist cast a surreal ambience over the clearing next morning. From the hut, we dropped down to the stream and up the terrace on the other side. Turning northeast, we ambled about 1.5 km along Top Track to the start of the Toi Toi Track on the left, descending to, and then following, Mako Stream northwards. This was an ideal place to witness the regenerating forest. Hardy light-tolerant manuka, toitoi and cabbage trees now act as the nursery crop for rangiora, rewarewa, lancewood, marble leaf and mahoe. It will take another 50 years for the podocarps like matai, rimu, kahikatea, totara and miro to emerge, and it won’t be until 2300 that the forest returns to its original state.

Before long we emerged near a ford onto Dominion Road, part of the 42 Traverse Track, popular with mountain bikers for its challenging grades and superb views. It gets its name from the original State Forest 42 as well as being 42km long.

Turning left, we roadbashed for 2km past Te Kaha hill and just beyond the site of the destroyed bridge over Pepenui Stream, we swung south to enter another section of Climo’s Track. It was then onto the aptly-named Mud Track to where we had started.

Native forest once covered 85 per cent of New Zealand, but now only 23 per cent. Tongariro Forest affords the opportunity to see firsthand a dynamic process of recovery after years of abuse. The ‘red carpet treatment of the past 30 years is beginning to pay off. Through the kiwi sanctuary, pest and predator control and native regeneration, DOC’s designation of the area as the ‘forest of the future’ is gradually being justified. 

It is a tangible and ongoing testimony that paradise lost can be regained.

Phillip Donnell