- Ruahine Forest Park
- Total Ascent
- 11-13hr. Kawhatau Base to Crow Hut, 3hr; Crow Hut to Colenso, 6-7hr; Colenso to Kawhatau Base, 2.5hr
- Crow Hut, six bunks; Camping on Mokai Patea Range
- Turn left into Toe Toe Road 10 min south of Taihape. Follow the Outdoor Education Pursuits signs until reaching the bridge on Rangitane Road
Kawhatau Base Circuit via Crow Hut, Ruahine Forest Park / Moderate
The circuit from Kawhatau Base to Crow Hut and Colenso Trig is a fantastic trip encompassing a superb range of fauna and scenery over a full two or three days. One moment you’ll be in the river bed, the next travelling through beech forests and then a few hours later on the tops of the Ruahines surrounded by tussock and alpine vegetation.
Starting at the Cableway across from Kawhatau Base, the river is crossed and the unmaintained track heads steeply up to the Hikurangi Range. At one point, when we were there, the track had subsided and it took some negotiating to find a secure place to plant our feet.
Once reaching the summit of the range, we enjoyed a delightful walk through characteristic Ruahine tops – about 100m wide of flat terrain with tussock in abundance and 360-degree views for miles. We tramped along the tops until we came to a fork in the track and turned left to descend steeply through beech forest to Crow Hut.
Nestled in a beautiful setting beside the Kawhatau River, Crow Hut is a perfect opportunity to down packs and stop for the night or, as in our case, to rest before continuing on to Colenso Trig.
On leaving the hut, we crossed a swingbridge and walked briefly along the river bed. The next section of track rose steeply to the Mokai Patea Range tops. We climbed through beech forest, then up an exposed poled ridge described on the DOC website as ‘slightly hair-raising’.
Despite plenty of slips on the edge of the ridge, the going amongst the tussock was relatively easy when following the fairly visible pole markers. Upon the neighbouring ridge we saw hunters and heard the sound of a roaring stag to remind us we were sharing the journey with others of different intent.
At the Mokai Patea Range, the poled track meandered eastwards towards Wakelings Hut. However, the circuit we took hooked a sharp left west and, from here, navigational skills were required to ensure we stayed on the tops. We followed a basic rule of thumb: if you’re heading downwards, then you’re no longer on the tops.
The flat and broad Mokai Patea Range is nothing like the razorback Tararua tops we have encountered on past trips. We walked the unmarked tops for a couple of kilometres, until 5pm when we decided to establish our camp just off the tops and get set up before dusk. The weather was superb and the view stunning.
We soon found we had chosen a boggy campsite and to keep out the inevitable damp, we placed bedrolls on the ground under the tent, and raincoats inside the tent beneath our sleeping bags. This worked out beautifully and we enjoyed a luxurious night’s sleep on the soft ground.
In the morning, we peeped out of the tent to see a white out, but undeterred we climbed back onto the range and continued. Walking poles helped with our balance on the occasions we couldn’t see the ground between tussock and little bog holes.
We reached Colenso Trig in two hours, just in time for morning tea. The mist had burnt off, providing more great views of the surrounding ranges and of Mt Ruapehu. There was an abundance of miniature alpine flowers and mosses.
It was a simple descent from Colenso back to Kawhatau Base.
– Carol Croft
Note: Permission to drive to Kawhatau Base at the end of Rangitane Rd is difficult to obtain. A 9.5km track from the bridge at the start of Rangitane Rd leads to Kawhatau Base