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November 2015 Issue
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Tararua Views from Te Araroa Trail

View from Pukeatua, showing Mt Hector, 1529m, and parts of the Southern Crossing. Photo: Gillian Candler
Tararua Forest Park
6.54km one way
Total Ascent
6-8hr return
Fenceline car park at the end of Otaki Forks Road
BP33, BP32

Pukeatua Track, Tararua Forest Park

A tramp to Pukeatua, 812m, on a clear sunny day promised magnificent views. We started at Otaki Forks, with the intention of returning the same way to our car once we’d reached the summit. The other approach from Waikanae is longer and steeper, but even on this approach, we faced a short steep climb at the start.

In the first 30 minutes we quickly gained altitude, climbing steeply among kamahi and tree ferns as the track wound in and out of small clearings. Then, the steepest part of the climb over, we wandered through larger grassy clearings, remnants of logging days.

An hour into the walk we re-entered the bush and were confronted with the disorder of a regenerating forest; fallen trees and upended root systems which sprouted multiple trunks of kamahi and mahoe trees. Because we’d climbed so steeply at the beginning, we were already in ‘halfway up’ forest marked by umbrella ferns, Prince of Wales feather ferns and toru seedlings. The fact we were climbing was barely noticeable now except for the changing vegetation which became more ordered as we moved deeper into the bush. A few large beech trees appeared among the podocarp and broadleaf. We skirted around one growing in the middle of the track, stepping carefully around its roots. But mostly we set a steady pace, stopping only to listen to the harsh cry of a long-tailed cuckoo or catch a glimpse of whiteheads feeding above us.

After another hour we began to see mountain totara laced with wispy lichen, another indication that we were climbing higher with what felt like little effort.

We knew we were nearing the top when a few views appeared, but still the track seemed to wind on and on until finally we stepped out of the goblin forest onto Pukeatua.

Low leatherwood bushes and grass trees greeted us and a few sun orchids lined the path, half open. We tramped a short way through this scrubby landscape to the summit, then settled down for a long lazy lunch in the sun. We had expansive views of Tabletop, Mt Hector, parts of the Southern Crossing and Kapakapanui. We wondered aloud if anyone was up there, enjoying the clear weather.

We turned around and retraced our steps, having decided that hours of shuttling cars down winding roads was not for us. We knew from previous trips that if we were to keep walking towards Waikanae, we’d descend through the same layers of vegetation and it would be long, steep and muddy. About an hour before the road end is a forestry block with a clay road that leads to a stream crossing. From there, a track would take us to the junction with the Mangaone walkway and then the car park.

The whole Pukeatua Track is well marked and easy to follow with orange triangles and, in the clearings, blue poles. Apart from the track through the forestry block, it is very pleasant, well defined and leafy but without hard gravel or boardwalk.

For Te Araroa Trail walkers, there is the additional challenge of the road walk in to Waikanae, which would make this a very long day. For locals with transport, the Pukeatua track is a welcome addition to our day tramp options.

– Gillian Candler