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March 2011 Issue
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The Forgotten Valley

Lunch in the sun at Upper Matakuhia Hut

Upper Matakuhia Hut, Waipunga Conservation Area, Taupo

The Matakuhia Valley in the Waipunga Forest is not visited by many trampers these days – a pity because it deserves more attention.

Access difficulties may account for the decreased traffic – the pumice-based forest roads can require some skilful driving after winter rains – and minimal signposting through the pine plantations requires sharp eyes to pick the correct route to the track entrance. However, make the effort and the reward is a pleasantly forested valley, a fairly undemanding walk to the first of two classic backcountry huts (Upper Matakuhia Hut and Lower Matakuhia Hut) and the prospect of an under-crowded track.

The Upper Matakuhia was our destination on a fine frosty Sunday. The track is signposted from the now non-existent Matakuhia Saddle Hut and receives attention as and when DOC’s budget allows. On our visit it needed a haircut but the waist-high vegetation was pushed through easily enough.

As well as the frosty morning air, weaving our way through a few thick stands of toi toi was another good reason for wearing longjohns. Some large treefalls provided the opportunity to admire the vegetation – mainly podocarp and beech – while those in front scrambled over.

Progressing further down the valley, there are a couple of streams to cross, one with a conveniently felled log, complete with chicken wire-netting attached. The other was more a wet-feet job, although most of us managed to scramble across dry-shod, the fleet footed using the hop-step-and-jump method. We saw plenty of sign of wild pig in the lower valley, with stretches of track undermined by their rootings. Previous flooding was still evident – so much for dry boots as we splish-splashed our way from puddle to puddle, the occasional cry of ‘Aaah’ echoing through the bush as agility faltered and a boot slurped too deeply into soft mud.

The final hour to the hut is a gentle amble along the forest floor on the true-left of the Matakuhia Stream. We passed through mini-forests of Dawsonia superba, New Zealand’s tallest moss which can sometimes reach 50cm in height. There was the occasional slip to negotiate – a boot-width piece of track but plenty of vegetation to hang on to as we edged our way across. A clump of toi toi overhanging the stream and glowing green-gold in the winter sun announced the entrance to the spacious clearing where the hut is located.

The hut is a classic example of a backcountry eight-bunker, lovingly kept by those who use it – mainly hunters these days. A sturdy firebox has been installed in the cavernous old fireplace which conjured up visions of billy tea and cosy candlelit nights swapping tramping and hunting yarns. Wood is stacked into labelled piles, with instructions on which burns best: totara (burns well, sparky), beech (use when fire is set).

Solar lamps outside the porch entrance provide a nice touch.

The track continues to the Lower Matakuhia Hut, a further five hours away. Although relatively well marked, this track is a challenging route and the delightful six-bunk hut is unfortunately destined for removal in the not-too-distant future.

But the lower hut was not for us and after lunch we retraced our steps to the forest road.

– Barbara Morris