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May 2013 Issue
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Top Gorge treasure

Tackling the Pohanglina River. Photo: Nina Mercer
Turn into Makaretu Road from SH50. Take the first into Mill Road and travel for 11km before turning left into Kashmir Road. The track is accessed from the road end

Top Gorge Hut, Ruahine Forest Park

Top Gorge Hut is a hidden treasure in the Ruahine Ranges. Visited by maybe a dozen trampers or hunters a year, the hut is tucked up on a flat beside the Pohangina River.

The shortest route to this hut is via the eastern side of the ranges from Kashmir Road off SH50 in the Hawkes Bay. Kashmir Road ascends quickly into the Ruahines making the climb to the tops just two or so hours.

With dogs in tow we paused at the information panel before heading on up the track towards Longview Hut. We climbed steeply through sub-alpine scrub, leatherwood and olearias. Soon the vegetation became stunted and the precious harebells, eyebrights and sundews common in New Zealand alpine areas decorated the landscape on either side of the track. Ripe snowberries made for a sweet snack as we continued up the rocky path.

After 90-minutes of steady ascent we reached the tussock-covered ridgetop and took a left at the signposted intersection on to the 12-bunk Longview Hut.

At this stage our plan was to follow the signs and descend the ridge on the other side down into the river to travel to reach Top Gorge Hut. Entries in the Longview Hut book made us rethink. Several trampers wrote of the difficulty of the river route with a number of treacherous waterfalls to traverse. One tramper advised of a route further along the ridge (just beyond Rocky Knob) that would allow us to descend to the river after the waterfall sections.

With a GPS and map we felt confident in finding the route noted in the book, and after writing down our own intentions, set off along the ridge. We stopped just beyond Rocky Knob in a small clearing and looked for signs of a route. Sure enough, there was a cut branch in the leatherwood and a small indent in the leaf cover; this was our spot.  Once on the route it was fairly easy to follow and we passed through chest-high leatherwood and over moist alpine meadows. Soon we were into stunted beech forest that grew taller as we descended and then scrambled down to the riverbed.

From here, the tramping was straight forward with 40-minutes of boulder hopping, wading and clambering over windfalls before reaching the big orange triangle of Top Gorge Hut on the true left of the river.

With the Pohangina River historically a key area for vegetation research, Top Gorge Hut was built by the Forest Service in the 1970s. The small hut is unlike any I have visited before. It has two beds covering the length of the back wall, an open fire and a concrete floor and makes a welcome shelter for the night. It is situated in idyllic surroundings, and although it took only four hours to walk to, there was an amazing feeling of remoteness and peace.

The next morning we returned via the same route.

– Nina Mercer