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Cone Ridge via Tōtara Flats Hut, Tararua Forest Park

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September 2023 Issue

Trip opportunities abound for all experience levels along the lower reaches of the Waiohine, the longest river in the Tararua Range.

The Waiohine is by far the longest river in the Tararua Range, winding down from wide U-shaped valleys in the north, through narrow gorges and the open expanse of Tōtara Flats, before tumbling through the Waiohine Gorge.

Waiohine campsite is an entry to Tararua Forest Park, and is the starting point for several enjoyable trips. One is to Tōtara Flats Hut, an out-and-back overnighter for beginners. Or there’s the more challenging weekend loop that circles along the Waiohine River before returning high above via Cone Ridge, with an optional side trip to Neill Forks Hut.

To experience either of these walks, cross the Waiohine suspension bridge to join the Lower Waiohine Track through tall stands of rimu, traversing above a gorge before dropping to follow the river. Soon, the river flats begin to open and provide an opportunity to ford the river (conditions permitting) to visit the historic and character-ladened Sayer Hut, the oldest hut in the range. The hut is in excellent condition thanks to recent restoration work from the Sayer family and a grant from the Backcountry Trust. Its charm makes it tempting to stay the night, especially if you want to escape the crowds.

A couple of kilometres further upstream is the larger bookable Tōtara Flats Hut, which is a recognised overnight destination for families and up-and-coming trampers.

To start the loop, follow the track to the north of Tōtara Flats Hut and continue past the bridge. Soon there’s a steep slippery slope for 300m before more mellow gradients along Cone Ridge. On the ridge, the track meanders through goblin forest, with occasional views of the peaks that tower over the upper reaches of the Waiohine. About 300m past Pt957, a signposted junction marks the route to Neill Forks Hut, a cosy Forest Service hut hidden in the heart of the range, complete with open fireplace and a babbling brook.

From the turnoff to Neill Forks, the loop continues along Cone Ridge with views out over Neill and Winchcombe peaks. Soon the track passes a series of tarns before emerging into an open alpine meadow. This provides a welcome dose of vitamin D on a sunny day but is very exposed to the infamous Tararua gales.

From the summit of Cone, drop back into the shelter of the bush and follow a series of spurs to Cone Saddle 500m below. A track to the southwest leads to historic Cone Hut where there are ample camping spots along the Tauharenīkau River.

To finish the loop, follow the track in a southerly direction to Pt682 through more forest carpeted in kōnehu, then head east on one final scramble down a 2.7km spur back to the Waiohine suspension bridge.

Total Ascent
Easy / Moderate
Two days. Car park to Tōtara Flats Hut, 3.5–5hr; to Neill Forks Hut turnoff, 2–3hr (to Neill Forks Hut return, 3–4hr); to Waiohine carpark via Cone Ridge, 4–5hr
Sayer Hut (basic, six bunks), Tōtara Flats Hut (serviced, 26 bunks), Neill Forks Hut (basic, six bunks), Cone Hut (basic, six bunks)
Waiohine Gorge Road

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Cone Ridge via Totara Flats Hut (gpx, 38 KB)

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