An overnight tramp to the oldest hut in Hawke’s Bay.
The eastern Kaweka Range rises from forested foothills into steep mountains, which reach 1700m. It’s high, hard, rocky country, often snow-bound in winter, and seemingly utterly unsuited for grazing sheep. Yet that’s what pioneer farmers did, late in the 19th century – back when fortunes were earned off the sheep’s back – and it’s during this era that the Iron Whare was built.
‘Iron’ Whare seems a curious name for the region’s oldest hut, because the original hut didn’t have any iron – except for the nails. The roof was malthoid, a type of bitumen coated paper or felt often used in the pioneer days because it could be rolled up and transported on horseback (or human back).
The hut was constructed in the mid-1870s by Jack Frost Turner, the first Pākehā settler at Puketitiri. Turner built the hut for the Hallet family, who owned Hawkston Station. The Hallets ran sheep into the Kaweka Range along what became known as the Hawkston Stock Route.
The whare was a shelter for the musterers rounding up sheep, which were grazed on the nearby tops and flats over summer.
While small, the whare could fit four or five men. Once it housed 12 – although you could not claim they slept. Hunters used the hut for the next few decades, at least until the Forest Service built a bivouac at Kaweka Flats in 1963. It’s here most trampers stay when visiting the Iron Whare.
Happily, the tramp starts from the high altitude of 1000m at Makahu Saddle car park. Take the track that indicates Kaweka Flats, passing the four-bunk Makahu Saddle Hut after five minutes. The track sidles north through surprisingly lush forest, a mixture of broadleaf shrubs and beech trees, and crosses several small creeks – Pinnacle Stream, the Makahu, and finally one draining Dicks Spur – before a stiff, short climb onto Kaweka Flats. Manuka shrubs encircle this clearing, once the site where the sheep were corralled. While the bright-orange Kaweka Flats Biv sleeps only two, there’s plenty of camping spots nearby.
To reach the Iron Whare, continue north along the track towards Middle Hill for a kilometre, until a signposted sidetrack. This leads eastwards for another 20 minutes to reach the historic shelter, which sits on the edge of a beech-covered ridge, where the land falls away into the Makahu River.
It’s worth pausing to think about the small miracle of a hut surviving this long. By the 1980s, the whare was almost derelict, but the Forest Service restored it, and fitted the existing corrugated iron roof. DOC has undertaken more good work in recent years.
Trampers can either retrace their inward route back to Makahu Saddle, or make a round trip up Camp Spur and over the main Kaweka Range to Makahu Spur.
- 5.66km to Iron Whare
- Total Ascent
- Car park to Kaweka Flats Biv, 1.5-2hr; To Iron Whare, 40-60min
- Kaweka Flats Bivouac (free, two bunks)
- Makahu Saddle car park