A trip to the highest point in Hawke’s Bay provides spectacular views over a seemingly endless maze of untamed terrain. By Lachlan McKenzie
At nearly 1000m, the Makahu Saddle Road end is over halfway to the Kaweka tops – a welcome leg-up to anyone tackling the summit ridge. From here, it’s a stone’s throw to the Kaweka Flats track junction. Keep left – unless you want to call in at Makahu Saddle Hut (four bunks), clearly visible from the junction.
A few metres further, the track splits with routes up Makahu and Trials spurs. Both lead to Dominie Bivouac and the summits beyond. Trials Spur (unmarked on the map, but a sub-spur of Makahu), is the usual route while Makahu is perhaps more adventurous and fun.
Taking the right-branching (northern) Makahu Spur trail requires careful effort up a scree slope before reaching zig-zags and clambering over a few exciting, but not intimidating, rock outcrops. It’s less than 30-minutes from the scree to the junction with Trials Spur. Along the way are excellent views of the switchbacks that characterise the Trials Spur route, as well as a scary-looking scree fan on Dons Spur to the west.
From the junction, a poled route leads to the two-bunk Dominie Bivouac (1480m), about 20-minutes away. This is the route’s most strenuous section, so take time to enjoy the increasingly expansive views, superb over Hawke’s Bay back-blocks and eroded ramparts of North Kaweka. It’s a fine place to stop for a snack and assess the upcoming conditions.
It’s now less than an hour to the summit of Kaweka J. The route traces the ridge, skirting scree slopes and a tiny tarn before emerging at the track junction with North Kaweka, on flat, open tops. Keep left and south to the summit of Kaweka J, walking past the sign to Dons Spur.
The Kaweka tops is a tussock tableland, a stark contrast to the steep and weathered terrain below. The summit – a mere knoll on an isolated plateau – offers views to motivate any would-be tramper. Tauhara lies to the north. To the west, the volcanoes of Tongariro National Park stand behind layers of ranges. To the south, the Ruahine Range extends the North Island’s axial spine towards Cook Strait. To the east, a maze of canyons and crumpled ranges.
A memorial of gathered stones to 11 members of the Heretaunga Tramping Club who died in the First World War, stands atop Kaweka J.
Return as you came. Beyond Dominie, the route down Trials Spur adds interest to the round trip. Overall, this is an easier route than Makahu – but not plain sailing. There is no scree but rather a series of switchbacks to assist the descent.
All routes above Makahu Saddle Hut are above the bush line and are exposed. There is no water except for the tank at Dominie and the tarn near the tops.