Into the wild
Manson Country invokes images of remote, wild terrain and campfires where weary souls might share tales of backcountry adventure.
According to the book Shelter from the storm, the remote area, west of Kiwi Mouth Hut, was once part of Ngamatea Station and was grazed until as late as the 1950s. The area includes three huts, all named Manson: there is a Manson Hut, Old Manson Hut, and Manson Biv.
It is common for hunters to fly into one or other of the huts, but the only thing being hunted on our long weekend was an outdoor adventure.
Arriving at the Lakes car park, a DOC sign points the way to Kiwi Saddle Hut and the start of our adventure. The track passes beneath aromatic pines then zigzags through kanuka forest wasting no time ascending 650m to the 1250m summit of Kuripapango.
A short distance on, the Smith Russell Track is joined and a DOC sign indicates a further 2.5hr to Kiwi Saddle Hut. But just before this is an indistinct rock cairn guarding the entry to an obscure path heading left off the main track to the summit of Kuripapango and magnificent views of Mt Ruapehu through to the Ruahine Range.
The Smith Russell Track passes through stands of trees, resembling a cathedral with branches arching over a gently winding path. Accentuated with small red leaves and bordered by bright green moss, complete with a light sprinkling of fresh snow, for us it was a winter wonderland.
Out of the shelter of the trees, the track becomes exposed to south-westerly winds, but this didn’t stop us enjoying the views from the minor summit which also marks the junction with the track to Cameron Hut. From here, it was 30-minutes of downhill to reach Kiwi Saddle Hut.
The hut is located on a saddle surrounded by beech trees. It’snot a DOC hut and those staying there should make a donation to the Heretaunga Tramping Club. The hut sits at the crossroads of the northern route up to Studholme Saddle and the western route into Manson Country and our destination, Kiwi Mouth Hut.
A misleading DOC sign at the crossroads indicates it is only a further two hours to Kiwi Mouth Hut and it bolstered our resolve to press on. Had we examined the sign more closely, we would have noticed a vital clue scratched into the paint – the words ‘Yeah right’.
About 1km beyond Kiwi Saddle Hut, we were forced to decide between two routes to Kiwi Mouth Hut: over Pt1238 or down Kiwi Creek. We chose the latter and descended 300m into the creek and began the continuous crisscrossing of the often knee-deep and chilly waters to the hut.
Sporadically-placed markers provided some reassurance in the diminishing light. The next 90 minutes in the dark proved slow and cold progress over slippery rocks but with calm heads and good headlamps, this experience was the stuff memories are made from.
Kiwi Mouth Hut is located at the foothills of Manson Country and was built in the 1960s. It has four bunks, an open fire and ample flat areas for tents. The nearby Ngaruroro River provides a plentiful water supply.
– Dave Melville
View Dave’s video of the trip:
- Total Ascent
- Moderate / Difficult
- Car park to Kiwi Saddle Hut, 3.5hr; To Kiwi Mouth Hut, 2.5-3.5hr
- Kiwi Saddle Hut ($5 donation to Heretaunga Tramping Club, eight bunks), Kiwi Mouth Hut ($5, four bunks)
- The Lakes car park, off the Taihape Road