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Makaretu Hut, Ruahine Forest Park

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February 2019 Issue

Just a lovely little loop

Foreboding and gnarly with a dark, threatening backdrop, or serene and inviting with early morning rays tentatively touching the snow capped tops, the Ruahine and Kaweka ranges can’t disguise their split personality.

We began our trip to Awatere Hut from Moorcock Saddle early in the day, and with a fair weather forecast, but none of this reduced the slog, for, as with most eastern Ruahine tracks, it’s straight up. As height is gained, increasingly impressive views into the Makaretu River catchment were also gained.

On the ascent, we could see our next day’s route out of the valley from Awatere Hut and back to Moorcock Saddle.
Longview Hut sits somewhat awkwardly off the track in a sheltered spot just below the ridge, but is the ultimate vantage point for stunning views across Central Hawke’s Bay and the coast.

After backtracking to the main range we headed south at the clearly signposted junction near Pohangina Saddle. The walk along the tops to the Makaretu Hut turn-off is mostly easy going, undulating and at times surprisingly springy underfoot. Infertile boggy patches provide perfect growing conditions for sundew.

The Ngamoko Range looms intimidatingly to the west where thick pillows of cloud raced over the tops only to mysteriously disappear into the Pohangina River valley below. Protected on both sides by leatherwood, the five kilometres to the Makaretu junction can be covered in two hours.

With trees beside the track, birds that had been absent before, now competed for attention. A cheeky tomtit checked us out from a few metres away.

The eight-bunk Makaretu Hut. Photo: Peet Lichtenberg

The bush on the way down is well past ‘regenerating’. Mature beech trees slowly give way to statuesque podocarps. The track is steepish in an honest sort of way. You can see where to put your feet, and when it looks slippery, it is.

A glimpse of orange through the green gave away the position of Makaretu Hut. After a quick descent and easy crossing of the Makaretu River, we take off our boots at the hut’s door.

Makaretu Hut is a charming NZ Forest Service eight bunker with a grunty fireplace. It sits in a clearing above the river, with tall podocarps providing a stunning backdrop. A ruru’s attempt to keep us awake was briefly successful.

The next morning, a leisurely wander down the south branch of the Makaretu River presented a safe adventure. Shin-deep crossings, shaded pools, dripping banks and overgrown terraces make for delightful travel. The epiphytic orchid raupeka perches on overhanging trees.

At the confluence with the Makaretu North Branch, downstream becomes upstream and ‘bouldery’ turns gravelly. The river is completely obscured from above and dappled light filters through the canopy, creating a church-like ambience. Tree trunks form natural barriers, but are easily negotiated.

When the valley opens up and the river fans out, the going gets more predictable. Closing in on Awatere Hut, which sits on the true right of the Makaretu, the rocky route becomes ankle twisting.

The hut is an idyllic, three-bunker sitting just inside the bush edge. It’s easily missed. An orange triangle on the opposite bank gives away its position, as well as the start of the final leg.

It’s a 30-minute slog up a well-maintained zigzag followed by a 45-minute trudge along a ridge towards Moorcock Saddle and the car park. Besides the characteristic scarring of hillsides to the east, the exposed ridge reveals excellent views of the previous day’s route to Longview Hut. We’ve come full circle.

– Peet Lichtenberg

Total Ascent
Easy / Moderate
Car park to Longview Hut, 1.5-2.5hr; To Makaretu Hut, 3-4hr; To Awatere Hut, 3-4hr; To car park, 1-2hr
Longview Hut ($15, 12 bunks), Makaretu Hut ($5, eight bunks), Awatere Hut (free, three bunks)
From SH50 turn into Makaretu Road, Mill Road and Kashmir Road

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