Mt Hector is the highest peak on the historic Southern Crossing route, which traverses the high points of the Tararua Range from Ōtaki through to Kaitoke near Upper Hutt. By Sarah White
This route used to start from Ōtaki Forks, a popular picnic and camping spot inland from Ōtaki township. The road to Ōtaki Forks has been plagued by slips, however, and it must now be started from Shields Flat, which adds an extra 45 minutes to the walk.
From Ōtaki Forks follow the signposted track to the suspension bridge over the Waiotauru River. Fields Track then climbs towards Judd Ridge through regenerating scrub and into the old forest. The going becomes rougher the higher you get, until suddenly Field Hut appears in a small clearing just before the bushline, about two hours from the bridge and 750m higher in altitude.
Built in 1924, Field Hut is the oldest in Tararua Forest Park. Built from timber, pit sawn on site, the hut is mostly original. Tararua Tramping Club has installed information and photo panels that tell the story of the hut.
From Field Hut there is a steep grunt up to Table Top, where a scenic section of alpine tussock is entered. It’s time to turn around, appreciate the height you’ve gained and be wowed by the view – Ruapehu and Tongariro to the north and the snowy peaks of the Kaikōura Ranges to the south. Taranaki Maunga, a misty white cone to the northwest, seems to hover above the ocean, and closer to hand are Kāpiti Island and the Marlborough Sounds. There are signposted turn offs on your left – first to Penn Creek Hut and then to Maungahuka Hut via the Main Range.
Stay on the main track, which is well marked and alternates between steep pinches and more gradual terrain. A boardwalk crosses the boggy sections. You’ll climb up and over Dennan, Bridge Peak and then Hut Mound before a signpost directs you to Kime Hut. The highest hut in the park, Kime’s earliest iteration was used in the 1930s as a base for skiers, who lugged their skis up on a Friday night.
Now might be a good time to break out the stove for a hot drink and an early lunch before tackling the last steep pitch to Mt Hector (1529m). At the summit a wooden cross commemorates trampers and climbers who have lost their lives in war. Take time to drink in those views, survey the complicated ridges and valleys of this range, and plan further adventures.
If the weather’s still playing ball, it’s worth a night at Kime Hut where a highlight will be watching the sun set over Kāpiti Island from the ridge behind the hut. Then retrace your steps to the car.
- 17.1km to Mt Hector
- Total Ascent
- Shields Flat to Field Hut 3–4hr; To Mt Hector 3–5hr
- Field Hut ($10, 20 bunks); Kime Hut ($10, 20 bunks)
- Shields Flat, Ōtaki Gorge Road