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Mt Hector via Neill Ridge, Tararua Forest Park

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April 2020 Issue

Hot work on Neill Ridge

It’s all uphill to reach Mt Hector on the Neill Ridge route.

The first stretch from Waiohine Campsite on the trail that leads to Cone Hut climbs about 500m. It drops a bit as the track branches north to Cone Saddle, but then it’s back into the uphill for another 500m to reach Cone (1080m). And there’s a lot more to come.

It took three hours to reach Cone, although a DOC sign there suggests 4-5 hours back to the Waiohine trail-head. (The sign also shows 6-9 hours to Mt Hector, which I thought would take me around six).

On the map, the trail looks okay, but the reality is that between Cone and Neill Ridge it’s constant ups and downs, all through goblin forest. It took me a good two hours to reach Neill (1158m) – a distance of around 2km from Cone.

The next section, between Neill and Winchcombe Peak (1261m), is even more difficult with two hands required at times and ups and downs intensified. Emerging from the goblin forest beneath Winchcombe Peak, I was happier than usual to finally reach the open tops.

The trail is still tough though, with several steep exposed sections before reaching flat ground about 10 minutes east of Mt Hector – the first suitable campsite I had encountered.

The landscape here is spectacular and during my trip the light was luxuriant and the immediate foreground was coated in white alpine flowers. I felt it was ample reward for the 7.5 hours of toil to reach here.
I woke early and was soon standing beside the Mt Hector Memorial Cross, erected by the Wellington Tramping Club in memory of those members who were killed during the Second World War.

Then, it is three hours around the Dress Circle to Alpha Hut.

From Alpha Hut, the Dress Circle Track drops to Hell’s Gate at 1000m where a left-branching track carries on over Bull Mound. It’s relatively easy – a nice, gradually climbing, open trail with wide vistas of Neill Ridge and the main range.

From Bull Mound, the trail drops sharply to the Tauherenikau River, which has to be crossed, before a final 350m climb behind Cone Hut to the track leading back to Waiohine Campsite.

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Total Ascent
2-3 days. Car park to Mt Hector, 12hr; To Alpha Hut, 3-4hr; To car park 8hr
Alpha Hut ($5, 20 bunks)
From Waiohine Campsite at the end of Waiohine Gorge Road

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Mt Hector via Neill Ridge (gpx, )

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