- Car park to Middle Hill Hut, 3-4hr; To Makino Hut, 5-6hr; To Te Puia Hut, 1.5hr; To car park, 2-3hr
- Middle Hill Hut ($5, six bunks) Makino Hut ($5, six bunks), Te Puia Lodge ($15, 26 bunks)
- From Makahu Road, 75km from Napier
The five gorges
This loop walk in the foothills of the Kaweka Range can be done in two-four days depending on your desired intensity level. With three huts and a few camping spots, there are dozens of combinations to complete the circuit.
We opted for a leisurely four-day outing, parking at the end of Makahu Rd and walking clockwise. Kiwi are being released around Middle Hill and Makino huts, and whio live on the Mohaka River, where they can be seen at Te Puia Lodge.
From the car park, we first retraced our steps 3.5km back along the gravel road to the Middle Hill Hut trailhead. The track starts gently on grassy flats alongside Mangatutunui Stream, before veering over a bridge to the bottom of a spur. The bush consists of manuka and kanuka scrub that allows for some views in places. After about 90 minutes, the trail flattens to a plateau. Middle Hill Hut is reached about 10 minutes after passing a track junction. The roomy six-bunker features a veranda on two sides and an open fireplace. There is plenty of firewood around.
The second leg of the journey is by far the hardest. The Middle Hill Hut to Makino Hut Track is referred to in the hut books as ‘the five gorges’, and although we only counted three, it was still a gruelling effort in steep ‘goat country’ with many steep up and down sections. First, we retraced our steps back to the junction encountered previously, then turned north. The plateau soon dropped very steeply into the first of the gorges. The bush alternated between red beech and manuka and kanuka scrub. There was a tremendous amount of debris on the forest floor, but the track was mostly cleared and easy to follow. After about four hours, we emerged on the top of the final gorge at a junction with the track to Makino Hut.
After another 30 minutes, the track junction leading north to Te Puia Lodge is reached. We turned west to reach Makino Hut. This hut also has six bunks, but is much smaller and has a cast iron fire. There’s a good poem on a wall, entitled ‘Makino Bivvy’, and an old wooden aeroplane propeller sits above the door, with no explanation as to its significance.
To complete the loop requires retracing steps back to the Te Puia junction and tackling the last, steep and long section of goat track to the confluence of the Makino and Mohaka rivers. Here are the best views of the trip, especially with the early morning sun casting contrasting light on bush-clad spurs and river valleys in the distance.
A track, crossing a bridge over the Mohaka River, leads to the Mangatainoka hot springs, 45-minutes up river.
The 26-bunk serviced Te Puia Lodge sits in a nice clearing on the banks of the Mohaka River. It’s a comfortable hut, offering gas cooking and solar lighting.
The final leg of the circuit is an undulating 2-3 hour walk along the Mohaka River back to the car. A few hundred meters down the road there’s another hot soak, this time at the Mangatutu Hot Spring tubs.
- Fanny Leduc