Castle Rock, Kaimanawa Forest Park
In my opinion, one of the best views of the Ruapehu massif is from Castle Rock, a fortress-like outcrop along the Kaimanawa Forest Park Walkway.
The name is quite likely locally bestowed as it is not marked on a map. However, finding Castle Rock is a relatively easy undertaking and within the capabilities of most trampers.
The tramp commences at a small car park located on the north-east side of the Desert Road. A 4WD track heading north-east leads up to a poled route branching off to the right, then beginning a short but steady climb in a south-easterly direction to the hinterland.
From here it’s just a case of following this undulating route which parallels the park’s boundary with land occupied by the New Zealand Defence Force; a fact you are reminded of by notices warning of live firing and that your ‘person or your vehicle, ship, boat or aircraft could be stopped and searched’! The occasional thudding whoomph of shells landing also tends to act as a deterrent to any ideas of trying to spy on the army.
After a few brief spurts of ascent, you’ll reach the open expanse of rolling tussock grasslands, giving opportunity for many stops to look back and admire the spectacular view of Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe in the distance. The higher the track climbs, the better the scene, because initially the pylons of the national grid marching up the Desert Road are a blot on this stunning landscape. Once over a few crests, the views remain but the blots are hidden.
Don’t be alarmed by the description of the track climbing higher. The overall height gain is only around 400m, and involves relatively gentle undulations for a couple of hours. After a short sharp ascent through a remnant of beech forest, the track emerges onto flattish tussock land with a few peat bog areas and the destination just 20 minutes away.
At 1450m, the rock formation, geologically of a metamorphic schist composition dating back possibly 175 million years and once lying on the ocean floor, makes for an excellent lunch spot with grand 360-degree views of the surrounding countryside.
The track does continue on from here, again following the park boundary, and heading towards the Otamateanui Stream, the Kaimanawa Remote Experience Zone and the Rangitikei River. No huts are available so tents are necessary for anyone wishing to penetrate further into this seldom-visited part of the park. Care must be taken not to trespass on defence force land or blocks of private land in the Rangitikei area.
But for those on a day trip it is now time to turn back and absorb the glorious vista on the homeward journey.
A trip to Castle Rock on a fine day in late spring when the mountains still have a full covering of snow is an unforgettable experience.
Access Car park on Desert Road, south of Turangi and opposite the Tukino Ski Field access road
Time 5hr return
Distance 5.81km to Castle Rock
Total ascent 571m