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Looking north from just before Blue Range Hut towards the Ruamahanga River. The clouds on the left conceal the lofty Cattle Ridge.
Country: New Zealand
Location: Tararua Forest Park
Accommodation: Hotels, motels, etc. in Masterton (about 20 kilometres from the route's start).
Transport: Taxis available in Masterton which has a railway station. Buses travel along State Highway 2 (5 kilometre walk to the route's start).
Maps: Parkmap Tararua (1:100,000); Topomap S25 - Levin (1:50,000).
Trip Dates: 14 - 16 December 1996
Also See:
The Tararua Tramper - trip reports from the Tararua Tramping Club.
Introduction

The Blue Range lies on the east side of the Tararua Ranges, separating the upper Waingawa River from the Wairarapa Plains. The Waingawa River also forms the southern boundary of the range while the Ruamahanga River splits it from points north. Its highest point is Te Mara at 1104m - a lonely, bush-covered peak that is often passed by but not often visited. A long and windy gravel road (Kiriwhakapapa Road) is the only vehicle access from the Wairarapa. This stops at a well kept grassy clearing with a toilet block and shelter that is obviously used a lot by the locals. From here, an easy track follows an old tram track south through the bush and to another road end (Mikimiki Road). However we are more interested in the rougher track that heads north to climb over the range and down to the Waingawa River.

This hiking trip comprised of the steep climb up to the top of the Blue Range where I stayed overnight at the Blue Range Hut. The next day was spent walking around the slopes of Te Mara and along a ridge before dropping down to the Waingawa River and firstly Cow Creek Hut (for lunch) and then Mitre Flats Hut for the night. The final day took me over the low Atiwhakatu Saddle to the Atiwhakatu Stream and then down stream past the Atiwhakatu Hut to the Holdsworth road-end. The weather was not that good with low clouds most of the time and plenty of showers. Even so this was a pretty nice walk.

Route

Start at the end of the Kiriwhakapapa Road where the shelter makes a good spot to sort your gear out while keeping dry. I arrived there just after lunch and a steady drizzle immediately started. Ignore the first footbridge (just by the shelter) - this leads to forest flats on the true left of Reef Creek. Walk instead SW along the tram-line formation for a few metres to the next bridge and cross this to the other side of Kiriwhakapapa Stream. The track is wide and level as it swings north to follow Reef Creek for about 10 minutes. A loop track back to the road-end branches off to the left after a tiny stream is passed in a couple of minutes (30 minutes for the loop walk).

The track makes an abrupt turn away from the creek and begins a steady climb up a ridge. It is adequately marked with some rusty markers hard to see but is also clear on the ground. After climbing up 100m there is a tiny side-track marked by an aluminium tag on a stump. This leads in less than a minute to a couple of large rimu trees - well worth the detour. There are three little knolls to climb over with the third having a small clearing and then the top of the ascent is only 20 minutes away (1.5 hours from the carpark). This is the T-junction marked as point 978 on the map - a total of 638 metres climbed from the bottom. There are a couple of signs on a tree at the junction, "Cow Creek Hut 2 hrs" pointing to the left and "Blue Range Hut" to the right.

I headed off to the right along the rather indistinct track that climbs slightly for a few minutes to gain the ridge crest. A clearing here (probably caused by an old fire) gives a bit of a photo opportunity. I took one photo into the strong wind from the west of the clouds hiding the fine summit of Mitre and a glimpse of the ridge for tomorrows journey. The other photo is at the top of this page. The track continues north for 10 minutes through regenerating beech forest and finally drops into the small clearing holding Blue Range Hut.

Cableway across the Waingawa River
Old cableway across the Waingawa River, just below Cow Creek Hut.

The next day, I retraced the route back to the junction. I had started late at about 10 am (waiting for an improvement in the weather) which turned out to be an error as I arrived at Mitre Flats Hut in the dark. I had a constant drizzle of rain from the skies until it cleared around 1 pm.

The track climbs gently from the junction up the ridge towards Te Mara. After 5 minutes, a route to Te Mara continues indistinctly along the ridge but the main track swings right across the headwaters of the large unnamed stream to the north. Take care on the last pull along this sidle where the track departs right from a rocky gully, not from it's top. The ridge on the other side is quickly reached (15 minutes) for a rapid descent to the shallow saddle before point 910. There is a good viewpoint of the head of the Waingawa River a few minutes down the ridge. On the way down you should watch for a couple of confusing sharp left-hand jogs in the track.

Head further along the ridge, rising gently to a bump 5 minutes before the local high point of 970m. There is a fork in the track on the bump. Ahead an overgrown track goes over point 970 and drops down to Cow Saddle and then west to the Waingawa River. This is gentler but 30 minutes longer than the maintained track that descends sharply to the west and down to the river. The track then heads upriver to a bridge which used to be a cableway.

Cableways consist of a cage suspended on wheels from a wire cable with a couple of other wires in a long loop from each side providing the motive power. The idea for a party is that they go over two-by-two with the others turning cranks on the supports. This makes the crossing easy, quick and more importantly dry! For a lone tramper like me, there is a crank in the cage. There is a nice start with the weight of cage, occupant and pack rushing the cage over to the middle of the river. From then on your arm muscles get a good workout as you slowly wheel up the slope on the other side.

Cow Creek Hut is a few minutes up river and provides shelter for lunch in wet weather. However the weather had cleared by the time I arrived and so I had a break on the riverbank where the river comes in from the west (and Arete Forks) to meet Cow Creek and head south.

In fine weather, the bed of the river can be followed for about 3 hours, all the way down to Mitre Flats Hut. I decided to follow the wet weather track which adds 30 minutes to the time due to the crossing of several streams (which may be difficult to cross after heavy rain). The track is lightly marked but mostly clear on the ground. A few points that I noticed:
About a third of the way down the river, you come to a nice little river flat (about 60 metres long by 10 metres across). The track departs the other end of the flat at the far side of a flax swamp. It is easier to walk along a boulder bank next to the river than to wade through the swamp.
Just after the flats, a stream (probably North Mitre Stream) has cut a 10 metre wide ravine. There are some markers to guide you up the ravine until a crossing can be made. Keep well away from the ravine edge on the way back to the track because it is dangerously undercut.
The track has been erased by at least one slip, requiring either a climb over the top of the slip or a detour to the riverbed.

I arrived at the hut just as dusk was falling (about 7:30 pm). Unfortunately a school party had been in during the weekend and had left a bit of a mess so the first job was to clean up.

A small (1 metre) waterfall on the first stream from Mitre Flats
A small (1 metre) waterfall on the first stream from Mitre Flats.

The next day, I started at a more reasonable time - just after 8 am - into yet another overcast day. The track departs downriver past the hut and rounds the end of a ridge to go a small distance up South Mitre Stream where there is a swingbridge. About 75 metres along the track is a turn-off for the track up to Mitre, the highest peak in the Tararuas at 1571 metres.

Across the swingbridge, the route zigzags up the spur for about 30 minutes on a good, benched track. The track forks on a high terrace surrounded by fine trees. One branch continues climbing up the ridge towards Baldy - this is the Barton Track marked on the maps. However, we stop climbing and join the other, narrower branch which sidles along the edge of the terrace to the first major side-stream. This is easily recognised by the bright-red chert boulders in its bed - see the adjacent photo. The track heads up the true left of the stream for 25 metres to a massive beech-tree bridge.

The well-padded and lightly benched track continues to traverse the slopes to arrive at a minor mossy stream in 30 minutes. This is followed by an abrupt drop before arriving at the second side-stream just below a fork. This stream has dug itself a small ravine giving a glimpse of the southern end of the Blue Range. Clamber down onto the conglomerate boulders littering the first branch. This is a good spot for a late morning break to take advantage of what views there are. Continue by climbing up onto the bank between the two branches where a painted marker points the way up the second branch. Follow the creek for 50 metres and then cross onto a gravel bank to its true right where the track climbs steeply 80m up onto a spur. The gradiant soon eases and it takes 30 minutes (2.5 hours from Mitre Flats Hut) to reach point 670, the Atiwhakatu Saddle.

The Atiwhakatu stream is 10 minutes down from the saddle down a track that is steeper than it looks on the map. It is crossed by a good swingbridge. The track down to the Atiwhakatu Hut takes about an hour and is in fairly good condition except for a couple of slips. The first is easily crossed with a climb up and along its face and then down a rocky gully to the stream. The second slip is a much harder proposition with a scramble down a clay bank, squeeze under a fallen tree and then slippery soil to cross. I took the wetter option of backtracking a little and breaking out of the bush to the stream. A few crossings of the stream took me through a flood channel on the true left and I regained the track by crossing to a gravel bank on the true right and clambering onto a flat which the path crossed. The only other problem you may find is that the track is a bit indistinct where it meets the northerly track down from Jumbo - it looks like it goes into a marshy river flat (with the junction signpost on a bank) however the bank is better gained by an overgrown fork just before the flats.

The track from the hut to the Holdsworth road end is quite easy. This is a wide (except where it crosses one small slip), mostly gravelled and level track. All the major side-streams are bridged - one with a tree. There are nice views back up the valley from the sparsely treed sections above the minor gorge before Donnelly Flat.

{short description of image} Summary
From To Posted
Time
1
My
Time
2
Comments
Kiriwhakapapa Road end Blue Range Hut 90 190 A good steady climb
Blue Range Hut Cow Creek Hut 200 265 Steep descent followed by crossing the river by cableway.
Cow Creek Hut Mitre Flats Hut 210 275 OK walking
Mitre Flats Hut Atiwhakatu Saddle 210 260 Nice track overall, bit rough in places.
Atiwhakatu Saddle Holdsworth road-end 200 330 A couple of slips to cross/avoid but easy going below Atiwhakatu Hut

1 Time in books or hut notices (minutes).
2 My time includes lunch, stops and my very slow pace (minutes).


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