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An enormous boulder bank between 2 arms of the Otaki River
An enormous boulder bank between 2 arms of the Otaki River above Waitewaewae Hut
Country: New Zealand
Location: Tararua Forest Park
Accommodation: B&B, motels and hotels in Otaki.
Transport: Trains and buses to Otaki. Taxis are available to Otaki Forks (booking advised).
Maps: Parkmap Tararua (1:100,000). Topomaps S25 - Levin, S26 - Carterton (1:50,000).
Trip Dates: 2-5 April 1999.
Also See:
The Tararua Tramper - trip reports from the Tararua Tramping Club.

The Otaki River drains the largest watershed in the Tararua Forest Park. The river starts on the slopes of Pukemoremore (1432m), at first flowing to the west before bending for a long winding route south to meet the Waitewaewae River after 14 kilometres. These waters form the core of a "wilderness area" within the Forest Park. There are no tracks along the river between the Waitewaewae-Otaki Forks and the big bend in the Otaki headwaters. The Waitewaewae River is also trackless. In addition there are no huts between Waitewaewae Hut and Te Matawai Hut (actually high above the river on a ridge), which are a good 9 hours apart (about 2 days at my pace).

The wilderness area is not totally pristine. The old Upper Otaki Hut (now removed) used to sit at Murray Creek about halfway up the river. There are still traces of the track that went up the true left of the river to the hut and beyond. There are also several good camping spots that are still occasionally used by hikers, hunters and fishermen.

On this trip my initial intent was to spend Friday hiking into Waitewaewae Hut, Saturday hiking up the river as far as I could to well above Murray Creek, Sunday crossing over the ridge via Te Matawai Hut into the South Ohau River and Monday splashing down the river to the road-end. But on Saturday I had not reached Murray Creek after 5.5 hours and so I stopped for the night at a great little campsite, returning down the river on the next day (only 4 hours!). Another purpose of this page is to show you some of the tracks in the area (see photos 1 and 2).


My day started with the 8 am train from Wellington out to Otaki and then a taxi to Otaki Forks. The taxi dropped me off in the carpark by the caretakers house - there is an intentions book there to sign and a telephone for local calls. The track passes the fork to the caretakers house, crosses a creek and arrives at the top of a steep bank in a couple of minutes. A nice zigzag drops to the fields by the Boielle carpark and the banks of the Waiotaura River - the junction with the Otaki River is less than 1 kilometre downriver. The river is crossed by a sturdy wooden footbridge. Just over the river, a path off to your left leads to Parawai Hut while the main track takes a steep climb up to the top of the river terrace (5 minutes from the river). The paddock is crossed diagonally (follow the painted poles) to the remains of a gate where the track to the southern Tararuas (Kime Hut, etc.) heads uphill to the right - have a look at my description of the Southern Crossing. The Waitewaewae/Penn route heads to the left and the edge of the terrace. In 300 metres, the Penn Creek Track continues along the terrace and the Waitewaewae Track descends along the terrace side to a long swingbridge.

On the other side, there is a short steep climb (bit of a zigzag) up onto the river terrace - this is Sawmill Flat, named after a sawmill that used to be there until it was destroyed in the 1936 storm. An old steam boiler is just visible in the NE corner and can be visited by making your own way along the terrace edge around the edges of a flax swamp. The track does not go out into the flats but climbs along the hillside to a tiny saddle between the ridge and a small knoll (about 1 kilometre from the bridge). This is a good spot to look back over the river terraces to the start of the tramp.

Remains of the bush tram-line iron rails
Remains of the bush tram-line iron rails on a corner about 35 minutes from the river

Beyond the knoll, the track dips down to cross a stream and then picks up an old bush tram-line. This is followed all the way to Saddle Creek with a couple of diversions to cross side-streams (the old tram-line bridges have vanished) and a rough sidle over a slip just before Papa Creek. The tram-line was constructed with wooden rails mostly and these have all rotted away. However there are still remains of the iron rails used at sharp corners (photo 1) and a few sleepers. Overall the tram-line provides quick going - an hour from the footbridge to Saddle Creek is easy done. The end of the tram-line is marked by an old traction engine boiler with its rusty red colour contrasting nicely with the greenery around it.

The track climbs a little from the boiler and then drops sharply to Saddle Creek - the junction with the creek should be noted for any return journey. The junction is well-marked in any case with 4 gigantic orange triangles. Remember to climb the bank immediately after the crossing on the way back. There is a track most of the way up the creek with plenty of crossings, otherwise the route is in the creek-bed (photo 2). After the easy, well-marked tram-line, the route seems fairly rough but it is still well-padded with little chance of going wrong. The creek is left in about an hour where the track (now on the true left ) leaves the main flow to climb up beside a trickle of water towards Plateau Saddle. Boots and water erosion has formed a couple of shoulder-high trenches in this area. The approach to the saddle is marked by heavily eroded terrain before the lip of the saddle is gained next to a grand tree. The erosion is not entirely due to trampers boots - Saddle Creek is threatening to capture the headwaters of Plateau Stream (an event that will cause massive and long-lasting erosion in this area).

Down back Saddle Creek (track on the right)
Down back Saddle Creek with the just discernable track on the right (marked by a small cairn just to the right of centre).

A few metres over the lip, Plateau Stream is crossed; followed closely by a second crossing and then the fording of a tributary. The track then wanders for 20 minutes (sometimes muddy) over the plateau before descending to the steep slopes above Arapito Creek with a nice view into the creek from a toetoe (a tall native grass with large golden flower heads) covered slip. The track keeps well above the creek on its true right faces. Beware of any false pads leading down into the creek. The track crosses 3 side-streams before starting to descend gradually into the creek where a good crossing is found about 35 minutes from the saddle.

There are now a couple of choices:
In bad weather (or if you have a phobia about getting your boots wet) cross the creek to take the well-padded but rough track that sidles the hillside well above big slips down on the Otaki River. After crossing a side-stream, the track continues to sidle until the slips are passed and it can descend to above the river. The river is then followed to the hut.
In normal weather, you can drop quickly down the Arapito Creek on intermittent tracks to the Otaki River. The river edge is then followed under the slips until steep banks force you into the river. Wade about 200 metres up the river until there are gravel beaches on the true right (on your left when travelling up-river). From the beaches, you will find the alternative track just up a small stream. There is a good set of steps leading onto the river bank a few metres up the stream and to your right or just scramble up the bank where the orange triangle marks the route. The hut is a couple of minutes up-river.

It takes about 70 minutes to the hut from the saddle by either hiking route.

On this trip, I took the river route again but crossed straight over the river to the boulder bank on its true left, walked up-river and then across to the gravel beach. I was surprised on the first thigh-deep crossing to see a large trout basking in the eddy of a rock just a couple of metres from me. Waitewaewae Hut is a good modern hut with a hot pot-belly stove. It was not too crowded with about 12 people overnight.

The boulder bank at the campsite the next morning
The boulder bank at the campsite the next morning looking down the Otaki River

The next morning I headed up-river at about 8:00 am. The weather was good for tramping - cool with a gray overcast sky. The track drops from the hut to the river bank where a large rock provides a good platform for a swimming hole. It takes about 10 minutes to reach the swing-bridge up the river. This is anchored into a rock bluff on the true right of the river and it is slightly awkward to get onto the bridge (don't fall in!). Note the sign up the bank just before the bridge. This points people back to the new hut so that they don't try to climb up the slopes to the site of the old hut. The middle of the bridge is a good place to admire the river. On the other side, the track heads upriver for a bit but you should make your way to the riverbank after 20 metres and emerging between the large pool above the bridge and the gigantic boulder bank pictured in the top photo.

I do not recommend doing what I did and continuing along the track to where it swings east and up the ridge to Shoulder Knob. I followed the old track from there and soon abandoned it when I realised that it climbed a fair distance above the river. I foolishly dropped straight down to the river and swam across a deep wide pool when I should have just back-tracked.

Cross the branch of the river entering the pool from the right and scramble onto the top of the boulder bank which is hiked along for almost 200 metres. At the far end there is the first (of many) serious crossings of the river. Expect the water to be above knee-height and use caution. Thirty minutes of crisscrossing the river brings the Waitewaewae-Otaki Forks. There is a relatively popular campsite just up the Waitewaewae River with a better one another 20 minutes further up the river. I met a tramper here who had camped overnight and was about to head up the Waitewaewae, climb a spur onto Mick (877m) and follow a stream back to Otaki Forks.

Ford the fairly shallow Otaki at the junction and head upriver over the boulders on the other side (true right). More boulder-hopping and river-fording await as steady progress is made up to where the first U-bend in the river (where it turns to flow south!). This is about 30 minutes from the forks and marks the location of a deep pool. You can either swim the pool or retreat back about 20 metres, make a deep ford of the river and bush-bash back up the bank. The next decision point comes after the next U-bend (about 90 minutes away with a small campsite). Here the river enters a short scenic gorge. The easy going up the gorge in mostly shallow water ends suddenly in a deep, narrow pool that needs swimming. However you can avoid the swim by clambering up the slopes before the gorge and walking along the old track for a few hundred metres. In my opinion, the effort is not worth it and it is a pity to miss out the cute gorge.

Beyond the gorge there is no trouble and a good camping site is reached in another 2 hours on a river flat. It is had to miss with a wide boulder bank and lots of level grass. A fireplace has been constructed under the sparse trees at the far end. The big slip marked on the map is less obvious since its lower slopes have begun to be covered with scrub. This is where I stopped for the afternoon and night. Around 5:30, I was just settling in for the night when I was treated to "the roar" when a couple of stags challenged each other across the river. There were about 3 bellows from the guy on my side of the river and a couple from the bloke on the other side. I was surprised to see a hind wandering down the slip but she vanished before I could get my camera out. Perhaps she was making a break for greener pastures across the river.

The next morning started with a dense valley mist. There was no hurry so I stayed around the camp until it lifted around 9:30 (leaving clear blue skies) and then went back down the river. It took less than 4 hours to get back down the river (left at 10:15, back at the swingbridge at 13:40). On the way down I met a hunter and his girlfriend wandering up the river trying their luck at fishing (not one bite as it turned out). The pool at the bridge was very cold for swimming but I managed about 10 minutes before exiting for a touch of sunbathing. The hut started off not very crowded (9 people) with a group of 4 visiting in the late afternoon but heading out again to camp downriver. This was lucky since a couple of families walked in just after dark (4 adults, 5 children and a scrap of a dog).

I had a look at the "dry" track on the way out the next day. Don't bother leaving this way unless there is no other choice. The river route is at least twice as fast and a lot easier.

From To Posted
Otaki Forks Waitewaewae Hut 240 360 Easy walking on an old tram-line followed by rougher walking up a creek and over a muddy saddle.
Waitewaewae Hut Second campsite, Otaki River 240 330 Harder going than I thought, three swims -all could have been avoided with varying degrees of difficulty.
Second campsite, Otaki River Waitewaewae Hut 240 220 Familiarity breeds speed
Waitewaewae Hut Otaki Forks 240 360 Slow going on the wet-weather route with a stroll afterwards to Otaki Forks.

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

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