Oh, boy, was I excited for this hike! Since starting my 52 hike challenge it has never been more than a week between hikes, I know, I only started it at the beginning May, but it’s been a habit I have fully embraced and become addicted to. This time it was 9 whole days between hikes. And it felt eternal. I could barely sleep the night before Deadman’s Track because I was itching to lace up my hiking boots. Eager? Yes! Did I nearly sleep with my boots on? No…..
Head out to Rangiwahia in the Manawatu Region. Turn on to Te Parapara Road and continue on to Renfrew Road, follow this until you hit the carpark. Make sure to leave all gates as you find them. There are two carparks a lower one and one closer to the start of the track. The lower carpark has a toilet. It is the only one on the track apart from the one at Rangiwahia Hut.
From the carpark to Rangiwahia Hut track is easy to navigate. It’s hard to get lost with the wide path and ample signage. Once you get past Rangiwahia Hut, onto the tussocks, it’s a little bit different. Especially in the snow. I knew which general direction we were going in though so picked a point on the horizon and headed for that until we met up with the marker poles. Normally they are taller than me. That day they came up to my waist with the recent snowfall we have had. Unless we stepped on some extra super soft snow and ended up knee to waist deep in snow. Then the marker poles suddenly look tall again. Once you get back to the tree line there are the familiar little orange triangles once more marking the track.
Depending on the weather and what time of year you go, this will vary. It generally takes around 2 hours to get to Rangiwahia Hut from the carpark. Up to Mangahuia and down to the carpark via Deadman’s Track is 5 to 6 hours from Rangiwahia Hut. It took us just over 5 hours, the snow made it a bit slow going at times, especially up the top where the snow was softer.
No matter which way you tackle this, starting at Deadman’s Track to Rangi Hut or up Rangi Hut then on to Deadman’s Track, you are going to have a fair few steep bits. Tackling Rangiwahia Hut Track first then onto Deadman’s Track is a bit easier. Not terribly so but enough to make a bit of a difference. Due to the length of the hike and the steep inclines you need to be relatively fit to take it on. I would suggest just going to the hut and back if you aren’t quite as fit as you would like to be. It is still a great hike that rewards you will magnificent views out to Ruapehu and across to Mt Egmont on a clear day.
Facilities Several separate loos, fireplace, tank water
Bookings Required Peak season (November – April) bookings required, outside of peak season it’s first come first served
Fees For peak season fees are paid at the time of booking. Outside booking times it is 1 serviced hut ticket ($15 for adults, $7.50 for youth (11 to 17) and children (under 10) free) or 3 standard hut passes per night.
From the carpark to Rangiwahia Hut
This time I broke recent tradition and had a Hiking Buddy which felt a little odd. I have been enjoying my solo hikes. Not to worry. A solo one is around the corner. However, it was quite nice sharing the views with someone. And to have someone to laugh with as we fell through 3 feet of soft snow. Regularly.
I have hiked this track before. My first hike back in New Zealand last year was with my Pa, we hit Rangiwahia Hut Track together. I’ve also hiked it as a child up to the hut and back again. This was my first time in winter.
The track eases you in with an incline as soon as you start. It is a pleasantly graded uphill though until you reach the zig zag. There is a slip covering the track so a new track has been made to go around it. It zigs and zags up the hill until you get to the other side of the slip near a picturesque wooden arched bridge. From the bridge, it is up you go until you reach the hut.
Stairs have been added on the steeper inclines and there is another quaint little bridge beside a gently flowing waterfall. The track past the waterfall got a bit slippery with ice. I, of course, went the difficult way. When I turned around, my Tramping Buddy, Kenny was walking with ease through some soft snow. No awkwardly going up the bank for him. Maybe he should have been the leader?
We started seeing snow from the zig zag and I am not ashamed to admit, I was rather excited. How novel! And a wonderful way to spend the first official day of winter.
After about 1 hour 45 after we left the carpark, we stumbled across the hut. What a beautiful sight! It looked a lot like lunch. We were lucky with the weather and had clear views of all the mountains, Mt Egmont in the Taranaki region and stretching all the way across to Mt Ruapehu, Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro. Mt Tongariro looked a bit different from when we were on it last. We did the Alpine Crossing at the beginning of May with no snow to be seen, a month later it was one giant mass of white.
We unpacked our lunch in the hut only to realise it was actually warmer outside in the sunshine. Just a quick dusting of the snow off the picnic table and lunch was set. The only people we saw the entire day were on the Rangiwahia Hut Track. Two hikers coming down and one zooming past us not long after. It felt like we pretty much had the whole Mountain Range to ourselves.
After a quick cuppa and a poor attempt at snowman building, it was time to set off again. A fork in the track had us scratching our heads. We hadn’t seen that on the way in. We took the right one on my direction. While the lookout was rather lovely, it didn’t take us up to Mangahuia as we would have liked. Back down the track to the fork, up the correct track and we were off on our way. Next stop, Mangahuia, the highest point in this part of the Ruahine Ranges sitting at 1583m above sea level. We had already climbed approximately 500m to get to 1327m so what was another 250 odd metres?
Turns out a lot. Well, it felt like a lot as the snow was quite soft. The closer we got to Mangahuia, the deeper the snow was. The novelty of the snow had worn off by then. Well and truly. It turns out snow is much more fun to play in than to hike in.
The track was hidden by the snowfall so it was a guessing game as to where the actual track lay. We put on our tracker hats and followed the snowprints of previous hikers. Often, we ended up stepping in their footprints as we knew where the snow was soft by the depth of the hole the footsteps made. Sometimes we would see a handprint in the snow beside a big hole. Those spots were avoided. As the snow was soft more often than not we sunk about three foot when we stepped. This made for some fairly slow (and frustrating) going at times.
Plus, I dropped my phone at one point so had to backtrack about a kilometre in the hopes of finding it only to return empty-handed and a little gutted I had lost it. I was only worried about the photos on it. A phone can be replaced with no troubles but photos are special. Turns out it had fallen in some tussock right beside where I realised it was gone. Could have saved us a good half an hour and a couple of kilometres of searching. Oh well, onwards and upwards we carried on across the ridgeline.
A couple of hours after we left Rangiwahia Hut we arrived at Mangahuia. It generally takes between 1 and 2 hours to get there. Because of my Phone Mishap, we were on the latter end of the scale. The view was absolutely beautiful. It could have been on a postcard. Rolling white hills dipped and rose all around us apart from one contrasting green hill. It looked inviting after battling with the snow. Why couldn’t our hill be green too?
Mangahuia to Deadman’s Track
Going down the snow was slightly easier than going up it. With my trekking pole, I can tackle any hill like a pro. Sort of. We skidded down the hill only to come to more inclines. What?! We had just made it to the highest point, why were there more inclines? Because New Zealand hills don’t like to go straight up and straight down. That’s why. They like to go up quite a bit, then down a little, then up a little bit more, then down quite a bit, then up even more and so on and so forth does the cycle repeat itself. Just when you think, there can’t be more hills. There’s at least 7 more. But we survived!
A short stop at the top of the incline sitting on our plastic bags so our bums wouldn’t get wet we had a spot of arvo tea. Afterwards, we brushed off our wet bums and carried on to the Tarn. It was only another few minutes and we came across a little ice lake nestled against the shelter of the natural walls surrounding it. Quite the winter wonderland. It would have been the perfect arvo tea spot if we hadn’t already stopped. We were on a mission now. To the warm socks waiting in the car.
Down Deadman’s Track
Deadman’s Track seems endless after having completed so much of the hike already. It seems to wind down and around for an awfully long time. There are a couple more inclines after reaching the tree line. But they don’t feel like much after having completed some rather substantial inclines already. From the treeline, it is another hour and a half or so until you abruptly end up back at the start of the loop.
The sun was setting as we made our way down Deadman’s Track. The lowering sun turned green leaves different hues of gold and red. The afternoon was disappearing on us and I was a bit worried that we were going to have to get the torch out. However, before long we rounded the last corner and ended back at the start of the loop again. The mountains in the distance were starting to fade behind the sun. With a last glimpse across the rolling hills towards the sleeping volcanoes, we relieved our feet of soggy boots. It was time to head home.
Tips for tackling Rangiwahia Hut Track/Deadman’s Track in the winter
- Be aware of the changeable weather. While we were lucky with the sunshine, however, a low cloud can make visibility near impossible. Turn back if in doubt. Keep an eye on the clouds and your time.
- Get an early start. We started off at 9 am and were only just back before dark. Allow plenty of time to complete the whole loop. Snow, wind and rain can add extra to your time.
- Pack plenty of layers, though you may be warm while walking when you stop you will cool down quickly.
- There is some cellphone reception in patches on this track. Don’t rely on it though, always tell someone where you are going and your expected return time.
- The snow can make it difficult to walk, make sure you are fit enough to deal with the extra pressure the snow puts on your legs.
- A GPS would be a great idea. The track is unmarked in several places and the snow can hide the markers. If you don’t know the track it would be wise to carry one.
- If you are staying at Rangiwahia Hut for the night, be sure to check out the DOC website to see what hut passes and bookings you need to make.
Rangiwahia Hut Track and Deadman’s Track is moderate to difficult hike depending on your experience, fitness and the time of the year you choose to hike it. If you are not an experienced hiker or familiar with the tracks I would suggest either just doing to the hut and back or saving this until summer time. Snow and other weather conditions make the track considerably more difficult. However, the views are absolutely stunning. Some of the best I have seen in a long time. It is well worth the slog up the hill
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