I looked towards the Ruahines as I sat outside on the deck with a steaming morning cup of tea clutched in between my cold hands I felt anticipation warming my body. This was it. The day of my first solo overnighter to Iron Gate Hut. My hiking bag had been packed since the day before. If you know me at all, you will know that this is a Big Deal. I never pack the day before anything. I’m more of a last minute kinda gal.
Access Head out towards Apiti, go down Table Flat Road until you hit the gravel. Keep on going down the gravel until you reach what looks like a fork in the road, take the left down Petersons Road and carry on down until you get to the carpark. You will need to go through a gate, make sure you shut it behind you.
Difficulty To Alice Nash Memorial Heritage Hut it is fairly easy starting with a downhill, over the arched wooden bridge then a gradual incline until you reach the hut. After this, it is a 4 hour trek to Iron Gate Hut. The track can get steep and isn’t well maintained in places. A lot of slips and fallen trees over the track. There are also two creek crossings and another few minor water crossings. The creek crossings can be dangerous after a lot of rain so use your judgement wisely.
Time Half an hour to Heritage Hut and 3-4 hours to Iron Gate Hut.
Fitness You will need to be relatively fit. While there are a few flat places they are marred by either boggy tracks, fallen trees or slips. The inclines are steep and the downhills can be tricky and take just as long as the inclines.
Facilities Separate toilet down the track and a fireplace
Bookings Required First come first served
Fees 1 standard hut pass per night – $5 adult, $2.50 youth (11-17 years) and children (under 10) free
A change of plans
I had intended to go up Tunupo high point, across the ridge and dip down into Iron Gate Hut then head out the next day via Iron Gate Hut track. Due to the weather and visibility, I chose to change my plans that morning and take Iron Gate Hut Track both ways. I haven’t done Tunupo high point before, as it is an unmarked track with poor visibility it wouldn’t have been a smart option to take that day. Plus, being my first solo overnighter I wasn’t used to carrying such a heavy load. I wanted to enjoy the experience, not curse my way up to the high point and then have to worry about getting lost up there.
Tunupo will have to wait for another day. It will still be there.
Be flexible. If the weather or other factors come into play, don’t be a hero. Change your plans. It is much better to be safe than sorry. You can always go out another day.
To Heritage Lodge
From the carpark to Alice Nash Memorial Heritage Lodge is a nice easy hike. Perfect if you are taking along kids, the hike can be extended down to the river if they want to explore further. The track starts with a downhill which is unusual for the Ruahine Range. Once you get to the picturesque arched wooden bridge it is a gradual incline to Heritage Lodge. On a clear day, you can see across the valley. I got a lovely view of the low lying cloud. Almost as nice but not quite.
To Cumberfield Creek
After Heritage Lodge, you climb a short incline then drop suddenly and steeply zig-zag down to Cumberfield Creek. About 45 minutes after leaving Heritage Lodge I arrived at the creek and thought that it made a nice picnic spot. Plus my stomach was telling me off so I sat beside the moss-covered boulders watching mesmerised by the water flowing, making its way around the rocks rushing towards the Oroua River.
Cumberfield Creek was only ankle deep but I managed to make like a mountain goat and gracefully skip from rock to rock to avoid getting my feet wet. Note: clambering awkwardly across the creek praying that my feet didn’t slip.
To Tunupo Creek
After heaving my large load back onto my back it was time to make like a mountain goat again and tackle the boulders. After the boulders were successfully transversed it was straight up the hill. Pretty much literally. Luckily there are plenty of tree roots that you can pull yourself up with or use for footing. As you zig-zag up the side of the hill you gain a fair bit of elevation in a short time.
Just as you think of stamping your foot and refusing to climb any more you find yourself making your way back down again. I would have enjoyed these downhills much more if the thought of having to climb up them again the next day wasn’t at the forefront of my mind.
Tunupo Creek is a bit more technical to cross than Cumberfield Creek. It is deeper and there are a few more dips and drops in the creek bed. It can be dangerous in high water. Tunupo Creek came up to just over my knees. I used my trekking pole to help balance as the creek was running fast and to check the depth of the water.
The creeks can rise suddenly in the rain, make sure you know how to cross safely and if it is too dangerous don’t attempt it.
To Iron Gate Hut
The track goes straight back up after Tunupo Creek, no time to worry about cold feet, they soon warm up again rather quickly.
A few of the inclines zigzag very steeply up the hill and zigzag just as steeply down again. Often it was just as slow going down as it was going up. A couple of times I scooted down on my bum or went down backwards holding onto the tree roots.
There are a few flat bits in the track here. Don’t get too excited though. They are still quite technical with fallen trees, slips, boggy tracks and mossy tracks that can get slippery after rain. The gnarled roots covered in moss set a beautiful scene, I kept expecting to see a pixie or fairy poking its head out of the rotting logs or natural hidey holes in the tree trunks. No such luck, however.
After about 3 and a half hours from leaving Alice Nash Memorial Heritage Hut, Iron Gate Hut appeared suddenly around the final bend. What a beautiful sight it was. Even more of a beautiful sight was the loo. I quickly abandoned my pack and made my way up the short track. After walking for 4 hours with a heavy pack on my back it was an odd sensation walking with no load sitting on my shoulders. I almost felt like I was a bit tipsy as I was a bit wobbly not having to compensate for the weight.
Iron Gate Hut
Iron Gate Hut is a Department of Conservation Hut, you need to purchase a hut pass and pop it in the honesty box. This hut is only $5 per adult it goes towards the maintenance of the hut. Iron Gate Hut is a basic Backcountry Hut with a fireplace, bunks and sleeping mattresses (up to 7 can sleep in this hut) and an outside composting loo about 200m from the hut. You will need to bring your own cooking tools and sleeping bags etc.
Iron Gate Hut sits on a clearing beside the Oroua River, you get a constant background noise of the water rushing over the boulders which is quite soothing. Though, confusing waking up at 2 am worrying about the rain, only to realise it is actually the river.
I had the whole hut to myself and didn’t see another soul (well, human soul) the entire time I was on the track and in the hut. So it was up to me to make my accommodation cosy. There was some uncut firewood on the deck and a few bits of smaller wood perfect for kindling. Before long I had a nice toasty hut and settled down with my lantern and book for the night. It was absolute bliss and I felt ridiculously proud of myself in that moment. I would have stayed another night but had no reception for my cellphone (which had lost battery anyway) to let anyone know I was staying on. A helicopter search party would have interrupted the serenity.
Back to the car again
I woke up to rain so was a little worried that the creeks had swelled overnight. The rain petered out by 7:30 am so I decided to take the risk. Make hay while the sun shines and all that. With wet boots and the inclines still fresh in my mind I set out for the day. The hike back was about half an hour quicker. I’m not sure if that’s because I knew what I was in for, didn’t stop to take as many photos or if I was just super speedy. I like to think that it was because I was super speedy. In reality, it is probably because I didn’t take all the wrong turns I did the previous day.
It was lovely walking through the mossy wonderland. Until the inclines hit. Although they didn’t seem as bad as the previous day. Must be getting stronger. Or the thought of my warm dry car was a good enough incentive to power on through. The rain started 2 hours into the trek back, just as I was gloating to myself in my head that I timed my departure right and continued for the rest of the hike. Karma huh?
Iron Gate Hut is a great destination for a moderate overnight hike. It isn’t too difficult to get to but you get the isolation and seclusion of being in the middle of the Ruahine Range. You can advance your hike by carrying on further to Triangle Hut, Rangiwahia Hut or Tunupo high point, making Iron Gate Hut a flexible destination. This was a perfect first solo overnight destination, not too arduous to carry a heavy load and isolated enough that I was sufficiently away from other humans. Which let’s face it, that was the aim.
If you want to see more pics, be sure to check out my Iron Gate Hut album on the Facebook Page. While you are there, feel free to give it a good ole fashioned like (I had to start from scratch so it’s lookin’ a little bare in the likes department). I’d muchly appreciate it.
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