Kapakapanui Track lies in the southwest corner of the Tararua Range. Kapakapanui an isolated minor peak sitting at 1102 meters above sea level. The peak boasts some of the best views of the Tararuas on a clear day.
Kapakapanui Track Stats
Time The entire track will take around 8 hours to complete. However, you can break it down into sections. I did it counterclockwise and stayed in Kapakapanui Hut for the night then carried on down the remainder of the track the next day.
- The creek to Kapakapanui Trig counterclockwise 4 hours
- Kapakapanui Trig to the hut 1 hour
- Kapakapanui Hut to the carpark 3 hours
Access From Waikanae, follow Reikorangi Road and turn into Ngatiawa Road. Carry on for another 3 – 4 km to the carpark.
Fitness You will need to be fairly fit to tackle Kapakapanui Track. Not only because of the distance but the altitude gained and severity of the inclines as well.
DifficultyThere are a few creek crossings, some of which can get quite high, especially after some rain. The altitude gained is hefty and the track itself can get boggy. It isn’t always well-defined and a lot of tree roots lie across the track. Tree trunks have also fallen across the track in a few places. Kapakapanui Track is graded as ‘Advanced’ so bear that in mind if you are going to hike this.
Kapakapanui Hut Stats
Facilities Separate toilet down the track, a fireplace and water source
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
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The start of Kapakapanui Track
Kapakapanui track starts at the dead end of Ngatiawa Road. There isn’t a designated carpark, instead, you will need to park off the road on the grassy verge. Be mindful not to block anyone’s driveway.
The first 15 minutes of the hike is across farmland. There are stiles built so please use them and do not disturb any farm animals. The resident cows found me quite intriguing and followed me along the fenceline, mooing curiously. A quick wave and I left them to it (they didn’t wave back).
If you do have to go through a gate, make sure to leave it as you found it. You are on someone’s land so be respectful.
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Creek Crossings Galore
If you don’t like getting your feet wet, Kapakapanui Track isn’t going to be for you. After emerging from the farmland you end up at a creek wondering where the track went. Look across the creek and you will spot a wee orange triangle.
Don’t bother trying to hop nimbly from rock to rock to keep your feet dry. There are more than 10 creek crossings if you walk the track clockwise on the way up and about half that amount going counterclockwise. Then you have to do them all again on the way back down again.
I tried to hop nimbly like a mountain goat on the first creek crossing but failed miserably. It is hard to do a mountain goat impression with an overnight pack, lack of coordination and slippery rocks.
Zigzagging up the creek was rather fun though. Sloshing through the creeks is something I am rather fond of.
Safety tips for creek crossings:
- Always err on the side of caution – do a quick scout of the creek, if it is flowing to fast or is too deep, leave it for another day
- Do not cross rivers above waist deep, the more of your weight in the water, the less you have to counterbalance with
- Leave your boots on, these will help you grip and gain traction. You can change into other shoes if needed but don’t cross in bare feet.
- Unbuckle your pack first. If your pack is unbuckled when you fall it is much easier to get off your back to stop you from being dragged under.
- Use one of your trekking poles for balance. Don’t use two poles, just one and face it upstream, the water will push it down into the creek bed. If you place it downstream, the water lifts it up and makes you look a little on the silly side when you end up on your arse. Plus you can use your trekking pole to see how deep the water is.
- Pick a point and aim for it. When you are trying to get to the other side of a swiftly moving body of water, don’t try to walk straight across or upstream. Pick a point downstream and aim for that. The current will help you get down there with less effort.
- Beware of boulders. Usually, when there is a boulder sitting in the water, the water is a bit deeper surrounding it. Found out from experience. Just to bring you this tip.
- Enrol in a river crossing course if you aren’t confident. Outdoor Education New Zealand offers a one day course which includes hazards, water characteristics, river crossing principles, decision making, river crossing methods and recovery in a practical, hands-on environment.
- Check the weather conditions beforehand. Check the previous few days as well as the day that you are planning to go. If there has been a lot of rain over the previous few days, the river will be running more swiftly than usual and will also be higher. Check the weather at Metservice
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Clockwise up to the Trig
I had already decided before I left that I was going to go counterclockwise around Kapakapanui Track. Get the bulk of the hike out of the way first. My confidence in this wavered however when I saw the start of the track at the crossroads.
It was literally straight up the hill. Practically vertical. Well, at least, it felt that way.
Not long after starting the ascent you will come to realise why the track is graded as ‘Advanced’ with a tree trunk lying across the track. Clambering over with short legs proved rather difficult, but these short legs did not let me down. Over the fallen log and continuing up the track they went.
I only saw one other person coming down the hill and gratefully snapped at the chance for a rest and let him slide down past. I didn’t dare ask how much further to the top. The disappointment would have been too much.
This part of the track is wild and rugged. Tree roots decorate the track, fallen logs provide variety and mud is aplenty. It was satisfying to finally emerge through the trees to find alpine shrubs and tussock.
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The track climbs steadily for a good few hours until you reach the bushline. From here you get glimpses of the stunning views as promised. On a clear day, spy views all the way out to Kapiti Island and the full extent of the Southern Crossing (which is on my to-hike list) is revealed.
Unfortunately, it was a misty day when I tackled Kapakapanui track but I did manage to spot Kapiti Island hiding amongst the fog in the distance.
The isolated tops can be wild, windy and the weather changeable. Layers are important.
As I sat nursing my cup of tea and looking out across Waikanae and Kapiti Island I could see swirling white specks floating gently to the ground. Snow! A rather pitiful display, but snow nonetheless.
Hands sufficiently warm and belly full again, it was time to head into the Goblin Forest.
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Once you pass Kapakapanui Trig, it is along the tops for a while until heading down into Goblin Forest. The tops of Kapakapanui Track looked like something out of another world with the mist slowly descending.
Shapes rose eerily from the fog and what Amelia, my 10-year old, would call ‘Tree Witches’.
As the rain fell softly and feet squelched through the muddy track I was feeling rather smug having made it up the hill without (much) incident.
After winding across the tops for a short time, past the Tree Witches, the Goblin Forest rose through the fog.
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Through the Goblin Forest
The Goblin Forest (not its official name, but should be), is a section that lies just after Kapakapanui Trig if you are going counterclockwise. Moss covered trees, gnarled branches and the dusky sunlight filtering through danced with dust. Goblin Forest was one of my favourite sections. Mainly because it was downhill and I had just spent 4 hours climbing.
It also signalled that the hut was near.
And it really looked as though Goblins could reside there.
I got so excited that the hut would be ‘just around the corner’ that I wasn’t watching where I was going and slipped a couple of times. My leggings were already muddy anyhow and what was another knock to the knee? The hut was near!
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A night at Kapakapanui Hut
Kapakapanui Hut was a welcome sight. Picturesque sitting in amongst the bush and the chimney puffing. Huzzah! There were people there and they had lit the fire.
My earlier concerns about having the share the hut floated away with the chimney smoke. I was tired, wet and cold and really didn’t feel like chopping firewood and cursing at dwindling flames sitting frozen under my sleeping bag.
One thing I love about staying in backcountry huts is the way that meeting like-minded people you wouldn’t normally hang out with. My roomies for the night turned out to be two men taking their young daughters out for the weekend.
As darkness settled, three more men turned up having bushwacked their way over from a different direction. An odd group on the surface (a meditating Indian man, a loud kiwi bloke and a quiet guy that looked like he’d be more at home in front of a computer) but they gelled well together through their mutual love of hiking.
As there were no beds left we moved the furniture around and made room for our latecomers to sleep by the fire.
Hardy Kiwi Kids
Us Kiwis breed some hardy kids. The girls that were in the hut were only about 6 years old but trekked up Kapakapanui Hut clockwise carrying their own packs. Apparently often out hiking their dear ole Dad’s.
Everyone pitched in entertaining the girls. I read them stories off of my ereader then Kiwi Bloke snapped some glowsticks, blew out the candles so we could have a disco. That’s another thing I love about our hut system. Everyone pitches in and helps each other out.
Chats over Wine
As the girls’ eyes grew heavier, one of the Dad’s pulled out a flask of wine and offered it around, the others pulled out a can of beer each and we all swapped stories with the glow of the candles flickering on the walls and the warmth of the fire filled the room.
Turns out one of the hikers, Larry, was planning to hike the Te Araroa Trail later that year so we had a big chat as it is something I am planning myself. He also runs a website which you can check out here.
The stretches of silence grew longer as the flames dwindled. It was time to hunker down to sleep. After a long day for all of us, sleep came quickly.
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Back down again
The next morning we all woke early and sleepily assembled breakfast before tidying the hut. Once my bag was repacked, hut book filled and furniture back in place it was time to put back on my soggy boots and head back down Kapakapanui Track again.
This was a much easier day than the previous one, with most of being downhill. However, the track was very boggy in places after the rain the day before and overnight. My boots ended up looking like they had swum through the mud before long.
Glimpses of Kapiti Island through the trees were snatched along the way. Looming impressively in the distance, Kapiti Island is a predator-free bird sanctuary where you can hang out with rare birds such as kākā, kōkako, takahē and hihi.
The track was a bit busier today. I came across several groups of people. One group of foriegn girls asked hopefully how far it was to the top. “About three hours,” I told them, “but then it’s all downhill from there” I added helpfully.
Although Kapakapani track is all downhill from the hut, it is not a quick descent with hazards such as tree roots blocking the path and muddy patches that nearly suck your boots right off your feet.
Just over 2 hours from Kapakapanui Hut, the creek is back in sight.
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More creek crossings
After rounding a corner, the creek was in sight. It was time to zigzag back down the creek again. A chance to de-mud my boots!
There are more creek crossings between the fork and this side of Kapakapanui Track than the other side of the track. I counted either 12 or 13 creek crossings on the way back down again. My boots definitely had a chance to get clean again.
Some zigs and zags were shallow, others a bit deeper. Again, don’t bother to try and keep your feet dry. You will be fighting a losing battle. Embrace the creek and stamp right on through it. Plus, it is fun so why wouldn’t you?
After the many creek crossings, it was back up the farmland to the car. Boots off and emptied, slippers on, it was time to head home again.
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Kapakapanui Track was well worth the hard slog up the hill. Even though I didn’t catch a clear day, the mist that settled around the land made for an eerie but beautiful setting. Calm, absolutely serene and mysterious.
For more pictures check out that Kapakapanui Album on Facebook.
Other advanced hikes you may like
- Field Hut and Table Top, Tararua Range
- Platinum Mine Loop, Palmerston North
- Atene Skyline Track, Whanganui National Park
- Mt Karioi, Waikato
- Iron Gate Gorge, Ruahine Range
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