A few weeks after I arrived safely back in New Zealand after 18 months away, my Pa and I decided to go for a hike up to Rangiwahia Hut in the Ruahine Range. It was the perfect way to reconnect again. Hiking, or tramping as we call it here in New Zealand, is something that I have grown up doing. Being in the serenity of nature, hearing nothing but the buzzing of insects and the birds competing to see who has the most beautiful song brings an immense feeling of peace within.
Hiking time: 6 hours for the whole loop
Difficulty: Varies, the track is easily navigated to Rangiwahia Hut then becomes more advanced beyond this
Fitness level: Medium to high as there are some steep climbs
Access: Public road approximately an hour from the nearest main town
To the Ranges, we go …
Pa and I got up nice and early, packed a small bag each and off we set. Us Kiwi’s are much more laid back than our English counterparts. Hiking in Dartmoor was a whole different ball game. For Dartmoor we took hats, scarves, enough food to last a week, waterproof trousers, waterproof jackets, base layers, gaters, woollen hats, extra extra water, a first aid kit, a map, compass and the kitchen sink. In contrast, for the Ranges, Pa and I each only packed a sammie, a water bottle, a GPS and a thermos of tea for the day.
This made me chuckle to myself. Where we were going was very remote and not very accessible. Whereas in the Moors even though you often feel like you are in the middle of nowhere and the only people on earth, the reality is you are never really very far from a road or village.
After we struggled to fit everything in the car (by struggled, I mean threw the bags in the back and jumped in the car) we trundled off up the road. We had to pass through Kimbolton and Apiti (where we did our Great Snow Hunt) and wound further into the rugged bushland. We parked in the small car park up the end of a windy gravel road where the track starts. There was only one other car waiting patiently for its owner to come and claim it again. At least it now had a friend for a few hours.
Rangiwahia Hut Track
Rangiwahia Track leads up to Rangiwahia Hut (surprise!) which sits above the bush line on the Whanahuia Range. If you aren’t very fit (which I wasn’t) you will most likely find this track quite difficult (I did). The track up to the Hut itself isn’t difficult terrain if you are fit. However, it is very steep and unforgiving. You will need plenty of water and a good pair of boots.
The beginning of the track wasn’t too difficult. We had to detour around a slip which added some extra time to our walk. It took us an extra 20ish minutes of zig-zagging to end up 50 metres up the track. After we had zig-zagged our way up the track we ended up crossing a deep ravine of the Mangahuia Stream by way of an arched wooden bridge. From here it gets a bit steeper as the track heads up towards the hut. We passed a gently flowing waterfall to reach Rangiwahia Hut.
The path is fairly well defined up to the Hut so navigation to this point is easy. Once you get past Rangiwahia Hut it gets a bit more advanced. The vegetation changes as the altitude increases. The dense forest we started in gradually changed to sub-alpine shrubland and tussocks.
On a good day, (we got a misty, rainy day) you can see spectacular views all the way to Mt Taranaki, stretching across to Mt Ruapehu. Hunting is very popular in the Ruahines. Deer were introduced into the ranges in the mid 1920’s. This was soon regretted because they caused massive forest destruction. Now hunters trek up the hills to help solve the Red Deer problem.
We stumbled across two sleeping hunters, woke them up, offered them a cuppa, then left them unable to get back to sleep again. Our work was done.
If you wish to stay in the Hut, or any of the other Huts in the Ruahines contact DOC to buy a pass, You do not need to book. Rangi hut runs on a ‘first come, first served’ basis. It can sleep up to 13 people. You might like to pack earplugs. Just in case.
Beyond Rangiwahia Hut lies desolate tussock in the open air on the top of the Ruahine Range. Here, the track becomes much more difficult to navigate as the track is not well defined. Trampers have to follow sporadically spread markers. It’s not easy when the cloud is so low it touches the tussock.
As we made our way across the peak we had to precariously balance our way over the narrow ridge. The cloud cover still made it difficult to see the views in the distance. As I stood and I saw clouds descending on the peak, I felt captured by the moody, mysterious atmosphere.
We tramped on through the tussocks to find our way to the top of Mangahuia which is the highest point in this part of the Ruahines. It sits at 1583 metres above sea level. Unfortunately, due to the cloud cover, our view wasn’t as spectacular as it could have been. We could see the inside of the clouds though, and approximately 10 metres in front of us.
Pa and I played a little game, who could fall over the least. Much to my surprise, I won. As it had been quite wet the days leading up to our tramp, the path was very muddy and slippery so secure footing was hard to find. Luckily, a bit of mud never hurt anyone. The bruises on our bums however….
Lunch by a secluded lake
After we got the obligatory snap of us standing at the highest point with rosy cheeks from the wind and satisfied smiles on our faces we carried on down to find a lunch spot. This part of the tramp was by far the hardest. With short legs, steep drops are sometimes hard to manage gracefully and on one’s feet.
We had been tramping for a good 3 to 4 hours by this time and I was starting to get Hangry. I started to become more and more clumsy (although if we’re being honest I am already pretty clumsy). In fact, Pa turned into a giant walking sandwich at one point. “Just around the corner” (that loathing saying he used to tell us kids in the car whenever we complained that a car trip was taking too long) we came to a little lake.
It was slightly sheltered from the wind but not so much the rain. That didn’t bother us though as we flopped down and munched on our sandwiches. Best tasting sandwiches ever. I don’t even like sandwiches normally. The cold quickly set in as our body temperatures returned to normal. We begrudgingly and somewhat achingly attempted to stand up again. We said goodbye to our little oasis at the top of the Ruahines and headed down Deadman’s Track towards our awaiting car.
We left the tussocks behind and entered the bush once again. Deadmans Track (going this way around our loop) was the easiest part of the tramp as it was mostly downhill and the track started to become more obvious again. Although, gradually the tall dense trees gave way to low lying ferns that had taken over the path. Once more, this made it less obvious where we needed to go.
The cloud cover started to dissipate as we moved into the sheltered area of the trees. When we got a break in the trees we could see an incredible view across the Ruahines to where we had come from. It is quite a sense of achievement when you look across the hills and think, “I just walked up there!” (ok, more like, “How the hell did I make it up that!?”)
I would recommend Rangiwahia Hut to anyone who loves a bit of a challenge and enjoys tramping. You don’t have to do the whole loop like we did. Just going up to the Hut and back again is a worthwhile day out. It was a magnificent way to reconnect with my Dad again (and I slept really well that night). Next year I would love to go back and do the track in winter in the snow. Hopefully, I will be a bit fitter by then. Hopefully – being the magic word. There are loads of other tracks for all fitness ranges, time restraints and abilities in the Ruahines. For more tracks check out the links below.
Where are your favourite places to hike/tramp? Have you got any recommendations? I would love to know in the comments below
PS below are just a few extra pieces of information that may be useful to know
Things to keep in mind before you go hiking
The Ruahine Range can be covered in snow any time of the year, has a cool climate and is characterised by strong winds. There are a few things to keep in mind before you go tramping.
The following list is advice by the Department of Conservation (DOC) who look after New Zealand’s National Parks and wildlife
- Get local advice on track and weather conditions before setting out.
- Weather can change quickly with heavy rain and strong winds common even in summer. Always take warm clothing and a waterproof outer layer.
- With heavy rain streams and rivers rise quickly. If there are no bridges, turn back and wait for the river levels to go down.
- It is recommended that you boil, chemically treat or filter water before drinking.
- Be aware that vehicles left at road ends have sometimes been broken into.
- Always tell someone reliable what your tramping intentions are.
- Topographical maps and a compass are essential. Many of the open tops are unmarked and should only be crossed in good visibility.
- Be aware of park boundaries to avoid trespassing onto private land.