Trip: Rangiwahia to Heritage via Triangle and Iron Gates

Honestly, who would have thought it’d be rainy fogged-in weather on Labour Weekend? Apparently not us, because we had a fairly intensive tramp planned that would have gone from Rangiwahia over to Howletts, then back via Iron Gates. Unfortunately it rained and it snowed and it didn’t really work so well, but it was still worthwhile and from a personal perspective, I was still able to see places I hadn’t seen before.

Steve, Amanda and Paul
north-west of Mangahuia.

Dates: 24th – 26th October, 2008 (one day shorter than intended)
Location: Ruahine Forest Park, Rangiwahia to Heritage Road-end.
People: Steve, Amanda, Paul and me.
Huts visited: Rangiwahia Hut (1 night), Triangle Hut (0 nights), Iron Gates Hut (1 night), Heritage Hut (0 nights).
Intended Route: Walk to Rangiwahia, then around Maungamahue and the back of Te Hekenga , over to Taumataomekura, Teraha and to Howletts Hut for Saturday night. Then via Daphne Ridge, Otumore and down to Iron Gates Hut (or possibly Triangle Hut) for Sunday night, before heading back up to Rangiwahia Hut and out again on Monday.
Actual Route: Due to weather issues we went straight down to Triangle Hut and Iron Gates Hut on Saturday, before continuing to the Heritage road-end on Sunday and getting out a day early.
[Photos and movies]

This post is a trip report. You can find other trip reports about other places linked from the Trip Reports Page, or by browsing the Trip Reports Category.

After dinner from that Kebab shop at Bulls, we reached the Rangiwahia road-end at around 9.30’ish, I guess. At the very least, after the walk up the hill (which from past experience seems to take about 90 minutes), we were settling down at around 11pm on Friday night. The weather forecast was already dismal, without much suggestion that things would clear up until about Monday. Although we’d made plans to sleep in, Steve was still up and about at 6.30, and everyone followed.

There was some teasing clarity in the horizon to the west, with Ruapehu clearly visible, but we were slightly more concerned about an incoming southerly. The rest of the range to the east of Rangiwahia was already clagged in — getting around the back of Te Hekenga and down to Howletts on the far side wasn’t an enticing thing, especially since it was likely to just be cold and clouded-in all day. Instead, we thought we might try starting the plan in reverse, in the hope that the rivers wouldn’t be up too much to interfere. So, after a casual breakfast, we packed up and left at 8am.

Steve, Amanda and Paul heading
towards the spur above Triangle
Hut on Saturday morning.

It took about an hour to reach the ridge just north of Mangahuia, which seems consistent with the previous three times I’d been there. Looking over the edge, broken slabs of icy snow were still settled below us on the eastern side, making for an eerie walk through a fairly cold wind. Within about 30 minutes we were walking down the spur towards Triangle Hut, budgeting on being there for lunch. With the route down the spur quite slippery and covered in tussock, we were still on the tops until a little after 10am. From there we reached the relatively good track through the trees, arriving at Triangle before 11.

Paul crossing part of the
Oroua River outside Triangle Hut.

Despite the rain, the northern branch of the Oroua River outside Triangle Hut wasn’t flooded, although it was more full than it would often be. The first half of the walk to Iron Gates Hut (sometimes called Iron Gate Hut) is in this river, and the last few minutes requires getting over the main part of the Oroua River. Consequently, what we saw outside Triangle Hut did cause us to carefully consider whether we should be going any further. By the end of it, I think I was the last person being annoyingly indecisive, but we came to the consensus that the fact that it wasn’t flooded would mean that the main part of the Oroua River down-stream wouldn’t be flooded either. If we really got stuck somewhere, we at could at least fly-camp in the rain along the way until the river became safer. Besides, I’ve been at Triangle Hut when it’s raining a lot before, and if you really feel like going somewhere, the idea of potentially being trapped behind flooded rivers on all sides the next day really didn’t appeal. At around midday, we set off south along the river towards Iron Gates Hut (often referred to as Iron Gate Hut, although the signs in the area seem to call it Iron Gates).

The river along here can be slightly gorgey, but in these conditions we always found reasonable crossing points that were rarely higher than knee-deep. There were a couple of minor areas where the current was uncomfortably strong, and it definitely helped to have someone nearby on firmer ground to use as support. At ten past one, we reached the end of the track leading over point 1037, to the other side where Iron Gates Hut is located. The first few minutes of this track follows a small stream up a gully, but it soon turns into a track of its own which is steep in some places, and without a lot of good hand-holds. It didn’t feel particularly un-safe, though, within reason at least.

Steve and Paul at the southern
end of the track to Iron Gates.

On the southern end, this track crosses one side-creek before sidling along a hillside above some nice waterfalls (down which I was glad we didn’t need to climb), before landing at the main part of the Oroau River. As we expected, this river also wasn’t flooded, but seeing it was enough to prompt me to put my camera away for a while. In hindsight I’m really glad that I did.

The current was quite strong, but after some surveying and brief experimentation up and down the river, we eventually found a place we could cross reasonably comfortably. This was relief for me, because I’d had in the back of my mind that we might become stuck somewhere between the two huts and have to camp out… which is why both Amanda and I were both slightly surprised when Steve, who’d been here recently, hopped straight back in the river a little further down and led us back to the side we’d started from. Iron Gates Hut was still a few minutes along the river, and it seemed that there wasn’t a clear route to it without a couple of extra crossings.

Amanda watching Steve testing
part of the river near Iron Gates.

We were able to continue along the river-side for a few more minutes, but finally reached a point where some fast-moving rapids combined with an apparently gorgey rock-face on our side. It looked do-able to get around, but we just might get a bit more wet than we were already. In the distance on the far side of the river, we could see smoke wafting from the trees, indicating that there was someone home.

Steve was the first to lower himself down into the pool, which had a convenient ledge below it, and work his way around the edge of the rock-face. I followed, and soon found I couldn’t see Steve ahead of me. Leaning backwards turned out to be a bad idea because I started floating on my pack and drifting away from the rock-face. It worked out fine, though, because Steve was grounded just around the corner and held out a hand to pull me in. Amanda and Paul followed, and the four of us now found ourselves standing in a small in-set into the rock on the far side of the river. Getting over to the far side from here was a challenge, but we managed it with the help of Steve (again) who anchored himself somewhere in the middle so as to help pull everyone past him and out the other side. That was an experience.

As we approached Iron Gates Hut at about 3pm, maybe in some kind of jovial mood, we met the three current occupants as we searched for dry clothing. The two Oringi Raincoats hanging outside suggested some kind of strong outdoor affiliation before we’d even met them (that’s my current theory, anyway), and it turned out they’d come down from Auckland for the long weekend as an expedition on behalf of the Toi Toi Trekkers Tramping Club. Earlier on Saturday the three of them had walked in from Heritage Lodge. I think their original plan had been to walk up further to Triangle, then up to Rangiwahia and out that way, but by the time we’d arrived it sounded as if they were now intending to return the way they came — probably due to weather. They had a nice fire going and were busy drying some of their things… presumably things that hadn’t been well stashed underneath their impressive raincoats. Steve, who had been starting to feel sick-ish, hopped up to one of the top bunks for a snooze. Amanda, Paul and I settled into the accommodation for the rest of the afternoon, with myself catching up on some reading before Amanda became the central figure in preparing a nice pasta and vegetable dinner.

It rained in patches overnight, sometimes intensively, although the river had actually gone down when I went out to check it on Sunday morning. Specifically, it’d gone down by about 3 centimetres in the wide, wave-prone section that I’d been using to wash the dishes the night before. Looking up to the tops, however, they still didn’t look at all inviting. They’d received more snow overnight, which boded for a potentially long and quite hard next couple of days. According to the plan, we’d still need to be getting up to Howletts, which would probably take at least 6-7 hours in the conditions and wouldn’t be very scenic. That would be followed by a long day of walking on Monday, probably at least 10 hours, and then a long, late and tiring drive back to Wellington on Monday night. Steve’s condition, which seemed to have become more doubtful overnight, was also a convenient excuse for us to not bother trying.

There were a couple of other options we thought about. One was to go back the way we’d come, past Triangle and then either head straight back to Rangiwahia for Sunday night, or down to Pourangaki or Kelly Knight (perhaps more interesting). Neither seemed that inviting, and with the Oroua River still flowing quite strongly it would have been more difficult to walk up against the current. We’d definitely need to be looking for different crossing points from what we’d used the day before. The LINZ map also indicates another track heading up a spur towards Rangiwahia from about the half way point between Iron Gates and Heritage, but Steve’s attempt to come down this on another occasion several months before had suggested that it actually wasn’t much of a track at all, and may actually have been densely overgrown. So in the end, we reached another consensus decision to simply walk to Heritage Lodge (near a road-end), and to figure out some way to get back to the van once we arrived.

Nearing Heritage Lodge.

We left Iron Gates Hut at 8.45am, saying goodbye to the Toi Toi Trekkers who’d been waiting in bed while we packed up. It was a nice bush-walk through the rain, with a few undulations and a couple of crossings of side-creeks, but ultimately easily do-able. During one of our brief stops at 11.15am, we could see Heritage Lodge in the distance. 20 minutes later, having followed the sidling track around the hillside, we were there, and immediately greeted by two very friendly chaps from the Manawatu Branch of the New Zealand Deerstalkers’ Association. It was still raining, and although the sun almost emerged from time to time, it continued to tease us.

The luxurious section of Heritage
Lodge, reserved for NZDA.

Heritage Hut (sometimes called Heritage Lodge) is an NZDA-built facility. An old lodge on the site burned down in 2005, apparently after some visitors let the fireplace get too hot and then packed up and left. [Edit 9-July-2010: There’s another side to this story described in the comments section below.] It’s since been re-built by predominantly NZDA volunteers, with the help of many sponsors. The new facility is a fantastic lodge. The NZDA guys had a warm fire going and offered us hot water for a cuppa as we walked up, which was a great way to say hello. They were also keen to show off the features of the lodge, which we continued to take in as we settled down for an early lunch. For the record, anyone who thinks that kiwi hunters always like it rough needs to take a look in the private NZDA section of the lodge (NZDA permission would be required), which comes complete with a mini-kitchenette and a shiny shower cubicle. So much for the whole lowering-your-standards philosophy of the outdoors.

The other people we met at Heritage were a couple from the Forest and Bird society, who’d walked up the track from the road to survey the area for a potential club trip they were planning in the near future. They were very friendly and helpful, and ultimately we were able to arrange for Amanda to walk back to their car with them, and then for them to drop her off at the Rangiwahia road-end to collect our van. The three of them left at about 12.15, with a loose arrangement that Paul, Steve and I would follow about an hour later. With nothing much else to do, Steve found a bunk to lie on for another daytime nap, while Paul and I chatted with the NZDA people and browsed the hut literature.

Steve at the Heritage road-end.

The remaining walk back to the Heritage road-end almost feels as if it’s a vehicle track in some places, and having left at 1.30pm and moving at a very relaxed pace, we were at the fence bordering Ruahine Forest Park about 20 minutes later. The timing was good and Amanda drove up at about 2.15pm, just as we’d begun to walk down the road. As Steve pointed out, leaving on Sunday instead of Monday (Labour Day) had the added advantage of us not having to pay a surcharge at the cafe in Kimbolton, where we stopped for a decent second lunch.

With breaks in the weather emerging, we could now clearly see the freshly snow-capped mountain range over which we might have been walking if the weather had played more nicely earlier in the day, but I guess on this occasion it wasn’t to be. We really needed two days of good weather to have carried out the original plan and for it to be worthwhile. Attempting it in reverse also complicated things further by putting the longest day of walking on the same day we wanted to drive home, and the uncertainty of exactly how this would pan out was a significant factor in us deciding to get out early. I still got to visit several places I haven’t been, however, and we’ll probably get another chance to try it again in the future.

What the storms left behind.
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