Weekend - Friday 3 February 2017 to Monday 6 February 2017 (4 days)
This was very much an Unfinished Business trip, with previous attempts having been deterred at different times of the year because of the weather - including an optimistic plan in August 2015 when there was heavy snow at a much lower level, so we couldn’t even start !
Hauhungatahi is that prominent - but not high peak - nearest to National Park. It is in a "Remote Experience Zone", similar to a Wilderness Area, meaning no tracks, so you are on your own. The highest point is very similar in altitude to ATC SnowSports Lodge. There is bush on all sides below a large tussocky open area ...
From previous trips we were familiar with the old track starting from Erua, with ribbons up through the bush and old faded and wonky marker poles above the bushline. The old 1979 map shows an old track from the summit going down from the eastern side and then working across to the Mangahuia track. But there are some errors in that map.
Our plan was to find our way to and from the tussocky area from the eastern / southern direction, possibly find some old tracks, to camp in the tussocky area, and above all, to get to the top on a day when there was more than 0% visibility and no hypothermic conditions.
Our party arrived at the Mangahuia campsite on the Friday evening to find it a real hive of activity - many tents and many camper vans, but all coexisted well with a quiet night under the trees by the stream. Partly explained by the fact that by 7.00 am they had almost all gone, no doubt principally intending to get an early start on the Tongariro Crossing. Our departure at 8.00 am looked very relaxed by comparison !
Our route plan was to go up the Mangahuia Track as far as the stream crossing, and then take the direct route up the spur at that point - 600m distance and around 190m ascent through bush to reach the open area. It worked - at times we found a ground trail to follow, and at other times we just fought our way through thick ferns, scrub, a few tingles of bush lawyer, and under and over fallen trees. Striding out of the bush just 3 hours after leaving the campsite.
To find this wide expanse of what one would call lumpy vegetation, sometimes scratchy, but great views, because it was a blue sky day. Priority one at this point was to work out where we would camp - hoping for a tame patch of beech trees with open flat ground underneath. That took us past lunchtime with no success, so our chosen spot was beside the upper Waimarino Stream ... on a flattish but lumpy area that was going to need some taming.
Having made that decision, the afternoon’s task was a summit session - it still looked a long way off, and as one would expect, it was slow going through the vegetation, although that thinned out as we neared the top.
But not as slow as expected, as we suddenly were on the top, beside the old rusty trig point, with 360 degree views. There is an unlabelled peak of a very similar height, and from some angles that looks more like the top, so of course we went there too, so that no one could say we didn’t reach the "real" top.
Super views in all directions, including it was great to see for the first time where the Erua track came from, to see National Park and north, and especially, from the sheltered side of the unnamed peak, absolutely superb Ruapehu views, including the large area between us and the mountain. And we could spot ATC SnowSports Lodge, Skotel buildings (but not the Chateau - it was hidden) at Whakapapa Village, and in the distance we could make out Mangatepopo Hut, and the buildings at that road end.
Time to stay awhile, but then we retraced our steps - unlike the western old track, going eastwards the old track is hard to find once you are off the highest points - occasionally we would come across a wooden pole, often very short, and occasionally we thought we were following a ground trail, only for it to peter out soon after. Some gorgeous tarns along the way to really top off a splendid day.
As might be expected, a dewy, starry night, wet tents in the morning, but another sunny day, so a good prospect for tent drying before the next night’s campsite. Today’s mission was to explore the possible bush descents on the south eastern side, especially including the route of the old 1979 map’s track. Definitely there are options, and the start of the old track’s bush descent was marked by a ribbon - although you are fairly much on your own from there. But not too hard going - we were through the bush in less than an hour, arriving beside a stream to find the ground cover even more lumpy and scratchy, and now with the bonus of having some good boggy areas to avoid or tiptoe over.
At first we skirted the bush looking at other possible uphill routes - there is a large slip scar with very little bush at the top, and there is an old open part of the hillside with bush at the top that we had explored a little from the top before our chosen descent route.
Our Plan A option for the day was to travel cross country towards Ruapehu and pick up the Round The Mountain track. But by now we were a bit past slow going through lumpy and scratchy scrub with the hot sun beating down, so the executive decision was to make our way directly towards the Mangahuia Track.
Advance warning from previous club trips was that the gullies along the way were challenging - meaning steep down, steep up, thick scratchy vegetation, some abrupt and / or hidden drops into the streams. But a lovely lunch stop beside one of those refreshing streams.
A bit more of a ground trail at times confirming our direction, meaning we arrived right at the old wooden signs at the 90 degree turn on the Mangahuia Track. From there the joys of a rough but clearly visible track to the junction with the Whakapapaiti Track, where we found some good camping under the trees, with plenty of time for enjoying the local streams, and afternoon / evening walks to suit peoples’ inclinations.
Monday was another blue sky day, so in the morning we set off on the circuit past the Whakapapaiti Hut to the RTM track, over to Scoria Flat, cross country down to Silica Rapids, then followed the walking tracks back to our campsite - a good 4 hour trip. Lunch sitting on the boardwalk by our campsite and stream, and then we returned to the Mangahuia campsite where all took advantage of the (very) cooling swimming hole, before the drive home.
For future trips to Hauhungatahi, if you are coming from Mangahuia, going up that spur by the stream crossing works well, but coming down that way you would need to be very careful with your navigation. If you want to explore the southern area and ascent option(s), it will be an overnight trip, slow going, and full arm, leg, and hand protection is recommended.
The western route via Erua, while the easiest access point up onto the mountain, does cross private land at the end of Erua Road, and as at the end of 2017, we understand that the occupants at that point are now very antagonistic to trampers. So unfortunately, we do not recommend using that route at the moment.
Our party was Ming Lo, Sniega Radzeviciene, Dennis Brown (ace navigator) and Tony Walton (leader, scribe). Photos - Ming and Tony