Mangahao Hut to Mangahao No. 3 Dam

Mangahao Hut

Mangahao Hut on the inside

Mangahao Hut is a stunner. It’s exactly the same as it’s evil twin, Waitewaewae Hut, but is better situated. If ever there was a perfect design for a hiker hut Mangahao would be it. It’s large, has heaps of bunks and plenty of floor space for peak season. It even has a huge camp site in a clearing down by a beautiful river.

The Manawatu Tramping Club had been through a few weeks before us and given the place a spruce up. It was immaculate.

Te Araroa passes parallel to the Mangahao Track a few kilometres to the west, but according to the hut book only a few intrepid sobos had chosen to take this route – a route that eventually intersects with TA (not on the Arete “track” that we’d just taken). We’d always wondered why it hadn’t become popular and were about to find out.

Bad things are often said about the track so we were expecting something like our Waitewaewae experience. It’s prone to very heavy rainfall so we figured that may be part of its PR problem.

We’d driven up to the start of it a few weeks before we left. It was pissing down as we buried our stash of food at the dam where the road stops. It had been raining so much the dam was overflowing. As water poured over the top and down to the valley below, the surrounding hills vibrated with a constant and threatening roar.

We thought we’d go for a nosey up the track to see what we’d be in for later and came across four soaking and miserable school girls returning from a Duke of Ed course with their instructor/minder.

‘Where have you been?’ Fiona asked.

Without a pause one of the girls replied: ‘Hell.’

The day we left Mangahao Hut couldn’t have been more different. It was warm, still and the sky was blue. Ominously there was a big slip and steep detour just north of the hut.

Slip just north of the hut.

Waitewaewae 2.0 threatened…but no, the track is long but it saunters relatively calmly through amazing rich forest. The bird life was pretty good too, with Kereru, Tui, warblers, whiteheads, fantails and riflemen keeping us company along the way. The week we’d dropped our stash we heard cuckoo over the thunderous sound of the dam.

The river itself, before it gets ruined by its three dams, is comparable to the Pelorus, a Te Araroa highlight in the Richmond Ranges. It doesn’t have the same amazing rock formations but it has its own charms: long straight stretches, the occasional gorge, and many deep emerald green pools and channels. It would make an excellent and low-risk tubing river. The best feature is its lack of sandflies. Something the Pelorus can’t boast.

Mangahao gorgeous!

The track was quite boggy in places, but otherwise we reckon it’s a gem. In good weather the hut and track would make a perfect two night (or more) retreat for any fit family.

A few kilometres south of the dam a large footbridge crosses the river and the track loses some of its glitter. As the river was low we decided to drop into it for the last stretch. We walked through shallow water and a wide valley in the not-too-hot sun.

Hygiene is important on the trail…

It wasn’t quite heaven, but it certainly wasn’t hell.

Mangahao Dam No 1

Hydrangeas Mangahao Dam

Mangahao River widens

Thankfully our food stash was just where we left it. Not-thankfully it was bloody heavy. I played He-Man and offered to take both tins.

Our precious stash!

The 12km road walk to the start of Burttons Track, and our planned campsite wasn’t hell either…but it was hard. It’s a gravel road with no real traffic, but as it passes the second of the three dams it rises sharply. We’d forgotten to have lunch -a sure sign of Trail-o-rexia- and the two tins had nearly broken me, so we had to stop for a rest halfway up.

We cracked one of the tins and found it contained lollies. Fiona took pity on me and stuffed a tin in her pack and we were off. We soon came to the Te Araroa sign that takes walkers south over to Makahika and Levin. We’d walked this track before and, that time, had slept by the third dam, aptly called Mangahao No. 3 Dam from memory. That night had been full of Morepork and we were woken by an actual dawn chorus that wafted raucously across the ugly artificial lake. At first glance it looks like scrappy land but the mature regenerating forest is teeming with life.

As we walked on a ute came up behind us. We got a cheerful wave from its occupants, two in the cab and the guy on the back who was riding shotgun…or rifle. He was topless, tattooed, looked cool and ready-to-kill, which left us slightly unnerved. It was Friday night, the perfect night to down a few pints and go spotlighting. (Our previous walkthrough had been a bit of an eye-opener to the Shannon backcountry way of life.) The track was resplendent with pools of blood, shot out signs, empty bullet casings and drained Woodie cans. Swollen, pink possums lay about the place like…well, I think you’ve got the picture now.

We didn’t know whether our planned campsite would have water so filled all the containers we had from a stream that emptied into a ditch. Perfect.

Collecting water

At about six thirty we arrived at the gate to the pine forest. The sign warned off hunters and joyriders, but welcomed walkers. It didn’t say we couldn’t camp so we found ourselves a flat pad on pine needles and pitched our tent.

As the frogs started up we hooked into our supplies. Bed followed shortly after.

The stuff of life at tree camp

Tree camp

As Fiona slept beside me I got into my nightly routine of writing up the day. The frogs got louder and were soon joined by Morepork. I wrote into the night.

A ute stopped at the gate. A torch shone through the trees from the cab. Voices. A hammer. The lock was smashed and the heavy gate creaked open. A door was slammed and slowly the ute moved forward,  headlights and the roving flashlight cutting through the trees.