Te U bivouac, a cosy five-bunk hut located in the northern Te Urewera, is reached by a comfortable three-day tramp on a through-route from the Tauranga to the Waiotahi rivers. Getting to the start of the track is an adventure in itself – a narrow winding gravel road deep into the heart of the Waimana valley.

A short sharp climb up the Te Pona a Pita track brings the tramper to the Waiiti stream. On our trip, a sleepy ruru was spotted, perched on a branch a few metres off the track. It’s wet boots from now on, with the track either in the stream or along the bank until the junction of the Three Forks – the confluence of the Waiiti, the Kaharoa and the Whakapirau streams, also the site of the strategically placed Kaharoa pa. Some care needs to be taken along the way to ensure a route up one of the many side-streams is not taken in error.

A tidy hunters’ camp is located on the Kaharoa, not far from the confluence, and from here it is a fairly straightforward stream/track route to the bivvy located on the true left of the Kaharoa on a well-drained grassy terrace and surrounded by bush. Good camping is available. Most likely the current hut, built in the summer of 2009, is the Mark III version. Collective memories from local trampers and ex-Forest Service and DOC staff indicate that the first structure was basic. Brian Carson, who carried out culling surveys in the area during 1964–65 and started shooting in the lower Waimana during 1966–67 remembers the bivvy as being a “dark little cave” and believes the original walls were black malthoid covering a tawa-sapling framing cut from the surrounding bush. Iron for the roof and the chimney was most likely carried by pack horse from the Waimana valley as this was the method used to transport other first-hut materials to their various sites.

The Mark II version appears to have arrived around late 1967 and early 1968, as most New Zealand Forest Service huts built in Te Urewera went up from about 1968 onwards. Arthur Taylor, who was in charge of the area for the Forest Service for 12 years from 1968, recalls that the hut had only just been erected when he began his service. Its purpose was an NZFS cullers’ bivvy, again a basic two or three bunker with an open fire and chimney. Goats were the main target of culling activity at this time. Another NZFS employee, Graeme Fisher, remembers cutting the track from the Waiotahi valley to Te U and the Nga TapuwaeO-Taneatua Tramping Club archives reveal a planned trip to the bivvy in 1969, so the club was obviously aware that the hut was there and accessible.

Why the name Te U? According to one source, the NZ Forest Service often worked with Ngai Tühoe in the building of these bivvies and the name was possibly given by a local for reasons now not known. The best guess so far is that Te U is an abbreviation for Te Urewera, but options are still open. Pronunciation also varies: sometimes Te U as in Te You, and other times Te U as in Te Oo, as in the correct pronunciation of Te Urewera.

For those wishing to continue over the saddle and down into the Waiotahi valley, the terrain gets rougher as the route follows the Kaharoa stream to its headwaters. Again, care must be taken not to get side-tracked into sidestreams. Old white permolat markings remain visible in places, but the bush is thick and windfalls have obliterated parts of the route; keep near the stream, although it’s not always easy to follow.

Full marks to DOC for marking, with extra-large orange triangles, the start of the route up to Pt 553 metres. The route is marked until the headwaters of the Waiotahi, from where you follow the river to a pleasant camping area at the confluence of the Waiotahi River and the Paititutu Stream. The third day is an easy (assuming low water levels) five-hour wet walk down the Waiotahi to the Waiotahi Valley road where, after passing through a stand of magnificent totara with their feet in river silt, one hopes transport is waiting.