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There are six points above 1,700 metres in the Ruahine Ranges, which is where you can find some of the most spectacular alpine terrain and viewpoints outside Tongariro National Park on the North Island. In April, I visited two of them – 1,704 metre Rangioteatua and its un-imaginatively named 1,715 metre companion A6G4, – for an overnight bivvy above the clouds.

In the warmer months this landscape is free of snow, but reaching it still requires more than a vertical kilometre of ascent. The most direct approach is from the gravel road end of North Block Road, accessed from Wakarara Road, in turn accessed from State Highway 50, just north of Ongaonga in Hawkes Bay.

At about 1,050m, looking down Waipawa River

The route first traces Waipawa River up to Waipawa Saddle at 1,326 metres. While the river is quite open to begin, expect to get wet feet. As you near the saddle, it steepens and becomes loose underfoot, eventually joining a steep path up through dense leatherwood. From Waipawa Saddle head southeast up the scree slope towards Three Johns, but then turn southwest at about 1,500 metres to follow the main ridge up to Pt1635, and then on to Rangioteatua. The terrain is open, but not marked; so in case of cloud, a map, navigational gear and the ability to use them is essential.

Waipawa Forks Hut (720m)

While Waipawa Forks Hut offers shelter down at 740 metres on the true right of Waipawa River, this is no use if you want to be up on the tops for sunset and sunrise. Up there the only ‘amenities’ are a tarn offering drinking water, situated just off the ridge between Rangioteatua and A6G4, and flat tussock spaces offering a relatively soft surface to sleep on.

On my visit, I climbed in dense cloud cover until above Three Johns. Then the clouds gradually cleared, revealing spectacular cloud-draped ridges and, for a brief time, even a brochen spectre. The drama of sunset up high was further enhanced by the retreating clouds, which caught the warm hues of the setting set.

The view from Pt 1635m, southwest to Rangioteatua, with a brochen spectre far left
Te Atuaoparapara (1,687m), viewed from Pt 1635m
Te Atuaoparapara (1,687m, left) and Three Johns (1,569m, far right), viewed from Pt 1635m
A small un-mapped tarn just beneath my bivvy site, with Rangioteatua behind
Setting up my bivvy site at 1,600m, looking southwest to Rangioteatua (1,704m)
Dusk view from Pt 1635m, northwest to Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe
Te Atuaoparapara (1,687m, left) and Three Johns (1,569m, right) at dusk, from Pt 1635m
Three Johns (1,569m) at sunset, from Pt 1635m

I found it almost wasteful to close my eyes during the fabulously clear night as shooting stars, (sadly) multitudes of satellites, and the occasional grunts from a family of nearby deer kept me entertained. The chill breeze deterred me from trying some astrophotography during the small hours, but the onset of sunrise made it easy to climb from my sleeping bag at dawn. It really was a photographer’s paradise, which was mine alone.

Dawn view from Pt 1635m, north to Te Atuaoparapara (far right), northwest to distant Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe, west to Mangaweka and south to Rangioteatua (left)
Dawn view from Pt 1635m, northwest to Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe
Dawn view from Pt 1635m, west to Mangaweka (right) and south to Rangioteatua (left of centre)

The quickest way out again would have been to retrace my steps of the day before. But I much prefer a circuit, where the wonder of new ground provides more motivation to keep moving. My route went on over A6G4, then down ridge to Smiths Stream Hut at 900 metres.

Just north of Rangioteatua, these three deviated from their own climb, opting to plunge down scree slopes to the west
Just north of Rangioteatua. Te Atuaoparapara is the black pyramid right of centre skyline.
The view south from Rangioteatua to A6G4 (1,715m). After the dip on the right is Pt 1673m.
The view from A6G4 (1,715m). My bivvy site is left, with Te Atuaoparapara on the skyline. Three Johns is left of centre. On the right is the ridge leading out of picture to Smiths Stream Hut.
At about 1600m, looking south east down the route to Smiths Stream Hut
Smiths Stream Hut (800m)

Beyond that I slogged back up another river, then up and down repeatedly across the grain of the land and back to my parked car.

Peter Laurenson is a member of the New Zealand Alpine Club and editor of FMC’s Backcountry. For more images and info about Peter, visit