By Phillipa Cox, Trainee Ranger
I have the unfortunate personality clash of adoring spending time in areas of the New Zealand bush that are hard to get to but at the same time not necessarily enjoying walking for days on end (I guess I just enjoy having 10 toenails too much). As a result of this strange combination, I’m always looking for remote huts which don’t take days and days to walk to. Moerangi Hut in Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tāne Conservation Park is one of my favourite examples of these places. With a variety of landscapes, great accessibility, and incredible flora and fauna it is one of my favourite little huts in New Zealand.
The tramp from River Road carpark to Moerangi Hut is a 13 kilometre hike and takes about 4.5 hours. Although it does have a steady climb to the Moerangi Saddle it is mostly a gentle incline, making the hike accessible to anyone with a decent level of fitness. The track is a dual tramping and mountain bike track so is maintained to a great standard; just make sure you keep an ear out for cyclists and keep to the inside of the track to allow them to pass by. Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tāne Conservation Park has incredibly diverse flora and it often feels like every spur you walk over you are descending down into a different forest, and the Moerangi Hut tramp is no exception. The track begins in pristine ancient podocarp forest with huge trees (rimu, kahikatea, totara, miro, matai) 60 metres high and kākā are regularly heard screeching through the canopy. Your first steps are on a bridge crossing over the Whirinaki river giving a great view of the canyon below. The first kilometre is flat until you turn off the Central Whirinaki Hut main track and begin the climb to the Moerangi Saddle.
Although the total climb to Moerangi saddle is about 500 metres, for the most part it is pretty gentle with a few short sharp bursts. As you climb, the huge podocarps become less common and tawa becomes the main species creating a shimmering green roof effect with the canopy. There are some fabulous viewpoints looking out through the trees that let you see Whirinaki and the countryside beyond. The birdlife is incredible in this area, I have heard toutouwai, tomtits, whitehead, kākāriki, grey warbler, korimako, tūī, kākā and tītipounamu while walking up towards the saddle. A true paradise for bird enthusiasts!
As you climb higher the dominant tree species becomes beech, with a mixture of silver and red beech leaves littering the track. Moerangi saddle is 955 metres high and takes about 3-3.5 hours to reach from the River Road car park. There is a spectacular view from the top and a couple of picnic tables which makes it an excellent spot for a break and a snack. From here it is all downhill to the hut. After about 30 minutes of descending with some lovely views out to the Moerangi peak, the track flattens out and you follow the Moerangi stream for a further 30 minutes which takes you to the turn off for the hut. The stream contains several pairs of whio so it is worthwhile keeping one eye on the stream to get a chance to see the rare duck.
The hut itself is a 9 bed with triple stacked bunks (you’ll want to avoid the top bunk if you get claustrophobic). As with all the huts in Whirinaki it has been extremely well taken care of, we found this one tidy and in great condition as expected. The area around the hut is fairly lumpy but would still be possible to camp if the hut was full. The water is from a tank, however we chose to drink from the stream just below the hut. The highlight of the hut is the view. It faces towards a hillside covered in bush where birds can be seen flying all day, listening to and watching the kākā is a real pleasure. Into the evening, ruru can be heard. I was lucky enough to see one flying in and out of a nearby tree. The hut book also confirms that many people who have stayed have been lucky enough to hear kiwi calling with one person seeing one on the track near the hut at night.
The walk out the following day is retracing your steps back over the saddle, however, I found that because the bush you are walking through changes so much throughout the day it doesn’t feel like the same walk. There is also the option to continue along the mountain bike track to the Mid Okahu road end if you want to avoid repeating your walk, but transport would need to be organised to take you back to your car.
The hike to Moerangi hut takes you through spectacular forest, gives some great panoramic views of the countryside and birdsong accompanies you throughout the walk. Everything one could ever ask for in a tramp.
For more information on recreation options in Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tāne Conservation Park including free digital brochure downloads visit: www.doc.govt.nz/whirinaki