Route Guide: Wangapeka Track
The Wangapeka is a famous old track along a series of river valleys in the south of Kahurangi National Park.
Following the Wangapeka River back to its source, the track crosses a forested saddle and descends along the beginnings of the Karamea River. At a bend the track continues up a tributary of the Karamea and climbs onto a saddle between the Scarlett and Allen Ranges before descending through rich West Coast forest alongside the tumbling Little Wanganui River. Views are limited as most of the track is through forest with only a small section of open tops travel near the end. Crossing the Park from east to west, it ends near the Heaphy Track. The two tracks can be walked in succession, forming an approximate circuit which will reduce transport costs considerably. If a circuit is planned, a night's stop in Karamea might be wise. The town is well set up for trampers, with good accommodation, a DOC office, transport services, and a well-stocked store. The track is also combined with the Leslie-Karamea Track, which runs from Salisbury Lodge on the tablelands south to its terminus half-way along the Wangapeka Track. There are ample side tracks and tops routes in the area making for a variety of more challenging options.
The eastern end of the track is at Rolling Junction Shelter along the gravel Wangapeka River Road, west of Tapawera. The road includes a major ford at the Dart River which becomes impassable in heavy rain. Following close to the river, the road occasionally washes away, making for a long walk to the start of the track. A number of trampers' transport services link the eastern track end with Nelson and Tapawera. The western track end is along the Wangapeka Road near Little Wanganui on the West Coast. This road is perfectly suitable for private transport. Telephones at both track ends are available free of charge to arrange transport.
An intentions book is located at a shelter a kilometre along the road before the track's beginning. There is grassy camping space here.
Siberia Flat Camping Area is located a minute or two further along the road, although there is also camping and parking space around the shelter.
Rolling Junction Shelter-Kings Hut: 3¾ hr, easy
The road continues on to Courthouse Flat where tracks onto Mount Owen begin. The Wangapeka Track however leads off behind the hut to the right of the road, dropping to the Rolling River and crossing on a swing bridge. The easy track follows alongside the Wangapeka River over grassy glades and through beech forest thick with moss and the summer tang of fermenting honeydew. After ½ hr a sign indicates Gibbs Route across the river and the valley of Gibbs Creek becomes visible. Wright Creek is crossed on a bridge a little later, with Patriarch Creek, visible through the trees running into the Wangapeka, soon after. As the river becomes louder and faster the track enters forest, becoming a benched trail. After 3¼ hr, beyond a brief glimpse of Stoney Creek, Kiwi Stream is indicated on the opposite bank, hidden by the trees. A small clearing here marks the past location of Kiwi Shelter. A swing bridge crosses the Wangapeka immediately and meets a junction with tracks upriver and down river along the true left bank. To the right the Kiwi Track follows Kiwi Stream onto Kiwi Saddle where, yes, Kiwi Saddle Hut is located. That's a 3 hr walk. It's ½ hr left from the junction through pleasant bush to the utilitarian hut.
Kings Hut-Stone Hut: 2½ hr, easy
The track resumes on the hillside directly behind the hut and passes the original hut constructed by Cecil King in just 5 min. This hut is located in a handsome glade suitable for camping and is anything but utilitarian. Constructed during the depression when the government was subsidising gold mining, the slab hut was occupied by King until 1981. It was later restored by DOC and is now quite comfortable.
A sign indicates the South Branch of the Wangapeka River to the left just beyond the hut but there is nothing to see. Blue ducks are common in these river valleys and you may see them and hear their discordant whistles over the river noise here or in the rivers further west. Small white flowers of iris, lawyer, Adenochilus gracilis and mikoikoi lie alongside the track in summer. A smooth and mossy track above the roaring river, it climbs very gently, making good time and crossing Luna Stream Bridge just before another bridge crosses the Wangapeka River (1¾ hrs). Stone Hut is another ½ hr away, along the true right bank of the Wangapeka.
Pleasantly located on a flat by the babbling river, Stone Hut is new and pretty, although small. There is ample camping in the area. Stone Creek joins the Wangapeka immediately outside the hut and a track follows it, providing a route onto Mount Luna.
Stone Hut-Wangapeka Saddle: 1 hr, easy
Continuing behind the hut, the track commences a brief rocky climb through forest, opening onto a flat boulder field after a few minutes. This is the remains of a massive slip set off by the 1929 Murchison earthquake. This earthquake destroyed much of the track and caused major slips throughout the area. The river flows underground through this slip, and the tree trunks still stand where they died surrounded in scree. Although there is no track, the ground is level and the walking is easy along the cleared valley floor. A little stream appears and soon grows in size as you follow back along its course. Keep to the right (true left) as the stream quickly becomes a river. Beside where a creek enters from the right a track takes up in the forest and climbs above the renewed Wangapeka River, just ¼ hr from the hut. The track hops the stones back across the river after a few minutes and climbs quickly alongside before zigzagging away on its own. The track flattens off to a benched sidle as it approaches the Wangapeka Saddle. Forest covered at 1009m, the saddle provides tops access to the left and the right. To the left a track leads 1 hr to the bush line near Nugget Knob, while to the right a 1 hr track leads to the bush line on the Biggs Tops, providing a quick route to the Luna Hut by the Karamea River. The less adventurous can settle for a view of Nugget Knob through a gap in the foliage a few metres along the left track.
Wangapeka Saddle-Helicopter Flat Hut: 3-3½ hr, easy + river crossing
A smooth sidle through silver beech descends very gradually from the saddle, detouring awkwardly around a slip and coming into the open by Chime Creek. The track fords this shallow creek, with a 3-wire bridge nearby. The young, ankle-deep Karamea River is crossed at an open flat ¾ hr from the saddle. Beyond here the track is a little rough, obviously washed on occasion by the river whose banks it follows closely. 40 min later the track drops briefly onto grassy river flats where white granite is visible amongst the stones. What makes this interesting however (as if that weren't enough) is that just a few minutes further along from here the track cuts around some massive crumbling outcrops of granite that are quite thoroughly pink. The salmon pink colour is the mineral orthoclase feldspar, and the rock is Karamea granite. Beyond here numerous small cataracts drop from the hillside, flowing directly over the non-porous granite bedrock. 2¼ hrs from the saddle, the track crosses the now knee-deep Karamea River. A high water track begins here, remaining on the true left bank. The second crossing is ¼ hr on, returning to the true left bank where the high water track ends. It's almost ½ hr to the ford or 3-wire bridge of Waters Creek just before Helicopter Flat Hut.
The 2 hr Lost Valley Track over to Luna Hut on the Leslie-Karamea Track fords just before the hut, and there may be a little camping space on the other side.
Helicopter Flat Hut-Taipo Hut: 3½ hr, easy
A narrow bench winds along in forest above the river, crossing small side streams and in places cut directly into the granite bedrock. It is 1 hr to the Tabernacle Lookout, a view to savour. This was the site of surveyor Jonathan Brough's hut built in 1898 and known as Brough's Tabernacle. The sunny spot near the junction of the Karamea and Taipo Rivers provides views of the Karamea River and the wrecked landscape of the Luna Slips.
A moment later the Saxon Falls Track plunges off downhill to the right and follows a spur to the meeting of the rivers. It's ½ hr down, 1 hr across the Taipo to Trevor Carter Hut, or 1½ hrs across the Karamea River to Luna Hut. Beyond the side track the rocky trail of the Wangapeka saunters downhill to a bridge at a deep bend in the Taipo River. A track leads back downstream to the right 40 min to Trevor Carter Hut.
The Wangapeka Track turns left and follows the Taipo upstream, crawling easily past very deep emerald pools and entering the gently sloping forest of the valley floor. Crossing several channels of Herbert Creek (2½ hrs from the hut), the forest becomes bright and the trail becomes sloppy. Several creeks cut paths over the bedrock, and handwires are provided. Breaking out briefly onto an old regenerating slip, the stark granite mass of Mount Dean is visible to the left. The slip has blocked the river in the distance, creating a shallow pond of dead, standing trees. Turning alongside the Taipo River, the track ambles up to Taipo Hut. The hut stands in a sunny glade away from the river. To the west the view extends to the basin occupied by Stag Flat high above the forest, where clouds roll through from the West Coast. There is ample camping space here.
Taipo Hut-Stag Flat: 1 hr, easy-moderate
An easy track from the hut follows the river, crossing the Pannikin Creek swingbridge and beginning to climb. After ½ hr the track get steeper and soon meeting the tumbling river. But the track breaks onto the golden, boardwalked, red tussock basin before ever becoming particularly steep. A sign indicates the boggy trail across to the poky hut. The modern conveniences of Taipo Hut really have nothing on this sub-alpine haven. Stay here if you can, and if the weather is good.
Stag Flat-Little Wanganui Saddle: ½ hr, easy-moderate
Back at the north side of the flat, the track turns northward into the forest and climbs unflinchingly up the side of the glacial valley. Riflemen will egg you on and big old trees, hanging with epiphytes, stand by, unmoved. A band of neinei marks the edge of the forest almost right on the saddle. The view to the northwest extends along the Little Wanganui valley, over low hills and on to the Tasman Sea. Alpine herbs are matted on the ground and rounded outcrops of granite poke through handsomely.
Little Wanganui Saddle-Little Wanganui Hut: 4½-5 hr, moderate + river crossing
The saddle neatly delineates the border between two DOC conservancies, two climatic regions, and two wildly divergent standards of track maintenance. From here on it's the West Coast. The walking is harder. The track is rougher, overgrown, poorly marked and endlessly detoured around slips, gorges, and private land. But the forest is rich, wild and beautiful. It is, nevertheless, a long way down to Little Wanganui Hut.
A poled route leads down pasts a couple of tarns through sub-alpine shrubs, where grasshoppers sunbathe on the track, and birdsong drifts from the nearby pockets of beech. The track drops into mossy forest on a sunny path of rocks and roots. It soon crosses a stream beneath the tarns and becomes a pretty shingled path through shrubbery, then pushing into forest.
Dense and diverse, the forest includes but is not limited to Astelia, neinei, mountain cabbage tree, tree fern, fuchsia, broadleaf, silver beech, veronica, horopito, Gaultheria, orihou, pate, ribbonwood, lawyer, wineberry, coprosma, marbleleaf. Struggling through grassy undergrowth, the track is benched erratically. After entering a higher, more homogeneous forest and passing under massive buttressed red beeches, the track jumps a fast creek and crosses the almost flat, open scrub of an old slip. A bridge over the Little Wanganui near 2 hrs from the saddle crosses to the true right bank, back into a cool, young forest of beech, kamahi and pate. Beyond here the track alternates between smooth travel in forest and rougher open bouldery travel. Rata, Gaultheria and veronica occupy the open sections. Where Piano Creek enters opposite, a sign marks the route to the Johnson River by fording the Little Wanganui and crossing Kiwi Saddle. Tangent Creek, the biggest tributary, is nearby (3 hrs), a wide, sunny river with a knee-deep ford and a handwire.
10 min beyond Tangent Creek the track splits at an unclear junction, that is unmarked at time of writing, and may be unnoticed. If the track bends abruptly uphill as a rocky hand-over-hand climb, and "levels off" as a high tangled sidle, you should know you are on the high water track. This track drops into the granite chute of McHarrie Creek, where there is a handwire, and climbs again. It soon descends slowly and with difficulty, then quickly to the bouldery Smith Creek almost 1 hr and less than 1km later. The low water route is along the river-bed. The two tracks rejoin at Smith Creek, where the junction is clearly marked.
The hut is just ½ hr away along a flat wide track next to a deep blue gorge. It drops easily to a welcome bridge over the Little Wanganui River that leads to the hut. There is a small cleared site for camping nearby, and weka lurk in the undergrowth.
Little Wanganui Hut-Wangapeka Road: 3¼ hr, easy + river crossing / Wet Weather Access Track: 5 hr, moderate
The otherwise easy walk out from the hut includes two deep fords of the Little Wanganui River. The Wangapeka Road runs easily as far as Gilmore Clearing. However, a small section of it at the very end of the Wangapeka Track crosses private land, and access arrangements have failed. In high river conditions where the fords to avoid this brief section are not possible, a 3.2km detour has been provided. This steep track struggles around the hillsides for 1½ hr, taking you 500m past the end of the Wangapeka Track and certainly souring your memories of it.
From Little Wanganui Hut and back across the bridge, the track sets off easily, passing the signposted route to the Kakapo River and a small ford after 10 min. There is good potential for camping on the grassy flats beyond here. A small swingbridge crosses Lawrence Stream and the track becomes a rougher benched sidle above the river, briefly boardwalked around a rock face.
Grassy river-flats 1 hr from the hut with lawyer, tree fern, bracken and marbleleaf lead to the spacious Gilmore Clearing. The old Wangapeka Road begins here. The wide road leads away from the river through low, regenerating forest, punctuated by occasional standing podocarps and eucalypts. Somewhere around here you should be able to cut down to the river flats and follow them out, although it isn't obvious where. The road is pleasant, relaxing walking anyway, occasionally crossing ancient wooden vehicle bridges over slow brown creeks. Soon another old road joins from the right, and the Wangapeka Road begins to drop easily to the river as the clearing ends.
An information board where the road meets the riverside indicates the junction of the high water (road) and low water (river flats) routes a little over 2 hrs from the hut. The road continues out alongside the river. Where it bends significantly to the right ¼ hr on, the road has been washed away and the track veers right sharply off the road and into the forest. It climbs a wooden staircase at the top of which the Wet Weather Access Track to avoid the fords begins. Quickly, the track descends a staircase and rejoins the road. A couple of minutes later a sign indicates where the road becomes private and directs you leftward across grass and down to the river. A knee-deep to thigh-deep ford crosses to a poled route on a grassy flat. Leading down onto the river-bed, the track fords again at the next leftward bend of the river. Walking past a private house, the track rejoins the road at the car park and shelter.
Carol Smith Walked the Lesley-Karamea then from Trvor Carter hut out (August 2007). Saw 2 people in 9 days. Both of them from Belltown out. Taipo hut has a fire that is very difficult to light and doesn't dry anything even though it puts out heat. There is a new, 2 person shelter at Stag Flat. No heating, but fully insulated and warm enough even in a blizzard. There is a new slip 1/2hr past Belltown hut which was hard work getting over and there could be more slips now because something big fell down behind us as we walked out. Thank you for this great description of the track Mathew.
19 August 2007
neilj Crossed east to west March 2006. Confirm that coming down the Little Wanganui you stay on the true right hand side of the river to the new Belltown Hut (Mananui Hut)so no need to cross the river. Land access rights at the Little Wanganui road end have been settled and the route out is straight forward walk down the true right bank to the road end and phone.
A stay in Stag Flat Hut is a must but the fire does not draw well and fills the hut with smoke. Would recommend not using the fireplace.
19 April 2006
Kirsten I haven't been right through the Wangapeka Track we used it to access the Leslie/Karamea Valley and continued out to Mt Arthur. I would throughly recommended the trip over Biggs Tops, even as a side trip, the views are fabulous.
16 October 2005
blue eyes <Long Text>
27 March 2005
Nala yes this is a very good description of the track. the new Lt Wanganui hut which is situated 10 mins down stream at Drain Crk is now called the Belltown Hut.
Also the piece about Trevor carter and Luna Huts, they have both been removed, but a new 20 bunk hut has been built on the old Luna hut site and is now called the Trevor Carter Hut.A new suspensoion bridge has been built across the Karamea river just downstream from the old Trevor Carter hut site.I hope this is not too confusing to anyone.This info was correct as of November 2003.
20 December 2003
Tramp-gran This discribes the track well, since it was written however, the Little Wanganui hut has been replaced by a new hut, and I understand you don't have to cross a bridge to get to it (The bridge was washed away in a storm) I have walked it in two halves; to Karamea, and to Rolling River from the Leslie/Karamea track.
26 March 2003
Gary I have done the Wangapeka both ways ie from the West Coast and the Nelson end and recommend commencing from the Nelson end. The gradient is much more gradual and you are reasonably fit by the time you reach the Coast end. If you start from the Coast, the climb is pretty steep immediately after Little Wanganui Hut. If you don't get out as often as you would like or are older, you will find the slog up to Little Wanganui Saddle fairly tough. I really enjoy this Track and have used it several times to access the headwaters of the Karamea River to fish for trout. Great place and great fishing. It is not as well travelled as some other tracks and is a bit rough in places but that adds to the attraction in my view. Not a walk in the park with slippers on but a good rough (especially on the Coast side) kiwi track. If this is your thing, you will enjoy it. A few years ago I walked this track and saw only one other person in 4 days !! and that was within the first half hour in. Give it a go.
9 September 2002