Tauherenikau Valley Walk: Tararua Forest Park: Wellington Day Walks

The Tauherenikau Valley is one of the classic valley trips in the Tararau Forest Park. There are a number of ways to experience this beautiful, peaceful valley with overnight tramps the most popular. For the fit tramper this can be done as a day trip, which I will share with you.

Starting from the Waiohine Gorge Road end, the upper Tauherenikau Valley is accessed by the Cone Hut track and then you traverse the Tauherenikau Valley to Kaitoke. It’s a 21 kilometre trek and suited to a fit experienced tramper. If you’re an oversea hiker reading this, this walk isn’t on a well benched track like the great walks are. Instead it is on a tramping track which has rooty and muddy terrain, I recommend wearing a sturdy pair of hiking boots if you don’t already have them. The tracks are well marked and easy to follow, however travel is a little slow due to the uneven terrain. There are lots of creeks and streams to cross which are unbridged. Many of these are easy to cross and in most cases you probably won’t get your feet wet. The Tauherenikau River is crossed once and this is bridged.

Anyone wishing to experience or get a taste of a New Zealand back country tramp, this is a good one to do. If you don’t have the fitness for the day trip, this could be done over 2 days. Allow 7 to 9 hours to complete this walk.

The Tararua Forest Park has lured people like myself to the park for years. I first started tramping in the Tararuas 30 years ago; it’s a rugged park with stunning views from the open tops and has wonderful valleys like the Tauherenikau. It’s challenging and prone to bad weather, always be prepared for the worst conditions, which I will touch on later.

Tauherenikau Valley Walk: Tararua Forest Park: Wellington Day Walks
Tauherenikau Footbridge

Route Description

Waiohine Gorge Road end to Cone Hut: 2-3 hours, 4.5 kilometres

The Waiohine Gorge is a beautiful spot, with toilets and places to camp at the road end. The walk starts at the far end of the carpark where the notice board is. From here the track leads to the spectacular Waiohine Gorge footbridge, which offers superb views of the Waiohine River. On the other side of the bridge is a track junction, take the Cone Hut track to the left.

The climb is steep and ascends to an altitude of 572 metres, this takes about an hour. The track climbs more gently from that point and 30 to 60 minutes of walking brings you to a junction. Take the Cone Hut track to the left, which descends steeply to the hut.

Cone Hut is the second oldest hut in the Tararua Forest Park and a particular favourite of mine. This 6 bunk hut was built by the Tararua Tramping Club in 1946 and has been recently restored after a fire. Situated on a beautiful bushy terrace above the river, the hut continues to be enjoyed by trampers and hunters.

Cone Hut to Tutuwai Hut: 1 hour, 3 kilometres

This is a lovely section of the walk, with open grassy flats and the walking is easy. From Cone Hut the track follows the Tauherenikau River to Tutuwai.

Tutuwai Hut is on a terrace above the flats. From the junction it’s a 2 minute walk up to the hut. This is a 20 bunk hut, which is bigger and more roomer than Cone Hut. It has running water and a sink, whereas Cone Hut doesn’t. For me, Cone Hut has the character factor and is my preferred choice. 

Tutuwai Hut to Smith’s Creek Shelter: 2-3 hours, 7 kilometres

From Tutuwai Hut return to the grassy flats and sign post. Follow the flats south for 10 minutes, the track re-enters the bush and follows the river for 2 to 2.5 hours to the footbridge. There are a number of streams to cross with some small bluffs to climb. In general the track is easy to follow and not too challenging.

Just beyond the footbridge is Marchant Stream. This is the largest stream on the walk and if there’s been a lot of rain in the area this will be difficult to cross. There’s a cable to help with the crossing. When the stream is low and if you’re agile on your feet you can hop across the rocks without getting your feet wet.

From the bridge it’s an easy 20 to 30 minute walk to Smith’s Creek Shelter.

Smith’s Creek Shelter to Kaitoke: 2 hours, 7 kilometres

From the shelter the track follows Smith’s Creek, climbing gently to the base of The Puffer Track. There’s a slip 15 minutes into this section, DOC (Department of Conservation) has built a track that climbs around it and the recommended route to take. If you decide to take the route across the slip be careful as it’s narrow and slippery.

At the base of The Puffer, the track crosses Smith’s Creek and climbs steeply to begin with, the track then levels out and is more gentler to the saddle. The saddle offers great views of the Tauherenikau and Kaitoke areas. From the saddle it’s an easy descent, to the carpark at Kiwi Ranch, the last 10 minutes is the steeper section.


Tauherenikau Valley Walk, Tararua Forest Park, Wellington Day Walks
Cone Hut
Tauherenikau Valley Walk, Tararua Forest Park, Wellington Day Walks
Tauherenikau River
Tauherenikau Valley Walk, Tararua Forest Park, Wellington Day Walks
Tauherenikau Valley

Getting There

As this walk isn’t a circuit and there’s not public transport at either end of the walk. I suggest leaving a vehicle at one end or arranging someone to drop you off or pick you up. When I did this walk we left a car at Kaitoke and drove to the Waiohine Gorge Road end.

Getting to Kaitoke; leave a vehicle at the Kiwi Ranch carpark. From State Highway 2, 12 kilometres north of Upper Hutt. Turn left on to Marchant Road and follow for approximately 2.5 kilometres then turn right on to Kiwi Ranch Road. At the entrance to Camp Kaitoke the carpark is to the left.

Getting to the Waiohine Gorge Road end; turn off State Highway 2 just north of Greytown into Dalefield Road. Follow the signs indicating Tararua Forest Park. The road-end car park is approximately 15 kilometres from State Highway 2. The Waiohine Gorge Road is on a winding gravel road.

What to Take

Take food and water; there is nowhere to refill drink bottles on the first section of the walk to Cone Hut. Once in the Tauherenikau Valley there are plenty of streams and the river to refill drink bottles. Check the weather forecast before going; the Tararua’s are infamous for bad weather. Weather conditions can change very quickly so going prepared is essential. Even though this walk is in the bush, caution needs to be taken. Wet weather can make tracks slippery and side streams that feed the Tauherenikau River can rise very quickly. I recommend carrying; warm clothingraincoat and wearing a sturdy pair of tramping boots. Below is a list of things to take:  

    • Food and drink
    • Waterproof raincoat
    • Sturdy footwear
    • Warm clothing: thermals and fleece
    • Hat and gloves
    • Sunscreen and sunglasses
    • First Aid Kit
    • Map
    • Camera

For more information on what to bring check-out my blog on what to take hiking.

To print the above map, click on mapometer.com at the top of the map. The printing and PDF option at the bottom of this page will print or download the post except the map. Once you’ve clicked on mapometer, the link will take you to the printing or export option. If mapometer asks for your location decline, otherwise it will take you to your location and not the above map. This map gives great information for getting to the start of the track, however it’s only a guide of the route, for more detail on the track click on the topomap below, and this can also be printed.

View Larger Topographic Map

Walking Times 

Expect some variation in times depending on conditions and personal fitness levels. I’ve graded this a hard walk as there are some steep climbs. In total there is an ascent of 1067 metres and a descent of 982 metres. If you look at the profile at the bottom of the map, this is done at the beginning and end of the walk.

The tracks are well defined and well-marked, the stream crossings are not bridged, with the exception of the Tauherenikau River. Technically it’s not a hard walk; however anything over 6 hours requires a good level of fitness.

Walks that I regard as hard are generally over 6 hours, have longer steeper climbs, have river crossings and requires good navigational skills.

Enjoy your walk and feel free to leave any suggestions or comments ?

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