The Dobson Loop Track

For walkers looking for an energetic hike the Dobson Loop Track is a great one to do. Located at the southern end of the Tararua Forest Park, this was my first introduction to the Tararua’s over 30 years ago. Much has changed since that initial trek; Dobson Hut has gone and the track additions to the Puffer and Smith Creek Tracks have made this walk a much more enjoyable one. For those wanting a less strenuous hike, the return walk to Smith Creek Shelter and Tauherenikau Valley using the Smith Creek Track is a good option.

Starting from the carpark in Kaitoke, this walk follows the southern crossing route to the old Dobson Hut site. This section offers great views of Kaitoke, the Wairarapa and Tauherenikau Valley. The track then descends steeply to Smith Creek Shelter, with the final stage on the Smith Creek Track to the carpark. This is a lovely track to finish the walk on; it’s very scenic and peaceful. So enjoy the scenery as you make your way to the carpark.

I recommend wearing tramping boots and gaiters. After the initial climb onto the ridge, the track to the old Dobson Hut site is rooty and often muddy. The chances of getting wet feet wearing running or walking shoes is pretty high.

This classic back country walk is one of many in the Tararua Forest Park. Having tramped all over the Tararua’s there are many more that will be added to this site. Currently this is our fifth day walk in the park. 

Allow 4 to 5 hours for the 14 kilometre loop.

Dobson Loop Track, Tararua Forest Park, Wellington Day Walks


Route Description

Kaitoke carpark to old Dobson Hut site: 1.5 – 2 hours, 5 kilometres

From the Kiwi Ranch carpark the track initially passes through dense forest where flying foxes and rope courses can be seen. This area is part of Camp Kaitoke. From here the track climbs out of the forest and emerges into a thinner growth of young manuka trees and plants with views out to Kaitoke. Climbing for a further 10 minutes brings you to a signposted junction. The track on the left is the track from the old carpark. Turn right, the track is flat for two hundred metres and then re-enters the bush climbing gently to another signposted junction. Take the track to the left indicating the way to Alpha Hut. This initially climbs steeply and then emerges onto the ridge that climbs gently to the old Dobson Hut site. This section of the walk offers great views of Kaitoke, the Wairarapa and the Tauherenikau Valley. 

Dobson Loop Track, Tararua Forest Park, Wellington Day Walks
Looking into the Tauherenikau Valley

Old Dobson Hut site to Smith Creek Shelter: 40 – 60 minutes, 2 Kilometres

The signposted junction and the old chimney marks the site of the old hut. From the junction the track heads down past the site and then climbs a small knob, offering great views of the surrounding area. From this point the track re-enters the bush and drops steeply on a spur between the Fell and Canyon Creeks. The gradient doesn’t ease until the valley floor by Smith Creek. At the junction turn left and follow the track to Smith Creek Shelter and the Tauherenikau Valley. The riverbed is great spot to stop for lunch.

Dobson Loop Track, Tararua Forest Park, Wellington Day Walks
Old Dobson Hut site

Smith Creek Shelter to Kaitoke: 1.5 – 2 hours, 7 kilometres

From the shelter, head back along the Smith Creek Track. This section of the walk is on a well-benched track which climbs gently to the base of the Puffer Track. It’s very scenic and a pleasant track to finish your walk on. There are a number of unbridged stream crossings, many of these are easy to cross and you won’t get your feet wet. However when there’s been heavy rain that could be a different story, so caution needs to be taken.

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 its narrow and slippery.

At the base of The Puffer, the track crosses Smith Creek and climbs steeply up a staircase of roots, 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 Dobson Loop Track, Tararua Forest Park, Wellington Day Walks
Looking towards the Wairarapa
Dobson Loop Track, Tararua Forest Park, Wellington Day Walks
The Dobson Loop Track

Getting There

The Kiwi Ranch carpark is accessed from Marchant Road, 12 km north of Upper Hutt. At Kaitoke, turn left off State Highway 2 on to Marchant Road. 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.

What to Take

Take food and water; there is nowhere to refill drink bottles until Smith Creek Shelter. 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 Smith Creek 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: 

  • Day pack (20-30L)
  • 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 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 medium walk, technically it’s not hard; however a good level of fitness is required.  The tracks are well defined and well-marked; there are sections of the walk where the track is rooty and muddy. This will make travel a little slow due to the uneven terrain. There’s a few 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. Allow 4 – 5 hours for this walk.

Enjoy your walk and feel free to leave a comment or any suggestions!



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