The climb to Sunrise Hut in the Ruahines. Photo: Max Parkes

Hawke’s Bay is blessed with stunning, rugged forest parks in the mountain ranges to the west that run like a spine down the centre of the North Island. Here are some recommendations and personal favourites to inspire, remind and prompt you to head for the hills this summer.


Before Tracy Wheeler moved to Hawke’s Bay from the Manawatū six years ago, she often came up to camp at Mangatainoka Hot Springs, Te Puia, in the Kaweka Ranges. Beside “the mighty Mohaka and the hot springs,” a 3-4 hour tramp in from the Mangatutu carpark. Mangatainoka, which she describes as “the jewel of Hawke’s Bay”, has been her gateway to the region. 

She says, “I have done that tramp so many times, with various permutations of friends and family, and each time it is so different depending on the season, each time unique. I love that layering: the whakapapa of different experiences in the same place. I feel a real connection; it’s a significant place for me.” 

Tracy appreciates the simplicity tramping brings: “carrying everything on our backs, paring back to what matters – shelter, food, water – digging deep to find that capacity to keep on keeping on when the going gets tough.” The connection with the “vastness” she experiences out in the mountains, the bush, reminds her of her own insignificance and helps her put her worries into perspective, while time recedes. 

“The Kawekas are incredible – they offer so much scope for such a range of tramping options”, with mountains to climb, gorges to navigate, rivers to ford, alpine strawberries to eat. She appreciates their wildness and remoteness that is nonetheless accessible. 

She recommends picking a hut – “there are so many, in bright retro orange, dotted throughout the ranges” – and then creating your own tramp. Get advice from a trusted source, inquire about a certain track or terrain, speak to someone who has been there previously – both historically and more recently. Pour over maps. Be well-prepared in the planning stage and clear-eyed about your skill level and bush knowledge, your degree of comfort. 

Last summer, Tracy and her partner did a nine-day tramp into Mangatainoka all the long way from Turangi, using a combination of clearly marked routes, poled routes and their own, at one point simply following the Makino River. “We took our time (for safety and to enjoy ourselves). And what a special way to come into Hawke’s Bay… dropping down near the Ngaruroro at its source.” She says the confidence this tramp inspired was awesome.

Matt & Melissa 

Matt Durham, who grew up in Patoka and Puketitiri, with the Kawekas as his hunting ground “right next door”, has done similar missions (from Hawke’s Bay to Turangi, and from Clemence Hill Rd, off the Napier-Taupo Rd, to Mangatainoka), and affirms that “real sense of achievement” such “epic” tramps bring; “you traverse a huge variety of landscapes”. 

He met his partner, Melissa Brignall- Theyer, on a DOC research project deep in the Kawekas, studying deer impacts on mountain beech. They, and their two kids (age 12 and 15), love tramping and spending time in the ngahere. 

Matt’s a fan of getting up on the Kaweka tops, where “you can see all the other mountains” and watch falcons soar. From Makahu Hut you can climb up to the top of Kaweka J, for instance. The Makahu area offers great tramps with kids. “You go through a big red beech forest, come out into tussocky areas, cross a few rivers. It’s not dangerous or hard, there’s lots of variance, lots to explore.” 

In recent years, they’ve been exploring more of the Ruahine Ranges, which are easy to get to from Hastings where they live. “You cannot surpass Sunrise Hut”, but Matt suggests branching out to other huts from there. He enjoys taking young people out to catch their first deer and for these “little armed tramps”, he’ll often head into the Ruahines via the Apiti Track (straight in behind Norsewood). 

“A nice summer sunset stroll” is the 1.5-hour tramp to Longview Hut (visible from SH2, Takapau, when the sun catches the roof). It’s a great hut to tramp up to in a midsummer evening for a grand view of the Central Hawke’s Bay plains, says Matt, and can easily be extended out over a weekend (two nights), looping from Longview to Makaratu Hut, Awatere Hut, and then, following the river, back to the road. 

Melissa, who has an ecological science background, is more drawn to “pottering”, stopping to observe different plants and creatures, appreciating the natural world around her. A key appeal of tramping is, “You get to leave distraction behind. The commercial world simply disappears and you can go at your own life pace.”

For day walks, Melissa’s favourites include those at Boundary Stream in the Maungaharuru Range. “Because of the altitude (500m in elevation), you go through a huge variety of forest, with lots of wildlife”, including kiwi, with a ‘kiwi creche’ at nearby Lake Opoahi. The Lakes near Kuripapango in the Kawekas are also “fabulous”, with the option to “car camp” at nearby Kuripapango campground if you are not quite ready for the full tramping experience.

Gear – keep it light, simple

For the full tramp, “You need to have a good understanding of where you are and a good sense of direction,” Matt advises. He’s ‘old-school’ and uses a map and compass, declaring that a paper map is more useful than a satellite map on your phone, as it “gives you the bigger picture” and won’t run flat. 

Though it’s often more expensive, Melissa says it’s definitely worthwhile to invest in quality, light gear – “there is nothing more awful than a really heavy pack”. And don’t forget to pack ear plugs for sleeping in the hut! 

But don’t think you need to have all the flash stuff to go tramping. As Tracy points out, you can borrow gear and make do with simple. Second-hand shops often stock merino and polypro clothing. 

Di Reid, president of the Napier Tramping Club cautions: “Remember, tramping isn’t just a walk. You will need good footwear (preferably tramping boots), a raincoat, first aid kit, food, water. Tell someone exactly where you are going so if you get into difficulties they know where to look! We carry PLBs (personal locator beacon) for if a nasty injury occurs or you need urgent help.”

Tramping clubs

Tramping clubs offer a congenial way to explore the wilds and backcountry places, pooling knowledge and resources, with decades of collective wisdom, local lore and know-how. The Heretaunga Tramping Club has been going strong for 87 years, while the Napier Tramping Club was established in 1974. Both are open to new members, organising regular excursions and multi-day tramps both within Hawke’s Bay and further afield. The Napier club, for instance, does two tramps a fortnight into the Kawekas, Ruahines, and occasionally beyond, with at least one overnight a month. 

For a family-oriented day trip, Glenda Hooper from the Heretaunga Tramping Club recommends leaving the car at the Makahu Saddle camping area in the Kawekas and heading north along the bottom range, with its mixed beech forests, scree slopes and alpine flowers, to Kaweka Flats bivvy (approx. 2 hours). 

For a weekend trip, head south to the Ruahines in behind Dannevirke, with a three-hour tramp into Stanfield Hut (recently restored through the Back Country Trust); the track follows a creek and passes through beautiful rimu forest. A more adventurous two-night tramp, suitable for older kids, begins at the back of Tikokino/Ashley Clinton, off Mill Rd, with a three-hour walk starting across farmland, criss-crossing the Tukituki River to Daphne Hut (sleeps 12). From there it’s a three-hour climb up to the Heretaunga Tramping Club’s Howlett’s Hut (sleeps 10, koha for stay), the highest hut in the Ruahines.

Di Reid’s top picks for accessible, doable tramps in Hawke’s Bay include Bell Rock on a still day (a 3- hour loop track at Boundary Stream) or a walk around Lake Tūtira, and iconic Hawke’s Bay tramps to Sunrise Hut in the Ruahines (a steep but infinitely rewarding 2-hour climb) and Te Puia Lodge in the Kawekas – the 3-hour trek in winds along the Mohaka River, bookended by access to the Mangatutu and Mangatainoka hot springs at either end. Macintosh Hut, a 2-hour tramp from the Lakes carpark near Kuripapango, is another goodie. 

Details for huts, tramps and how to get there can be found on the Department of Conservation website:

Napier Tramping Club:

Heretaunga Tramping Club:


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