Where: Kaweka Forest Park, Hawke’s Bay
Distance & Time: 26km, three days/two nights
Take: Camera, sunscreen, hut gear for two nights, sturdy boots, water, rain jacket, togs, walking pole(s)
Amenities on route: Two huts with mattresses (one serviced, one basic), gas cooking at Te Puia Lodge, fireplaces + wood at both huts. There are natural hot springs at the start/end of the walk, and 45 minutes from Te Puia Lodge
Cost of the walk: Te Puia Lodge is a serviced hut ($15 night) with Makino Hut a basic hut ($5)
I’d heard a lot about the ‘walk with hot springs’ over the last few months, it seemed that nearly everyone I’d talked to had spent a night there over the summer. We waited until winter until we visited and it was well worth it to fully soak (pun intended) in the hot springs.
It’s a bit of a drive to get to the start of the walk, approx 1.5 hours from Napier but the drive is pretty and well worth it. Once you hit the gravel road you’ve got about 45 minutes to go, including river crossings (there are bridges for a couple of them but if your vehicle can handle it, go via the water!)
There’s a campsite and hot springs at the beginning of the walk but our plan was to get to Te Puia Lodge and bags a bed before we went down to the hot springs closer to the lodge. The walk follows along the Mohaka River and we were never really out of sight or sound of it over day one. While we had been expecting a peaceful nature walk that was unfortunately interrupted by an inflatable jetboat and a couple of muppets who decided that they’d go into nature only to bring an enormous speaker with them and blast us all with Top 40 hits while we were in the middle of nowhere!
I had the wobbles for day one of walking, that feeling where your legs don’t quite work properly and they feel as though you have no stability and my legs seemed to have to work 10x harder. My legs just weren’t doing them what I needed them to do which means I found the track harder than I normally would have. It wasn’t a difficult track but I did have to rely on my walking pole to keep me steady more than I should have.
We didn’t stop for a break on the way to the hut but once we arrived after approx three hours of walking we baggsed our mattresses for the night before having lunch and then making our way down to the hot pools (without our backpacks, which was bliss). There were already a few mattresses taken by the time we arrived at 1pm and by the time we got back from the hot pools all the beds were taken, plus a few tents set up out the front.
The Mangatainoka hot springs were glorious, we someone managed to time it just right that we passed a few people coming back but when we arrived at the springs we were the only ones there. The pools have had an upgrade in the past few years and are now on a wooden platform with seating all around and three individual pools. And heck they were hot! Thankfully the river was right there so we could go and cool down before coming back to the hot pools. A DOC campsite is besides the hot springs too, with a few people setting up camp. We could see where the old pools used to be, right by the stream, in a very shady spot.
Back at the hut we found it had been overtaken by families with kids. Lots of kids. Which is really neat as I think it’s fabulous that kids are getting out in nature and learning about our environment while they are young, but holy moly there is no room to escape from noisy kids in a DOC hut. Would have been a good time to have bought ear plugs with me! But also, have you seen kids hiking boots? They are pretty much the most adorable thing ever, especially the pair of this wee girl which were some seriously cool pink hiking boots.
Amy’s Advice – leave your main bag at the hut before heading down to the hot springs. It’s the most freeing feeling, walking back to the hut clean, and without a pack on your shoulders!
The hut wardens had told us that just up the track we could see glow worms so we walked up after dinner. However, the first creature that we saw was a possum that froze in the glow of our headlamps just outside the hut! It quickly scampered up the tree once we got closer. About 100m on we saw another one! Which isn’t a good sign for flora and fauna in the area. The glow worms were pretty neat though, although we got distracted by another group who were running up the stream bed saying they’d just spotted an eel that was as big as their leg!
At breakfast the next morning I casually asked a few of the groups if any of them were planning on heading up to Makino Hut to stay. There are only six beds up there so wanted to know if we had a shot of actually getting a bed if we ventured up there. A few groups were planning on heading up to have lunch there and then coming back down. We decided to head up, it was only 4km but the signs said it would take two hours. Two hours to walk 4km should give you an indication of just how steep the track was. And then it decided to rain. Which meant it then became a slippery, muddy track. All I know is that I am so glad that we were walking up it, rather than down.
It was a case of just digging in the walking pole and putting one foot in front of the other and resting whenever I needed. There wasn’t much of a view with the aforementioned rain clouds but every so often we were able to get a glimpse of just how far we’d climbed by how tiny the river looked below.
Eventually we climbed off the ridge and back into bush again but only for a short time before we arrived at Makino Hut. There were a group of three that had spent the night and were having some brunch before heading out. We quickly chose our bunk beds and huddled around the fire to get warm + dry before others arrived! There were two more large groups that arrived to have their lunch but as it was raining we all hunkered down in the hut together. When the rain let up for a bit we went out to collect and cut firewood. Fortunately there was quite a bit around and a decently sharp saw so we were able to stockpile quite a bit for the woodshed. It also had the benefit of keeping us warm while we did the work!
Later in the afternoon a couple of hunters came through to have a hot drink before they continued on their way. I think the weather turned off most people from staying, they just preferred to walk the three hours to road end and be done with it! The visitor book for the hut said that kiwi had been released in the are but unfortunately we didn’t hear or spot any while we were there. Maybe next time.
The next morning we had a three hour walk back to the carpark along the Makino Track. The walk followed a ridge line for most of the way so was a mix of up and down, but nothing too tricky. While it rained a little bit to start with it soon let up which made for much nicer walking conditions. If walking this on a clear day, I’m sure there would be phenomenal views, but we had to make do with occasional glimpses of the mountains through breaks in the cloud cover.
The Makino bivvy that had been there for decades was pretty cool though. Apparently some people have been wanting to have it demolished but others want it kept. It’s a neat piece of history and if you were stuck out here and needed shelter urgently it would definitely do the trick – although it would be much nicer in summer time than winter! We didn’t pass anyone on the track today, until we were back down on the road and walking back to the car.
This loop track could be walked in either direction but I think the way we walked it was the best, purely just because of the steep bit in between Te Puia + Makino Hut. Plus it then meant that we walked 45 mins downhill towards the car on the last day rather than up!
We were contemplating going for a soak in the hot springs that are near the campground at the car park but upon arriving realised we’d be sharing it with a dozen other people so we decided to just eat our lunch and then head back. It’s a cool campground though and would be a fabulous place to spend a few days in summer, with being able to jump between the river during the day to the hot springs in the evening.
The photos were taken by Paul + I!
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