Lake Colenso,

29th March 2024 – 1st April 2024  

Day 1:   It was a 31/2 hour drive from Havelock North to Mokai Station .  The river side of Mokai Station road end had about 12 vehicles where folk were being flown by helicopter to hunting spots.  We entered into Mokai Station on the opposite side of road end and signed in  at the entrance.     Then drove a further 500m following orange markers, crossing a small  stream, up to a small paddock at the start of the track.   

Weather was blowing in from the west with light rain as we started  climbing steeply from carpark.       The track climbs 700m in elevation following a fence line, farm track &  white tipped marker posts.       This leads to the final climb of 200m of elevation to the Mokai – Patea  range top, the gradient being 50%.  Here we experienced sleet, driving rain and entered into low cloud.  At the top we sought shelter in the lee of a little bank for lunch.  No views from the tops today.  We then followed marker post/farm track south for about 1.5 km until the point  was reached the track descends and follows a spur down to Otukota hut.  Dropping 400m off the Mokai – Patea range meant we were on the leeward side of the     range and now experiencing clearing weather.       It was while going down this spur we started hearing stags roaring and hearing  helicopter flights in the direction of Lake Colenso and Ruahine tops.    

The final drop to the river near Otukota Hut is very steep and between two   adjacent slips crossing one of the slips at the base. Access to Otukota Hut  on either side, is via river crossings.   We had thought of going to Iron Bark hut that day, but called it quits for the day at Otukota Hut.    It had taken us roughly 6 Hrs and it was late afternoon and it was a further 2 hours onto Iron Bark Hut.   Fortunately we were the only folk at the 6 bunk Otukota Hut.      

  Day 2:     Onwards to Iron Bark hut, 200m up and 300m down. More stags roaring and a smattering of snow seen on Ruahine tops.    Many unmarked slips along Maropea river.     The old track to Maropea river is no longer maintained and swing bridge removed.       Very close to Iron Bark hut is a newish swing bridge and the track along from swing bridge to hut has an unmarked detour where 25m of track has slipped away into the river.     The  4 hunters at Iron Bark hut were very welcoming, they had been in there for  2 nights and had 2 bloodied skulls with antlers outside. These hunters knew other  hunters who were at Lake Colenso Hut. When told we were heading there they asked us not to divulge their success and then offered a bribe of biscuits and a hot drink.      

The track sign said a further 5 hours overland; 400m climb, 250m descent, many more stags roaring and more helicopter flights heard.    Just before the Iron Bark, Unknown Stream/Lake Colenso track junction, we had to cross a small slip with stinging nettle and tenuous foot/hand holds.     We just got across.       Found track junction now had a 80m wide slip and the track was now rerouted 25m higher.     This was not good for our tiring legs.       The track descended then ascended through boggy ground around the south western side of     Lake Colenso to Lake Colenso Hut.   With us arriving, the 8 bunk hut had 9 people in it; 3 hunters, 3 trampers from Wellington who had come down from snowy tops and us.     Last time Colenso Hut was visited the riverbed was covered in shoulder high buddleia.     Not anymore, the river bed was all shingle.      

Day 3:    Started our return to Otukota Hut via Iron Bark Hut.    Getting to the small slip which had stinging nettle and tenuous foot/hand    holds, it was decided to try and find a higher route across the slip.  Nic & Murry went really high, I (Simon) tried to cross somewhere between   the really high route and the original track. Nic & Murry got across, I didn’t. I slid down the slip, maybe 3-4 metres, arresting myself by  grabbing with one hand a passing branch. Left thigh heavily grazed,    but no deep wounds.      Arriving back at Iron Bark hut, the friendly hunters were out hunting but had   kindly left some Easter treats for us along with billy to use if needed.      

After a lunch break and a river wash by Simon it was back to retracing our  steps to Otukota hut. Simon got one opportunity to use his folding saw to help  clear a section of track.   Back at Otukota hut after 8 hours, we were still the only occupants One person had been in after us but went back out to road end realising they didn’t have enough time to get to Lake Colenso Hut.    The highlight of that evening was Murry spotting, outside the hut window, a hind  and fawn coming along side the hut only metres away from the window where he  was cooking. They hung around for about ten minutes grazing around the hut.     

Day 4:     Turned out to be the best day of the trip, warm, no low cloud, very little wind and great views. Again more stags roaring, more helicopter flights.   Nic spotted a deer on a north facing hillside with tussock.  A highlight was sitting on top of the Mokai – Patea range, having lunch and  getting great views of the Rangitiki river cliffs, Mokai station 700m below and Mt. Ruapehu in the distance. Finally the steep 200m descent and further 500m downhill to the carpark.     Tired legs and feet were pleased to be back at our vehicle for a rest.    

Party: Nic W, Murry A, Simon W