Kaweka Ranges: Manson Country

28th Jul – 31st Jul 2017

The Manson, another iconic area, and if the number of hut bookings is anything to go by, one of the most popular fly-in destinations in the Kawekas. Comprising some of the best open tops, scrub gullies and bush stalking opportunities the Kawekas has to offer, it is no wonder that this area receives high concentrations of hunters throughout most of the year.

It is an area I had heard much about but never visited. Due to its remote location, relatively easy-going terrain and huts within reasonably close proximity of each other, I decided it would be an ideal mid-winter hunt.

For this trip, the plan was to get dropped off at Otutu Hut, make my way to Manson Hut and Bivvy, then up and around Spion Kop with a pick-up at Rocks Ahead Hut.

Day 1
The kids both woke at around 4.30am that Friday morning so my wife kindly gave me the nod to head away early, yeehaa! With everything sorted, I bypassed Taupo and continued straight to East Kaweka Helicopters where I caught up briefly with Chris Crosse. The weather was average so he wasted no time bundling me into the 500 and within moments we were buzzing up the Makino River.

With the low cloud, there wasn’t much to see, that is until we came in to land at Otutu Hut. Standing just in front of the helipad was a mature 6pt sika stag sporting a lengthy set of antlers! Startled by the chopper he hesitated long enough for Chris to swing the 500 side on and we got a great view of him as he moved off into the beech, an awesome moment!

Otutu Hut – The author prior to heading off towards the Manson and, a couple of fairly cold nights!

A quick unload and within moments I was once again on my own in the Kawekas. Seeing that stag set my mind racing at the idea of what else was about. It was now 10am so I settled in for some morning tea and a look around the hut. Otutu Hut is your typical back country NZ Forestry Service bulding. Originally built in 1971, it received an upgrade by way of a covered veranda, similar to several other huts in the Kawekas – Manson, Tussock and Te Puke to name a few.

While sipping my coffee the snow began to fall and at that moment I began to appreciate the shelter these huts provide. Nevertheless, at 11am sharp I shouldered my pack and headed off down towards the Manson via the shortcut track.

The snow had eased right off by now and the sun was beginning to poke through the cloud. Directly south of Otutu Hut there’s a large, gently sloping tussock covered ridge and east of that a track that drops down into Manson Creek, and then up onto the main Manson range.

Expect snow and ice conditions when hunting the Central North Island in mid-winter.

The traverse across is pretty easy going and I as I gained height out of the creek I was greeted with some fantastic terrain – large tracts of bush, tussock and scrub-filled gullies with clay pan sections.

Unfortunately, by the time I reached my campsite for the night the weather had packed in, so it was an early retirement to the tent for the remainder of the evening.

Day 2
That night the snow and sleet blew in and the following morning I woke to bitterly cold conditions which didn’t show signs of clearing until around 10.30am. I was getting eager to stretch the legs by now, so I decided to make my way to Manson Hut regardless. The walk down to the hut involved an easy stroll through some impressive country.

Manson Hut sits on a small open terrace and offers some commanding views.

Manson Hut was built in 1972 and received the same veranda and interior modifications upgrade as mentioned earlier. Located on a small terrace above Tapahiwhenua Stream, it looks out across the stream onto some large and open bush-edged tussock faces.

As I approached the hut I was greeted by Norm and Jake who had been in there since Thursday. They soon had another mate with them, Brad, who turned up about 15 minutes later. I always enjoy meeting up with other hunters and Norm wasted no time filling a cup with hot water so I could warm up with a coffee, good sort!

They had experienced average weather conditions for the first few days but had seen a few animals, good to hear! After a quick yarn with the lads I made my way down to the original Manson Hut. This hut was built back in the late 40s and was used as musterers accommodation by the Ngamatea Station owners at the time.

The original Manson Hut was built back in the late 40s. It was used as musterers accommodation by the Ngamatea Station owners at the time.

After checking out the hut I headed back up the track and glassed my way back to the campsite. I spent the evening checking out the valley I was positioned in. Deer sightings were a non-event however, although with the low cloud blowing through and the sun setting, I captured some great scenic footage. During the night I poked my head out for a look at the conditions and was rewarded with a sky full of stars, mint, bring on the morning!

Day 3
I woke early, eager to see what the day would bring. At last, a stunning morning with zero cloud and only a slight breeze. Fly-camping on the deer’s doorstep meant I only had 100 metres to sneak to a glassing position.

Fly-camping on the 'deers doorstep' is a great way to maximise your time in productive deer country.

At exactly 9.10am, as the sun began to warm the faces, I located a mature sika hind with her fawn (both in excellent condition) feeding and soaking up the sun’s warmth. They were only 150 metres away, so having decided not to shoot, I snuck in as close as I could, getting to within 50 metres and capturing some great footage and photos.

A sika hind and fawn caught out soaking up some mid-morning sun.

With the morning getting on and a mission to Manson Bivvy to get done, I packed up my gear and headed for the top of the hill. It was a ripper day and the views of the surrounding countryside and the main Kaweka Range were stunning to say the least.

It was later in the day than I realised, and upon reaching the area just before you drop down into the beech and onto the ridge that takes you to Manson Bivvy, I opted out from heading over. My plan for the last night was to camp up on Spion Kop which was in the opposite direction and I wanted to be in a decent position for an afternoon hunt. Although it wasn’t all that far to the bivvy, it would still take the best part of the afternoon to complete the walk there and back. A bit disappointing but hey, I would just have to come back another time!

As I made my way to Spion Kop I caught up with Brad and Jake. They were out and about and enjoying the fine weather also. I chatted briefly with them and then carried on around the ridge. That afternoon I heard a rifle shot and later learnt that they had secured an animal, good stuff boys!

I reached the head of Spion Kop at 3pm and located a suitable spot to set up my tent. There were several areas in the immediate vicinity that offered some ideal glassing positions, so it was just a matter of picking one and then settling in behind the binos.

The author at the Spion Kop – Otutu Hut Bridal Track junction.

No sooner had I made myself comfortable and begun to glass when a sika hind made her way out from the beech into the open. The hind was just over 600m away and content with feeding. Ten minutes later and I picked up on three more deer; two hinds and a yearling right out in the open. Interestingly, they seemed content on feeding in the shadow of the hill, keeping out of the sunshine. Moments later another hind joined them.

Late evening in sika country – a group of sika feed undisturbed. The older hind (top right) keeps an eye out for any danger.

As they fed, I pushed closer to them and got to within 250m. My hope was that a stag might join the scene, so once again, I decided not to shoot. I observed them until dark and then headed back to the tent. It had been an enjoyable day with great weather and several animal sightings.

Day 4
​Last day! As soon as the sun broke over the main range, I packed up my gear and began the walk around Spion Kop and down to the Ngaruroro River. With several hours before Chris was to pick me up, I took my time glassing the main gully and noting potential areas that I could check out on another trip.

Spion Kop – a prime hunting location which also offers spectacular views of the main Kaweka range.

As I made my down off the tops and into the bush I instantly put up a deer standing on the track, she bounded off quickly and as I continued down the track another sika took off in a flurry of squeals – good stuff!

I reached Rocks Ahead Bivvy at 11.00am. The bivvy is much the same as the Back Ridge Bivvy and Studholme Saddle bivvies – room for three at a squeeze and more of a shelter than anything else.

Rocks Ahead Bivvy is located on the true right hand side of the Ngaruroro River – directly opposite Rocks Ahead Hut.

Rocks Ahead Hut is positioned directly opposite the bivvy on the other side of the Ngaruroro River. The good news is that there is a cable car spanning the river, no wet feet! After loading my gear and myself into the little car, I slowly wound my way across the river.

A cable car spans the Ngaruroro River and links Rocks Ahead Bivvy to Rocks Ahead Hut. 

The hut was built in 1960 and features the same commodities as many other huts in the Kawekas – fireplace, meat safe, long drop toilet and a nearby water source. It is a popular destination for fishermen and as a stop-over for rafters and kayakers.

Heading for home – Rocks Ahead Hut sits amongst the red beech on the banks of the Ngaruroro River.

Chris arrived at 12pm sharp and I got to enjoy a smooth and scenic flight out. What an awesome trip, arguably one of the more enjoyable hunts since the series began back in November 2014.

ACCESS:
The Manson area is decent way back from the road-end and will involve an overnight stay somewhere in between. If you’re walking in, you have several routes to choose from that will take you past a couple of huts offering shelter for the night. You’ll need a few days up your sleeve if you decide on this option. If time is precious, I fully recommend utilising the excellent service that Chris Crosse (East Kaweka Helicopters) provides. Getting dropped off at one location and picked up from another is an excellent way to cover ground and, with the huts being so close to each other, you don’t need to fly-camp.

HUNTING PRESSURE:
Plenty! The Manson receives a huge amount of hunting pressure. Beginning in spring, you’ll see hut bookings run right through until the post-rut period and these are just the fly-in bookings. While Chris informed me that animal numbers aren’t as high as they have been, the opportunities are still there. Mid-winter however, is a great time to be in the hills as hunter pressure is extremely low, in fact, the last hut book entry at Otutu Hut was seven weeks prior to my arrival.

WEATHER:
Being the middle of winter, expect it to be cold and prepare for any eventuality. Take extra layers and pack extra food, if the weather takes a turn for the worse, you could very easily end up adding a night or two to your trip. Wind chill is a real threat in hills, especially up on the tops where there is little to no shelter. The best advice I can give is to hunt and travel at the discretion of the weather and don’t take any unnecessary risks.

HUNTING TIPS:
During the winter months I quite often find that you don’t need to be up and out there at first light. On a cold morning, deer will generally remain in the forest or scrub interior as temperatures there will be slightly warmer than out in the open. As the sun fills the gullies and warms the faces, now is the time to really concentrate on your glassing, scanning productive areas. It takes time learning where to look but after a while you’ll soon begin to recognise potential areas – game trails leading into and out of the bush, sheltered gullies, bush edges, and open spurs and ridges. In an area such as the Manson, plan your hunts and glassing time so that you’re in the correct position at the time you might expect an animal to show itself. Whenever I am planning a sit and watch hunt, I’ll be sure to survey the surrounding area to make sure that if I need to close the gap, I am able to do so.

NEXT ISSUE:
A fly in/fly out mission with East Kaweka Helicopters into the central Kaweka Ranges covering Te Puke, Mangatarutu, Venison Tops and Omarukokere Bivvy.

Cheers,

Nik

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