Kaweka Ranges: Omarukokere Tops, Mangaturutu & Venison Tops

11th Sep – 14th Sep 2017

In my late teens and early 20s a few mates and I did several trips into Ngaawapurua Hut and it was during these hunts that I spent quite a bit of time up on Te Ruatakaikare.

From high up on this central Kaweka location I would often gaze towards the expansive, open tops of both Te Pukeohikarua and Ngakawekaiti. They seemed to stretch right across the skyline and certainly looked inviting, yet it wasn’t until recent years that I eventually visited this area.

Day 1
Cuddles with the wife and kids, then off! A BP coffee on the way and a quick zero check at the NZDA Range in Taupo, sorted! The forecast was looking reasonable for the next few days but I should have known better than to trust our unpredictable weather system.

I reached Chris’s hangar at around midday and chatted with him over a cuppa. Chris has a wealth of knowledge and I can’t help but pick his brains on anything sika! After a yarn it was time to fire up the 500 and head in.

The weather was mint and I had an area in mind to camp at that would put me in a good glassing position for the evening. Landing at Omar Tops Campsite, which is located at the northern end of Ngakawekaiti, I headed north towards and found a great little spot to set up camp.

Looking towards Mangaturutu from Omarukokere Tops. The main Kaweka Range can be seen in the distance. 

It was 2.30pm by now, so I decided to spend the next couple of hours checking out all the little open guts and gullies, and there was some great country on offer.

As the afternoon wore on the skies began to darken. In fact, the conditions were shaping up to be almost identical to my previous trip into the Manson...

Keeping optimistic, I made my way back to the tent and then to a glassing point that gave me a commanding view over a lengthy open face. As I neared my position I could see a weather front moving in from the south and no sooner had I got comfortable, the wind cranked up and it began to snow, unbelievable! Oh well, whaddya do!

Day 2
The wind was gusting hard when I woke the following morning, and directly onto the faces I was hoping to glass, so it was safe to assume that any deer would most likely be taking shelter.

Mangatarutu Hut was today’s destination and I had already picked out a route that would take me straight over to the tops and include a nice little bush stalk along the way.

The route led me through a couple of small saddles and then onto a large spur. There was a light covering of snow under the canopy and along the way I saw a few deer prints. There are several small ridges that lead off the spur which on Google Earth looked to be reasonable enough to provide a route down into Omarukokere Stream.

En-route to Mangaturutu Hut which involved a steep and bluffy traverse across Omarukokere Stream. 

However, and I should really know this by now, Google Earth gives at best, an overview of the terrain and as I descended I quickly learnt this lesson yet again. In short, I got bluffed out twice before managing to find a steep gut that allowed me to reach the stream.

The other side was much easier going and I enjoyed stalking my way up to the tops and onto the Mangaturutu track. I had planned on fly-camping somewhere up on Ahurua but the weather had other ideas so I made the decision to stay at the hut. To be honest it was great to spend a night in front of the fire and out of the wind, snow and sleet.

Mangaturutu Hut is located in the Central Kaweka Ranges and offers a considerable amount of bush stalking opportunities.

Mangaturutu Hut – a warm fire and a chance to dry out some wet boots and clothing!

Mangaturutu Hut was built in 1961 and is positioned amongst the mountain beech above a tributary of the Mangaturutu Stream. Much like many of the Kaweka huts it has all the usual features; long drop toilet, meat safe, rainwater supplied tank etc. One point of difference though is that it still has a useable open fire place, which as I mentioned, I cranked up for the evening!

Day 3
Sunday morning brought fine weather and with plenty of time up my sleeve and only a short distance to travel to reach Venison Tops, I was looking forward to a decent bush stalk in a section of red beech that Chris had pointed out as worthy of checking.

The track to Venison Tops follows a narrow ridge at the headwaters of the Makino River and a tributary of the Omarukokere Stream. Along the way I passed by several very promising looking gullies, particularly on the Makino River side. Dropping down and sidling through these bush gullies would make for some excellent stalking.

The track towards Venison Tops passes through a series of small saddles and provides excellent hunting access into the Makino River.

I reached Venison Tops (Tira Lodge) well before midday. Tira Lodge was built in 1969 and is similar in construction to Oamaru and Waipakihi Huts. There is accommodation for 12 and the hut offers all the usual commodities; meat safe, long drop toilet and a wood & coal burner stove. Water is rain supplied into a tank.

The author at Venison Tops Hut (Tira Lodge) – finally some ‘decent’ weather’!

It was still only 10.30am and with the sun shining and only a gentle breeze I was amped on spending the rest of the day hunting the area of beech Chris had mentioned. To get there I headed back along the track and then dropped over to the western side of the ridge.

Heading down through the mountain beech was easy going and it didn’t take long to reach the bottom of the gully and into the red beech.

As the bush opened, so the amount of fresh deer sign increased. So fresh in fact, that a hind and yearling took off no more than 30 metres from me! Bugger, I was moving too fast and was too slow to react.

The next few hours were spent familiarising myself with the area. It was awesome to be bush stalking premium sika country on a clear day, not much can top that!

An example of some of the bush hunting on offer around Venison Tops.

With the afternoon marching on, I made my way up a ridge that would take me directly back to Venison Tops. Nearing the top, I came across a small gully with a fantastic bush clearing nestled in it. There wasn’t much sign on it although it certainly looked the part. That evening I set up camp at the southern end of Venison Tops and hunted the bush edges until dark.

Day 4
Last day! Fortunately, I only had a short descent down to Rocks Ahead Hut so I took my time walking the track, sidling into a couple of the big gullies that Chris had also kindly pointed out were worth a look.

Ironically, I feel Venison Tops offers far more bush stalking opportunities than it does open tops hunting. While only scratching the surface I already had gained an appreciation of the area and I reckon a roar hunt focusing on the bush would certainly be worthwhile. Another great spot to add to the sika hunting database!

I reached Rocks Ahead Hut at 11am and Chris arrived at 12pm. The flight out was great, and Chris kindly flew me straight over the big patch of red beech so I could get a bird’s eye view – it looked as good from up there as it did on the ground!

This trip brings an end to Series 2 of the Sika Hunting Tips & Info column. While I do have a trip into the Kaipo planned once spring finally kicks in, the Galatea rusa and Kaimai reds will be the focus for the summer!

ACCESS:
This central Kaweka region can be reached via the Middle Hill and Ballard Hut route or by heading up to Makino Hut and dropping down, then across and back up the Makino Valley to Mangaturutu Hut. Either of these two ways involves a decent level of fitness and will take you around seven hours if you’re taking the Makino Hut route, or up to 11 hours if you go via Middle Hill etc. It would make for a great trip over the course of a week.Your other option is to use the excellent services available from Chris Crosse of East Kaweka Helicopters.

HUNTING PRESSURE:
At risk of repeating myself, this area, like so much of the Kawekas, is all but devoid of hunters throughout the winter months so you pretty much have the entire area at your disposal. A case in point, the last Rocks Ahead Hut book entry, prior to the one I entered on this trip, was my own, seven weeks earlier. Spring and summer will see pressure increase and you can be sure that by the end of March and throughout April, the hills will come alive with hunters eager to pit their skills against an edgy sika stag!

WEATHER:
One word, sporadic! I have all but given up on our forecasting and simply resign to the fact that the weather will be whatever it will be! Once again, over the course of this trip I experienced the full range of conditions – snow, sleet, rain, mist, wind, sunshine etc... you get the point! Best advice – plan accordingly, prepare for any eventuality.

HUNTING TIPS:
Be adaptable. Throughout both the Sika Hunting Tips & Info series I have emphasised the need to keep your options open and to work with what you’ve got. The weather will play, in my opinion, the single most important role in determining how your hunting trip will turn out. On several of my trips during the series, I have had to change tack and reassess the situation purely due to the weather. As someone who likes to plan each day, I meticulously study the area on both the online Topomaps and Google Earth prior to any hunt. I also like to add in a contingency plan for any eventuality on both the hunting and safety side of things. This hunt certainly outlined the need for flexibility and the value of having some options available. As outlined in the article, my pre-conceived plans to hunt some of the open country were quashed, so instead more time was spent hunting the bush and subsequently learning that the area offered a surprising amount of premium bush stalking opportunities.

I hope you have enjoyed the articles and videos, Series 3 will kick off next year!

Cheers,

Nik

SIKA HUNTING TIPS & INFO:
 
The NZG&H sika hunting column featuring tips & information on hunting methods, areas to hunt, huts & campsites to check out, weather
and terrain.