Southern Kaimanawas: Southern Corridor Access, Desert Rd

5-8 & 26-29 November 2014

I have hunted this area since my early teens and shot my first ever deer there, an 8-point sika stag. A fluke I admit, however a very special moment as it all happened while hunting together with my dad. I wrote an article about that hunt way back in issue #68.

Anyway, to kick this series off we head down to the Desert Road, its early spring and the Southern Kaimanawas should (yeah right...) just be beginning to see the first of the new growth.

The Southern Access Corridor is a small finger of public land situated between the army land and the neighbouring, and privately owned, Needles Block. Running through this corridor is the well known Poled Route which, if you’re keen, leads all the way to the bush line above the Otamateanui Stream and from there down to the Rangitikei River. This Remote Experience Zone is real backblocks country which I reckon would offer some superb hunting. Access into the Needles Block is by permit only.

The Southern Kaimanawa Access sign. To the right is the Waiouru Army Training sign declaring the area strictly out of bounds – live firing at any time!

The area provides a combination of both bush and open country hunting. Sika and red deer are present in moderate numbers, with roughly a 70/30 sika to red split.

For this trip Phill and I opt to fly-camp the tops and glass from a vantage point. Why? At this time of the year the sika will be on the search for that fresh growth and they will find it in areas that receive the most sun; bush edges, clearings and open gullys. When hunting sika, I’m a firm believer in being able to hunt them all day, (the exception perhaps being during the peak of summer) however, first light and late afternoon are always prime times to place yourself in a suitable location to glass/ambush those open areas.

Which is exactly what we chose to do on this particular hunt. 

As it happened, the Desert Road was receiving a pretty decent dose of snow and sleet so we made for the first campsite and remained there for the duration of the trip, instead of fly camping the dividing ridge, which offered the better glassing. At the end of the day it’s advisable to have a comfortable and sheltered campsite, where possible, allowing you to concentrate your efforts on the hunting as opposed to just keeping warm and dry.

Phill checks out the bush edges on a evening hunt.

The first morning was a write-off, so an early start wasn’t really necessary. However, we were counting on the afternoon becoming clear, so we headed out late morning and made our way to the vantage point. Much of my hunting is planned around the weather and I like nothing more than getting into position or heading out when the weather looks likely to clear. Deer just seem to pop out on these occasions, even with the smallest window of clear sky!

Sure enough, at around 2pm with the sun overhead, Phill located a sika hind through our Zeiss DiaScope 85 FL spotting scope. She was a fair ol’ distance away, 950 odd metres going by the Leica Geovid HD-B rangefinding binos. Note: Both the spotter and binos reviews will feature in an upcoming issue.

Phill glassing with the Zeiss DiaScope 85 FL spotter. Two sika hinds seen on this trip but unfortunately no photos or footage, thats hunting!

The hind was about 250 metres from the bush and feeding in a small gut on the hillside just up off the stream. This particular gut had a small watercourse running through it and in comparison to the rest of the hillside was by far the greenest of the other tussock-filled spots – a textbook scenario.

While Phill is yet to shoot his first sika I had mentioned to him on the drive down that we would leave any hinds or stags in velvet, so instead we watched the hind for a few minutes before she seemingly vanished into the scrub. The remainder of the trip was fairly uneventful. On the last evening we spotted another sika hind at about 550 metres, she didn’t hang around long and disappeared over a low ridge. We walked out the following morning.

A solo mission this time, with the intention of fly camping a couple of vantage points to glass from, while also adding in a bit of bush hunting. Reaching the first bivvy site mid afternoon, I quickly get sorted and find a comfy little patch of scrub to spot from. With the Leica HD-Bs in hand I spent a few solid hours watching the bush edges, clearings and open gullys. No joy, and I turn in just as it becomes too dark to make out objects.

Up at daybreak the next morning and back into it, by 10am still nothing, time to hit my next bivvy site. It’s an easy walk involving a gentle slope down through the beech. Typically there is deer sign present as soon as I enter the bush. I reach my next campsite and again setup for the night, but while doing so I notice some ominous looking thunderclouds on transit towards me and coming straight off Mt. Ruapehu, awesome...

Looking into the Upper Waipahihi Stream, keep walking and you reach the Otamateanui Stream, beyond and below that, the mighty Rangitikei River.

By 2pm the wind is hammering through and by 3pm the rain has settled in, bugger, light rain is doable but this heavy stuff becomes more than a little unpleasant when you’re fly camping, so I wait it out until the morning.

That next morning is a cracker with light wind and reasonably clear overhead, I’m up early and once again glassing, and once again, zip! My impatience side kicks in, so by mid-morning I decide to hunt the bush for a few hours, en route to my last bivvy campsite. The plan is to make my way through the bush down to the Waipahihi Stream and then back up to the ridge top. Deer sign is prevalent in the bush, particularly the edges, and there’s a fair amount of fresh prints in a couple of the stream sections.

Breaking out of the beech that afternoon the wind has really picked up so I find a nice little sheltered spot just on the bush edge to camp. Unbelievably the weather slowly but surely packs it in and by nightfall it is beginning to lightly snow. Oh well, just goes to show that even the best laid plans are generally dictated by the weather.

The morning reveals clear skies but my time is up and I begin the walk out along the Poled Route. Result, no deer seen and some pretty average weather, but overall another great trip into some awesome country. So, after a hunting trip such as this, I like to break down the series of events and observations, and for these particular hunts, it goes something like this.

The Southern Corridor Access car park is located on the left hand side of SH2 approximately 22kms North of Waiouru. The main car park is just off the road. The Poled Route track itself heads directly east – a solid 4-6 hr walk and you will reach the Otamateanui Stream. I have walked about halfway along the route, it is fairly easy going and well marked. There are a number of campsites and/or places to pitch your tent and water is generally not too hard to find.

Like much of the sika range this area receives its fair share of pressure and more so in recent years. The public land front country along the corridor is fairly easy going offering both bush and open tops/tussock gullies. One unfortunate problem this area faces is the use of quads and two-wheelers to gain access. This raises two issues; firstly, increasing damage to the track, in a few areas they have laid wire mesh fencing to aid traction, and secondly, the use of chainsaws to clear beech trees and widen the track... This is very poor form not too mention illegal. However, it’s not entirely all doom and gloom, the deer are still there, you just have to work a little harder to get onto them. Expect other hunters to be in the area at any time and within close proximity.

Quite literally, a bit of everything. Sporadic and unsettled, typical of the season. Weather like this disrupts deer movement and reduces their mobility. The downside is that it can be difficult to catch animals on their daily routines. The upside is, the fine spells in between the crap stuff can provide an opportunity to pick up a deer as the animal takes advantage of the clear patches of weather. It’s hit and miss hunting. The weather around the Waiouru, Desert Road and including Mount Ruapehu region is subject to abrupt changes – it is not uncommon to have adverse weather roll in on top of you at short notice so be prepared. Basically, don’t take the Central Plateau for granted.

Due to the large areas of open terrain on offer, spending some time glassing is mandatory, the majority of deer I have seen and taken have been out amongst the tussock and scrub covered clay pans. However, be sure to give the bush a decent nudge as well. As mentioned earlier, there was a reasonable amount of sign present under the canopy. I think also the deer were still hanging relatively low down on the hill towards the end of winter, possibly due to the late season snow. At this time of the year hunting all day is worthwhile and the beauty of an area like this is that you can divide your time between the open country and bush. Use the track to move from gully to gully and depending on the wind, you should be able to begin your hunts from a height advantage.

This small island of public land offers what would arguably be described as fairly average hunting, challenging at times due in part to the amount of pressure it receives and the highly changeable weather found in this part of the North Island. In terms of animal numbers there are more productive spots, however, there is something special about this southern area of the Kaimanawas, it is definitely worth placing on your list of areas to visit. Furthermore, any success you have hunting off the Poled Route will be well deserved and this reason alone is why I still make the effort to get down there when I can.

We hunt an absolute icon of Northern Kaimanawa sika hunting – Ruatea Stream, or as it is more commonly called, “Jap Creek”. Heading in from the Clements Mill Rd end, we will be checking the UOVision trail cam (currently on review from A J Productions Ltd), and then up and over into the headwaters.

Bush hunting at it’s best! I can’t wait.



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