Kaimanawa & Kaweka Ranges: Oamaru, Tussock and Boyd Hut

22nd – 25th July 2015

I have to admit to being pretty excited when the time came to head away for this trip. The Oamaru has special meaning to me, it’s where my sika-hunting career really began and each time I walk up the steps to the hut I am reminded of some of my most memorable trips.

To sweeten the deal, I decided to head further in and visit both Tussock Hut and Boyd Hut, combining areas within both the Kaimanawa and Kaweka State Forest Parks. The walk also includes a lengthy bush stalk up the Otorehinaiti Stream. My mate Phill Ford joined me for this trip; I hoped to help him secure his first sika.

We left the Helisika hangar at around 11.30am, reaching the Oamaru Hut just after 2 o’clock. The walk through Poronui Station is an easy stroll. Back in my teens we used to pushbike the 12km stretch and leave our bikes at the fence that borders Poronui and the Forest Park.

Oamaru Hut is a 12-bunk facility on a small terrace that overlooks the confluence of the Oamaru and Kaipo Rivers; these rivers then join to form the Mohaka River.

Phill enjoys a cuppa at Oamaru Hut en route to the Otorehinaiti Stream.

First built in 1964, the hut received a facelift in 2010 whereupon the front wall was shifted forward, effectively doubling the kitchen space. This modification also allowed the side bunkroom doors to be contained inside the main dining area, great for spreading the fireplace heat into those rooms! A large deck and covered entrance were also added. A wood fireplace, toilet, meat safe and water tank are fitted standard.

After a late lunch, Phill and I continue up the Oamaru River, passing Ruatea Stream (Jap Creek) along the way. We reach the Otorehinaiti Stream entrance at about 4pm and set up camp for the night.

Looking back down the Otore’ towards the Oamaru River. Poronui Station and Taharua Valley can be seen in the background.

The following morning we pack up and begin the bush stalk to the Harkness Valley and Tussock Hut. The Otorehinaiti valley offers premium bush stalking – it is relatively open and easy to move through. Sign is prevalent and along the way we spook a couple of animals, one of which hangs around long enough for Phill to get the rifle to his shoulder, but not enough for a shot to be taken.

The original plan was to pass straight over the Otorehinaiti Saddle and check out the helipad and bivvy hut, however my bush navigation skills played up somewhat and we ended up slightly West of that and instead hit the main ridge that divides the Otore’ from the Waitawhero Stream and the Oamaru to Boyd Track. No dramas, we head up along the ridge and reach the summit which provides a commanding view of the Harkness Valley as well as views towards the Mangatainoka River, including both Te Pukeohikarua and Te Ruataikare high points, an awesome sight! There’s some snow around and you can feel the cold when you’re in the shadow of the hill.

The Harkness Valley with Te Ruatakaikare Tops in the background – premium sika country.

Making our way down into the Harkness we put up another deer, no chance for a shot though. Reaching the bush edge at around 3pm we push through the tussock until we reach the Tussock to Mangatainoka Track. Rounding the last corner of the track we finally hit Tussock Hut, phew, it had been a demanding day and a half walk.

Tussock Hut (also built in 1964) was originally a 6-bunk hut before it too received an upgrade. It now accommodates eight and features a full covered deck around three of the four walls. Painted in the standard NZFS Orange, it sits in stark contrast against the tussock and beech forest backdrop.

There were two other hunters at the hut who had flown in with Helisika for a few days and were making the most of the fine weather. We had a quick feed and hit the sack early.

The next morning was fairly chilly, – 8C on the Mercury! Phill and I packed up and hit the track in timely fashion. Heading down the Harkness Valley there was a particular area that I was keen to visit about 3kms from the hut.

Tussock Hut – cold weather is to be expected when hunting during the middle of winter. The Mercury dropped to – 8°C on this particular early morning start.

Cutting across the tussock and up a small gut we reached the ridge top and made our way towards an area I had been studying on Google Earth. At the gully we found a camp site and set up for a relaxing afternoon of glassing, we reckoned we had earnt some downtime.

Around mid-afternoon we heard a couple of deer squealing randomly in the bush. Our hope was that we would spot a deer out feeding in the open gully, giving us a chance to put a stalk on.

It was just after 4pm when I located an animal out in the scrub with the Swarovski CL 10x25 binoculars I was currently reviewing. As it happened, it turned out to be a stag and once I had my Canon camera zoomed in, it looked to be a real cracker; big bodied with lengthy antlers and decent brow and trez tines. At first I though it was a 6-pointer but after closer inspection I could see small outer tops indicating that it was in fact an eight!

A large bodied and lengthy antlered sika stag feeding amongst the tussock and scrub; the boys watched him until dark.

At a distance of about 450 metres it was well out of range for us and unfortunately we wouldn’t have time to close the distance ourselves. Our only real option was to patiently wait and see if the stag would move into acceptable shooting range. As Phill was the shooter for this trip I was keen to keep things simple.

We watched the stag move slowly towards a small open patch that would put him just under 300 metres from us, a fair shot but easy enough for my 7x57 to handle. My “Husky” with the 140 grain Sierra SPBT GameKings and a 100 metre zero shoots approx. 6” low at 300 metres.

As the stag moved closer the light began to fade and eventually we had to call it. All good, it was a great encounter and I managed to capture some decent photos. The clear night was looking to be another cold one, so we wasted no time eating before crashing out.

The next morning we were up early and into position to see if we could locate the stag, however, after a couple of hours glassing we were unable to find him. I did see a hind on the bush edge, but she only lingered for a minute or two.

At 10am we packed up for the last time and began the walk to Boyd Hut. Phill led the way and we’d only just walked over the side of the hill when he decided to do a quick scan of the opposite valley.

“Deer! Two of them, stags!” – Phill

An 8pt and a malformed “Handlebar” sika stag spar with each other amongst the tussock.

I immediately slipped off my pack and joined him. Directly below us, about 200 metres away out in the tussock were two stags, one an odd-looking “handlebar” malform and the other, a very tidy 8-pointer!

As I began filming they moved further from cover and began sparring with each other, awesome stuff! Meanwhile Phill had moved into a firing position and was getting ready to shoot.

“Do you want me to make a noise so they’ll look up?” – Nik

I let out a low pitch; short single call and both stags stopped sparring.

The two stags just prior to the shot – a call from Nik caught their attention.

“Wait until he goes broadside on, they don’t know we’re here.” – Nik

“OK, put it right on his spine...” – Nik

The 8-pointer turns side on and as I coach Phill into taking the shot he fires... Bang! Miss...! The two stags rapidly depart the scene.

At first glance the bullet looks to have gone just under the stag’s brisket, on closer inspection of the footage, it had missed by a country mile...

Some condolences are given, Phill is in good spirits and as usual is just happy to be out in the hills.

We wander down to where the two deer were standing and check the area for any sign of a hit, a formality and always important to do.

With the chopper due in at 2pm, we move out of the area and begin the last few kilometres to the hut. We hit the Ngaruroro River at midday and stop for a quick bite to eat. Phill is impressed with the scenery and we are already planning our next mission.

The Ngaruroro River Valley offers hunting, fishing and spectacular scenery, it is a must see area for any keen outdoor enthusiast.

The walk up the valley is leisurely and at the hut we drop our packs for the last time. Phill puts on a cuppa and we relax and reflect on what has been an outstanding trip.

Boyd Hut is arguably one of the most iconic huts in the North Island. Nestled among the beech under the famous Boyd Rocks, it offers a commanding view over the Ngaruroro River and valley. It’s a fantastic spot and like Oamaru Hut, an area I know I’ll return too.

Nik & Phill at Boyd Hut just prior to their flight out with Helisika.

The Boyd sleeps 16 with bunkrooms at each of the building and a kitchen/dining area in the middle. The hut had recently been stocked with a heap of firewood and there was even a 3/4 full bottle of Bombay Sapphire Gin sitting on the shelf that someone had left behind, I don’t imagine that will stay full for long!

Once again, another awesome trip into sika country made even more enjoyable by having my good mate Phill accompanying me.

ACCESS:
Oamaru Hut is located in the North Eastern Kaimanawas, Tussock Hut in the North Western tip of the Kawekas, and Boyd Hut, again in the Kaimanawas, is roughly central to the area. The public walking access point is at the entrance to Poronui Station on Taharua Road, which is a 25 minute drive from Taupo or 1.5 hour drive from Napier along State Highway 5. As per usual you have two options to get to the huts; walk or fly, or as we did and many others do also, a combination of both – fly in/walk out or walk in/fly out, the latter my preferred choice when I’m utilising the helicopter services. The tracks throughout these areas are well marked and reasonably well maintained. From Poronui Station it is a 12km/3hr walk. Continuing on to Boyd Hut will add another 16km and take around 5-6hrs. Boyd to Tussock is approximately 6km/3hrs walk.

HUNTING PRESSURE:
June to August is the quiet time for most of this area. It can be a fairly harsh environment if the weather packs it, in and while the huts do see the occasional visitor, it’s generally only the keenest who will fly camp. Due to the weather and the distances involved, winter months see little pressure and the Helisika car park, the main helicopter operator, is all but empty. Outside of the chilly season, hunting pressure cranks up a few notches, so if you can handle the cold, winter is a really good time to be in there. For me, I’ve always enjoyed hunting sika in the winter, you get the feeling that you have the whole place to yourself with the added bonus of hard-antlered stags!

WEATHER:
In mid-winter you need to be prepared for the worst. You will get snow, and sub-zero temperatures are to be expected. The weather patterns are so variable these days that forecasting is almost impossible and unless you are fortunate enough to be able to plan your trips around the weather, you’ll just have to handle whatever nature throws at you. Good gear is required and while I feel fly camping gives the hunter the advantage of being nearer to the game and the more isolated hunting spots, don’t dismiss the huts if foul weather rears its head.

HUNTING TIPS:
Covering a large amount of ground will generally increase your chances of locating game, particularly in the prime sika country we covered. A large valley like the Otorehinaiti takes a lot more time to hunt correctly than we spent – you could spend several days scouring the area without covering the same ground twice. The side creeks alone provide ample hunting opportunities, and due to the reduced deer movements over the mid-winter period, slow and methodical stalking is the key. Don’t get too hung up on deer browse altitudes, sika cover the whole spectrum, so hunt them from top to bottom and anywhere in between.For the more open stuff; gain some height, find a suitable vantage point overlooking likely looking scrub faces and gullies, and then spend your time glassing. If you’re fly camping, a little effort will allow you to pitch your tent right on the doorstep of productive sika country.

NEXT ISSUE:
Back to the Kawekas with a fly-in trip to (Te Pukeohikarua) Te Puke Hut. For this trip, we fly with Chris Crosse from East Kaweka Helicopters to Te Puke Hut before dropping down to Harkness Hut en route to some flycamping up on Te Ruataikare Tops, then back out with Chris via Tussock Hut.

Cheers,

Nik

SIKA HUNTING TIPS & INFO:
 
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