Kaweka Ranges: Te Pukeohikarua, Harkness & Tussock Huts

6th – 9th September 2015

Over the last five issues of NZG&H we have hunted and traversed some of the most iconic sika hunting areas in the Kaimanawa and Kaweka Forest Parks, including the Southern Kaimanawa Access Poled Route, Ruatea (Jap Creek) Stream, Middle Hill, Ballard & Makino Huts, Waipakihi Hut, and Oamaru, Tussock & Boyd Huts.

For me personally, hunting these different areas and challenging myself throughout the seasons, has been the most rewarding and enjoyable experience. Hunting sika in this manner keeps things fresh and forces me to adapt to the conditions and environment.

As mentioned in my intro column, the Sika Hunting Tips & Info series takes a short respite as we prepare and get ready for the arrival of our baby daughter! I’ll look to kick it off again once some normality has returned to the Maxwell household.

I hope you have enjoyed the series so far and at the very least have been able to glean some helpful information to aid you in your own sika hunting.

Te Pukeohikarua Hut’s location provides ideal summer hunting opportunities.

To wrap up this part of the series, I decided to head back to the Kawekas to visit a new hut, revisit a hut that Dad and I spent a few days at many years ago and, cover some ground that Phill and I had recently frequented in the hope of catching up with the 8-pointer you may have read about in issue #150!

For this trip I called upon Chris Crosse who owns East Kaweka Helicopters and operates from his hangar and home in Puketitiri. The plan was to get dropped off at Te Pukeohikarua Hut, make my way down to Harkness Hut, and then continue on up to the Te Ruatakaikare tops area for a few days before being picked up by Chris at Tussock Hut.

The Harkness is arguably one of the Kaweka Forest Parks most iconic back country huts. Famous names like Brian Burdon and Philip Holden once frequented this Central Kaweka hut.

Reaching the hangar at around 11am we sat around for about an hour talking sika and hunting, as you do! Chris has a wealth of knowledge surrounding both the Kaweka Forest Park and sika, and it was great to pick his brain about a few things. He also has an impressive collection of sika antlers that I took the time to admire.

While I was keen to keep on chatting with Chris I was equally keen to hit the hill, so after weighing my gear and a receiving a helicopter safety briefing we took off towards the main Kaweka Range, flying directly up the Makino River and over Mangaturutu Hut, before landing at the Te Pukeohikarua Hut helipad.

Camped at 1300m on the Te Ruatakaikare tops.

I took a quick look around the hut then headed down the track to the Harkness Hut, stopping briefly at the trig to check out the scenery. Te Puke Hut is located on a long stretch of open tops and offers plenty of open terrain hunting, with opportunities to bush hunt also. It would be a superb summer hunting spot. Built in 1964, it is a standard six-bunker with all the usual facilities.

An hour and a half later I reached the Harkness. It was good to be back, even though I had only been there once before with Dad. I have however hunted out of Ngaawapurua a few times with missions up and around the Te Ruatakaikare tops.

Harkness Hut is positioned on a terrace in this tributary of the Ngaawapurua Stream.

No sooner had I reached the hut when a gnarly little snow flurry began to blow through and I contemplated a night in comfort, however, it only lasted 10 minutes with clear blue sky following behind it.

The Harkness Hut is positioned on a large terrace above a small tributary of the Ngaawapurua Stream. Built in 1961, it received an upgrade, like many of the NZFS huts, in the 1990s with the addition of a covered veranda. After a coffee and OSM bar it was time to hit the track.

Looking north from Te Ruatakaikare tops towards Ngaawapurua (Harkness) Valley and Tussock Hut.

There are four small stream crossings just as you reach Harkness Hut and about another eight or so on the way down to the Harkness Valley track, so wet feet are to be expected. Some of the crossings are knee deep and the Ngaawapurua Stream crossing is up to the thighs. The water was bitterly cold and chilled my legs to the point where they began to severely cramp up as I neared the Te Rua tops. The last few hundred metres to reach the bush edge and find a suitable spot to camp were bloody painful and I was glad to get the pack off and set up for the night. As darkness approached, light snow began to fall.

The following morning was a stunner – a freezing cold southerly but with clear skies above, magic! I spent an hour glassing but was keen to push north and out of the exposed area I was in. Reaching the summit, I took some time surveying the scenery on offer before making my way to the bush saddles and ridges en route to my next bivvy site.

Late afternoon – a sika hind and yearling feed undisturbed on the bush edge.

The bush hunt took me through some great country and it was an enjoyable and relaxing descent along the ridge. I reached the bivvy site mid-afternoon and settled in for a couple of days of glassing and bush hunting.

That evening I spotted a sika hind and yearling feeding just out from the bush edge. They both looked to be in good condition and I watched them almost until dark before heading back to my tent.

A young sika stag bedded down – out of the wind and enjoying the sun.

The next morning was another beauty, cold but clear. Nothing was moving and it was an hour before I spotted an animal; a young stag bedded down in the sun and out of the wind. He remained there for a good hour and a half enjoying the warmth before sauntering off in the bush interior.

A sika spiker, part of a young stag group, seen here just on dark.

I spent the rest of the day stalking the guts and gullies above the valley I was camped in. There were several little head guts that showed real potential and I expected to bump a deer at any moment. No such luck however and so after collecting some water I returned to camp.

Time for a ‘selfie’ prior to reaching Tussock Hut.

As I set up for an evening glass I couldn’t help but hope to see the 8-pointer Phill and I had observed on our last trip. Although he never showed, I did manage to spot a group of three young stags sparring with each other just on last light.

I woke the next morning to another cracker day. With a few kilometres to cover to reach my pick-up point at Tussock Hut I wasted no time packing up and heading off. I reached the hut at 11am ready for Chris’ arrival at midday.

The flight out was awesome, I don’t mind putting the miles in on foot but at the same time I love the opportunity to look for potential hunting areas from the air.

Chris Crosse provides a professional service – his Robinson R44 is a familiar sight in the Kaweka Ranges.

Back at the hangar it was time to have another yarn over a hot drink with Chris before loading the truck and heading off.

It had been an enjoyable trip once again.

ACCESS:
As mentioned, East Kaweka Helicopters Ltd is located in Puketitiri, on the eastern flanks of the Kaweka Forest Park – about a 2-hour drive from Taupo or 30-min drive from Napier. Walking to Te Pukeohikarua Hut involves a solid 14-hr hike from Makahu Saddle Carpark, or an equally full-on 12-hr walk from Makino Road end, however these hikes would most likely be broken up over the course of a couple of days. From there you have plenty of options with ample opportunities to hunt a variety of differing terrains and areas – the park is your oyster! Harkness Hut is an easy 2-hr downhill stroll from Te Puke Hut, with Tussock a further 2.5hrs from Harkness. Multiple stream and river crossings are encountered once you leave Harkness Hut.

HUNTING PRESSURE:
The Eastern Kawekas receive a fair bit of pressure primarily due to the ready walking access onto the main range. The further you head in, the less pressure you can expect. As mentioned in previous articles, the winter period sees less hunter activity and for this reason it’s a great time to be in the park! It is interesting to note that over the course of the last three hunting trips – Waipakihi Hut, Oamaru, Tussock and Boyd Huts, and this one, I have only met up with two other hunters who were spending a few days at Tussock Hut.

WEATHER:
With the onset of spring comes unsettled and sporadic weather. As an example, I encountered both clear weather and a couple of small snow flurries during the afternoon of the first day. I can’t emphasise enough the necessity to have decent gear and to be prepared for any eventuality. Southerly blasts bring severe wind chill and it is this that can make conditions extremely unpleasant. A quality outer shell jacket or anorak is essential to combat the wind. 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:
This area offers an enormous amount of both bush hunting and open tops hunting, allowing you to pick and choose how and where to hunt. There are large tracts of bush between Te Puke and Harkness Huts that would fulfill the needs of even the most ardent bush hobbit. Similarly, the main ridge (where Te Puke Hut is located) provides open tops sika hunting at its finest for a distance around 6.5kms. The exposed sections could become hard work for the hunter in adverse weather, however, the sheltered head guts should offer some protection. Regardless of what you choose to do, you’ll be, as per usual, up early and out late. I have to admit that when hunting this type of terrain I enjoy glassing the open country at either end of the day, with some bush hunting during the middle of the day thrown in for good measure. This area allows the hunter to do just that – glass the bush edges and scrub areas morning and evening and bush stalk the head guts, saddles and side creeks throughout the day. One benefit of a centrally located area like this, is that there are hunting opportunities within a full 360° radius, meaning no matter what direction the wind is coming from, you should be able to work it to your advantage.

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.