27th – 30th January 2017
Even the best laid plans can fall though and unfortunately that is what happened with our Thunderbolt/Rangitikei trip. Due to circumstances beyond my control, our flight into the Thunderbolt Tops had to be cancelled! I was pretty gutted as it was an opportunity for Scotty and Phill to come along for a fly-in hunt.
So, back to the drawing board and after my hunt in the Back Ridge area, I decided that a return trip was in order, this time to hunt the big range that runs parallel to Back Ridge, taking in Studholme Saddle Hut and Bivvy, Castle Camp, Kiwi Saddle Hut, Cameron Hut and Kiwi Mouth Hut.
Still wanting to fly in with the boys, I arranged a flight with Chris Crosse (East Kaweka Helicopters) to Studholme Saddle Hut with the return flight out of Kiwi Mouth Hut. As it turned out, Scotty and Phill were unable to make it so it was into the hills solo once again!
Studholme Saddle Hut pictured here in calmer weather!
Arriving at the hangar at midday I had a brief catch-up with Chris (and Fiona Duley who runs the office part time) before a short flight into Studholme Saddle Hut. After my last trip I had vowed to return to this particular spot, I just didn’t think it was going to be so soon! The weather was perfect, if a little hot, and after a quick nosy in the hut book I made my way down to Studholme Saddle Bivvy which is a short walk from the hut.
Studholme Saddle Bivvy is a tiny shelter with room enough for two comfortably, three at a squeeze. With its 4-ft ceiling height, it would make a great hut for the kids! Interestingly, it is the oldest bivvy in the park and was built in 1958 by the NZ Forest Service. There is a long drop toilet and a stream nearby for water supply.
Studholme Saddle Bivvy – the hunting begins as soon as you leave the biv.
I planned on spending the night in the bivvy so I could get in an evening and morning glassing session. Adjacent to the biv is a ridge that offers a primo view onto some north facing terrain – ideal for an afternoon glass. With no pressure to be anywhere I headed up the ridge for the rest of the day. Although conditions were ideal, no deer were seen, so on dark I headed back to the biv.
The following morning I was up early and made my way back up the ridge, but this time a little further around which provided me with a better view of the terrain downstream.
It was cracker morning with only a small amount of wind present. At any moment, I expected to see a deer pop out but it wasn’t until the sun crept onto the scrub faces that I finally picked out a couple of sika hinds. They were mature looking animals that would most likely have young at foot, stashed away somewhere safe.
A couple of sika hinds out enjoying the mid morning sun. Note the wilding pines, prevalent in this area of the park.
I captured some footage and watched as they moved off back into the bush before reappearing further along on a slip. They looked impressive in their brightly coloured summer pelage and I managed a few photos as they moved across the slip and back in to the bush once more.
With the morning session over it was time to pack up and head towards Kiwi Saddle. The walk to the saddle involves an easy 5km jaunt along the ridge, passing by Castle Camp along the way.
Looking back towards Kaweka J – at 1724m, it is the highest point in the Kawekas.
Castle Camp is a small shelter nestled in the beech forest. It is basically set up as a kitchen and dining area and a place to weather the elements when required.
Castle Camp provides shelter type accommodation.
Carrying on from there I passed through some fantastic open country that warrants a return trip at some stage. I reached Kiwi Saddle Hut mid afternoon and stopped briefly for my routine nosy around the hut. Kiwi Saddle Hut is an 8-bunker featuring the standard wood burner, tank water supply and long drop and meat safe. The hut is under the complete guardianship of the Heretaunga Tramping Club and payment for its use is by donation. In fact, it was built by members of the club back in 1988 and has no association with DoC whatsoever.
Kiwi Saddle Hut is located right in the middle of some great sika country.
From Kiwi Saddle Hut there are two routes to get you to Kiwi Mouth Hut; you can either head up the track towards the Kuripapango turnoff and then follow the track around a large bush gully until you reach the Cameron Hut track junction, or head down from Kiwi Saddle at the bottom of the big gully where you can either drop into Kiwi Creek and traverse the creek down to Kiwi Mouth Hut, or head up and around onto the Cameron /Kiwi Mouth track and then down to Kiwi Mouth.
I opted to take the high route as I was keen to spend a night up on the tops and hunt an area near the Kuripapango turnoff. After finding a suitable spot to set up the tent, I had an early tea and then headed off down a nearby ridge to suss out a vantage point to glass from.
It was a clear and calm evening and I was right in the thick of some great sika country, however, nothing showed. As the sun dipped, a thick fog rolled in which looked like it would settle in for the night.
I woke the next morning to the fog so I wasn’t in any hurry to get out of the bag. By about 7am it had cleared enough to get out for look but once again, the deer had other ideas.
Today’s mission was to head along the track and park up at the top of the hill above Kiwi Mouth, this would mean an easy stroll down to the hut for a midday pick-up.
Between where I had camped and the Cameron Hut junction there was a steep-sided ridge and bush section that joined the two. With time up my sleeve I slowed things up and stalked along the ridge. There are some tidy north-facing head guts along the way and it didn’t take long to find fresh sign not far from the track. It is easy when hunting this type of open country to dismiss the bush and concentrate your efforts on glassing the bush edges, clay pans and scrub country and it is an increasingly popular hunting method.
However, don’t neglect the bush, particularly for sika, you can hunt them all day under the canopy. I made the Cameron Hut track junction at midday and by now the sun was well overhead and the temperature was rising!
The route down to Cameron Hut involves a 600 metre descent (and then back up...) over about a 1.2km stretch, not exactly ideal at this time of the day! I was keen to check the hut out though as it was one I would most likely not revisit in the near future.
Cameron Hut can be reached via a 3-4hr traverse up the Ngaruroro River or a 4-5 hr walk up and around Kuripapango.
Anyway, after a steep mission down the track I ended up at the hut. Cameron Hut was built in the early 1960s, provides accommodation for six and features an open fire place, long drop toilet and meat safe. Water supply is sourced directly out of the Ngaruroro River.
Eager to get back up on the hill and find a suitable campsite for the night, I filled my water bag and slowly made my way back up the track, then carried on to where the track drops off down to Kiwi Mouth Hut. Predictably I drank most of my water supply on the ascent so I needed to replenish it at some stage, it was just so bloody hot!
Having done a little investigating on Google Earth, there looked to be a nearby gully suitable for a glass that evening and morning. In need of water I headed around to the gully, and thinking it was too early for an animal to be out, strolled down the large clay pan towards the creek. Half way down a sika hind burst out of the cover not more than 100 metres away from me and ran off straight across the opposite face towards the safety of the forest, but not before stopping on the bush edge for a cheeky look back... typical!
With the water bag filled I made my way back to camp, had a feed and then snuck back for an evening glass. I think though that my opportunity had been missed as no animals showed that evening.
Any early start, and thankfully, only a two-minute walk back to my glassing spot. I love fly camping, it’s great for putting you on the spot at the optimum hunting times. Nothing around first thing and again it wasn’t until the sun hit the bush edge that a sika hind popped out. She looked mature so I decided early on to let her walk.
A mature sika hind that would most likely have a fawn at foot – left to enjoy her time in the sun.
Looking towards the Manson – the author contemplates a trip into this area.
I hung around until about 9.30 and then packed up and made my way down to the hut. Kiwi Mouth Hut is located at the confluence of Kiwi Creek and the Ngaruroro River. Built in 1960 by the NZ Forest Service, it offers four bunks, an open fire place, long drop toilet, a meat safe and a water supply from Kiwi Creek.
Kiwi Mouth Hut is positioned on a large clearing at the confluence of Kiwi Creek and the Ngaruroro River.
Chris Crosse duly arrived at 12pm sharp and the flight up and out via Kiwi Creek provided some great aerials of an area that I was starting to become somewhat familiar with.
Fantastic country coupled with primo weather always makes for a great trip. It was good also to have spotted a few sika – seeing deer always makes a hunt feel just that little more complete.
There are several options available if you are looking to hunt this part of the park. East Kaweka Helicopters can drop you off and pick you up wherever you choose to go and I thoroughly recommend their services. Chris is more than happy to work around your trip requirements. If you’re beating the feet, you have several access points to choose from; Makahu Saddle Carpark, Cameron Carpark and The Lakes Carpark. These all involve a pretty hefty 3-4hr ascent up on to the tops, so be prepared for that.
Apart from the roar, the summer holiday period will see the highest amount of hunter activity in the park. However, by the end of January almost everyone is back at work or school so you can expect the park to be a little quieter. I didn’t bump into any hunters and checking through the hut log books revealed that the area had been pretty much void of hunter traffic over the last few weeks – a good time to be in the hills. Note that while almost every tramper will enter details into the hut books, hunters are not always so forthcoming.
Hot and windy! If the forecast is clear you can expect plenty of heat and a lot of sunshine. It is important to consider the effects of the sun, especially when hunting the tops. Pack sunscreen and consider the need for extra water top-ups along the way. Water will be scarce up high, but there is tank supply at most of the huts and if you are prepared to drop down into a head gut or two you’ll eventually find a trickle to fill your bottle with.In general, the weather at this time of the year has become a little more settled so I would use this opportunity to spend a few days fly camping, getting away from the huts.
The advantage of a drop-off at one spot and pick-up at another is that it allows the hunter to cover a fair amount of ground without retracing his steps. With a network of tracks and huts that are for the most part all linked together, the Kawekas easily caters for this kind of trip. It doesn’t necessarily have to be by chopper either, there are a number of access points and tracks (along the main range) that loop around and back onto each other. Adding to that is the varied terrain you can plan your hunts around. You can quite easily combine several different terrain types and hunting techniques within the one trip. Open tops, bush edges, bush interior, clay pans, slips and scrub country, it’s all on offer. On the hunting side of things, one thing to remember is to not pack up too early from your morning glassing sessions. Give the deer time to move out of the forest interior, particularly if you are glassing a face, slip or clearing that doesn’t get the sun until later in the morning.
We head into the Thunderbolt/Rangitikei (for real this time!) area of the Southern Kaimanawas for a pre-rut hunt!