This well-graded walk has been targeted by DoC to provide access for more inexperienced walkers to a backcountry hut and the top of the Ruahines. Their maintenance is ship-shape and the track surface is even and metalled. Don’t be deceived however. There is an ascent of nearly 700 vertical metres to sub-alpine country, winding around more hairpins than Dame Edna.
From the junction of North Block Road and Wakarara Road, follow unsealed North Block Road 6 km. You will need to pass through 3 gates over private property and avoid the truck-sized bulls. Triple X carpark is by the information panel, where the start of the track is signposted over the stile.
After 10 minutes you enter the Ruahine Forest Park, shortly reaching a signposted junction on the left for the Swamp Track. The junction to Triple X Hut is a little further on. The ascent through red and black beech has been augmented with interpretation panels, some provided by Norsewear, the local outdoor gear manufacturers. These educate you about the forest ecology and such interesting features as burls and Shuteye Shack.
You know the hut is getting nearer because the beech trees become more stunted, dwarfed versions of their majestic siblings further down the valley. The forest changes noticeably on the ascent as the composition of vegetation varies with the gain in altitude. In the mist this is an other-worldly landscape. Banks of eye-bright decorate the trackside and moss encrusts all available surfaces.
Sunrise Hut is the welcoming sight on reaching the crest of the ridge. This 10-bunk Category 2 hut commands a spectacular viewpoint. Day walkers should leave a donation for using the facilities.
The track to Armstrong Saddle is signposted from behind Sunrise Hut to Top Maropa Hut. It reaches the crest of the ridge with breathtaking views into a large beech filled bowl. The craggy peak of Te Atuaoparapara (1687 metres) on the main Ruahine Range stands sentinel over the hidden valley.
The poled track weaves through sub-alpine scrub, perching frighteningly near the head of a devastating slip. Armstrong Saddle (20 minutes), is sited above a small Alpine tarn and information panel. Don’t stop here. Take a few more steps to the cairn just above the saddle and catch the views of Ruapehu and Tongariro National Park before your descent.
The massive erosion scar above Sunrise Hut is characteristic of the park. The high incidence of erosion surfaces is associated with shattered greywacke and generally occurs where decreased vegetaion cover causes soil removal and debris to avalanche. The steep slopes, high rainfall, and tectonic instability make erosion part of the natural geomorphic cycle. The bare surfaces absorb low volumes of water increasing run off times and causing higher flood peaks in the rivers.
Armstrong Saddle is named after Hamish Armstrong, the pilot of a Gypsy Moth plane which crashed here on 21st July 1935. A big search and rescue attempt involved 375 hours flying time and teams of trampers. It was eventually a party of skiers who discovered the intact fuselage 2 weeks later. The wreckage was dismantled and pack horsed off. The search resulted in the formation of the Heretaunga Tramping Club.
North Island ▷ Hawkes Bay ▷ Waipukurau
Hawkesbay Mountain Bike club got a permit to ride the track in November, we had 80 riders on a fine sunny day
Track and views were great, encountered a few groups of walkers in both directions, everyone got past each other without dramas a good day for all, it would be great if there was permanent mountain bike access on this track
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What we liked about it was that it's not crowded and thet the walking distances per day were feasible for our kids (aged 5 to 11).
Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍