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A tough walk alongside the Mohaka River is rewarded with a soak in a natural hot spring, sanitised with the construction of a few baths.
The start of the track is signposted from The Gums carpark at the end of Makahu Road.
From the junction of Whittle Road and Pakaututu Road, follow Pakaututu Road 8.8 km to Makahu Road, which branches to the left. This is a narrow, rutted, unsealed road, which is not suited to people excessively fond of their vehicles. It’s 11 km to the roadend. Mangatutu Hot Springs are 300 metres before the roadend and the campground is 200 metres before the carpark.
The track follows the true right of the majestic Mohaka River through the spectacular gorge it has created.
It starts by passing through high tea-tree forest with interesting trees such as putaputaweta and lancewood below. It then rises over a bluff with a lookout on the corner of the bend of the river and then drops to follow a straight section. The manuka provides welcome shade in the summer and zebra striped dragonflies perform aerial acrobatics like bi-planes.
At times the track rises above the river, which echoes off the steep valley walls. At other times the track descends to the river bank, where small gravel beaches support toetoe and flax. From above, the dark waters blend into different greens and blues as the depth and riverbed substrate change. The sun highlights the white water in areas of rapids.
One section of the track above the river traverses a deposit of pumice with the charred remains of logs embedded within it. A steep rocky section (1½ hours from carpark) gains an elevated vantage point over the river and descends to a series of spectacular bluffs of greywacke. These rise in sheer walls from the river bank and create chasms at river level.
Shortly after a very steep climb through kamahi forest, the track exits at a viewpoint of the consolidated braid. Te Puia Lodge is a further 20 minutes. This 20-bunk hut is nestled in a clearing by the riverside with toilets nearby. The hot springs are signposted from the far end of the hut.
By now you should be yearning for a soak, but the hard work isn’t over yet. After crossing the wire swingbridge at the junction with the track to Makino Hut, there is a short flat section followed by a climb up a knife edge spur. This seems only one tree wide in places and is not the place for dawdling. Take extreme care here.
The descent concludes by witnessing some large rimu followed by a dense stand of youthful kahikatea. The characteristic sulphurous whiff will be your first welcome to the hot springs. There is also a camping area with toilets nearby.
The spring emanates from a small waterfall and is captured with typical Kiwi ingenuity (a PVC rainhead and downpipe). This empties into 2 fibreglass tubs, one which spills over to the other. Decking and seating surround the baths.
During your rejuvenating soak, keep your head above water to avoid the risk of amoebic meningitis. The return to the carpark is much easier after a soak and there’s always a dip in the Mangatutu Springs to look forward to.
The hot pools were known to early Maori who made hunting forays up the mighty Mohaka River.
DOC Hawkes Bay
Central government organisation
North Island ▷ Hawkes Bay ▷ Napier
This walk is a hidden gem (at least on a fine day as when I did it) - one of the top day walks in NZ in my opinion. River and bush covered steep hill scenery is stunning. Gravel road to get there a bit dodgy and not for motorhomes. I walked to the hot pools and back in 7.5 hours (including an hour at the hot pools for a swim and lunch) where you can also camp if you wish - terrific place to camp. Do note there are a lot of hunters using this track (one I passed carrying two deer heads) and DOC for some reason putting the dead stoats and rats on the top of the traps all along the way, but don't let any of that put you off - this is a stunning walk.
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 😍