Safety and General Advice

SK route notes (relating to the ridge route via the Main Range)

General exposure

The route from Putara road end to Kaitoke is ostensibly on exposed ridges.  Climbing out of the bush early on at Herepai hut, one does not see bush cover again until the section from shortly after Pukematawai through to Nichols.  After that there is a short patch of bush leaving Anderson’s Hut but then no more bush cover until the drop from Alpha peak towards the hut.  As the range is generally undulating along somewhere between 1000m to 1500m high and it is a predominant NE – SW direction the chances of encountering wind, mist and rain is high.  Being exposed for so long can have obvious implications for a bad weather day, but let us not forget the ‘once in a blue moon’ Tararua tops day of no breeze, no cloud and a hot sun; equally challenging when exposed to such conditions.


The northern leg is muddy and obvious to Herepai Hut, then the foot trail becomes less distinct and marked right the way through to Pukematawai.  There is many an opportunity to lose the track on this section and previous reconnaissance before an attempt is well advised.  The ‘Te Araroa walkway’ joins the route at Pukematawai and as such the track is now well cut and easy to follow right the way through to Bridge Peak and the Southern Crossing which is poled and marked to the finish.  Some care should be exercised around the Tararua Peaks – although poled with blue DOC markers the foot trail can be difficult to pick up in places across this steep section.


The entire route is either up or down.  And that generally means steep climbs and descents the whole time with very little flat.  The terrain is very technical as you would expect in the mountains.


There are huts along the route all with rain water tanks so providing it hasn’t been a particularly long dry spell there is periodic opportunity to refill.  The longest section without water is from Herepai Hut to Dracophyllum Hut: there are a few tarns if it has been wet along the Dundas ridge and if you get really desperate there is an opportunity to drop off the ridge to Dundas Hut or Arete Bivvy.

Get out options

This route is a committed one.  Once you are into the range you are in, with going forwards being sometimes better than retreat.  There are limited opportunities to get off the tops, a few are detailed below.  Assailants should be prepared for the likelihood of an enforced retirement and should consequently know the ways off the range and out of the park; you should also have the means to overnight if attempting a no sleep sub 24hr SK, whether this be with gear you carry yourself or with a support network getting this gear to you should the need arise (most of the range gets cell phone coverage, but as with all mountains it can be intermittent and unreliable).

With the route following a western spine of the park, to the East is generally more ridges, valleys mountains and longer ways to road ends; consequently easier get out options are to the west towards Levin and Otaki Forks.  The first opportunity to do such is at Pukematawai with a retreat option down to Poads Road.  There are two huts this way, Te Matawai and South Ohau.  If you go via South Ohau be aware this is a river route to Poads road so probably best to go via Gable End Ridge if there’s been a lot of rain.  Second out option is at Junction Knob with a drop off to Waitawaewae hut and an out to Otaki Forks.  The third is at Bridge Peak down the Southern Crossing to Otaki Forks.

It is highly advisable to be familiar with these bail out options before an attempt for two reasons: firstly, they offer an opportunity to access the SK route for long training and reconnaissance runs, secondly, if you decide to get out on one of these options you still have an awful lot ahead of you before a road end.


Chris Swallow, Jan 2015

  • Safety guidelines


Take warm wet weather gear it gets v cold if lashed with rain in clag.

You will need to be good with map and compass and nav for this route. We suggest using Viewranger GPS on your phone with NZ Topo maps donwloaded but preferable a proper GPS like Garmin Etrex with maps loaded and there is a GPX of route on Facebook SK site.

  • Sections to watch out for

The northern section to Arete is hard core. There is tricky nav and its more of a route than a track although there are rock cairns. Make sure you don’t take the wrong spur or ridge this will take considerable concentration and map checking.

Also from Andersons to The Ladder is hairy and you need to keep wits about you. There is a tricky section where track is hard to follow near Aokap. Other parts are a bit climby near Mangahuka.

  • At the risk of sounding like a silly old fart (if the hat fits…) I wonder if it’s a good time to generate a discussion about winter kit and what people are carrying in their packs on a backcountry mission when the days are short and the nights are cold. There are some committed routes being done in real winter conditions. Are people carrying decent winter sleeping bags with them, along with the standard winter gear (puffer, bivvy, spare dry clothes etc…) we’re a long way from help if things don’t go to plan. No judgement here just think it’s worth talking about. Cheers! (Photo for attention 😉)
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