Off-roading in Kaweka

The promise of a soak in a hot pool is just the lure we needed to get out and about on a winter’s day.

The springs are located 60km north-west of Napier in the Kaweka Forest Park. It’s a Department of Conservation (DoC) reserve and is popular with trampers and hunters.

Coursing through this landscape is the Mohaka River whose headwaters originate in the Kaweka and empty at its namesake, Mohaka—a tiny settlement near Wairoa.

Apart from its scenic beauty, the river, with its dramatically steep gorges, is also a popular recreational spot for fishermen and kayakers.

At Puketapu Pub, 15km from Napier, we met a group of other four-wheel drive enthusiasts. We quickly acquainted ourselves before Tag Along Tour owner, Kevin Smith, gathered us around to explain the route and what we could expect to see along the way.

On all these trips, each vehicle is supplied with a two-way radio transmitter, which is great because everyone can keep in touch with each other and if anyone has any questions along the way, they only have to push a button and ask.

The journey to Mangatutu Hot Springs

Driving -in -the -ranges

Just out of Puketapu, the last crispy, golden leaves were clinging to grapevines. The vines would soon be pruned in preparation for the next season.

As the road climbed, our convoy passed through fertile and rolling farms renowned for bull breeding.

Unfortunately, rain had set in and looked like it wasn’t going to stop. We parked at Ball’s Clearing Scenic Reserve for a welcome spot of morning tea. As we sipped cups of steaming coffee and tea, we were grateful for shelter on such a wet day.

Soon after, we started crossing the first ford at Makahu Stream one by one. After this, the unsealed road became narrower, windier, and wilder. But this is the beauty of a four-wheel drive and it’s what they’re designed for.

Besides, drivers relish a challenge and the chance to get coated in mud. Our white ute returned home thoroughly splattered in it.

The bad weather hadn’t stopped others. Along the way, we noticed a couple of high school vans parked, a few family groups, and the occasional lone walker.

At Mangatutu, there was no chance of eating outside so we enjoyed lunch under cover. But first, it was time for a dip in the pools. We headed down a narrow track and didn’t have to walk far before we saw two blue pools peeking through the bush.

There’s nothing like being in a hot tub full of strangers to release your inhibitions. The water was the perfect temperature and warmed us to the marrow on such a chilly day.

Tag Along Tours story

Kevin and his wife, Sharon Monteith-Smith began Tag Along Tours 10 years ago. It grew out of their mutual love of all things rural and a desire to share it with others.

Kevin used to work in the banking industry and at one time was a financial planner. He realised that while people saved hard for their retirement, when it came to enjoying it, many found it difficult to venture out of their comfort zones.

As a keen fisherman, four-wheel drive enthusiast, and outdoor adventurer, Kevin came up with the idea of Tag Along Tours, guided by himself and Sharon, and designed to help others explore the rural hinterland.

Many of Tag Along’s overnight and day tours require access to private properties and this is where his extensive knowledge of New Zealand’s back country and watching his favourite programme Country Calendar comes in handy.

Kevin shared some of the highlights from other trips, such as excellent hosts they’ve encountered in out-of-the-way places. ‘Hidden treasures’ he calls them.

Mangatutu Springs is definitely a hidden treasure.

Unfortunately, at Makahu Saddle, there was no panorama of Hawke’s Bay (usually a highlight); just a cloud as thick as pea soup. Perhaps we’ll return on a sunny day to see for ourselves.

Check these out

The -forest

Ball’s Clearing Scenic Reserve is located five kilometres from Puketitiri along Pakaututu Road. A network of walking tracks (10–40 minutes in length) leads through dense virgin podocarp forest. Good for bird watching, photography, and natural history studies. The reserve has picnic shelters, toilets, and water.

Mangatutu Hot Springs campsite is approximately an hour and 45 minutes’ drive from Napier. It’s a popular camping, picnic, and fishing spot and a starting point for tramping or day walks up the Mohaka and into the Kaweka Forest Park.

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