New Zealand Walk: Mount Holdsworth tracks caters for all fitness levels
Mount Holdsworth is one of several mountain ranges in the North Island. They form a ridge running parallel with the East Coast of the island between East Cape and Wellington.
The rugged terrain and frequently harsh weather conditions served to discourage any substantial attempt at penetration by early Maori. Although there is ecological evidence of exploration by Moa hunters as early as the 12th century the mountains remained a massive divide between tribal settlements.
In the 1870’s a large portion of the ranges was sold to the New Zealand Government by a coalition of the Iwi in possession of the surrounding region. Above left: Well signed tracks in the park. Above right: View over the valley from the rocky lookout. Below left: On the way to the Rocky lookout. Excluded from the deal was an area of 1,000 acres reserved to protect the sacred Lake Hapuakorari the location which remained uncertain.
Watersheds were added over the following decades to create a crown conservation reserve in excess of 250-000 acres. The scenic beauty of the Tararua’s made the mountains a popular subject for painting during the Victorian period.
It is one of the most frequently entered ranges in the country, between 120,000 and 150,000 people visiting each year.
Among the many tramping tracks is the well known Southern Crossing running from Otaki Forks in the west over Mount Hector and exiting via the Kaitoke. The western slopes of the ranges are subject to prevailing moisture carrying winds channelled by Cook Strait.
There is a great diversity of vegetation on this mountain with conifers, ferns, sub alpine shrubs, and tussock on the mist shrouded tops with the northern range mainly tawa and miro, the south beech and the west slopes facing the Tasman Sea mixed native rimu, tarrier, Above left: The information kiosk at the entrance to the forest. matai, totara, and kahikatea and ferns and shrubs.
The Tararua Range is divided into a northern and southern district region each is dominated by a central mountain peak, Arete in the north and Hector in the south. A total of 10 rivers rise on the mountain slopes providing water for the surrounding rural and urban districts.
Established in 1954 this area stretching from the Rimutaka Summit to the Pahiatua Track is approximately 116,535ha and is the largest conservation park in the North Island. It caters for tramping, hunting, botanising and walking op-
Mount Holdsworth tracks caters for all fitness levels
portunities in a wild natural landscape.
The main entrance to Mount Holdsworth is on the eastern side of the ranges where the picturesque Atiwhakatu Stream passes through the area and is home to a diverse range of animal, bird and insect life. From here you can hike to the summit of Mount Holdsworth a 1470 metre peak.
The track climbs beyond the forest up to the tussock covered top and your reward is extensive views of the Wairarapa farmland and the rugged interior of the Tararua Range. The hike is a full day and achievable for anyone of moderate fitness. The entrance to the west side of the mountain is from Otaki Forks.
This forest park covers more than three quarters of the Tararua Ranges and is administered by the Department of Conservation.
I began my two walks from the Department of Conservation camping ground where there is adequate parking at the end and where there is a small information kiosk with a large map of the forest and other items of interest. Further along through the gate entrance is Holdsworth Lodge where you must sign a book stating the time you entered the forest and the time you exited.
Walk over the picturesque Atiwhakatu Bridge with a gurgling rocky stream underneath which leads to the entrance to the tracks. There are a myriad of tracks to choose from including family walks all taking different times to achieve, all very well signposted with the times and length of kilometres.
The tracks are well maintained with boardwalks where needed and toilets in some areas. If you keep to these tracks you cannot get lost.
I chose two walks, the first The Rocky Outlook a walk which was timed at one hour 30 minutes return but took me three hours return as it was a slow walk uphill most of the way, time spent at the summit with extensive views of the Aitwhakatu Valley and the eastern plains, taking photos having a breather and admiring the view which took in the beautiful forest covered valley below.
There is a large rock at the entrance to the lookout which if you are fit and don’t mind heights you can climb to get a better view and also take photos. Some of the walkers had climbed it and sat on the top to take selfies and have their friends take photos of them. Although there was a slight mist over the valley it enhanced the view.
The walk down from the lookout gave a completely different view of forest floor to what I experienced climbing up. It is amazing what you miss on upward climbs I suppose because you are concentrating on the path on the way up.
The second walk I chose was Donnelly Flat via The Loop Walk which was timed as 40 minutes but took me one hour 20 minutes again due to dawdling and taking in the scenery and photos. The track takes you through beautiful beech and rimu trees and into a clearing
onto the Atiwhakatu Stream and a bush clad valley. The flat is named after Tom Donnelly, a goldminer who discovered gold in there in1873. He died on Mount Holdsworth.
There is a barbecue area there with picnic tables and also a toilet. A pleasant walk through a bush clad track takes you back to the starting point. This part of the track in places has large embedded stones and exposed roots along parts of it and is narrow in places but very beautiful. All signs have an arrow pointing the way back to the car park and other walks.
I cannot speak highly enough of these beautiful forest walks which range from different lengths and timed day walks and the beauty of the moss covered logs and trees, areas of fern, tussock, native trees, and the large diverse of other plants too many to mention.
The times mentioned on the signs for each walk depends on your pace and how slow or fast you chose to walk. Give yourself more time if you wish to linger, enjoy the peace and quiet and take photos.
What is very noticeable is the lack of bird song in the area. There is a very definite quiet stillness in there apart from one bird I heard which sounded like a shining cuckoo.
The main tracks are gravel and easy to walk on. In all the tracks are a credit to the Department of Conservation as is the camping area. Probably different in the winter.
The closest all weather road right across the range is the Pahiatua Track in the north which joins Palmerston North and the town of Pahiatua is widely used when the Manawatu Gorge is closed.
Access to Mt Holdsworth is on the right into Norfolk Road 2 kms south of Masterton or coming from Carterton 10kms north on the left into Norfolk Road. Follow the sealed road for about 15kms where it ends in the Department of Conservation camping ground.
Enjoy this beautiful forest and the wonderful walks. Make sure you are prepared for inclement weather and have suitable walking shoes or boots, water, warm clothing and food if you intend to stay in there for a length of time and don’t forget your camera.
The cell signal is non existent in many parts of the forest. There are wooden seats in some areas of the forest but are usually wet.
Do not leave valuables in your vehicle in the car park. A very helpful ranger living on site is available to offer assistance and provide local information. Enjoy.
Above left: Bridge over the Atiwhakatu Stream. Below left: A mossy part of the track. Below right: A dell of ferns and logs.
Above left: Deep in the forest. Above right: One of the many boardwalks. Below right: The main track into the forest.