The Matemateaonga is a 43km track through a heavily forested area travelling from the “Lost World Highway” region in Taranaki through the Whanganui National Park to the Whanganui River, providing views of the Tongariro volcanoes in the distance. The track follows the original Whakaihuwaka Road built in 1911 as a pilot track to create a direct link between Stratford and Raetihi. Work to finish the road by widening it from a track was interrupted by the First World War and never completed. The track passes over the Matemateaonga Range and all inclines are fairly gentle. Save for the descent down to the Bridge to Nowhere Lodge on the last day we found the track to be the easiest that we had walked on in New Zealand. There are only two potential issues. First, erosion has meant that in some areas the track can be quite narrow with a drop off sufficient to cause injury if you fall. The second issue is mud – locals call the track the “Muddy Muddy Onga”. We were fortunate and walked it after a prolonged dry spell so the muddy patches were limited. These issues were far outweighed by the beauty of the forest and the opportunity to hike it in relative solitude. Out of the way and off the beaten track, the track sees few visitors; most Kiwis don’t even know where it is. Chances are those walking it will, like us, have it all to themselves.
Best time of year: The Track can be walked at any time of year, but during winter it is likely to be muddy and the cost of the jet boat at the Whanganui end may be greater as there may be no tourists on the river to share the cost with.
Closest town to the start of the track: Stratford which is one hour by car from the start of the track and 45 minutes by bus from the nearest major town, New Plymouth
Closest town to the end of the track: Raetihi, which is small and with limited services. A better option is Ohakune, a ski resort a short distance from Raetihi. Both Raetihi and Ohakune are accessible by bus. Ohakune can also be reached by train. The closest large town is Whanganui.
Hiking supplies: Dehydrated food and gas canisters are best purchased in New Plymouth and Whanganui. Whilst there are outdoor stores in Stratford and Ohakune we found their opening hours and range a bit hit and miss.
Getting to and from the track: The Matemateaonga Track is fairly remote and the access points for each end of the track are quite a distance from each other. Transport options are further complicated by the fact that one end of the track is only accessible by jet boat or canoe. We started by leaving our excess gear in Ohakune, catching a bus to New Plymouth and another bus from there to Stratford. At Stratford we were collected by Carol of Eastern-Taranaki Co and driven for an hour through the “Lost World” to the Matemateaonga Track ($90). At the other end of the track we had pre-booked jet boat transport with the Bridge to Nowhere Lodge which took us down the river to Pipiriki (40 minutes, $100) where we were collected by Yeti Tours and taken to Ohakune (45 minutes, $75). Another option for those who want to experience the last day of the Whanganui River Journey would be to stay in the Bridge to Nowhere Lodge at the end of the hike and then paddle down the river the next day – canoes are available to hire through the lodge. For those not wanting to arrange the individual legs themselves or who want to travel back to Stratford, Carol at Eastern-Taranaki Co will put a package together for you.
Accommodation: There are four serviced huts ($15 per person per night for those without a backcountry pass): Omaru (8 bunks), Pouri (12 bunks), Ngapurua (10 bunks) and Puketotara (8 bunks). Each hut has bunks with mattresses, water, drop toilets and wood stoves for heating. The water from the huts is collected from the roof and we found it had mosquito larvae in it, so it was necessary to filter and treat it.
Mountain Biking: Not really, at least that was the note left in one of the intentions books by one group of French mountain bikers. We later told by people at the Bridge to Nowhere Lodge that the same group had intended to bike the track in one day. When they had not turned up at the appointed time a search and rescue helicopter was sent out only to find that they hadn’t even hit the half way mark. They finally arrived after 7pm, the day after they had original intended.
Km Markers: Once upon a time the track was marked with kilometre markers. Only a few of those markers now remain – most of them appearing between Pouri Hut and Puketotara Hut.
Day 1 Kohi Saddle to Omaru Hut (5.6km, 1-1.5 hours).
Journeying by bus and car from New Plymouth to the start of the track meant that we didn’t start walking until 4pm, so it was just as well we only had 5.6km to do on the first day. The track started on an old farm road, before we turned left off the road on to a narrow single track. The track gently ascended as it sidled around a hill through dense bush until we reached the Puniwhaku Link Track junction. From there it gently descended to the hut.
Day 2 Omaru Hut to Pouri Hut (15km, 3.5- 5 hours).
The track continued along near the top of the Matemateaonga Track sidling along the side of the range occasionally crossing to the other side, again through dense forest with occasional glimpses across to the Tongariro volcanoes. After about one and half hours we reached another track junction, the clearing providing a good spot for a snack break. A bit further on from the junction we entered the Whanganui National Park and the track widened to more resemble the road it once was. One hour from the first junction and 8.6km from Omaru Hut and we were at the junction for the turn off to the track to the Mt Humphries summit (1.5 hours return). DOC had kindly left some cut logs at this junction so we stopped for lunch. From the Mt Humphries junction it was 20 minutes to the Mt Humphries clearing and the junction with the Puteore Route. From there it was 40 minutes of gradual incline to the Pouri Hut and the best views of the Tongariro volcanoes.
Day 3 Pouri Hut to Ngapurua Hut (10.4km, 2.75 – 3.25 hours).
Today’s walk proved to be slightly more difficult than the previous two days as it narrowed and passed up and down through small gullies, with muddy sections and tree roots to negotiate. With 2.7km to go to the hut we came out onto a clearing and a sign which marked that it was a Kiwi census zone. From here it was a short distance to the Ngapurua Hut, the newest and nicest hut on the track.
Day 4 Pouri Hut to the Bridge to Nowhere Lodge and the Whanganui River (13.7km, 4.5 hours)
The section of the track between Pouri Hut and Puketotara Hut was our favourite section of the Whanganui National Park. The track continued on a gentle gradient with occasional views to the north. After a couple of kilometres we passed the cave, so marked by a DOC sign. After a couple of hours the track descended to the Puketotara Hut. From that hut there were two options – the DOC track down to the river or a track maintained by the Bridge to Nowhere Lodge which led to that lodge. With a view to having a beer at the lodge after the hike, we had arranged for the jet boat to pick us up from the lodge landing rather than the end of the track. In retrospect this was probably a mistake as the track was more suitable for goats than people. In fact we saw quite a few of them. It took us an hour and half to do the last couple of kilometres down to the lodge from the hut. The track was steep and, for the first 45 minutes, difficult to follow. It eventually came out onto an old farm track and from there was easier, albeit still steep. The beer at the lodge was most welcome and the jet boat ride down to Pipiriki fun.
For more information: see our A Beginner’s Guide to Hiking in New Zealand post.