The 1000 Acre Plateau, Kahurangi National Park

My companions were friend Alan and Karla this time.  Alan had flown in from ‘up North’ then leaving around 1 pm, a bit of a late start, and we headed for the Lake Matiri Hut.  They say from the carpark to the hut takes three hours and it took us a little under two and a half hours.  I was surprised at that time as I had suffered some heat stroke on the way in which slowed things down a bit.  New lesson: take it easy old chap, you can’t jump over rocks like you used to!  And keep drinking that water too. 


Leaving the Lake Martiri Hut.

Leaving the Lake Martiri Hut.

The Matiri West Branch River was very low and once over along the track a little, the Department of Conservation have had installed a new shelter. This is for when anyone can’t get across the river if it is in flood and they have to wait until the flow has gone down. There is or was, an old hut somewhere nearby built for the same purpose but it has either rotted away or it’s just too covered in blackberry and fern to be seen. It was built around 1905-1909, was known as the Matiri West Branch Hut and one local hunter told me that one time the river was up and he  couldn’t get across to meet his wife and family who came along to pick him up. She didn’t like to risk driving back home for the night, along the now slippery dirt road so her husband managed to throw a string across the flooded river and then she was able to drag some  freshly shot venison to her side and was able to cook a feed for the children who were with her. It was ‘a very uncomfortable night’ she said. 

Old tree stump reused.

Old tree stump reused.

The next morning we climbed up the track to the 1000 Acre Plateau, heading to Poor Petes Hut for the night. It is a pretty stiff climb of about 700 metres. Up and not much respite and I felt it after suffering a bit on the way in the day before, but was helped along by my friends. 

The forest we passed through was interesting though as at first we passed through beech, then rata, followed by rata with a mix of silver beech with some tanekaha and quintinia.  As you climb, the cedar are grouped in the middle altitudes (with beech below) and found with rata and silver pine etc. Maybe it was yellow silver pine? These species then ran out at higher altitudes as the beech came back in. This is coincident with a change from granite to limestone. At least it was something to discuss on the way up. That is, an excuse to have another spell! At nearly every place where we stopped a robin would appear. One even hopped onto Karla’s boot and checked out her boot laces.

Robin resting on Karla's boot.

Robin resting on Karla’s boot.

Alan, who runs the Waikato University Carbon dating laboratory was very interested in the cedar  trees (Libocedrus bidwillii) and stopped to measure and record the larger trees. Some of the cedar trees were about 600mm diameter  and going by previous dating, Alan reckoned that these trees could be about 300 or so years old. In one area in the Urewera National Park, some cedar trees were ~1m in diameter and ~1000 years old but cedar in upper South Island seem to be about half this age for a given diameter. We eventually passed the large rocks which meant we were just below the rim and then we climbed out on top. It almost was a cause for celebration, so very soon after we stopped for lunch. 


Poor Pete's Hut 2008.

Poor Pete’s Hut 2008.

Poor Pete’s Hut

One walks along the bush covered rim a little way and then the track heads out across the tussock towards Poor Pete’s Hut in the distance. The old Poor Pete’s Hut, built around 1956, was in a neglected state and the ‘officials’ wanted to pull it out but due to a rethink (and some protests) it has been rebuilt. It’s still just two bunks with a new covered porch, but it now doesn’t leak. It sits on the edge of some tussock, high above Lake Matiri on the remains of an old peneplain. 

This is the oldest landform in New Zealand raised from the bottom of the sea to 1000m above sea level now, many years ago. From the earthquake formed Lake Matiri to the plateau is a climb of about 700m – and it sure feels like it. It is an interesting area though with the swampy tussock covered 1000 acre plateau close by to the hut. Who poor Pete was, I haven’t been able to find out but as it is said that sheep grazed up here long ago, so maybe a poor old Pete had to stay up there to look after them all? Perhaps someone said the country was marshy with poor peat up there?

Poor Petes Hut 2017.

Poor Petes Hut 2017.

It looks all flat from above but once on the ground, the land rolls along like a land sea with the waves of tussock rising and falling with many sink holes or depressions scattered about. An elderly hunter told me that there were a lot of deer up there in the early 1970’s, not big mobs but in groups of 4 or 5. Once he shot a deer nearby but it disappeared. He just couldn’t find it anywhere so he sat down and rolled a smoke by a sink hole. While sitting there pondering the situation he noticed a couple of blowflies going down the sinkhole. He got up and peered down and sure enough, there was the deer lying at the bottom. And that’s a good reason not to wander around up there after dark! The sink holes are of interest too as one could find a number of different alpine plants tucked down out of the way to browsing hares and the odd deer still about. 

The plateau certainly isn’t the best spot to be if the wind is howling and it’s raining but we had a pleasant night in the new hut at 1030 metres above sea level. Alan slept out in the porch but we thought another mattress would have been good as there was enough room inside. One would think that insect screens would be mandatory for any hut window nowadays too. A local couple arrived and set up their tent nearby. We told of our last visit nine years ago almost to the day. As they were leaving the next morning she said to me “Coming back in nine years time?”  
“I would like to” I said. 
“It’s a date then” she replied. 
Maybe I should have mentioned that I’ll be 88 then – a helicopter ride Judith, for sure! 

Larrakins Hut under The Haystack.

Larrakins Hut under The Haystack.

We  started out towards Larrikin Creek Hut and after climbing the hill behind the hut we had views of The Needle and The Haystack ahead. We walked over the undulating tussock, now and then descending a little and crossing limestone creek beds with very little running water through them but stopping here and there for a photo. Nearing some bush clad hills we heard, what could be described as a squark. First thoughts were that it had come from a human but then a red deer stag? Sure enough he tried again, a little better this time. Perhaps he was just a youngster getting some practice before the roar. I gave a roar myself.  Maybe he thought my effort sounded like a ripe old monster as he gave a few grunts then went over the ridge in the opposite direction.  When you give a roar, the stag is supposed to come to you so it looks like I needed to do some practicing too? 

As we approached Larrikin’s Hut we passed a couple of weka feeding by the side of the track. Larrikin Creek Hut (1050 metres above sea level)  has four bunks and once we had settled in we went for a late afternoon walk across the hut clearing, into the bush to climb out onto the tussock ridge above. 

The Needle & The Haystack

The Haystack & 1000 Acre Plateau beyond.

The Haystack & 1000 Acre Plateau beyond.

The next morning we went back up the bush slope and out onto the tussock ridge once more heading up to climb The Needle. We picked up a track leading up to the saddle between The Needle and The Haystack. It looked okay so we kept going and then branched off towards the saddle trying to detour around the rough patches and steep little gullies to finally reach the saddle. The area was covered with mountain flax, astelia, celmisia, speergrass, hebe and such. A lot easier going and we found a rough track along the narrow ridge then we started the climb through scrub and tussock towards the summit of The Needle where we had lunch and admired the view. I remember a friend who told me of when he was in this area hunting with his two sons and they came to the base of The Needle. “Let’s climb it” the boys said. The friend said to leave the rifles behind as there would be no deer up there. They arrived on the summit, looked down the other side and a little lower were three deer feeding. We didn’t even see a blowfly but the view was great! 

Karla on the saddle between The Haystack & The Needle.

Karla on the saddle between The Haystack & The Needle.

From the summit we looked down on the 100 Acre Plateau or The Devil’s Dining Table as it is also known. Towards the South in the distance was the 1000 Acre Plateau, to the Northwest we looked down on the Mokihinui watershed that ‘flowed’ out to the West Coast. Towards the North East the bulk of  Mt Owen loomed in the haze. Time to go so we eased our way down the slope towards the 100 Acre Plateau, treading carefully over mudstone rocks to reach the tussock below. We walked over the tussock to have a look at a group of tarns. The tussock looked good and firm but if one stamped a foot down, the ground trembled and this could be felt several metres away. Interesting experimenting and thinking about rabbits and deer that when nervous, stamped their feet as a warning to others. They must be able to sense or feel like we were doing but on harder ground. No doubt they might even be able to sense from which direction the threat was coming from. I just wondered what it would be like sleeping on this tussock if an earthquake came. And I wouldn’t be caring whatever direction it came from. 

Heading back to the hut we  had to scramble down a slope covered in small scrub, cross a tussock covered area, climb up to the ridge above the hut and then follow the rough track down to the hut. On the way we passed several more tarns and we were surprised to find them alive with tadpoles. Surely this introduced species hadn’t found their own way up this far? Had someone introduced them but what for? Maybe to eat the blowflies and sandflies? 

The Needle.

The Needle.

The next day it was back to Poor Pete’s Hut (1030 metres above sea level) once again for the night. A good walk with clouds rising over and then down around The Needle and Haystack obscuring them whenever we wanted a reflection in a tarn for a photo. The clouds did lift but came down again after we had reached the hut. Alan and I had a little wander over the 1000 acre plateau but then it started to drizzle. The rain set in throughout the night. 

Red Tabacco Pouch fungi.

Red Tabacco Pouch fungi.

As daylight filtered into the hut the next morning, Karla said “Look out the window” and what a sunrise! The clouds had all gone leaving such a blue sky and in the East, a pink glow lingered over the tops of the ranges along the skyline. After breakfast we left the hut at 8.10am, over the swampy tussock to the rim and then the decent. 

We arrived at the Lake Matiri Hut (400 metres asl) at around 12 noon after taking our time coming down. It was very steep in places, quite hard on ones knees for sure but little stops here and there to inspect the odd fungus that had sprouted up after the rain. An interesting one was a small clump of coral looking fungus and I wondered what else would be on show over the next couple of days – when we were at home. The sandflies keep you moving though. They hang around anywhere in the bush and if one stops for a spell, they will take about five minutes to find you so by then it’s time to heft the pack on again and start walking. 


'Coral' fungus.

‘Coral’ fungus.

We had lunch inside the hut. It was the best place as the sandflies here are really quite vicious. When going out to the water tap along side the hut, one could have about 15 to 20 sandflies enjoying a feed of blood on any exposed skin before your cup was half filled with water! Usually the ‘sandies’ land once you have stopped awhile but these locals will land even when one is moving. They are a blackfly actually and we have thirteen different species but, thankfully, only two that bite humans. And only the females at that. In slapping and killing them, we were breaking the law of course as all native animals are fully protected in our National Parks.  We just tried to defend ourselves!

Rock formation.

Limestone formations.

We continued our way back to the carpark and passed over a jumble of rocks, mostly granite it looked like. At one spot we came across a number of large rocks or boulders that looked a lot different. They appeared to be limestone and broken parts displayed some interesting formations like mini stalagmites.  

Now well away from the sandflies it was strange how one imagined they were still biting. It could be called sandfly imagine-itus? At least we found the Needle not far from the Haystack.


  1. channa rajasuriya

    Enjoyed reading, we planned to do this in late spring

    • Will Rickerby

      Hi Channa Rajasuriya, Thanks for your comments. Just a suggestion for you – they are building a hydro dam and extending the access road (the access road will be good) but it would be best to check access before your walk just in case there might be some restrictions. Regards, Will

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