Submitted by Carys Coleman
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Front country - easily accessible
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This provides a shorter alternative to the Block XVI and Kaitoke Omega loops.
From the car park the route passes through the adventure ropes course for the YMCA camp, the route is signposted. The climbing starts almost straight away, gentle at first and becoming steeper as you go. At 1.5km you will come to a fork in the track, take the left fork uphill signposted for the Marchant Ridge, the climbing is steeper from here but it doesn't last for long. Once you get to the top of the climb the route follows a wide ridge, the bush is lower so you can take in some of the views (if it isn't clouded in!).
At 5km you will reach a second fork, take the right fork downhill towards Smiths Creek and the shelter. The downhill is steep and technical, it will be slippery if the weather is or has recently been wet, take your time here. Once you are down in the valley turn right following the Dobson Track along the valley floor, the track crosses some small side creeks and over some very technical terrain. You will be climbing gently for the length of the valley track, at 10km the main climb back up to Puffer Saddle commences, this will be about 2kms. Once you get to the top of the saddle you will recognise your location from earlier, this time take the left fork back down the hill and retrace your steps to the car park.
Features of interest
This is a great introduction to running in the Tararuas, lots of technical terrain but not a long distance run and nearer to Wellington than the usual drive over the hill to the Wairapara.
Make Up of Run
Technical Single Track: 100%
The following trails overlap with this run to some degree. You may wish to combine them but please note that to qualify for FKTs on these runs you should record a separate Strava activity for each
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From SH2 at Kaitoke take the turn off to Marchant Road, yellow sign posts point to Tararua Forest Park and Youth Camp (there is also a big advertising sign for the YMCA camp). Follow Marchant Road until you get to a right turn for Kiwi Ranch Road and the sign for the YMCA camp. Follow Kiwi Ranch Road until you get to the entrance to the YMCA camp, there is a left turn just before the entrance which will take you into the parking area for the forest park. There are information boards in the parking area for the trails.
Plenty of parking available, I would avoid leaving anything on view in your car but reasonably safe parking. No public transport.
Make navigation of this route super-easy by using the Capra app on your phone. View on Capra .
The loop is fairly well sign posted and there aren't many other trails to take. Just keep an eye on the signs at the main junctions and in the valley look out for the orange DOC triangles as parts of this track can be tricky to follow. At a minimum have topo maps or view ranger on your phone for reference.
Long-sleeved thermal top, Seam-sealed waterproof jacket, Windproof jacket, Gloves, Beanie/thermal headwear, Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), Whistle, First aid kit, Extra food for emergencies, Survival bag, Cellphone, Compass, Map, Gaiters.
There isn't any water available on the loop but it is shorter distance run so two soft flasks or a bladder should suffice.
Expect mud and slippery conditions at any time of the year, in winter expect it to be VERY muddy and slippery - go with the grippiest trail shoes you have. Great, fun loop even in the mud.
The terrain is very technical in places and although it is close to Upper Hutt you are still in a remote and difficult to access location at the further point. Be sensible and take your time on the downhill and through the valley.
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