Some people don’t like the track into Mitre Flats—named on maps as the Barra Track after the bushman that first cut it. But it isn’t really all that bad—and anyway once there it will have been worth it for it is a delightful area of open grass among the forest, and there is plenty of spaces for sheltered and pleasant camping for the night. Or you can even stay in the comfortable serviced hut if it’s raining.
Access to Mitre Flats starts at the parking area at ‘The Pines’ near the end of Upper Waingawa Road. There is a signed entrance to an access road through private farmland for a walk of approximately 30 minutes, then a track to a stile before descending to river flats with manuka where the track begins to climb to a higher terrace. There is a great swimming hole in the river here to cool off on the way out from summer trips.
The Tararua Forest Park Route Guide of 1981 written by club member Nick Jennings describes the track from here to the hut:
Here the track climbs on to the terrace and passes through patches of swamp and bush to the Tararua Forest Park sign. Just beyond this it climbs up the side of a big slip, crosses the top of it, and then angles down and into the bush of the gorge track. This is high above the river, swinging in and out of the creeks and spurs. The main impression is probably that the track is unnecessarily high, but an inspection of the gorge from Baldy or some other convenient point soon convinces one that that every metre climbed is essential. After crossing the fourth creek the track soon descends to the Waingawa River at the bridge leading to Mitre Flats.
So there you have it—the ups and downs are all just part of sidling up a narrow river gorge. The guide notes that the time from the road to the hut is 3½ hours—which may be just a little fast for an easy party and 4 hours is more likely.
And there are other ways into the flats for slightly more energetic types. A fun off-track trip through easy bush is along Blue Range to above the hut—or a bit further north along the range to above Lookout Point (it’s a nice navigation exercise to find this feature)—and then drop down to the river and back to the hut.
In summer the walk up the river is fun. The Route Guide describes the trip down:
An alternative to following the track out is to go down the lower gorge. This involves a lot of wading, and one deep pool well down the gorge has to be swum. The gorge ends at the swimming hole at the top end of the river flat below the big slip, and the time is much the same as for the track.
Note that the swim described is sometimes only a quite deep wade—and it can actually be sidled by an awkward bush bash if you are sufficiently desperate to keep dry.
So if you haven’t been to Mitre Flats don’t be put off by the rumours and give it a try—it’s a lovely place and well worth a visit. Just read some of the other Mitre Flats stories in the newsletter if you still have doubts—they show that people have always enjoyed the trip.