Otaki Forks – DOC’s alternative walking route

Note that this article was first published as the result of the 2016 road closure. The latest closure (2020) resulting from new slope failures at Blue Bluff means there is now no public access to Otaki Forks. As at 1 October 2020 DOC is still investigating new ‘alternative’ access—it may reinstate the walking route described below, or it may be something different. Note that the alternative track is marked on the latest NZTopo50 maps – but that doesn’t give right of access.

There are currently tension cracks opening in the road at Blue Bluff and a chunk of road is predicted to fall away. The remaining road will likely be monitored for stability before any repairs are undertaken. So if this happens it is likely to be some time before the road is reopened (if at all).

Kapiti Coast District Council has provided an update 3 November 2020 that confirms the road will be closed for at least the summer, however, DOC stated that they are still seeking an alternative walking track to Otaki Forks.

Most trampers know that the Otaki Forks access road is closed at the Blue Bluff slip—and that DOC has opened an ‘alternative’ walking track from Shields Flat to reconnect with the road near Roaring Meg.

It is a tramper’s best option of getting to the popular Field Hut and Waitewaewae Hut tracks, and it is certainly being used by a reasonable number of trampers who presumably are just factoring in a bit of extra time for their trip.

So what’s the track all about?

Otaki Forks alternative access map.
DOC’s ‘alternative’ track

It starts at the car parking areas provided at Shields Flat and actually links up a number of existing logging roads and 4WD tracks. The route is shown on the map above.

Otaki Forks alternative access
The climb from the car park through the pine forest

The start at the car park is easy to find and follows across a paddock and leads to the first (and only) climb up a bulldozed logging road. This is a reasonably significant climb of 300 m without a break but is very easy underfoot although it seems it will become muddy and slippery after rain. The track is firstly in pine forest and then the last 15 to 20 minutes through clear-felled.

At the top of the climb the track takes a left turn and drops gradually along a well formed logging road for 5 minutes before a right turn (clearly marked) into the native bush. Here the track is more a marked route, but a ground trail is slowly becoming formed. The descent is gradual at first but then becomes steeper until you meet a long nylon rope that can be used as a handrail (although not really needed) for the last drop to the 4WD track that once led to the dam of the failed Roaring Meg hydro scheme.

Take a left turn. There are currently no markers to show which way to go other than an arrow of stones, and don’t be tempted to go the other way as it is private property and nothing to see anyway as the old dam has collapsed and been washed away. Then follow the easy track down to meet the Otaki Forks road again just short of the Roaring Meg bridge. This is where the road used to end before the bridge was built. About 20 minutes of road walking and you are at the forks.

Otaki Forks alternative access
At the top of the 300 m climb
Otaki Forks alternative access
The arrow of stones (foreground) at the bottom of the steep downhill

Given the road is likely to be closed for a long time (perhaps permanently this time) simply because the cost of any repairs will be very significant and that they unlikely to be permanent given the instability of the hillside at Blue Bluff it seems trampers had better just get used to the additional time of the alternative DOC track.

Otaki Forks alternative access
The easy 4WD track down to reconnect with the Otaki Forks Road

For an average tramping party with weekend packs it is another 2 hours each way to add to any trip so it may make weekend trips to Field Hut and Waitewaewae Hut unattractive. For fitter trips on the Southern Crossing etc it is not a big deal—and actually has the advantage Field, Kime  etc will likely be much less crowded.

Just how the whole saga will eventually play out is impossible to tell but in the meantime DOC’s ‘alternative’ track is a good option and shouldn’t put off keen trampers from trips in the Otaki Forks area.

5 thoughts on “Otaki Forks – DOC’s alternative walking route”

  1. Update from Kapiti Coast District Council:

    Work on clearing and stabilising the slip-prone bank at Blue Bluff (on Ōtaki Gorge Road, 13km inland of SH1) continues to progress.

    Around 20,000 cubic metres (m3) of dirt and rock has now been cleared off the slip face. There is about 25,000 m3 of this material left to remove and take away.

    Two seven-metre steps have been cut into the slip face at 25-metre intervals and one more step is being constructed. The steps will catch any small rock falling down the bank in future, so there will be less risk of debris blocking the road.

    The angle of the slope is also being reduced to minimise the risk of future slips occurring.

    Work is estimated to be completed by the end of June to mid-July and when finished, driving access to the campsite and Tararua Forest Park at the end of the road will be restored.

  2. I’m not sure what’s going on with the clearing, but more unverified info from the unidentified neighbour of a random person on the internet, posting on NZ Tramper

    (From Monday 25th April):

    “There was quite an explosion on the slip face last night at about 5.45pm. I think the rock under the last surviving piece of original road (which had the concrete bollard alongside it) went. All I could think of were all the people who had tiki-toured the slip over the weekend, walking out on it and some rolling boulders off the edge – if only they knew how unstable it is!”

  3. 2hrs is not too bad. A few of the older club members will remember when the bus would stop at the old road bridge (where the tar seal use to finish) and the walk to the old Vosseler Hut or Kime on a Friday night.

    • And thanks for the update Mike – good news that the road should be reopened in a few months. I didn’t know funding had already been approved. Wish they were as quick with the potholes in my street.

      However, even after 1/2 million dollars that bluff is likely to be a continuing problem given the shattered rock in the area – the fate of the structures for the failed Roaring Meg power scheme are a reminder of that.

      So anyway you had better all walk the emergency track before it is not needed!

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