There are a number of alternative routes to Koaunui hut, with the one I chose being longer than the others but involving less hill climbing. It starts from Ogilvies bridge on the Matahi valley road. The turn off for the Matahi valley road, Bell road is halfway between Whakatane and Opotiki along State Highway 2. Ogilvies bridge is approximately 20 kms along the valley road with a convenient car park on the right just past the bridge.
The track starts on the other side of the road from the car park by a sign to Koanui Hut - note that Koaunui hut is misspelt Koanui on a number of signs and at the hut itself. The track named Te Pona a Pita climbs steadily up to Ogilvies Ridge for about 45 mins. There is a welcome bench at the top of the climb with good views down the Matahi valley.
The track then descends down the other side of the ridge into the Waiiti stream
valley. A lovely spot for lunch is reached after about another 45 minutes. A return trip over the ridge would make a great day hike.
From the large clearing the track crosses the Waiiti stream. From here to the hut there is no specific track as such - it's a case of following the stream and spotting handy shortcuts that cut out bends in the stream. Most of these are well marked with the usual large orange triangle markers, however a few just have older, smaller yellow markers and some have no markers at all. They are difficult to spot especially if you are standing in the stream in strong sunlight and the riverside is in shade. In fact on the return trip I missed some of the shortcuts I had taken the previous day and yet found new ones that I hadn't spotted before.
The river crossings are rarely above knee level but would be dangerous when in flood. They are numerous as well so expect to have very wet feet by the end of the tramp. After about 2.5 hours from the large clearing a junction with the Whakapirau Stream is reached, another good spot for a break.
Although the hut is only another three to four kms along the Waiiti stream, I found the route quite hard and it took me another 2.5 hours from this junction to reach my destination. On my topo map it looks as if you would find the hut along side the Koaunui stream, a tributary of the Waiiti. However it is easier to reach the hut by continuing along the Waiiti for only another 30 metres or so to a track which leads up a couple of terraces to reach the hut. If approaching the hut in the other direction it is easy to spot on the true right of the Waiiti as you tramp downstream.
The hut has 19 bunks with mattresses, a log burner, plenty of cooking space and running water inside the hut. There is a spacious deck outside to relax on after your tramp up the Waiiti.
DOC is currently very active in eradicating animal pests from the area as can be seen by the numerous possum and stoats traps along the way. Consequently there is an abundance of bird life, and I managed to spot fantails, NZ robins and keruru throughout the day.
There was also a pair of whio about 30 minutes downstream from the hut with another lone whio another hour or so further on.
There was also plenty of deer sign and what I thought may be pig sign where some plant roots had been dug up. In fact the next morning as I walked out of the hut to check the weather, I spotted a stag across the hut clearing on the other side of the Waiiti - this would make a great spot for hunting.
On this trip I had decided that I would not attempt a loop tramp and I returned to my car via the same route.
Other Tramping Options
Koaunui can be reached in a number of ways other than via Waiiti stream. Probably the most direct is from the Education Lodge about 5 kms further on from Ogilvies bridge. Anyone attempting this route has the unenviable task of tramping up 'The Wall', the section of track that climbs from the Ngutuoha Stream to reach the Otamatuna Ridge Track. 'The Wall' climbs over 400m in just under 3km of track.
Another, less steep, option would be to take the Otamatuna Ridge Track from its start, 1.5km from Ogilvies bridge. Both routes would involve taking the left hand track down from the ridge track to reach Waiiti stream and then continue downstream for about a kilometre to reach the hut.
With all these options it is simple to complete a loop tramp when staying overnight at Koaunui.