The Tararua Range, often referred to as the Tararua Ranges or the Tararuas, is one of several mountain ranges in the North Island of New Zealand. They form a ridge running parallel with the east coast of the island between East Cape and Wellington. The Tararuas run northeast-southwest for 80 kilometres from near Palmerston North to the upper reaches of the Hutt Valley, where the northern tip of the Rimutaka Range begins. It is separated in the north from the southern end of the Ruahine Range by the Manawatu Gorge.
The highest peak in the Tararuas is Mitre (not to be confused with Mitre Peak) at 1,570 metres (5,150 ft). Other prominent peaks include Mount Bannister (1,537 metres (5,043 ft)) and Mount Hector (1,529 metres (5,016 ft)), which is named after the scientist Sir James Hector. Its Māori name is Pukemoumou, or 'hill of desolation'.
The Tararua Ranges are divided into a northern and a southern distinct regions. Each of these is dominated by a central mountain peak: Arete in the north and Hector in the south. A total of ten rivers rise on the mountain slopes, providing water for the surrounding rural and urban areas from Palmerston North to Wellington. A number of ranges radiate out from the mountains, the largest of which is the Main Range linking the twin clusters of northern and southern peaks.
The summits of the ranges average between 1,300 and 1,500 meters in height. This consistency indicates that the region was once part of a level plain. About 10 million years ago parts of this relatively low-lying area were thrust up, creating a mountainous backbone for the southern part of the North Island. Subsequent erosion contributed to the present pattern of parallel ranges divided by deep river valleys. The ranges provide a back-drop for the Kapiti coastal plain.
Climate And Vegetation:
The western slopes of the ranges are subject to prevailing moisture-carrying winds, channelled by Cook Strait to the south. These are the source of an annual rainfall of approximately 5,000 mm, resulting in the dominance of conifers, ferns and shrubs on the western side of the ranges. By contrast, the pattern on the eastern side is one of open beech forest in a drier environment.
The only all-weather road right across the range is the "Pahiatua Track", which joins Palmerston North and Pahiatua and is much used when the Manawatu Gorge road is closed.
The Tararua Ranges serve as a popular tramping location for the greater Wellington district. It is one of the most frequently entered ranges in the country, with between 120,000 and 150,000 people visiting each year. Among the many tramping tracks is the well-known "Southern Crossing" running from Otaki Forks in the west, over Mount Hector and exiting via Kaitoke.