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January 2013 Issue
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Cosy hut in Manapouri

Easy walking through forest en route to Shallow Bay. Photo: Edith Leigh
Shallow Bay Hut, six bunks
Take the turn off to Rainbow Reach from SH95 between Manapouri and Te Anau and park at the swingbridge where the track starts.
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Shallow Bay Hut, Fiordland National Park

It is only a one and half hour walk to the hut we intend to sleep in, yet my pack weighs over 25kg and my husband’s is nearly 24kg.

Ten minutes down the track my pack weight suddenly drops to 8kg and I feel as though I’m flying. “Ha, you picked the wrong pack,” I laugh at my husband, as I force myself to slow down to two-year-old pace.

He grimaces as the track climbs a small hill, his shoulders and hips weighed down with pretty much everything needed for an overnight trip, except the down jackets, raincoats and a few snacks that I’m carrying.

This is our first overnight tramp with our young daughter and it’s like planning a multi-day climbing trip in the mountains as every item is assessed and re-assessed as we pack and unpack trying to make it all fit.

Shallow Bay Hut is a sidetrip off the popular Kepler Track between Manapouri and Te Anau in Fiordland National Park.

The track starts with a long swingbridge across the Waiau River, then it’s straight into fairytale forest. Soft hummocks and pillows of emerald green moss line the forest floor. The beech trees drip yellowed moss and old man’s beard and the effect is nothing short of spectacular when the odd ray of sunshine pierces the forest canopy.

The track crosses a kettle bog and we decide to stop at the wetlands for a picnic. The pond is like glass and it’s warm and sunny out of the trees. As we munch on tuna and mayo sandwiches we ponder why the Department of Conservation might have removed the seats from this vantage point. Perhaps too many people lingered here and there’s not a lot of space for the multitudes that must pass by here every day during summer.

Shortly after, we turn off the Kepler Track to head towards Shallow Bay on the shores of Lake Manapouri. This section of track pre-dates the Kepler, which was opened in 1988, and somehow the forest seems older here too. The beard’s hanging off the trees seem thicker and longer, before the forest suddenly opens out onto a beach with views across the lake to the Beehive and the Hunter Mountains.

Shallow Bay Hut is a cosy alternative to the giant 40-bunk Moturau Hut on the Kepler Track, with all its mod cons. This hut has six bunks, an open fire and a few benches to sit on.

We decide to walk further along the beach in search of firewood. Soon we’re all dragging back fallen trees and my husband gets busy with the axe, while granddad gets the fire going.

As we start to get dinner ready we realise with all the packing and re-packing we’ve left behind the chicken for the chicken curry. So it’s a vegetable curry and instant pudding instead.

Our toddler is so tired that she falls asleep while the rest of us read and chat by candlelight, and even the snores echoing around the small room later that night are not enough to wake her.

There’s a light drizzle the next day, but luckily our daughter is happy to snuggle into her backpack beneath the waterproof cover, and my tramping legs get a good test carrying her back to the car.

Shallow Bay Hut is great trip for families, especially for those not sure how their children will find tramping. The track is generally flat, with no big hills to climb. Even for those not intending to spend a night, the walk is well worthwhile to enjoy the forest.