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September 2012 Issue
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Field Hut in nappies

Kathy and Eleanor on Field Hut’s top fire escape/landing. Photo: Lloyd Robbins
Turn onto Otaki Gorge Road from SH1, immediately south of the Otaki River bridge
Topo50 BP33
Field Hut, Tararua Forest Park

My wife Kathy and I look at each other, checking for signs of madness. We have both spent a fair bit of time in the hills, but rarely have we seen children in backcountry huts, and it’s rarer still to see a three year old. Despite our last minute reservations I am sure our plan is sane.

We have chosen to take our three-year-old daughter to Field Hut on the Southern Crossing route in the Tararua Forest Park as it’s the shortest walk on the safest track in the region.

We have completed a few day walks with Eleanor, but this is our first overnight trip. On our prior trips she has made good progress over tracks with an even surface, happily walking about half the distance of a three or four hour walk.  When she tires she likes a spell in the child carrier.

From the car park we immediately cross the swingbridge over Waiotauru River. Eleanor loves the bridge, but Kathy holds on to her with a tight grip. The first kilometre of track is easy going across grassy river flats towards the base of a long ridge that leads to Field Hut.

The benched track climbs quite quickly up the steep toe of the ridge through scrubby fern, giving clear views of the Otaki Forks area. We point out landmarks to Eleanor on several of our many stops – there’s our car… so small!

When we get near the forest margin we stop for lunch in a patch of sunshine; hot coffee, sandwiches and cold roast chicken. We have been walking for 90-minutes and have had several breaks already. We settle into a slow rhythm for the rest of the trip. Eleanor makes good time on the easier sections of track but as it gets progressively rougher she needs more help. Kathy gives Eleanor constant help over the rougher sections of the track and a little more than five hours after starting we reach the hut.

Another party has claimed the eight bunk downstairs sleeping platform and is sharing a small bottle of whisky around the fire. Hoisting Eleanor up the steep ladder we find an empty, roomy loft holding 12 mattresses. We are all quickly in a fresh change of clothes and are feeling elated with our achievement.

While cooking dinner we read the history of the hut on a series of wall panels supplied by the Tararua Tramping Club, which was well established when members built Field Hut in 1924. There is a photograph of the hut from the 1930s, and a portrait of Willie Field the politician for Otaki who lobbied for the development of the Southern Crossing and the establishment of huts en-route. A founding member of the Tararua Tramping Club, Field was the philanthropist behind the £100 donation to the club that allowed the hut to be built. Field Hut is one of the first purpose-built recreational huts in New Zealand and the oldest surviving in the Tararuas.

The next day is clear with light winds and after breakfast we climb a little further above the hut until we are just out of the scrub and into the tussock. From here we relish the brilliant views as far north as Mt Egmont/Taranaki and all the way to the South Island.

Eleanor wants to keep on going up the track but we call her back – there will be more challenging tramps in the future, but for now it was time to head home.

– Lloyd Robbins