Frogs, Forest, and Family Fun
The walk to Leitch’s Hut at the headwaters of the Awakino River is perfect for families. There are no river crossings and the trail is nicely graded.
Highlights include native forest, some beautiful rivers, and the possibility of spotting native frogs and fish.
There are several ways to get to this 16-bunk hut, varying in duration from three to seven hours. The hut can get busy during the summer, but there are plenty of spots to pitch a tent nearby.
The hut and clearing at the headwaters of the Awakino River are the site of the former homestead of Sam Leitch, who lived in the area from 1902 to 1922. After taking part in a survey of the area, he was convinced the location would be important since it was at the junction of some proposed roads. Alas, the roads weren’t built and the area never quite became as significant as he thought, but there is now a lovely clearing and hut for trampers at the site of his former homestead.
The shortest route to the hut begins by following a nice trail up a gradual ascent to a saddle as it passes along the edge of paddocks. The approach to the saddle has some stunning views out over the valley to the side and to the bush-clad ridge in the distance.
Just below the saddle and on the edge of native forest, a DOC sign marks a closed track leading north. This area is a frog protection zone for two of New Zealand’s four species of native frog, Archey’s and Hochstetter’s, and is one of the few places where they can still be seen in the wild outside island sanctuaries. The other two native species (Hamilton’s and Maud Island) can now only be found on offshore islands or protected reserves, such as in Zealandia.
Just after the saddle, the trail enters native bush and begins a long descent alongside the Awakino River and through wild native forest, including tree ferns, tall tawa trees, and glades of parataniwha in shady gullies.
Eventually, the trail pops out of the bush at a clearing and then wanders down the wide valley through grasses, popping into and out of the forest along the edge of the river until arriving at Leitch’s Hut.
The hut is situated in a large clearing by the upper Awakino River which holds native fish and possibly trout.
- Mark Danenhauer