A perfect introduction to tramping at Papatahi Hut
We have a family tradition of taking our children on their first overnight tramp when they turn six. For my son’s inaugural tramp, I decided to rope in a few friends to join us on the Orongorongo Track.
I booked Papatahi Hut, one of six DOC huts in the Orongorongo Valley, three months prior to our trip because the huts in the valley are so popular. Being only 45-minutes’ drive from Wellington, the area offers diverse forest and interesting waterways, and has a variety of tracks for all ages and fitness levels.
The start of the Orongorongo Track is an ugly mix of gorse and gravel, but it soon enters native forest. There are information panels about native birds and the kids enjoyed winding the handles to hear the sounds of tui and korimako.
Close to the start, the track descends to Catchpool Stream, which is surprisingly lush and verdant with nīkau palms everywhere. From there, it gently climbs through beech trees and kamahi, with the occasional taller rimu and miro, before descending again to the arched Turere Bridge. The river flat, where the Turere Stream meets the bigger Orongorongo River, is a perfect lunch stop.
From here, it’s around 6km to Papatahi Hut. We chose to walk the Big Bend Track upstream, which winds up the valley before dropping to the wide riverbed at the Whakanui Creek. It is also possible to walk to the hut all the way along the riverbed from Turere Bridge. We made several crossings of the grey-and-turquoise Orongorongo River, which was cold and fast-moving, but not deep.
It took us nearly six hours in total to reach the hut, but the children seemed to find new bursts of energy once they dropped their daypacks, and before long the decibels were rising as they played a spirited game of tiggy in the hut’s tight confines. The hut itself is well decked out with pots, pans, crockery and cutlery and we were soon sitting down to piles of steaming pasta. Marshmallow roasting and drawing by torchlight capped off a fabulous day in the bush.
The following morning, we took our time walking back with frequent diversions to skim stones or watch leaves and sticks float down the river, or investigate a mysterious animal carcass. The river is what makes this walk particularly special, and the kids felt more like explorers and adventurers by getting off the formed track and finding their own way.
The good news is that they are hooked, and we’ve already booked our next two trips up the valley – to Jans Hut and later to Turere Lodge.
- Trent Mankelow
- Total Ascent
- 3-4hr (allow 6-7hr if travelling with young children)
- Papatahi Hut, ($100 - sole occupancy, 10-bunks)
- From the Catchpool Valley, off the Coast Road