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Waitutu Lodge, Waitutu Forest

Waitutu Lodge is nestled in the virgin forest on the western side of the Wairaurahiri River. Photo: Gillian Candler
Waitutu Forest
33.5km each way
4 days return
Port Craig School Hut, 20 bunks; Waitutu Lodge (private, $30 per night), 22 bunks
From Papatotara Coast Road, along the South Coast Track
CG06, CG07
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At the gateway of Fiordland’s rugged Waitutu Forest sits the quirky privately owned Waitutu Lodge. From here tramping west through the forest, and with a good deal of bush bashing, a hardy tramper could reach Puysegur Point.

Reaching the lodge, which is not marked on current maps, can be done as an overnight diversion on the private three-day Hump Ridge Track or as a two day walk (each way) along DOC’s South Coast Track.

The South Coast Track begins with an amble along the Beach before entering Fiordland National Park. The grade of track is excellent and the forest, though mostly regenerating at this stage of the walk, stunning and ancient-looking. The walk to Port Craig School Hut is around 18km and takes between 5-6hr.

From the hut, it is a further 15km (4-6hr) to Waitutu Lodge, passing DOC’s Wairaurahiri Hut on the way. This is an exciting section of the walk: trampers cross three historic wooden viaducts – remnants from days when the area was extensively logged and claimed to be the highest such viaducts in the Southern Hemisphere.

Last century the Wairaurahiri River formed a barrier to logging. So on the opposite bank to Wairaurahiri Hut is virgin forest with huge rata and rimu. David Bellamy described Waitutu as “probably the most important forest in the world”.

After crossing the swingbridge you will see a sign welcoming you to Waitutu Lodge.

Unlike the basic Wairaurahiri Hut, Waitutu Lodge provides hot water, showers and an equipped kitchen. The lodge is set in a bush clearing where tomtits, kereru and tui are common.

The history of Waitutu Lodge is written on its walls. It starts with Maori losing their land to European settlers, then, as compensation, being allocated land in Waitutu Forest. Miles from anywhere, it was effectively worthless in the early 1900s. In 1996, when the Crown decided that conserving the forest had a value, the Waitutu Incorporation representing the Maori owners signed a deal to conserve the forest in exchange for other compensation. They built the lodge in 1997-98 and both the land and the lodge are administered by the Waitutu Incorporation.