You can brave the daunting crowds of popular ski resorts, or you can put in a bit of legwork to get your family into the snow.
When a winter day dawned bright and sunny, we packed the kids up and headed for the Ruahine Forest Park. Just under an hour and a half drive from Palmerston North saw us reach the Renfrew road end and the start of the Rangiwahia Track.
This track leads to a hut of the same name, and, thanks to being able to drive to a relatively high altitude, we were looking at about two-and-a-half hours’ walk to get to the hut with children.
To the top
Snow patches bordered the road even before we parked, and as soon as we were on the track, sizeable chunks of snow were being thrown at each other. Reassuring the children that there would be a lot more snow to come, we started the upwards wander through the beautiful beech forest.
After about 15 minutes, the track starts a long zigzag that goes up and over a huge slip. The track is a well-benched steady climb. Stunted vegetation, larger patches of snow, and huffing and puffing (occasional whinging) of the youngsters were good indicators of our increase in altitude.
The track eventually plateaus for a while and reaches a bench seat with a view out to Mounts Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe. It was the perfect time to soak up some sunshine and bring out the bikkies before heading down to the curved bridge visible from the seat.
Snow-coated cabbage trees and ferns were splendid in the gully below the bridge and the dangling icicles were a constant fascination. If you’re not keen on heights, it’s probably not a great idea to look over the side of the bridge. Once we crossed the bridge, it was a bit of a clamber up some rocky stairs, which led us to a winter wonderland.
On the south-facing side of the valley, thick ice coated parts of the track along with a particularly treacherous section of steps but nothing that a bit of care and encouragement couldn’t conquer. We carried on upwards, and I won’t lie, there was a fair bit of prodding going on to get the middle child to keep moving. A rest on a second bench seat and a couple of Minties helped.
Soon the vegetation gave way to alpine shrubs and snowy slopes became visible in front of us. We reached a gorgeous wee waterfall, which also acts as a landmark, as it is only a 10-minute walk from the hut. The icicle formations were stunning and the snow beside the track was much deeper.
Navigating across another stretch of precarious ice, we were on the homeward run. The kid’s high spirits returned as they reached the deeper snow, sinking up to their knees in places. We also closely investigated the honeycomb ice formations popping out of the soil on the side of the track.
And then we were at the hut. With no wind and blue skies, it was a stunning day. Another family we knew had overnighted, so our kids raced off with theirs for some plastic-bag sledding. Several groups and individuals passed through, either having done the same walk we did or coming up via the Deadman’s Loop track to make an eight-hour loop walk.
After a relaxed lunch in the sunshine, a few snowball fights, and Dad having a crack at plastic-bag sledding, it was time to head down the hill.
The snow and icy conditions made progress slow in places, but with plenty of daylight hours left, we were in no hurry. Once back across the bridge, the climb over the slip was shorter on the downhill trip, so soon we were enjoying a nice wander down the zigzag track and on the final leg back to the carpark, taking just over two hours to walk down.
It was an incredible day, and now it’s on the calendar as an annual event. It was a good reminder to us, the adults, to seize the great days and go adventuring.
Tips for tramping in winter
- Pack lots of warm gear and raincoats. Even if the day is bright and sunny, you can never be too careful in an alpine environment.
- Take plenty of ‘bribery’ food when tramping with kids; it works.
- Don’t be in a hurry; relax and enjoy.
- If the weather changes or conditions make you uncomfortable, turn back. You can always try again another day.
- Let someone know where you are going, and let them know when you plan to return.
- Rangiwahia Hut is a popular hut if you want to stay the night. During summer months, it operates a booking system for bunks but not in the winter, so get there early to claim a bed.