We are a family who loves to tramp, and this includes the extended family. The great thing about tramping in New Zealand is that there are opportunities to for everyone to get out in the wild, from the youngest kids through to older grandparents.
Waihohonu Hut in the Tongariro National Park offers such an opportunity. It is part of New Zealand’s Great Walks, so needs to be booked over the high season from October to April, however, as of the first of May, it becomes a backcountry hut.
To stay in the hut in the off season requires just the standard DOC hut tickets, and it works on a first-in-first-served basis for beds. We took advantage of this fact, and in early May, took the kids and extended family tramping into Waihohonu Hut.
With threatening rain and strong winds when we left home in Palmerston North, we were delighted to arrive at the carpark off the Desert Rd and find the weather calm and sunny. Mount Ruapehu was clearly in view with its first layers of snow, and the cone-shaped Ngauruhoe looked magnificent as always.
Once all the boots were on, walking poles relinquished to insistent rug rats, and packs hefted onto backs, our party of 11 set off towards the mountain.
Onwards and upwards
The tramp is in a barren alpine environment, which can be fiercely cold and windy at times. We were lucky with the weather as we followed the mostly open benched track. It has eroded deeply into the ashy desert soil in places but was easy to follow and broken up by a couple of stands of mountain beech to wander through.
After the first stand of beech, the track followed alongside the Waihohonu River for short time before we crossed a bridge and continued towards the hut.
The kids greatly enjoyed the easy grade of the track, alternately racing on ahead or lagging behind to check out interesting finds and write messages in the sandy soils.
In just over two hours, we emerged from a small stand of beech and caught our first glimpse of the hut. We were soon shedding our packs and boots and heading inside to boil the billy.
Luxury in the wilderness
The hut is large and beautiful with huge arched windows that look out toward Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu. There is a roomy main living/kitchen area with a box fire and solar-powered lighting and hot water.
Large sleeping wings are situated on either side of the main area, and we were able to sleep our entire party in one wing. Despite being outside the Great Walk season, there were at least a dozen other trampers or hunters at the hut—a mix of both Kiwis and tourists.
Historic Waihohonu Hut
The historic Waihohonu Hut is an easy 10-minute stroll from the main Waihohonu Hut and is definitely worth a visit. Built to cater for travellers in 1904, the hut is insulated with a layer of pumice between the walls, with two small rooms: one for men and the other for women.
For some reason, the men got the room with the fireplace! The hut is now maintained as a historic site and it is not possible (or desirable!) to stay overnight.
There is also a longer side trip to Ohinepango Springs, where a natural cold spring of crystal-clear water flows up through an old lava flow into the Ohinepango Stream. It is a one-hour return trip from Waihononu Hut.
Back to the main hut and the evening was spent eating and playing cards. By 9pm the children were asleep and the adults weren’t far behind. Those of us with kids were up bright and early the following morning and set off once ready, allowing for a relaxed walk back to the cars followed by brunch at the Army Museum cafe in Waiouru.
Of course, being only a two-hour walk from the Desert Road, this is also an easy half-day return walk for those just looking for a good stretch of their legs, especially if the sun is shining and the skies are blue. Stunning!
For more information, visit doc.govt.nz.