Recently we had the pleasure of spending 10 days tucked away from the rest of the world in a straw bale house in Whitemans Valley, Upper Hutt. After weeks recovering from pneumonia, this was just what the doctor ordered, and we emerged refreshed and feeling a lot more like our old selves. Well enough, in fact, to set out on our first epic hike in six whole months. With Kaitoke Regional Park beckoning us from just a few kilometres away, we were in the perfect place for an adventure and we soon discovered we were spoilt for choice.
‘We’re going to see the elves!’
Before becoming full-time nomads, I’d always thought the only place you could have a Lord of the Rings experience was by visiting Hobbiton. Not so! There are filming locations dotted all over the country, and we have often found ourselves accidentally passing through Hobbiton Woods, Chetwood Forest or Fangorn. Today, however, we were purposely heading to Rivendell, just a short walk from the main car park on Waterworks Road. To be honest, I had never been much of a follower of the epic trilogy, but Gareth is an avid fan and I couldn’t help but be caught up in the excitement and anticipation.
All the filming locations are magical in their own way and it’s always easy to see why they were chosen, but there was something extra special about Rivendell. Maybe it was the elvish touches about the place, or the replica of the great archway where Aragorn and Arwen kissed, but it just felt otherworldly and I didn’t want to leave.
With bigger mountains still to climb though, we set off on our main mission to hike Norbett’s Creek, a two-and-a-halfhour loop. Tere are several walks available of varying lengths in the park and all are well signposted – except this one. So we wandered off down the main track and followed the Hutt River, feeling sure that before too long we’d come across some sort of sign to let us know we were going the right way. One hour later, we found ourselves back at the car park, but not before going over a large swing bridge – the very one I had vowed and declared I would NOT be going over when we first arrived.
We were now two full walks down and still no sign of Norbett’s Creek, but we weren’t about to give up. After consulting the map yet again, Gareth insisted he now knew the right route, which began a good way back up the road before the car park. As it turned out though, this was a bonus as we got to walk through the campground. What a wonderful place to stay – and peaceful, with stunning mountain and forest views and excellent facilities. This was our first big ‘touristy’ adventure since lockdown and we couldn’t believe how quiet everywhere was. With the exception of a few Kiwi motorhomers and dog walkers, we hardly saw another soul and, I have to admit, it was lovely.
It seemed we were the only ones game enough to tackle Norbett’s Creek, however, most likely due to its steepness, which is mentioned in the brochure. And no sooner had we delightedly stumbled upon the elusive sign, than we found we had to wade across the creek before we could start. It was just 3°C that morning and the icy water was so biting as we plunged in barefoot, I didn’t think I could make it across. But somehow we did, and were finally on our way. Up and up we went, and up and up some more. We were higher than the trees, and the higher we climbed, the more we were rewarded by fantastic views of Hutt Valley. I’m not going to lie; this track is steep and feels never-ending, but the track is good and well maintained – and if I can do it while still getting over pneumonia, anyone can.
Into the wild
At last we reached the top and felt a wonderful sense of achievement. “At least it’s going to be fun on the way down,” I smiled to Gareth. Where was the route down anyway? To our left there was a steep and narrow path, if you could call it that. Not a track as such, more a case of finding your own way, over tree roots, trying not to slip and clinging on to whatever you could. What a workout it was; the way down was every bit as challenging as the way up, though they were chalk and cheese. It wasn’t just physically but also mentally taxing as you couldn’t take your eyes off where you were putting your feet and trying to work out the best way forward. We also had to cross the creek several more times, though thankfully this time we had rocks as stepping stones.
But even with its challenges, what an adventure it was; we really felt we had achieved something. The rainforest was so beautiful, we were treated to several waterfalls along the way and it was so nice to be among real, unspoilt nature, without the ease of manmade tracks.
Just as I had decided that we were never going to get to the bottom or reach civilisation before dark, all of a sudden there we were, out into the sunshine and heading back onto the road which took us to the car park. Exhausted as I was, I was kind of sad it was over. Kaitoke Regional Park is an absolute gem, covering 2860 hectares in the foothills of the Tararua Ranges. The rainforest is magical, the beech forest is lovely, and wandering through the ancient rata and rimu, I couldn’t help wondering who had passed here centuries before us and what events had occurred. There’s so much to do, from tramping and cycling to swimming and rafting.
I can’t wait to come back and tick some more off the list.
Stay and play at Kaitoke Regional Park
If you’re a nature lover, or just want to camp somewhere quiet surrounded by epic views, Kaitoke is the place for you.
The campground is beside the Pakuratahi River near the Waterworks Road entrance. Park rangers are on site seven days a week and there are powered sites, toilets and barbecue facilities, as well as a recycling depot nearby.
Walks for everyone
There is a terrific range of short walks, such as the 15-minute track to Rivendell, or the Ridge Track, which is three hours each way. The Weir Walk is also suitable for wheelchairs.
Despite setting a good and easy pace, the Norbett’s Creek loop took us over three hours. Make sure you have water and are prepared to get your feet wet. Good walking shoes are essential as the ground can be loose and slippery, and it can get cold through the forest, so pack an extra layer of clothing. You can start the walk at either end of the loop; either way is challenging but fun.
Where to find Hobbits
To find Rivendell or other LOTR filming locations around the country, visit: newzealand.com/nz/feature/the-lord-of-the-rings-trilogy-filming-locations