Waitawheta Hut, Bay of Plenty – Part two

This is not the first time I have done this walk yet the stunning landscape still takes my breath away. It is however the first time I have brought my daughter on this walk and the first time walking in a large group, 6 amazing mamas and 7 cool kids.

Originally we had 10 kids coming but sickness, a sleepover and the last soccer game of the season meant we were down to 7. In hindsight this was good because it meant majority of the group had a 1:1 ratio, this made for less stress and a more enjoyable walk. A one adult to one child ratio is especially good when walking with younger children and first timers, as many games and distractions are needed, also parents tend to become pack horses for the bags and the children themselves, so be prepared.

This trip had been organised months in advanced, as getting a weekend where a large group is all free, is hard and rare. We chose the first weekend of spring hoping for good weather but being the rainy season, rain was forecast for the Sunday. We nearly called it off, but decided rain on the way out was doable.  We estimated it would take us around 4 hours to do the walk, but decided to leave early as that meant no time pressure, giving us the whole day to get to the hut. After a last pack check and photo session, we set off at 10:45 am, not too bad.

 

The track follows a historic tram line and is pretty wide most of the way, there are a couple of narrow sections, where you end up walking quite close to the river and the rocks can be slippery, so please be aware and take care in these areas.

*Scroll to the bottom of the page for our time break down, from Franklin Rd car park to the hut.

After walking for about 1 and 3/4 hours we reached the second swing bridge, where we stopped for lunch and to rest our legs (and backs). The kids were more interested in throwing rocks into the water than they were with eating! Swing bridges are a great place to stop and take a look around, remnants of the tram line bridges litter the river bed, stunning andesitic rock escarpments frame parts of the valley and massive boulders in the middle of the river made the kids question …. what, how, why and who.

 

I feel that the 5th and final swing bridge is worth mentioning as once crossed there is a short path that leads down to a perfect little beach. We reached this bridge after about 3 hours and had a decent stop here, for more snacks, a rest while the kids had a play which consisted of skimming stones and dropping rocks off the bridge. We left here with only one of the seven children getting wet, which I feel was pretty good odds, this is a good reminder to pack those extra clothes, especially if not walking in the warmer months when things are easily dried.

It took a further 1 hour and 45 minutes for us to reach the hut from that last swing bridge, just under 5 hours in total from the car park. The last hour of walking the kids, as you can imagine, were getting pretty tired, but with a bit of distraction and turns at being the leader they did amazing! We took the river bypass as the flow was too full which added on a bit of extra time; but that was fine. Of course once we got to the hut, the kids got their second (or maybe third) wind and quickly set about: getting their beds ready (we dominated one of the two large bunk rooms), devouring crackers and cheese like a pack of ravenous piranhas and sculling hot chocolates so they could run outside to explore, play tag and practice gymnastics! The mamas were left to sort, prepare, cook and supervise before getting to put their feet up with a well deserved cuppa.

 

Dinner consisted of mainly pasta, rice and noodles, some supplejack foraged along the way made for a nice veggie garnish to the pasta. A nice relaxing wine out on the deck was a great treat once all the kiddies were sorted. Bedtime rolled around and even though they had walked for nearly 5 hours, some of the kids could not get to sleep, even with the season bonus of early darkness! Going to bed with the kids was really the only thing that worked and actually, in the morning we were better off for it! If you haven’t stayed in a hut before – don’t expect too much sleep, huts are noisy places even without kids (who is rustling that plastic bag/snoring/talking!) plus with no curtains you can bet your bottom dollar the  kids will wake get up early!

Breakfasts consisted of porridge, left over pasta, noodles, coffee, tea and hot chocolates. After breakfast, the pack up and tidy up (all done by 8am), we set off. We were lucky that the rain did not start until about an hour into the trip out, rain coats, pack covers and wet weather gear were then all put into use; and when one raincoat couldn’t be found in the pack that can sometimes feel like Mary Poppins bottomless bag, a black rubbish bin bag was turned into a makeshift poncho. Also one boot started to lose its sole so kiwi ingenuity saw a sock being sacrificed to hold it together, note for next trip – bring gaffe tape (not really an essential but can be in those MacGyver moments).

We took just a one short snack stop on the way back due to the relentless rain, though constantly handing the kids snacks whilst walking the last 1.5 hours, helped get them to the end (4 hours in total straight back to the cars). We were all soaked, the track is pretty open and exposed and with 3 hours of constant rain even the best of gears were no match and could not keep us 100% dry.

It was nice to walk in such a big group, everyone had turns in different positions, being the leader or chilling at the back having some quieter time.  All the mamas took turns encouraging the smaller ones and we even saw the kids pitching in to help get a pack on, singing a song of distraction or finding a walking stick to keep someone going.

Going on long hikes or tramps with children does take some patience and sometimes a lot of creative thinking; like turning a small cut into a game to identify which grasses are cutty grass, or getting the younger of the group to walk up front with an adult, giving them a head start, and telling them we will try to catch up, that way they keep up the pace because they don’t want to “get caught”. Roll with the punches and try to prepare your mind as not to get stressed or annoyed when the challenges arise and as always this is much easier when you have friends to do it with.

Here’s a quick break down of our times not including 30 minutes worth of stops:

  1. Franklin Rd Car park, through farmland to start of tram line & bush: 40 minutes
  2. Bush edge to Daly’s hut turn off: 20 minutes
  3. Daly’s Turn off to 1st swing bridge: 30 minutes
  4. From 1st to 5th swing bridge: 75 minutes
  5. 5th swing bridge to river crossing or bypass turn off: 30 minutes
  6. Bypass route to hut: 60 minutes

Flick us a line in the comments below, we’d love to know your tips and tricks for tramping with kids.

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