The Kaimai Range is often overlooked in the pursuit of other fantastic tramping options in New Zealand. I admit that BK (before kids) Jack and I drove ridiculous distances and flew all over the country seeking tramping treasure, never even considering the Kaimais. Now that we've got kids who love to tramp, but hate being the car, we're getting to know the Kaimais better and we're making up for lost time. Access to the Kaimais is less than an hour's drive from Tauranga and there are heaps of options for day walks and overnight tramps. Daly's Clearing Hut and Waitawheta Hut have become our go-to local hut destinations. They're achievable for little legs, a short drive away, fun, and beautiful.
While Jack and I didn't consider the Kaimais for tramping, we have done a fair bit of trail running up there, BK and WK (without kids). The "Hot Springs loop" was a favourite running track that, when run counterclockwise, lead steeply up to Te Rereatukahai Hut and then back down again via the giant Kauri trees on the Tuahu Track. As part of the Kauri dieback disease management plan, the half of the loop that went through a Kauri grove is permanently closed.
Recently, Sadie's best friend Imari decided to celebrate her seventh birthday with a tramp to - you guessed it - Te Rereatukahia Hut! We were wanting to shorten the first day and avoid a there and back route so a bit of creative planning was needed to make a loop where there isn't one anymore. Previous running adventures reminded me of another Kaimai route from the Wharawhara Track to Cashmore's Clearing, that also had an option for reaching the Te Rereatukahia Hut. The plan was set.
Together with a third friend and the three mums, we dropped one car at the top of Hot Springs Road and drove to the end of Wharawhara Road, left the second car, and started walking. The Wharawhara Link Track beings with a river crossing before climbing up to the ridge of the Kaimais towards the Te Rereatukahia Hut. The kids wore their packs carrying most of their gear and Imari made the journey in bare feet.
When we arrived, the non-bookable 12 bed hut was technically full with 6 dads and 6 daughters. Thankfully, the group reorganised themselves, making space for the 6 of us along the bottom bunk. Two more people arrived and we squished, then another group of two arrived and we scooched. The last group to arrive took one look at the hut bursting with trampers and decided to move on despite the darkness.
The advantage to winter tramping is that you can still sleep in and see the sunrise. From the hut, if you head north up the hill along the North South Track for 10 minutes you can see the first light across the Bay of Plenty. After breakfast, we headed south along the North South Track through the tall grass and the native bush, taking in views of the Waikato Plains to the west. At the track junction, we followed the Tuahu Track down towards Hot Springs Road stopping to visit the two Kauri trees surrounded by boardwalk.
Today's lessons in tramping:
- Check your own backyard for tramping magic. You might not have to travel far to find an amazing track you never thought about before.
- With unbookable huts, be prepared. If there are crowds, be ready for cozy. If you can't hack it, bring a tent or be ready to tramp out.
- When it comes to your favourite trails, practice gratitude.. You never know when they might not be there anymore. In this case, it was Kauri dieback disease management that wiped out an amazing loop. Slips often obliterate tracks at Mount Mauganui. Tracks can change due to forestry, tourism, and other natural disasters. Love it while you've got it.
Te Rereatukahia Hut, Kaimai Range
Wharawhara Road end to Te Rereatukahia Hut
Time: 2-3 hours
Te Rereatukahia Hut to Hot Springs Road via the North South Track and Tuahu Track
Time: 3 hours
Dogs: With hunting permit only.
Barefoot: The 7-year-old did it. She was wearing a 32L pack.
Before you go, check the map for information on track closure related to Kauri dieback disease. If in doubt, contact the Department of Conservation Office.