The best family tramp in New Zealand
I’m going to start this with a bold claim, the Ōrongorongo Track is the BEST first overnight family tramp in New Zealand!
A Watson Family adventure to Jans Hut, written by Nathan Watson, Operations Manager, NZ Mountain Safety Council
Situated in the highly underrated (but very much awesome) Remutaka Forest Park, only 45min from Wellington CBD, this easy family-friendly trip has all the makings of a family favourite.
Our family of four are regular short walkers. Despite having clocked up many a kilometre on all manner of walks around Aotearoa, until recently we had yet to brave an overnight tramp.
As an avid tramper myself I have long-term plans for my two boys and I to embark on many an adventure as they get older. They don’t necessarily know this yet, or should I say they don’t necessarily understand what that really means yet. So, in playing the long game, we haven’t rushed to get them out overnight until now.
Our plan was simple (key learning number 1), follow the Ōrongorongo Track to the Ōrongorongo River, and on to Jans Hut for the night, returning the same way. Thankfully Jans Hut was available (9 bunks, bookings required) and our plans were in motion. Joining with some friends (key learning number 2) we quickly assembled our team of 9 (including 5 kids, aged 2-6yrs).
Packing was surprisingly straight-forward, with a combination of information from Plan My Walk and an ever evolving list, we assembled all our stuff a few nights prior and completed a test run (key learning number 3). Jans Hut has a gas cooker, toilet, heating (although the wood stock was very low) and all the kitchen crockery you could need (one reason why this makes it the perfect overnight family tramp is that the hut has lots of stuff you’d otherwise need to carry). This meant our packs (well, mine at least) was a little lighter, so we could fill that space with snacks (key learning number 4).
Setting off on Saturday morning in the drizzly rain, spirits were high. The forecast was looking pretty good, with the drizzle expected to clear. The parents had a bet on how long it would take for the first call of “I’m hungry…” which took about 4 minutes (I think we could still see the cars). Never fear, the pre-made snack packs were on hand and the nibbling continued almost un-interrupted for about the next 4.5hrs to the hut (see key learning 4 again).
Onwards we marched like Hobbits. The drizzle cleared. The jackets came off. The snack packs slowly reduced in weight through constant consumption. The kids laughed and yelped. The tuis were out, but there was no sign of the Gruffalo.
Arriving at Jans Hut was like opening a Christmas present. Within 2 minutes every bunk had been climbed, a game involving hats, gloves, polypro thermals and mattresses was invented. Parents sipped hot tea and read old magazines. No one asked for TV. As nighttime arrived, we ate pesto pasta with sausages and chocolate pudding. The high excitement of a night in a hut with friends slowly passed and sleep eventually arrived (key learning number 5).
The following day we headed out the same way. Packs a little lighter thanks to the consumption of food. By about half-way back to the car the first signs of tired little legs set in, but the constant presence of friends and well-timed parental questions and encouragement, with those snack pack lollies freely flowing, we successfully got the whole team back in one happy piece.
Amazingly, there was zero whining from any of the kids throughout the tramping. In fact, I can say with great confidence there was far less whining across the combined 9hrs walking than compared to a weekend at home!
All in all, a wonderful weekend away, and the best spot you could hope for a first overnight tramp.
About the walk The Ōrongorongo Track, for the most part, was well graded underfoot, and wide enough for two people side by side. Perfect for when those little tired legs needed a hand to hold. Its classification as an ‘easy’ walk was accurate, and this is reinforced by 16 user reviews on Plan My Walk that agree. All the bridges/streams up to the Ōrongorongo River are bridged, although getting to Jans Hut does require a river crossing. The river was flowing in two separate channels meaning two smaller crossings, each about low calf depth. Should you get this far to find the river too high to cross the options are either to turn back to the car, or see if you can get a spare bunk in Turere Lodge (a little further upstream, no river crossing required).
The one slightly trickier section of the track is just before the descent to the Ōrongorongo River (when walking in), this section has suffered a major slip and the track has been re-routed down a spur. This section is quite steep in places, with tree roots underfoot. In wet conditions it will be muddy and slippery. Navigating this required us to help the kids quite a lot to avoid slipping. It was much easier climbing back up on the way out. You can read about this as an alert on Plan My Walk.
Key learnings/tips for other families:
- Simple is best. Make it easy on yourself. There’s enough stress parenting you don’t need to create more with complicated trip plans.
- Kids tramp best with other kids around!
- I highly recommend a (kid free) test pack a few nights prior, this helps to iron out any bugs in the packing list and reduces the likelihood you’ll forget something. Not to mention the general piece of mind knowing ‘I can actually fit it in’.
- We hugely over catered on the snacks; however, hungry kids don’t make fun tramping buddies! Create some snack packs for each day so the kids can nibble away as they want.
- Sleep will arrive, eventually. After walking in/out, by Sunday night they were zonked out!