Photo credit: Ricky French

No longer in the shadow of the great South Island parks, the Tararuas is practically bursting at the seams with trampers.

There are certain sounds you expect to hear when approaching Waitewaewae Hut in Tararua Forest Park. The steady rush of the Otaki River, for example. And certain sounds you don’t, such as a shrill, Australian-accent, welcoming your dog to the hut. But this is exactly what my uncle Andrew got last year when he and his tan-coloured cattle dog Sharni were greeted at the hut by an excited man strangely proclaiming, “Eats a dean-go!”

Andrew didn’t know what to make of this sound at first until he realised the man was actually trying to say, ‘It’s a dingo!’

When my uncle told me this story, I listened with interest. He added that Waitewaewae Hut was full that night, and the night after. Along with the Australian, there were Americans, Germans and many other Kiwis. He had been going to Waitewaewae Hut for more than 20 years and had never seen anything like it; usually it was empty. I felt it was my duty to break the news to him that he was unlikely to have Waitewaewae Hut to himself ever again, at least over the summer months. That’s because the hut is on the Te Araroa Trail.

For local trampers looking to avoid the crowds in the Tararuas, it should be pretty easy, though. Stay away from the Te Araroa Trail and you’ll be right. That was the thinking when we planned our tramp to Maungahuka Hut, one of the most isolated huts in the ranges. Another reason for choosing Maungahuka was the chance to take on the Tararua Peaks and the 25m ladder between them. For my son Dorian, aged 10, and second cousin Finley, 11, this unexpected infrastructure was a major enticement. For my vertigo-suffering partner Karen, it was most certainly not. My uncle Bruce was a veteran of the ladder and knew that a trip to Maungahuka Hut always brought some kind of drama.

We met our first Te Araroa walkers before we’d even tied up our boots, at the car park at Otaki Forks. The trio was heading south towards Waikanae and Wellington and told us how happy they were to be tramping in the bush after long stretches in the upper North Island walking along roads. We wished them good luck and congratulated ourselves on our good choice of route, avoiding Te Araroa and the crowds. How wrong that would prove to be…

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