When my husband wanted to go overnight tramping for his 40th birthday, along with our two kids and three other families, I was hesitant. The last time I had slept even semi-wild was several years ago on a multi-day hike in the Bavarian Alps where at each stop there were hot showers, fully catered meals and beer flown in by helicopter. There were also no children in tow. For this trip, there would be six.
But the trip to Turere Lodge proved a great introduction to trail walking for kids, an excellent way to mark a 40th, and the perfect welcome back to tramping in New Zealand.
Turere Lodge sits atop a flat, sheltered outcrop overlooking the Orongorongo River, surrounded by forest. It’s an idyllic location at the end of a 6.2km walk through varied bush; both interesting and easy enough for preschoolers, or an adult whose tramping feet are a little uncertain.
The trail starts at the Catchpool Valley car park where the shelter makes an excellent lunch spot whatever the weather.
The track begins with a 500m ascent through regenerating bush, dappled with sun. Growing up in the South Island, I spent a lot of time tramping in Arthur’s Pass and initially my southern prejudice against less-than-pristine flora had me fooled; the bush seemed scrappy and unsatisfying. Then we entered the cooler, more deeply-forested part of the trail alongside Catchpool Stream and the beauty of the podocarp and broadleaf forest, lush with nikau, fern, and tawa, felled me. Every shade of green imaginable was layered and sprawled out into a magnificent forest cloak, patched here and there with bright pieces of sunlight. It was glorious.
Up until this point the kids were very enthusiastic, racing ahead on the trail, laughing and playing, but before long some of them asked to be carried. “Just keep going, one foot in front of the other,” we chorused, without success, until someone suggested we change tactics and instead of pressing onward relentlessly, offer lots of pauses and distractions. This was frustrating for the adults wanting a good walking rhythm, but worked brilliantly for the kids. The walking poles I’d brought along also proved a hit. Adjusted to kid height, they helped some of the wobblier to walk.
Leaving the stream behind, we climbed the trail upward to drier ground, where the forest turned to beech. It was pristine, open, and easy undulating terrain.
The trail’s approximate half-way point, soon after this climb, is a large swingbridge overlooking a deep gully. The trail then descends gently through gloomier forest. Then it was up again into open beech and a magnificent grove of ancient rata that even had the children hushed for a moment. A steep, zig-zagging descent to the Turere Bridge was rewarded by the wonderful expanse of the Orongorongo River.
The Orongorongo Track officially ends at the river. We then followed the Big Bend Track for another 1200m to Turere Lodge along a stunning, if more challenging trail, knotted with tree roots and sporting the occasional exposed drop to the river.
Turere Lodge is one of the most welcoming spots I’ve ever stayed. It has an amazing view of the river, is clean, well-equipped and well-laid-out. There’s a fireplace, BBQ and even an electric light in the kitchen.
Would we do it again? We’ve already been back twice.