Scott MacLeod hikes the family-friendly Waitawheta Tramway

Scott Macleod | Account Manager Lifestyle, People, Travel

Access: Franklin Rd, 50 min from Tauranga
Hike distance: 19km (return)
Hike time: 3 hrs (to hut) or 6 hrs (return)
Accommodation: Waitawheta Hut, bookings through DoC
Parking: At trailhead
Grade: Easy

There are nine of us, and we’re tramping at a brisk pace over mud-spattered planks of wood. It’s one of the easiest walks I’ve ever undertaken to a DoC hut, and those planks are part of the reason why. 

We’re hiking into the Kaimai Range along the Waitawheta Tramway and, as everyone knows, trams require flat ground. The planks are the remains of old railway sleepers, and their path is taking us around the flanks of bush-clad hills to avoid sudden changes in height.

The tramway was constructed in the late 1800s to haul out kauri on railway bogies (trucks). We hike past several information boards displaying old photographs and mildly interesting historical facts about the tramway. At one point, we encounter a preserved railway truck holding a giant log.

We also pass several other trampers, including two women who are herding half a dozen children aged about 6-10. The youngsters are starting to tire, but will go on to reach Waitawheta Hut without too many grizzles.

One slight challenge occurs 20 minutes before the hut, when we encounter a knee-deep, swift-flowing river. Myself and two others wade across, while our companions opt for a slightly longer path that diverts around the river.

We arrive at the hut, claim our bunks and try to chat over the yelling of the kids. Then it’s sausages and red wine for dinner, followed by cards. Some of us venture into the chilly darkness to see the nearby glow-worms.

Inevitably for a packed hut, we have a couple of snorers in our midst. This ensures a fitful sleep – one reason I usually carry a tent.

We awake to rain and dark clouds. We breakfast quickly, don our rain gear and tramp out fast so we can dry out over lunch in Katikati.

Verdict: The Waitawheta Tramway is a pleasant and easy tramp suitable for able-bodied people (including children) with food, water and the appropriate clothing.