Where: Wellington – 30 minutes out of Otaki
Distance & Time: 9km from the car park to Field Hut, three hours from Otaki Forks overnight car park to Field Hut. Two.five hour return trip from Field Hut to Dennan Peak.
Take: wet weather clothes, food, overnight equipment (see gear list below)
Amenities on route: bathroom at the beginning of the walk, and at Field Hut.
Cost of the walk: $5 per person, per night for Field Hut. You will need to buy food supplies prior to starting the walk
I have just come back from three weeks on the road for work. During that time I pretty much did nothing but work, eat, and drink. So the thought of doing a three hour hike that was all uphill had my thighs quaking. But you know what? They handled it. I wasn’t the fastest walker on the track (am I ever), but I got there and by god did I deserve all the chocolate for dessert that night!
Paul had organised this entire hike for us as he knew that I was under immense pressure at work and that I would need to go bush to clear my head for a bit. All I had to do was buy our Hut tickets and make scroggin for us both (seriously, my scroggin recipe is the best. Maybe one day I’ll share it here). He even sent me a packing list so I didn’t have to think about it – I just had to follow what he’d written. Easy!
Otaki Forks Road is about 90 minutes out of Wellington. When we were driving down the road I had deja vu and once we got to the carpark it was confirmed – I’d been here before, years ago, with a group to do an overnight hike. However, we had gone to a Hut that was relatively near the car park so we hadn’t actually done too much hiking. This time I was going to be going much, much further. And higher!
There’s a decent sized carpark here, as well as a campground slightly further up the road. And the carpark has a bathroom – very welcome after the drive and before we commenced a three hour walk!
After filling in the intentions book at the caretaker’s hut, we crossed the swing bridge over the Otaki River and we were officially on our way.
I may have questioned Paul’s navigation skills on this walk, but I was soon proven wrong. The DOC signage pointed one way to Field Hut, but he led me another way swearing that the track would meet up with the Field Hut track. After a bit of side eye ‘sure…..’, it turned out that he was right. So that meant I was on dinner duty when we got home!
It was slow going. We were well within the recommended DOC timing, but I hadn’t quite realised just how consistently uphill it was. Just plodding away, I used the excuse of ‘admiring the view’ in order to catch my breath on more than one occasion.
The track progresses through fields, to low scrubby bush, before heading into proper bush. I noticed early on how quiet it seemed though, as we heard barely any birdsong. I’m not sure if they were feeling shy, or it was the time of day, or what, but hopefully with the work that’s being done on predator control, the birdsong will be back soon.
We passed quite a few people coming down (lucky!) and asked the most obvious question ‘how far to the Hut?’ We were given timings ranging from ‘not much further’ to ‘about 45 minutes’.
The thing I like about the DOC huts I’ve stayed in so far, is that they sneak up on you. Walk around a corner and BAM, there it is, snugly tucked away in the bush. I much prefer that to seeing a Hut in the distance and knowing you still have so much further until you arrive – this way I can kid myself that the Hut might just be around the next corner!
Field Hut arrived at just the right moment. My thighs were on fire from all the uphill walking. I was hungry for lunch. I needed the bathroom. And I needed to refill my water bottle – Field Hut delivered on all of them (apart from having a masseuse available for my legs)
Field Hut is one of the oldest huts in New Zealand. It’s had some work done to it over its nearly 100 year life span, but it still holds up remarkably well. There’s lots of old photos on the wall of the guys that cleared the area and built the Hut, along with their stories. It makes for interesting reading and provides a neat point of difference for the Hut. It also has a helicopter pad attached to it if you want to save your thighs from burning and just fly on in!
After eating our sandwiches on the deck, we left our packs in the Hut, claiming prime sleeping position besides the fire, and continued up to Tabletop. We’d been told it was an hour each way and totally worth it for the view. In hindsight, I probably would have headed up there a bit earlier than we did, as we didn’t leave until 2pm and the grey clouds were starting to roll in. The last thing I wanted was to be stuck on a mountain when it got dark!
Tabletop was a massive relief on the legs as it was relatively flat going once you got up there. I was quite content with having got there, until Paul pointed to a summit in what seemed like the very, very far off distance and said he wanted us to get to the top.
I’m not going to repeat here what my words were, but suffice to say the burn in my legs was hurting and if I didn’t need to take another uphill step, I would have been quite happy.
So instead we struck a compromise. I checked the time and said we’d walk as far as we could until 3.30pm and then we had to turn around to make sure we made it back to the Hut before it got dark.
And in that time, we made it to Dennan Peak. Unfortunately, the track didn’t actually go to the Summit, so a wee bit of bush bashing was required. It was mostly flax and small shrubs, so wasn’t too tricky. It was quite fun and only lasted 5-10 minutes, and the view was totally worth it once we got to the top. I’m actually stoked Paul made us go up there, in spite of my not being particularly enthusiastic, as it was a pretty neat feeling to get up there!
And we made it well within our time frame too! It’s the one thing that I’m still quite bad at with hiking, I’m terrible at estimating how far walking somewhere I can see in the distance will actually take.
Coming back down the view was starting to disappear thanks to the low cloud rolling in. Thankfully the rain drops stayed away until the final few minutes of our descent – thanks rain gods!
Back at the Hut we were surprised to find no one else had arrived, which was odd considering how many people we passed on the trail. Ah well, all the better for us!
We got the fire going (and it took us nowhere near the three hours our previous fire-making mission took). Thankfully there was lots of dry wood at the Hut, and we’d bought lots of firestarters to help get things cracking. We hadn’t had a chance to collect wood while it was still light, so that was a task we left for the next morning!
It’s something that’s very particular to being in a Hut during winter time with no electricity, but the moment it gets dark is the moment I want to eat my dinner, like I’m at an early-bird special dinner, and snuggle into my sleeping bag at a time when I’d normally be getting home from work!
We’re still experimenting on the food we take on overnight hikes, and for this trip we tried freeze dried beef stew with mashed potato. It was perfectly palatable, but it wasn’t something I’d want to eat every time I did an overnight trip. Thank goodness for scroggin, chocolate, and numerous cups of tea which helps to fill the gap, even though it isn’t something a nutritionist would recommend for dinner!
After a few games of last card (all of which I lost) in front of the roaring fire, it was time to try out my brand new sleeping bag, which I was really, really looking forward to – and it was awesome. Cosy, warm (but not too hot), and long enough for me. I rolled up my polarfleece as a pillow and settled in for the night. I could hear the call of Morepork outside the Hut, but unfortunately no Kiwi (they probably came out after I was fast asleep).
Amy’s Advice: Leave your backpack at Field Hut while you explore TableTop and Dennan Peak – just take some water with you, and some snacks in your pocket.
It was really nice the next morning waking up to the sound of birds and natural light coming through the windows…even if it was earlier than I would have liked for a Sunday morning! The fire had died out during the night though and holy sweet deity it was cold outside of the sleeping bag! Porridge, a cup of tea, and getting the fire going again soon helped with that situation though.
We weren’t in too much of a hurry to get back down to civilisation, so took our time tidying up the Hut, gathering firewood for the next guests, and just sipping our tea in front of the fire, enjoying having no cellphone reception, chatting to each other, and just doing some actual relaxing!
Ah, the walk down. No uphill. A welcome break for the thighs, but I may have conveniently forgotten the strain that consistently going downhill has on my knees. A few stops here and there to shake my legs out/admire the view/drink some water, and it was all good.
When we stopped to take off a layer of clothing, another couple passed us who we had seen the previous day, but had continued up to the next Hut, which had absolutely NO heating. Thank god it hadn’t rained, or those poor souls would have frozen overnight. They had seriously contemplated coming back down to Field Hut, but it would have been another three hour hike in the dark. I didn’t even realise there were some Huts that had no form of heating, so it was an illuminating moment for me too, and a reminder to always check the DOC website to find out what facilities your chosen Hut has.
It took us nearly an hour less to walk down than it did to walk up. Which goes to show just how slow I am walking up hills!
When we crossed that bridge back to the carpark though, it felt like we were crossing the finish line of a big race! There’s something about having that dramatic finish to a walk – makes it feel like much more of an occasion!
Photo credit: Most of these photos were taken by Paul on his cellphone, with a couple taken by me. They all turned out pretty awesome!
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What I took
This was an overnight hike, staying in a basic DOC hut:
- Hiking boots
- Pair of woolen socks
- Long-sleeved thermal top
- Long-sleeved merino hooded top
- Rain jacket
For the Hut
- Sleeping bag
- Thermal leggings
- Wool socks
- Light shoes (jandals were fine))
- Fleece top
- Dinner (we had a freeze dried meal for dinner between the two of us)
- Toilet paper & hand sanitiser
- Gas cooker
- Tea/Coffee/Milk powder
- Personal toiletries (I had deodorant, hairbrush, sunscreen, toothbrush & toothpaste
What the Hut had:
- Firewood and fire place
- Sleeping platform
- Brooms/brush & shovel
- Table and chairs
- Fresh drinking/cooking water
- Separate toilet