Very close to the popular Karangahake Gorge, another equally stunning gorge flies under the radar without a large car park or flocks of road-tripping crowds. The Waitawheta Gorge is filled with the relaxing sounds of the Waitawheta River and encased by towering walls of rock and classic kiwi bush that is home to a fantastic beginner tramping track and a Department of Conservation (DOC) hut. 

I followed the Waitawheta Tramway as it snaked through the gorge, crossing over the river periodically on stunning swing bridges, and ended up at my cozy shelter for the night; Waitawheta Hut. This overnight hike in the Bay of Plenty is ideal for beginner trampers and a good introduction to DOC huts if it’s your first time on an overnight hike. 

I was lucky enough to be sponsored with some Stoney Creek clothing for this trip to keep me comfortable in the heat of the day as well as when the temperatures dropped overnight! Their new women's Micro-Prime Quarter-Zip Top was a fantastic addition to my gear. Made from recycled fabrics, this piece is perfect for laying over t-shirts or thermals depending on the conditions! I wore it both days of this trip over a short sleeve to combat the slight April chill in the air but the micro hydrophobic yarns meant it was still very breathable when I entered sunny patches of the trail. I chose one size up for this item and found it a great fit! I also made use of their super-light 3/4 active tights, fleece-lined full-length active tights, and a 100% waterproof Creek Crosser jacket (luckily I didn't need it). Check out the bottom of this blog for my full gear list!

Here’s what you need to know if you’re planning a hike to Waitawheta Hut!

The Track

The entirety of this track is relatively flat making it perfect for the whole family and most fitness levels. Once you leave your car you can expect to be walking for 3-4 hours before you reach the hut - that’s a generous time allowance that includes rest stops, lunch, and photo opportunities. 

There is a small car park at the very end of Franklin Road, Waihi. I was apparently late to the party and had to join many others in finding my own patch of grass to park on the side of the road. 

The track itself starts just beyond the car park where you walk along the road a little longer to reach private land. Be respectful of private land and follow the orange triangles as trail makers. Turn left at your first fork towards the river. Once you find the gravel path that leads through farmland, you can’t go wrong from there as the track is very clear (making for great peace of mind if you’re nervous about navigating in the bush!). 

The farmland was a lovely start to the track but with no shade, I did get very hot in that short period of time; that day was a scorcher! Crossing over into the shelter of the Kaimai Mamaku Conservation Park was a welcome relief and I could quickly settle into a nice pace, made even easier by the flat track. 

The track remains fairly flat until the hut as it weaves through the gorge, always following the stunning river which makes for a soothing soundtrack to the walk. Waitawheta Tramway crosses the river at many points where you’ll make use of sturdy swing bridges that have great views and are a bit of fun; there are HEAPS! You’ll be surrounded by gorgeous flora and fauna, mossy trees, and birdsong as you discover overgrown infrastructure from the old tramway. 

Right before reaching the hut, you will need to cross the river on foot. If the river is low (during summer or after periods of little rain) you can easily keep your feet dry by rock hopping. However, if you do find the river a little too high for your liking, simply backtrack slightly to take a signposted detour that only requires a few small sidestream crossings. Take a short stop, only metres away from the hut, to explore the site of the old logging mill, complete with a huge rusty saw and a large log to match.

Overall, the walk took me around 2.5-3 hours including stops for lunch and (many) photos! Slightly less than the 3-4 hours as predicted by DOC. This track is very popular with families, so trampers traveling with little legs and curious minds may need a few more stops. The track was easy and flat which allowed my legs to just focus on overcoming the inevitable fatigue of prolonged walking rather than adding the sheer difficulty of uphills into the mix. I stayed at Waitawheta Hut and returned via the same track the next day. You can link some tracks to create a longer loop!

The Hut

Waitawheta Hut is a welcoming and comfy hut with 26 bunk beds split between two rooms and a spacious deck, dining, and kitchen area, all tucked into lush bushland. Foam mattresses await in the bunk rooms so you can show up with just your sleeping bag and inflatable pillow (or stuff clean spare clothes into your sleeping bag cover/bag). As long as you have booked your bed prior to showing up, you can just walk in, lay any mattress down in your chosen spot and claim it by popping your bag on top! 

There are no cooking facilities at the hut so you will need to take in your own equipment and food so it’s a great introduction to backcountry cooking gear. Non-flushing toilets are on-site but are separate from the hut, only a few steps away from the front door. There is also no power at Waitawheta Hut (big surprise!) so take a headlamp to find your way around the kitchen when the sun goes down and it comes in handy on midnight toilet trips up the hill. 

The whole hut is surrounded by grass with a slim view of the valley below; perfect for a picnic or a stint of reading in the afternoon sun. I also saw a family head off in the afternoon to find a swimming hole nearby - in hindsight I wish I had followed them!

Bookings are required for Waitamata Hut. If you’re interested in camping, there is a non-powered campsite available to book in the same location. When possible, I’ll book a hut if I’m alone so I don’t have to also carry in a tent and huts are a little warmer (which often equals less bulky clothes needed too). 

The Experience 

The whole experience of tramping Waitawheta Tramway and staying overnight at Waitawheta Hut was a great re-introduction to overnight tramping as I hadn’t been away in a long time! It warmed up my leg muscles for future long hikes as well as rekindled my desire to tick off tracks. 

Without cellphone service or power, it reduces life to simple pleasures such as the feeling of a swingbridge under your boots or the small tonal shifts of running water. As I was alone, it forced me to be alone with my thoughts without distraction (sometimes a scary thought) and I can’t wait to take others here to enjoy their uninterrupted company. I effortlessly met new people at the hut and chatted about what hikes they have done and what they have yet to conquer. As it’s an easy route it is popular with young families and watching young children love the outdoors is so joyful (don’t even try to tell me that kids don’t belong in huts with others - you’re a dick). I watched many kids play cards with their parents in the glow of tealight candles and showed them how to paint light trails with their headlamps, capturing it on my camera with long exposure. I forgot to pack coffee and was very quickly offered one by a stranger. It was pure simple living with human connection at the core. I would highly recommend this trip to anyone wanting to unwind and enjoy nature, beginner tramper or experienced mountaineer. 

The Gear List


Food & Cooking Equipment:

Other Stuff:

  • PLB - SAFETY FIRST. Hire one from your nearest Macpac.
  • Basic first aid items (plasters, wound dressing, disinfectant)
  • 55L Backpack
  • Sleeping Bag (comfort rating 6 degrees Celcius)
  • Hiking Boots or Shoes (you can easily wear sturdy sneakers in dry weather - I was taking client pics so chose boots for the look)
  • Hiking Poles (didn't need them though)
  • Headlamp
  • Emergency blanket
  • Wet wipes
  • Personal toiletries, a book, my camera gear.