This past week most of New Zealand was on holiday, celebrating Easter and commemorating Anzac day with a few well-earned days off. With the weather report looking decent, a couple of friends and I decided to find an easy overnight tramp to kickstart our holiday.
We picked Nina Hut because it was only a two and a half hour drive from Christchurch and was billed as being pretty low-key, suitable for families and new trampers. Leaving on Good Friday was risky, so we were sure we’d be sharing the 10-bed hut with other folks but figured, with an early enough start we could at least snag a few of those coveted first come, first served spots. Worst case, if the hut was full we’d just travel back to the car and skip the overnight.
My friend Claire picked me up at 6:45am and after a quick stop in Belfast to grab our other friend, Sophie, we were on our way to the Nina Valley Track in Lake Sumner Forest Park.
We parked our car in the lot, crossed the first metal bridge, and signed our names in the log book to let other adventurers know that three beds were already claimed. From what we saw, we’d be heading up to an empty hut.
Let me just preface this by saying that my fitness level is around average. I go to yoga twice a week, I’ve played recreational sports on and off over the last few years, and I’m generally a fan of camping and the great outdoors. So yeah, average…just not “Kiwi average.”
This tiny country at the bottom of the world has miraculously produced an entire nation of fit, outdoorsy people. The Department of Conservation (DOC) publishes suggested route times on their website doc.govt.nz and I’ve come to the conclusion that whoever comes up with these times spends a minimum of 8 hours a day hiking and survives on trail mix, or scroggin as its called here.
Since moving to New Zealand, I’d yet to complete a hike in the allotted time and this walk was no exception. A beautiful track that crossed several bubbling streams and had us passing through stunning valleys painted with tall golden grass, this mostly mild expedition still took us 4 hours, rather than the 3 hours posted on the DOC website.
On our walk, we were able to refill our water bottles from a swiftly flowing stream and were occasionally joined by curious robins eager to feast on any of the bugs we kicked up as we walked along the path. The further in we got, the narrower the track became, and I spent a good chunk of energy avoiding tree roots and trying to keep my boots dry as we walked through muddy sections of the track.
Thankfully, we were in no real hurry, since we knew that there still 10 free beds at the hut.
We made it to Nina Hut and quickly grabbed three sleeping mats for ourselves, found seats outside in the grass, and relaxed, soaking in the glorious sun while reading books and enjoying the breeze.
Our peace was short lived when a group of 9 arrived, also tent-less and having clearly disregarded the fact that 9 + 3 = 12, 2 humans over the 10 bed capacity of the hut. We were even less reassured of a relaxing night when these 4 adults and 5 children immediately starting taking over the hut with their packs and displaying a clear lack of basic hut etiquette.
Thankfully, I’d packed a flask and knew that whiskey would help take the edge off.
More groups began to arrive, but smartly they’d all brought tents and easily settled into their own sites around the periphery of the hut.
As the sun began to set, we cooked up the most delicious veggie noodles. Thanks to Sophie’s clever foresight to pre-cut the veggies, our dinner was ready in no time.
Sitting around the table and just enjoying each other’s company, it was very surprising when our roommates for the night decided that 8:00pm was bedtime. We soon found ourselves in a silent room with lights off and nowhere to go. It was the earliest I’ve gone to bed in as long as I can remember.
Sadly, sleep was not easy to come by, loud snores almost immediately started emanating from a nearby mat.
It was going to be a long night.
After finally managing to fall asleep, I was woken up around 3:00am to the sound of creaking and metal scraping metal. For some reason, on this unseasonably warm night, someone had decided to start a fire. The well-insulated hut quickly became a sauna and I was grateful for the screened window by our heads, which, when opened, let in welcome cool air.
By 7:00am, after 11 hours of broken sleep, I was strangely both tired and groggy from the feeling that I’d overslept. With rain in the forecast, we decided to pack up our things and high-tail it back down the valley, best to avoid getting stuck by any streams getting too high (and kids shouting at 8 in the morning).
The walk back was as stunning as it had been on the way in. It reminded me that though my first hut experience was less than ideal, it was still worth it to enjoy New Zealand’s picturesque landscapes.
I’m sure I’ll be back on a trail soon, but next time I’ll make sure to bring my own tent.
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