Back to the Wild  Tramping to Kahurangi Keepers Hut

A cast iron bath in a DOC hut?! On a weekend tramp, Sonia and her family discover the perks of staying in a hut once occupied by a lighthouse keeper and his family.

Kahurangi Keepers Hut probably has to be my new favourite DOC hut. A fantastic family hut, and wow, some absolutely gorgeous scenery.

We were looking up where we would go for Waitangi Weekend, and I really liked the idea of Kahurangi Keepers Hut – it just looked like it was at the end of the world. And it definitely felt like that too. From passing Collingwood it still took us over 1.5 hours driving along a very long winding road to get to the start of the track.

With no 4WD, we had to park at the Anatori River, and start on foot from there. You can either follow the 4WD road, or walk along the beach. Following the road is the safer way, however it’s also much longer – it adds about an extra 2km.

We started walking at about mid tide, and I definitely wouldn’t have left it any closer to high tide.

The scenery was stunning. Just gorgeous. The beach, the waves, the sun. Absolute bliss. Given we were just walking on the beach, Bethany walked easily large chunks of the way, and when we did have to carry her, it wasn’t too bad on the flat.

It took us about 1.5 hours to get to Turimawiwi River – the spot where the 4WD carpark is. And from here we were no longer walking near cliffs, but could see the rolling hills, and up further towards the hills the Heaphy track somewhere up there.

There were quite a few quad bikers around, zooming up and down the beach, but after we crossed the shin-deep Turimawiwi the number dropped off. Bethany sat on dads shoulders for the crossing just to be safe.

We realised we were making good time for getting to Big River – this is the one where the tide matters – so we decided to have a big rest next to some rock pools. B loved jumping around in the rock pools, and was having such a blast relaxing in the sand.

It then took us about another hour to get to the next river – the Anaweka. This one had quite a bit of soft sand! So again Bethany sat on dads shoulders for the crossing, as even though it appeared only ankle deep, it was actually almost knee deep.

It was just under an hour walking time to Big River, and we were there about 45 minutes after low tide. They say be there an hour either side, but if going without kids and it hasn’t been raining lots you could probably make it up to mid-tide if you knew where you needed to cross. I’d read 200m up from the beach, so we found a spot, and crossed there. The water was a bit dirty, as it had been raining a lot the week prior, so was hard to see the bottom, but it wasn’t moving at all, so I tested the spot, and then hubby crossed once I’d made it safely over with B on his back. Turns out we didn’t pick the best spot – the water was up to mid-thigh on me – and when we were crossing on the way back, the water was much clearer, and about 10m further along it was only ankle depth on the way back!

From Big River it was another hour to the hut – really it would have been shorter but B found so many sticks to play with on the way! And we let her take as long as she wanted especially given we had hurried her a little bit earlier to make it to Big River in time.

Past Big River there was no more quad bikes, as it was getting too far past low tide for them to be crossing the river.

When we made it to the hut it felt so relaxing and blissful. There was a group of 3 already there, but it felt like we were at the end of the world. It was fantastic.

The hut was a massive 26 bunk hut. The lighthouse keepers family, with their 6 kids had lived in it, so it was well equipped. An old range with a wet-back on it to heat the water in sink & bath, (Yes there was a bathroom with a cast iron bath in it!!) 4 separate bunk rooms, and a flushing toilet outside!

One of the daughters of the last lighthouse keeper has also collated a whole folder of history about the lighthouse. Was great reading on the sunny deck.

We pretty much flopped straight into bed after dinner and decided to explore the following day.

In the morning though we were woken up at 5AM by a bunch of quadbikers revving outside and shining their lights straight into the hut – not the best wake up! I expected them at the evening tide, but definitely not the early one! Luckily we managed to get back to sleep soon, and B slept through the whole thing.

After breakfast it was high tide, and it was amazing to walk out onto the beach, completely cut off from the world, and just take it all in. B enjoyed running around, though it was quite windy. So we decided to explore Camp Creek. You can follow it for quite a while up. The water is pristine, it’s nice & sheltered, and so much to see.

Low tide was meant to be at 5.30pm, and the original plan had been to only stay one night, but how could we stay only 1 night in this gem of a spot! Though we did need to be back at work 2 days after… so we decided we’d do 1 more night, and leave with the morning low tide instead – setting our alarms for 5AM! We always take plenty of extra food, and weren’t expected back in cell reception till that day anyway, so no issues with the change in plan.

That allowed us time to go explore further around the coastline – and test out that bath!

The other group there told us before they left that the track to the lighthouse was very overgrown, and it was best to go round the coastline instead – so we decided we’d try that after the tide dropped. Meanwhile we walked the start of the track, and B enjoyed sliding down the sandy hill! We collected some firewood to top up the shed, and we explored the bush surrounding.

After lunch we headed round the coastline to try walk to the lighthouse. There was a sea lion who spotted us before we spotted him, and bolted straight into the sea! B loved watching him then playing in the waves. We definitely kept an eye out for sea lions after that!

As we walked around, we kept looking for spots where we could cut up to the lighthouse, but there was quite a lot of cliffs, and although we found 2 spots that could work, they couldn’t really work with B in tow. The wind had also picked up a lot so we decided to head back instead once we hit the point as we definitely didn’t want to be putting B into any risky positions.

Back at the hut we put the fire on to heat up the water. It took about 3 hours for the water to get warm enough to fill up the bath, and we even took all the pots at the hut, filled them with water and put them on top of the range to top the bath up with hot water faster.

The bath was fantastic. Never have I taken a bath in a DOC hut before!

We packed all our bags the night before, and decided to have snacks for breakfast along the way to allow us time to leave as easily as possible with a 3yo in tow at 5AM.

Took us under 10 mins to sneak out the door, and start walking. No quad bikers this time round, just us 3 walking under the light of the moon – we didn’t even need extra light!

When we made it back to the car it was JUST right timing with the tide.

This hut is so high on my list of favourites. Definitely requires at least a 2 night stay to truly have time to explore. It looks like the spot isn’t very popular amongst overnight trampers at all, only the quadbikers who just come and go, so you’re almost bound to have a bed. We took the risk & didn’t even take the tent with us on this one.

It’s definitely on the to return to list one day!

FMC thanks Sonia Barrish for her permission to reproduce this article, first published on her Back to the Wild blog.  Sonia makes and sells a range of home-made ointments, rubs and products such as insect repellent which are non-toxic and baby friendly.  

This resource is part of FMC’s Outdoor Community campaign, celebrating and encouraging Family Tramping. Check out the other articles on Family Tramping here on Wilderlife. If you’ve got stories, tips or encouragement that you’re willing to share, please get in touch.

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