The Waitahinga trails are a 40 minute drive from Whanganui, and are 12km past Bushy Park Sanctuary (the road past the sanctuary to the trails is unsealed, FYI). The land has been owned by the Whanganui City Council for many years, but it is only recently that the trails have been developed for all to enjoy (thanks Whanganui Tramping Club, you guys are awesome!). The forest is a mix of old and regenerating flora, and in most parts you will be serenaded by tuis, piwakawakas, riroriro, cicadas, and the occasional hive of bees.
There are several trails, rated from easy to moderate. I took the longest route to the Waitahinga Dam and found it challenging in some parts (more on that later), but mostly fine for my level of fitness. The tracks are very well marked so there is slim chance of getting lost.
There are two easy trails – the Picnic Dell and the Chicken Run – however, to get to the start of the trails you have to walk up a ruddy great hill, so I would only recommend trying these on foot with your more active toddler. The road to the dell is fine for strollers etc, but you will need muscle power to get that stroller up the hill.
The Chicken Run is a 30 minute loop walk that has two vista points (where you can see Mts Ruapehu and Taranaki) and is suitable for school-aged children and older toddlers.
The other tracks can be done as shorter walks, but most people will take them all in getting to and from the Waitahinga Dam. The dam is located 250m lower than the start of the track, which means after you get there, a decent climb back UP awaits you.
The Okehu track takes you through gorgeous bush, and then it is recommended to take ‘Tom’s Ridge’ down to the dam, and ‘Harry’s Ridge’ back up. Of the two, Tom is shorter but steeper, while Harry meanders its way back in a more leisurely fashion.
Tom’s Ridge looks newer, and the track is -for want of a better word – quite rooty. I know, tree roots in a forest? How very dare they! Anyway, what I mean is, this section of the trail can be a bit tricky due to the roots, so you do have to watch your step. I definitely recommend wearing boots for this walk. I didn’t find Tom too challenging until the last 100m or so when the track suddenly plummets down. This part of the ridge is less dense with bush, meaning fewer things to hang onto. I was quietly terrified by the steep, slippery incline and ended up having to turn myself around to climb down, clutching onto roots and saplings when I could. But I survived.
At the bottom of the hilly slip-o-rama, it is a short walk to the dam. I made it from the carpark to the dam in 2 1/2 hours. I’m a cautious walker (and by that I mean, I’m a naturally clumsy person, so whilst walking solo, I take my time lest I should break a leg and have to be ignominiously rescued…) but I’m surer more nimble folk could do it in two. Anyway, here is the dam:
Beautiful, isn’t she?
It’s a wonderful spot to just sit and marvel at Creation, and I had the place (and indeed the track) all to myself. The dam was once the source of Whanganui’s water and is absolutely worth the trouble of getting there.
And then, there’s Harry.
I so enjoyed this part of the trail. It’s pretty steep in places, and being mostly uphill, takes more time than Tom (it took me just over three hours to get back to the carpark). The occasional steep part aside, Harry wanders calmly back up. There is a wonderful area called Spaghetti Flat which is filled with supplejack, and really does look like tree-made spaghetti. I ran into several families of goats (unless it was the same group stalking me?) along here. From there you enter the Rimu walk which then rejoins the Orehu track, taking you back to the carpark.
I found the last 15 minutes of the Orehu track to be hard slog, and was relieved to see the end of the trail.
What a great day!