Not all trips need to be grueling expeditions through dense bush or up steep mountains. Sometimes it's nice to just load your pack up with a tonne of delicious food and head to a great little hut for the night with some mates. Manuka Hut is the perfect easy over-nighter with a very achievable 5km walk from the road end with fantastic views all the way. Head in via Hakatere Heron Road from Ashburton Gorge Road and follow the sign to the start of the track. If you have a grunty 4WD you might make it along the farm track to the actual track car park but we were deterred by a couple of feet of mud and left our vehicles at the gate. The track crosses farmland below Lake Emily before sidling around the base of Emily Hill. Here we found a good amount of snow still covering the hill side which made for a slippery time for some of us.
From here follow the poled route down to the old 4WD track and around the corner to the hut. Although this makes up art of the Te Araroa Trail, the hut book showed not many people had been through that way over the winter months. The hut itself is a charming 6 bunk basic with a fire to one side and plenty of seating. The only thing it was lacking when we arrived was anything to actually burn. Having brought in all manner of wood cutting tools, we spent the afternoon scavenging dead trees and cutting down a few new ones to add to the hut's supplies.
A quick scramble up onto the ridge immediately behind the hut offers a great vantage point to look across at the ridge to Mt Taylor and all the way back towards the Two Thumb Range on the far side of the Rangitata River. This would be an awesome spot to bring kids into or as an introduction to tramping for beginners. Go next level like one of our crew and carry your own kindling wood in for exceptionally good fire starting.
Time: 1.5 hours each way
Points for replacing the fire wood you burn
In New Zealand we don't go hiking, walking or frolicking in the wilderness - we tramp.