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Leitch’s Track, Whareorino Forest, New Zealand

It was about time we hit the bush again for some good hikes, after a way too long break caused by a mixture of New Zealand winter, busy times and a certain dislike of freezing temperatures.

On Friday, a group of nine people left Auckland and drove for three hours down to the Whareorino Forest for what was my first overnight hiking experience. In fact, there was more than just one “first” that night: first time hiking in the bush at night, first time sleeping in a hut, first time using a longdrop toilet… too much info? Okay then.

We set out into the bush when it was already dark and could only see as far as our head torches would let us (which really wasn’t more than a couple of meters in front of us). The hike into the hut took us about 3.5 hours and turned out to be 10.5km and not the 8.5km that the DOC sign at the start told us it was. The terrain was fairly easy but it was made slightly harder by the fact that we were hiking in the dark and carrying heavy backpacks.

Needless to say, we didn’t stop to take any photos. Those 3.5 hours were spent adjusting our eyes to darkness, fighting big patches of slippery mud (and losing most of those fights) and trying not to slide down the skinny parts of the track with huge drops on the side. We did see lots of glowworms, though, so if you need a reason to hike at night, there’s one right there.

We arrived at Leitch’s Hut just after midnight and, after a quick snack and a few laughs (that must have woken up the other two occupants of the hut – oops!), got into our sleeping bags. It wasn’t exactly the five-star accommodation I had been in just a couple of nights before in Singapore but I was so exhausted I slept like a rock.

I woke up the next morning feeling much better than I’d expected, with no sore muscles and loads of energy. I was pretty excited about not needing my head torch anymore and being able to finally look at all the waterfalls we could only hear the night before.

After quickly eating breakfast (a nut bar and an up&go liquid breakfast), I put on a clean top and a clean pair of socks (that turned into wet socks about 0.2 seconds after I put my hiking boots on) and we set on our way. My pants were still damp and dirty from the night before so I was glad I’d made the last-minute decision to wear my full-length running skins underneath.

Before leaving the hut, we signed the Intentions Book where we’re meant to inform DOC of our names and details of our tramp, in case we get lost or injured.

The path was still very wet and slippery but at least we could now see everything ahead of us.

The weather wasn’t as clear as I hoped it would be but the few rain drops we got on our way out were a very welcome way to cool down. For a lot of the way, what was ahead of us was actually giant patches of slippery ankle-deep mud. I discovered hiking is a lot more fun once you stop caring about how much water and mud gets into your shoes.

And yes, our ears hadn’t been lying to us. All those times hearing water right next to us as we hiked further into the darkness meant that we were walking past pretty waterfalls.

About 20km later (lesson learnt: don’t believe all DOC signs), we were heading out of the track and back in the car to drive another three hours back to Auckland and back to our happy places where not all shoes and socks are damp and cold and cell phones have reception. I’m still unsure whether my pants need to be washed or incinerated but at least I now know I can hike at night without dying of a heart attack anytime something moves or there is any noise coming from the bush and I can sleep in the most basic of huts because, after all that effort, my body is no longer equipped to tell the difference between my sleeping bag and a five-star hotel bed.

If you want more specific information about this track, New Zealand Tramper has the accurate details.