Hidden amongst native bush in the Orongorongo Valley near Wellington, a community of huts have played an important role in generations of families. They have enabled families to get back to the basics; learn about nature; grow a love of the outdoors and build close friendships in a unique community. Martinborough based Rebecca Jamieson from Social Nature NZ shares her own experience growing up in the valley.
I was six weeks old when I first stayed at our family bush hut in the Orongorongo Valley. Mum carried me on the two hour walk along the Orongorongo Track while Dad carried our gear. I slept cocooned in the lower bunk and bathed in a bucket by the coalrange. I’ve been in love with the place ever since.
My younger sister and I had an idyllic childhood in the valley. We raced along the tracks between neighbouring huts and down to the river; constructed our own ‘huts’ from fallen branches and ferns; swam in the deepest river holes we could find; toasted marshmallows on the open fire; ambled up river to visit family and friends and listened to children’s stories on National Radio.
After we read books or played cards under the ambient light of the tilly lanterns, we rested our tired bodies in our bunks, often lulled to sleep by the rhythmic drumming of rain on the tin roof or a morepork’s comforting call.
We weren’t the only kids to experience this kind of wild childhood. There were lots of other kids growing up at family huts in the valley. We got together to play games and swim in the river while our parents caught up over a few beers at riverbed golf tournaments and hangis. Many of those friends are now bringing in their own children to experience the valley.
Not only do hut owners benefit from these kinds of experiences, the valley has a long history of introducing people to the great outdoors. Many huts have been widely shared with other families, friends, school groups and international visitors.
Our hut’s log books show over 200 people have enjoyed the hut since it was built in 1971. Six year old Corban stayed recently with his Grandfather Wayne Butler, one of the original hut building crew. Corban recounted his experience for his Grandfather to record in the log book.
“I am six years old. Maurice made me a bow and arrow and I have learnt how to make it go 8.7 metres. I love it! I have learnt how you cook tea on the coal range and porridge on the primus. Last night I heard a new bird sound in the bush – a morepork. I am definitely coming back again!”
Learning about the outdoors is a valuable part of growing up in the valley. In 1995 the Orongorongo Club started the Kid’s Easter Moa Hunt competition. The valley’s children spend the weekend trapping pests and hunting for items on their Scavenger Hunt list like a Coprosma berry or Kawakawa leaf.
The competition ends with the famous billy boiling challenge teaching children how to light fires safely. Over 30 children took part in the Moa Hunt last year and many are 3rd and 4th generation Orongoites.
My own son is a 4th generation Orongoite. John loves going bush to ‘Grandad’s Hut’ and spends most of the weekends leading us on ‘Jungle’ adventures around the network of tracks connecting neighbouring huts, inspecting the inhabitants of the nearby Brown’s Stream or out hunting with his Dad.
We are very lucky and privileged to have access to such a wonderful place and look forward to sharing it for many more years to come.
Adapted from Wilderness People, published in Life and Leisure magazine, January 2018. You can read the full story at https://thisnzlife.co.nz/50-private-huts-hidden-orongorongo-valley/ and find out more about the huts at www.orongorongoclub.org.nz.
Orongorongo Valley Huts
Your family can experience their own bush hut adventure in the Orongorongo Valley. There are six Department of Conservation huts that can be booked. Find out more at https://bit.ly/2Lk7sWG.
Rebecca Jamieson is a freelance digital marketing assistant at Social Nature NZ. Rebecca and her family live on a farm in Martinborough, Wairarapa.