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Tautuku Hut Track: Family-friendly tramping in the Catlins

Kayla Laatz

Tautuku Hut is a lesser-known DOC hut in the Catlins. Starting from the same car park as McLean Falls, the Tautuku Hut Track is short and sweet, making it a great first overnight tramp for families. Taking the detour to McLean Falls adds an additional half hour / 1.5 km of walking — definitely worth it! 


The Tautuku Hut Track is short and sweet 

Myself and another mama picked this as our first overnight tramp with our babies. With at least 15 to 20 kg on each of our backs, we tramped 10 kilometres across two days. It was the peak of summer, and this was the perfect introductory tramp for us.


Overall, the trail was super easy to follow as long as we kept our eyes set on the orange triangle markers along the way. Soon after starting the walk, we entered a dense forest filled with kamahi, rata, and podocarp. On the mossy ground we spotted lots of mushrooms and there are beautiful ferns along the way too. Right off the bat, we faced a steep uphill climb lasting for just over an hour. It was a killer lower-body workout, especially with a big pack and a toddler on your back. We were fully shaded the entire time, but it got really hot and humid, as there was very little air flow amongst the trees. Lots of snack breaks helped us and the wee ones to happily (and sweatily) power through. 


There were two fallen trees on the track which we had to crawl under on our hands and knees. If you aren’t juggling a pack and a baby at the same time, you’ll probably get away with just crouching down real low. But for us, it was a tight squeeze with a baby in front and a big pack on the back. There’s also a handful of large trees to climb over, but most of the track you’re just stepping over the occasional tree root so it’s no big deal. 


It recently rained, so we faced a lot of muddy sections along the way. Some have dry paths going around, others give you no choice but to cross through the middle. Ankle deep mud at the worst though, which wouldn’t be a problem for those wearing ankle-high boots.



After nearly an hour and a half of climbing, we were relieved the track flattened out a bit more as we reached the top of the mountain. Between the trees we saw a small sliver of a view overlooking some of the other mountains in the Catlins Forest Park. From there it was a quick breeze to the Tautuku hut. The track actually went slightly downhill for 15 minutes before we arrived at the open, grassy clearing that the hut sits in. 




Tautuku hut is a standard, non-serviced DOC hut that is completely free to stay at. There’s no booking in advance, it’s first come first served. A lot of hunters stay here, which was made clear by the machete, animal skull and hunting gun holder we found inside the hut. I later learned that the Tautuku mountains house lots of red deer, pigs and goats. 


The hut itself is a one bedroom shack that was previously a garage donated to DOC, and recently renovated to include a covered wooden deck and long drop toilet! There are 4 wooden bunks and mattresses along with a few basic cooking supplies such as pots, pans, a can opener etc. The deck makes for a cute wee dining area complete with two seats and a table. It’s a lovely spot to watch the sunrise or sunset while sipping on a cuppa. 




Outside, the Tautuku River is just a minute’s walk away. It’s shallow but with a constant flow. Signs in the hut say the rain water collected is clean and does not need to be treated before drinking but all we found was an open-top barrel with floaties in it, so we decided to boil water from the stream instead. Around the corner there’s a fire ring with tree trunks for seats. Dry wood is stacked underneath the deck. 

Outside, the Tautuku River is just a minute’s walk away. It’s shallow but with a constant flow. Signs in the hut say the rain water collected is clean and does not need to be treated before drinking but all we found was an open-top barrel with floaties in it, so we decided to boil water from the stream instead. Around the corner there’s a fire ring with tree trunks for seats. Dry wood is stacked underneath the deck. 



From admiring the golden treetops at sunset, to listening to the sound of the nearby Tautuku River, the crackling sounds of the fire and the drops of rain hitting the roof — it was a nature lover’s paradise.


I rocked my little boy to sleep that night in one of the most peaceful places we have ever been together


After a long day of playing and exploring, I rocked my little boy to sleep that night in one of the most peaceful places we have ever been together. Until the next adventure at least!


Difficulty: Moderate 

Distance: 9 km 

Trail Type: Out-and-back 

Elevation Gain: 350 meters 

Time: 3 hr 30 min 

Hut Coordinates: 
46°33'13.5"S 169°19'29.8"E 


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Photos ©2023 Kayla Laatz


We picked this as our first overnight tramp with our babies

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