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An AUTSA lodge getaway: cabinfever, or cottagecore?

By Nam Woon Kim (he/him)

Author’s note: I just happened to visit the lodge at the end of last year. AUTSA did not, in fact, send me to write this review. If they had, I would’ve taken some photos of the actual lodge. Sorry AUTSA!

With travel out of Auckland becoming possible early summer last year, plans to make the most of this well-earned reprieve began to sprout. We were desperate to stretch our legs after a trying lockdown, but with most places booked up it wasn’t looking good. At the eleventh hour, Debate alum and former editor Rebecca came to the rescue with a novel suggestion: why not use the AUTSA lodge?

It was the first time I’d heard of it, and for many of you this may be the first time too. After locking in some numbers and dates, I secured a one-way ticket to this mysterious place. Does it even exist? Was Rebecca pulling my leg? Is it actually worth going? With Rebecca being one of the most discerning critics I know, I reassured myself that this wasn’t an elaborate ruse and it would be a good time.

I sent off the last few days of 2021 here, and if you’re already organising that well-deserved break you’ve earned one week into uni, this could be the spot for you.

First impressions

My first impression was fog-tinted with heavy rain pouring down as we pulled into what I thought was the right place. The booking is done through Howard’s Lodge, one of several accommodation options at National Park, so that’s where I went first. Turns out, we were just across the road on our own patch of the village.

There was plenty of parking available and I took my pick of the grass up front, with others taking the driveway.

Once inside, the instinct to investigate every little thing kicked in. First on the agenda was the comically large, square dining table - an impressive statement piece had it not been in the most dimly lit part of the room. It served our party of 12 well, but it could really use a lazy susan. Next were the couches - comfy/10. After unpacking and sorting out who’s sleeping where, I noticed that each of the three edrooms - fitted with rustic bunk beds - have their own toilet and shower. All tidy too, and since you’ll be cleaning them at the end of your stay make sure to keep it that way. We moseyed over to the kitchen last - there’s a generous amount of room

but don’t be tempted, too many cooks and you’ll be losing friends even before cracking open Monopoly.

What to do

My trip was planned around the Tongariro Crossing (the one-day alpine course. The more outdoorsy among us are welcome to give the multi-day tramp a go) but the world is yours should you choose to stay. Visit during the snow season and make the most of Mount Ruapehu. Or, stay inside and finally try that 200-piece board game that needs half a day just to learn the rules and another half-day to complete a turn. Even if the weather pulls a fast one on you, cosy up inside and get the fireplace going.

Strategically pick a weekend with bad weather, even, and force everyone to do a Lord of the Rings marathon with the extended edition box set you just happened to pack. Win the respect of your friends by using your deep knowledge and point at the screen when Viggo Mortensen kicks the Uruk-hai helmet and actually breaks his toe (that one’s a Debate freebie).

It’s not the end of the world if you arrive empty handed too. If I recall correctly there was Cluedo, old magazines, and a pile of DVDs ranging from that Dreamworks movie even annoying film students have forgotten about, to Prison Break season 1.

The backyard also has plenty of space for a game of cricket or football, so pack your favourite activities should you decide to just relax at the lodge for most of your trip, which is a fine choice too. Kubb anyone?

Tongariro Crossing tips

Although it may seem intimidating, the alpine crossing is one of the more accessible outdoor adventures we can enjoy here on the North Island. The usual suspects that appear in every recycled ‘Top things to do while in NZ’ list are usually underwhelming, but this one really is worth doing at least once. Equipped with the lockdown cardio gained through your state mandated walks over the past two years, get a group together and soak in that alpine air. To give you an idea of its difficulty, you’ll see everyone from kids fresh into primary school to hungover uni students braving the walk. Regardless of what season you plan to go, aim for the earliest shuttles in the day if you want to take your time with extra rest stops and snapping up photos.

Here’s a sneak preview of the crossing from yours truly, taken on a humble Olympus XA.


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