This weekend my kids and I went down to Tongariro National Park for a winter tramp, repeating a similar trip in 2019. Overall it was great but apparently word got out and Waihohonu Hut was a lot busier than last time.
The weather forecast wasn't great so it was just me and my kids on this trip. The first sign of busyness was that the car park of the Desert Road was about full. We got to the hut about 2:15pm and were able to claim the last bunks, but people kept arriving. I guess there were probably more than 50 people there on Saturday night, 30+ squeezed into bunks and a lot of people who had to sleep on the floor of the main room. It's such a huge hut that this was still tolerable and we had a fun afternoon and evening. We got some views of the lower flanks of Mt Ruapehu on the walk in, and a good view of Mt Ngaurahoe topped by cloud.
Sunday was drizzly with low cloud, as forecast. One of my kids stayed at the hut to study for exams. The other one and I walked to the Tama Lakes via an off-track route I heard about years ago and had been hoping to try out ever since. I don't have much experience with off-track walking and the conditions weren't ideal, but: they weren't bad, we were carrying all relevant gear, my son and I are reasonably fit and fast walkers, we left at 8am so had plenty of time, and the return trip from the lakes was via the Great Walk track (easy). It worked out well and we had a lot of fun, though the views were obscured by cloud — on a good day they would be magnificent. I'd like to do it again but only with a small group and not often; I don't want the environment to be damaged by the route becoming popular.
We got back to the hut about 2:20pm after some fast walking and found it already pretty full, again. In fact it looked like it would be even fuller than on Saturday night, so my kids and I decided to just walk out to the car and come home a day early. That seemed like the right decision for us, but also freed up a little bit of space in the hut.
So unfortunately it seems that the Queens Birthday trip to Waihohonu Hut will not be such a great option in the future; given it was barely tolerable with a poor weather forecast, it probably would be really intolerable had the forecast been good.