Kahurangi National Park, West Coast – 3-8 April 2022
The Mōkihikui River North Branch drains a huge chunk of country south of the Wangapeka Track, in what is now the southwestern corner of our second largest national park. It’s a place of complex topography, riven by past earthquakes, and huge extents of forest, threaded by many different tributaries. One of these is the Johnson, and in its lower reaches lies the remote and rarely visited Johnson Hut.
In April 2022, a team led by Tim Marshall treated this lovely wee 4-bunker to a very timely spruce-up. The work was funded by Kaimahi for Nature, and orchestrated by the Backcountry Trust’s northern South Island manager Ollie Clifton.
Ollie reports: ‘It's been a busy summer in the Buller district for the BCT, with three wee hut renovations (Kākāpō, Goat Creek and Johnson) and a relocation of Belltown Hut all completed. Last on the list was Johnson Hut.’
Johnson Hut is historically important, being one of a handful of experimental huts built for cullers by the Nelson Conservancy, soon after the New Zealand Forest Service (NZFS) took after responsibility for deer control in 1956. Building materials were air-dropped in by a Beaver fixed-wing plane, and the hut erected in 1957. The design was a precursor to the standard 4-bunk S81 hut later developed by the NZFS. Johnson is now one of only very few remaining huts of this early design still in situ, with one of the others being the nearby Kākāpō Hut.
While Permolat members had done some useful maintenance on the hut a few years ago, it needed some more significant attention. Ollie writes, ‘Grabbing a small window of opportunity to fly in, Tim Marshall, Mule (Sam Jones), Foxy and myself made the most of a week of mixed weather.’
‘The crew installed a new roof, built a woodshed, put in guttering and drainage, made repairs to the fireplace and hearth, fixed the door, and completed one coat of external painting to cap it all off.'
‘The hut clearing itself receives very little sunshine in autumn, so the team juggled jobs to get the painting done, and lit a fire inside to help the cladding reach a suitable temperature for drying! It still needs a second coat of paint for any keen visitors who want to help out.’
‘The location is thoroughly worth the effort – the birdlife was wonderful to see and hear in and around the hut, with a pair of whio quite happy to share the local swimming hole with us.’
The main route to Johnson Hut branches off from the Wangapeka Track in the Little Wanganui Valley, climbs over Kiwi Saddle, and descends into the headwaters of the Johnson. ‘While this track is currently very overgrown,' advises Ollie, 'its proximity to the Wangapeka Track gives potential for keen folks who want to explore some remote terrain'. (See the Permolat website for descriptions of the route).
‘Altogether, it’s a very special area, now with the added bonus of the freshly done-up hut.’