Toaroha valley, West Coast - February–March 2021
A wit once commented: ‘How can they have a noxious animal problem in the Hokitika – half the bloody watershed is under corrugated iron!’ – a reference to the huge number of huts built in the area by the Forest Service during its deer-culling programme. Even within a catchment that boasts an extraordinary number of huts, the Toaroha Valley has more than its share. No less than eight huts or bivouacs exist in the valley or basins above what is a relatively small river.
One of these is Mullins Hut.
The 4-bunk Mullins Hut occupies a pleasant basin in the mid-reaches of Mullins Creek, one of Toaroha’s larger tributaries. It’s reached on a steep track, upstream of Cedar Flats, which remains in good condition after Permolat members re-cut it in 2019. The original hut was built in 1960, so had served well for over 70 years, but needed replacement.
Between 23 February and 2 March 2021, a seven-strong team of volunteers completely rebuilt Mullins Hut, using a grant from the BCT.
The team, organised by Richard Shields, included Geoff Joyce, Lawrie Mead, Leanne O'Brien, Pam and Grant Stevens, and Armin Thurma. They hail from places as disparate as Northland, Auckland and Wakatipu.
Richard writes, ‘With people arriving on flights from the North Island, we were committed to that week to do the job – despite the forecast. With great help from Nigel and Miquel at DOC, plus Anderson Helicopters, we flew in a day early before the rain started and got the old hut shifted to act as a shelter.’
Engineer Grant Stevens and architect Armin Thurma designed the new hut to resemble the original NZFS ‘S81’ design. Over the next week, the hard-working team made steady progress installing four new anchor piles, framing, fixing the new flat iron cladding, roof, windows and door, and adding an ‘eyebrow’ (veranda over door). The changeable weather provided just enough fine breaks to paint the new cladding. One of the most satisfying jobs was installing a new Wagner Sparky fire, donated by Permolat. As Richard observed, ‘it works a treat’.
The team also built a woodshed, using materials salvaged from the old hut. The last jobs included installing the old bunks and stainless steel benches. Additionally, Armin crafted some shelving from old rimu, plus a couple of bench seats. After a clean-up, they managed to fit all waste materials in the new alloy crate, ready for flying out.
Richard concludes: ‘We are grateful to DOC Hokitika and the BCT for their trust in us to have a crack at this project in such an amazing place.’
Snowdon Forest, Southland - January 2021
Members of Permolat Southland have been hard at work yet again, this time cutting and marking the track between Boyd Creek and the Upukerora River, using a grant from the BCT.
The Upukerora River drains the Livingstone Mountains, and eventually flows into Lake Te Anau. The track connecting it to Boyd Creek (a tributary of the Eglinton) crosses through lowland forests, clearings and wetlands, including Dunton Swamp. Prior to the Permolat Southland team’s work, the track was poorly marked in places.
The team included Alastair and Fleur Macdonald, Ross Mason and Les Scown, who completed about 64-person hours on the project. The track is now well sign-posted at both ends, with plenty of markers, notably at the exits and entrances on the clearings.
Team members would like DOC to request that LINZ re-instate the track on the latest Topo50 maps, as they were removed after 2009 (shown here).
Ruataniwha Conservation Park, Canterbury - January 2021
Situated on the edge of a delightful subalpine basin in the headwaters of one of Canterbury’s finest rivers, Brodrick Hut serves as an excellent base for hunters and climbers, or for trampers crossing the nearby pass into the Landsborough. The 6-bunk hut is accessible on tracks in the Hopkins and Huxley Valleys, and can be reached in one long 9-hour day, or a more leisurely two, via Huxley Forks Hut.
A team led by Mike Lagan planned to visit the valley to install a new toilet at Brodrick Hut, as well as a new meat-safe at Huxley Forks Hut. Mike had previous experience building toilets at Growler, Crooked Spur and Stoney Creek huts, as well as others on high country stations, so was ideally qualified for the job.
Mike constructed the toilet in his backyard in August 2019, but delays due to Covid-19 shutdown, injuries and weather frustrated further progress throughout 2020.
Finally ‘all the ducks were in a row’ for 30-31 January 2021.
Other members of the team included Murray Hunt and Neale Dale. The BCT’s Rob Brown and DOC’s Jeff Coulter also accompanied them. What had become a fairly complicated logistical exercise required a detailed safety briefing from the Helicopter Line pilot. First, he flew flew Rob and Jeff to Huxley Forks, then carried on to Brodrick with Murray and Mike. They began dismantling the old long-drop, and rolled it into the net ready for extraction.
The pilot flew back to the roadend, attached a long-line strop to the new toilet (with the new meat-safe inside), then flew back to Huxley Forks, where Rob and Jeff extracted the new meat-safe, ready for installation. The pilot then flew on to Brodrick and successfully lowered the new toilet down through a small clearing in the forest canopy. After the old toilet was attached to the strop, the pilot flew it out, leaving Mike and Murray to secure the new one over the existing dunny hole.
Finally, the pilot flew Rob and Jeff to South Huxley Biv for an inspection, then to Brodrick Hut to pick up the rest of the team, and made a side-trip to Cullers Hut in the Hopkins for one last inspection.
So ended a tale of dangling dunnies, moving meat-safes and opportunistic hut inspections.
As project leader Mike Lagan commented, ‘The project was meant to be the smallest, easiest project I had done’ but unavoidable delays meant the whole operation had taken two years ‘from conception to completion’. Perhaps because of that, Mike felt a huge sense of satisfaction. ‘Maybe it was the great company and the good weather, the planning that when put in practice worked out perfectly, or just maybe to get that toilet from my backyard to where it belongs …
Kaimanawa Forest Park February 2021
As one of only four public huts in Kaimanawa Forest Park, Cascade Hut serves a vital function as shelter for trampers and hunters visiting this part of the central North Island. Located at the junction of the Tauranga Taupo and Kaipo Rivers, the 6-bunk hut takes its name from the nearby rapids. It’s reached on a track through bush from Clements Mill Road, which takes 6-8 hours.
The existing Cascade Hut is the second on site, built by DOC in the 1990s to replace an earlier Forest Service one. However, by 2020 the hut was showing its age and needed some serious attention. Fortunately a proposal to the BCT by Mike Main to help with the costs of restoration was successful. Mike, a member of the Sika Foundation and New Zealand Deerstalkers’ Association in Taupo, consulted with DOC. The plan was to strip off the hut’s old cladding, roof, deck and verandah, and replace the lot.
Mike gathered a group of willing helpers, who included Aaron Brebner, Alex Giesen, Ron Lenzen, Anton Stokman and Tessa the dog. Ferrying in all the materials, gear and people took four trips in the Helisika Squirrel on 19 February 2021.
The team lost no time, and removed the old veranda, deck and roof before lunch. In the afternoon, they installed sheets of pre-painted ply. The old shadow cladding, building paper and rodent-chewed batts came off next.
In the hot summer weather, such intense effort proved hot work, so after tools were downed each day, the team plunged into the nearby river. Not just content with working all day, Aaron managed to shoot a deer too.
Hunting, swimming and preparing dinner were the order of the evening, although as Mike commented ‘Not sure if Ron was out there to shoot deer or just sit and look at the whio’.
Day three involved removing the watertank, and the rest of the old cladding. The team also added new nogs, and replaced a dodgy foundation post. Just to add to the tasks, the lads also began building a new woodshed, which was soon deemed good enough to sleep in. With windows put back in, iron cladding affixed, the hut was starting to shape up pretty well.
A slow start to the final day was testimony to the frenetic pace of the previous three. The main task was cleaning up and preparing the rubbish for flying out, which included three loads.
Mike writes: ‘I would like to thank the team for making a supreme effort to get the job completed well within the time frame and to a very high standard. Thank you to Helisika for being very efficient … and also to Megan from the BCT who assisted us with the paperwork … and gear list. The whole job could not have got off the ground without DOC Taupo being involved and thanks Murray for the colour scheme.’
Waitaha Valley, West Coast December 2020
Situated on a tussock flat in the headwaters of the central West Coast’s mighty Waitaha River, Top Waitaha Hut has a commanding view over the nearby Hitchin and Bloomfield Ranges. A classic ex-NZFS 6-bunk hut, it serves as an important waypoint for parties heading to and from the iconic Ivory Lake, or as a destination in its own right.
Last year, Colin Morris took on a project to renovate the hut, working with DOC’s Tony Thrupp. In August the Backcountry Trust granted $15,000 to undertake the work. Morris managed a reconnaissance visit in November 2020 and found the hut in better condition than he expected, although water damage had affected the ply lining the walls and ceiling, and a new roof, stainless steep bench and windows were other clear priorities.
In December 2020 a team of four flew onto site with Anderson Helicopters to begin work. As well as Colin Morris, the party included Peter Fullerton, Geoff Spearpoint and Liz Weir. On the first full day, Peter and Geoff pulled off the old roof and underlay, and by the end of the day the team had half the new Coloursteel roof on, along with the two polycarbonate panels which let light into the hut interior. All this required considerable modification to the roof framing to ensure adequate strength. Unable to work inside the hut, Liz made a great job of preparing meals outside.
Day two saw the team completing a number of important jobs: removing old windows, preparing the outside cladding for new paint, installing anchor piles, and removing the decayed linings.
December sun continued to shine, happily, on day three, allowing Colin and Geoff to secure the ridge caps, roof fixings and window flashings, while Peter and Liz worked on the interior.
New tie-downs, window flashing installed, vegetation cleared from around the hut, and improvements to the door occupied the team on day four. The weather continued to play the game for the fifth day in a row, allowing installation of a new lining, and fresh paint inside. Framing and concrete for a new step occupied the afternoon, and a big day ended at 9.30 p.m.
Finally the weather broke on day six. Intermittent rain hampered the outside jobs, but inside Colin was particularly pleased to have enough time for a second top coat of paint to completely cover the ‘sickly lime green’ underneath. The team installed a new cooking bench, table top, and shelving, then screwed the bunks back in place.
Poor weather on day seven forced a somewhat hasty retreat by helicopter not long after dawn. The team had a celebratory breakfast in Hokitika, having completed some 368 person-hours on the job, not including another 118 that Colin spent planning and prepping. Due to the sudden departure, rubbish and some spare materials will need to be removed when DOC staff go in to complete some final small jobs.
Well done to Colin Morris for his fifth backcountry hut project, and the rest of the team, who worked extremely long days to complete a fine job. Thank you also to landowner Maryanne McClean, who generously allowed use of her airstrip for loading and parking vehicles.
Lying just a 20-minute drive from Rotorua, the 14.5km Western Okataina Track is a Grade 3 mountain-bike ride, with a side-trail to a panoramic viewpoint overlooking the city and Mt Tarawera.
However, until recently the trail has been under-used; mainly because parts were poorly drained, with two muddy fords, badly rutted, or simply un-rideable. Other sections had patches of gorse or blackberry.
The Rotorua Trails Trust (RTT), with a grant from the BCT, has been undertaking excellent work on the track to fix these issues, and also to make it a more enjoyable ride.
Stage 1 was to tackle 7km, beginning from the eastern end of the trail, at the Outdoor Education Camp. Culvert pipes were installed in the two fords, and also under the exisiting bridge, to aid drainage.
Two diggers, operated by the contractor Southstar, re-garded the un-rideable sections of the trial and eliminated the huge ruts.
Stage 2 was to complete the western end of the trail. Hay bales were purchased for erosion control, and to help grass seed germinate on the trail edges. RTT members used E-bikes with trailers to move the bales.
Working with DOC, the RTT also plans to undertake some weed control and plant natives alongside the trail later in 2021.
Many thanks to the Rotorua Trails Trust for their great efforts. Happy riding!
Ruahine Forest Park, January 2021
Shutes Hut lies in the northern Ruahine Range, set on a terrace above the Taruarau Valley. Very unusually for the North Island, the hut is built of stone, and owes its existence to the pioneering days when plucky musterers tried to farm sheep in this tough mountain country.
Alex Shute worked as a rabbiter for Poporangi Station, and in 1920 he built the hut with E. Smith, using local stone. Shute lived there for many years, and was quite a character.
Now more than a century old, Shutes Hut is one of the most venerable shelters remaining in the North Island from this pastoral period. These days, the hut remains a welcome haven for hunters, fishers and trampers.
On 16-18 January 2021, a team of three BCT volunteers – Jason Cheetham, Lennart Prinzre and Sam Warren – painted Shutes Hut, giving it a pleasing change from orange to red.
JASON TELLS THE STORY:
‘I became aware of the Back Country Trust (BCT) about a year ago after seeing YouTube videos of Josh Murray’s Toka Biv rebuild in the Ruahine Range (February 2020). The video inspired me to find out more and a few months later I put my name down as a volunteer with Megan Dimozantos, the BCT’s North Island Project Coordinator. Then in early December 2020 I received the ‘Summer Paint a Hut’ email from the BCT, and within 20 minutes I had messaged prospective team members and replied ‘yes’.
'Being Tauranga-based, I preferred a northern Ruahine option, and Shutes Hut looked like a really interesting spot. Luckily, after getting in touch with Megan, we were informed Shutes Hut was a go ...
'Sam, Lennart and I enjoyed three days miles away from civilisation in the Ruahine Range and painted one of New Zealand’s older huts. I don’t think any of us realised quite how much history the hut had, and that the man who had built it lived there for 12 years. The hut book is different to most. In 1985, hunter Paul Sanderson purchased an extra large book and left it in the hut with the intent of others being able to write as much as they liked. Now, the book is a real treasure, full of heart-felt stories, poems and yarns about life and loved ones at Shutes Hut.
'Day 1 saw us being picked by East Kaweka Helciopters’ pilot Chris Crosse at Kuripapango. After 10 minutes flying over spectacular gorges on the Ngaruroro River, we arrived at Shutes Hut. The first day we cleared scrub and did all the wire-brushing, sanding and cleaning under a very hot sun. We were glad when the cool of that first evening arrived, and we were able to check out the trout in the Taruarau River.
'We spent Day 2 finishing the first coat and starting the second coat, with a rather worrying shower in the evening – but luckily the paint had already had a few hours to cure.
'Day 3 was much cooler and windier, and we finished off around 11 a.m. After an InReach message to pilot Chris, he picked us up at 12:15. p.m.
'Thank you Megan and the Back Country Trust for the opportunity. Hopefully everyone likes the new colour!’
[Ngā mihi Jason, Sam and Lennart – the red looks great.]
Mataketake Range, West Coast
The new Mataketake Hut boats one of the country’s best locations; undulating tussock tops with sparkling alpine tarns, views along the Southern Alps as far as Aoraki, as well as vistas over the wild coastlines of South Westland.
This superb hut owes its existence to the late Andy Dennis (1944–2016), a well-known conservationist, writer and tramper who had a passion for South Westland. In his will, Andy bequeathed funds for a new hut.
Backcountry Manager Rob Brown, a friend of Andy’s, spearheaded the hut project, in consultation with Andy’s sister Sarah Dennis and DOC staff. The Backcountry Trust helped top-up funding.
This group decided on the Mataketake Range for several reasons; the superb location, the fact there are few accessible huts on the South Westland tops, and because it offered a fresh opportunity for a new circuit. So it became part of a wider plan to re-open the historic benched Mica Mine Track onto the Mataketake tops and integrate the new hut as part of a tramping route that connects with the under-appreciated Haast-Paringa Cattle Track.
Planning and consenting took nearly a year, and then poor weather during the 2018/19 summer delayed building. Work finally got underway in early March 2019 when Fletcher Anderson of Anderson Helicopters spent a day lifting materials onto site. The team of Rob Brown, Mark Harry, Eric Saggers and Scott Walker started digging the foundations. Work was progressing quickly until a severe storm hit in late March; the same weather event that caused widespread damage on the West Coast. A few weeks later, a second storm destroyed three tents, leaving the team huddled in one.
Being so exposed to the westerly weather meant a significant amount of engineering. Securing the hut are 28 anchor piles, held in position with 11 tonnes of concrete – all mixed on site. While the hut’s exterior appears like standard corrugated iron, the structure has a significant amount of detailed building work to meet the standards needed for maximum wind loadings.
Over the next few weeks, the building team managed to get all the piles and subfloor framing down before putting the main frame onto the sub-frame and tying it down for the winter.
Work started again in the 2019 spring, hampered by more atrocious weather with few fine gaps. The builders managed to get the floor down and the frame up before poor weather in December largely halted progress.
Good weather finally arrived in early January 2020. Ben Midgely, Zdenek Racuk, Sandy Sandblom and Matt Williamson helped the core team finish the framing and start closing in the hut. By February the cladding and windows were installed under the guidance of Vitek Kocandrie, to fully enclose it. The Covid-19 shut-down over the next six weeks wasn’t too much of a problem, as the frame needed time to fully dry.
Winter 2020 saw some long, fine spells and by now Wanaka builders Jon Sedon and Hedley Wilton had stepped in to finish the deck, watertank and make a start on the interior finishing. DOC staff Jeff Rawles, Tom McDermott, Nigel Schroder and Miquel Dijkstra all put in some good days on the interior finish. Jeff also oversaw re-opening the tracks.
In mid- November 2020, the serviced 8-bunk hut was finally finished and ready for public use. It has a wood-burner (open for winter use only), with a small stocked woodshed nearby.
As well as views of Aoraki/Mt Cook, the Mataketake Hut has superb vistas eastwards towards Mts Hooker and Dechen, and the largest of the nearby tarns makes a great swimming pool. During summer, a noisy gang of kea usually hangs about looking for mischief, while the New Zealand pipits are better behaved. At night the surrounding tarns come alive with the croaks of the Southern Bell frog.
In January 2021, Sarah Dennis and her family visited the hut, and installed some of Andy’s book collection on the specially-made shelf.
With that finishing touch, Rob Brown feels sure that ‘Andy would think Mataketake Hut is a fitting memorial’.
Kahurangi National Park - October 2020
Roaring Lion Hut sits near the confluence of the Karamea and the Roaring Lion Rivers, and recently got some welcome attention from a team of retired builders, led by Bill Barnett, and funded by the Backcountry Trust.
The Karamea is the mightiest river in Kahurangi National Park, gathering volume from its headwaters near the Wangapeka Track before flowing north, and arcing westwards at Karamea Bend before its final boulder-choked surge to the sea. The Murchison Earthquake of 1929 caused huge landslides, and created new lakes and some serious whitewater, which has since offered some of the finest and hardest commercially rafted rapids in the country.
Roaring Lion is one of the remoter huts on the Karamea River, with no formal tracks to it, and positioned close to the Tasman Wilderness Area. It’s a non-standard 5-bunk hut, constructed in part from another hut at Questa Creek in 1958. Since then, the hut has been substantially modified to meet the needs of fishers, paddlers and hunters who are the main visitors. DOC have continued to maintain the hut, giving it a significant upgrade in 2001, installing a new woodburner in 2013, and re-painting it every decade or so.
Despite this good work, by 2020, Roaring Lion Hut needed a significant upgrade. In March, DOC staff cleared vegetation around the hut and created a new helicopter pad to allow room for a verranda.
The Roaring Lion team included retired builders Bill Barnett (team leader), Tom Brown, Robin Turton and Dennis Fairburn, with support from DOC’s Tom Young. Barnett and Brown were part of the team that constructed the existing Sabine Hut (Nelson Lakes) back in 2002. Covid-19 threw the team a curveball, delaying work for several months, but finally it was all go for spring 2020. Helicopters Nelson flew in people, materials, food and tools so work could began in late October.
The work included: replacing 12 piles, adding a porch and verandah to provide for storage, fitting a new plywood floor, adding new joists under the floor, building a woodshed, replacing the roof, and removing the lead ridge cap to reduce the risk of poisoning kea.
Some of the old piles fell apart upon removal, so the upgrade proved exceptionally timely!
Barnett decided to use 6-rib Endura Coloursteel rather than the standard corrugated iron, and also affixed a wire cage around the chimney in an attempt to stop curious kea attacking the rubber boot. Old roofing iron was effectively recycled into the new woodshed.
ITM Motueka generously supplied materials at cost, and Dulux supplied paint through their partnership with DOC. Many thanks to the generosity of these businesses. The entire project cost $16,000, of which $6000 included materials. Due to the remoteness of the hut, helicopter transport was more expensive than anticipated, so the project ran about 10% over budget, but was met with a top-up from the BCT.
Great work team … the Lion lives to roar another day.
Upper Wairau River Area, Marlborough - February to December 2020
Connors Creek drains the steep flanks of Mt Chittenden (2205m), an outlier peak of the St Arnaud Range, east of Nelson Lakes National Park. The creek tumbles through a beech-clad valley, until it flows into the Wairau River, deep in the Marlborough backcountry. A short walk (or about a 1km drive on a 4WD track) from the confluence is Connors Creek Hut – the subject of another recent Backcountry Trust project. Spearheading this project was Bob Chittenden, who shares a moniker with the mountain at the valley-head named after his father, Eric Chittenden.
Bob has something of a penchant for old huts, inherited from Eric – who was the first president and patron of the Nelson Ski Club, which established some of the early huts in the Nelson Lakes Area, including Kea Hut (built 1933-34), high on the slopes of Mt Robert.
Over recent years, Bob and others have revived the Nelson Ski Club to restore the now-historic Kea Hut. With skills developing and momentum going, the group decided to tackle more backcountry projects. Next was re-cutting and re-marking the Paske Hut Track, then the Begley Track above Begley Hut. The focus on these areas naturally led to nearby Connors Creek Hut.
As Bob writes: ‘Connors Creek Hut has an unusual history, although details remain sketchy. It was probably built by the Ministry of Internal Affairs in 1954, and constructed by bolting together two ‘single man’s quarters’ (as they were then known), used when the first power pylons were erected through the Wairau Valley. The hut still clearly shows the centre beam and the floorboard layout – one half is the mirror image of the other. Nearby Rainbow Hut was similarly constructed.’
A routine DOC hut inspection had identified significant deterioration, particularly in the weatherboards and structural timber. Bill, Bob and Val went to the hut in June 2019 and concluded that the hut was salvageable. Bill Gilbertson determined that the roof was sound, along with the floor and much of the framing. Importantly, the piles and bearers showed little deterioration, no doubt due to the treated timber. Bill, Marion and Bob made another visit in November 2019 to estimate the work and materials needed to rebuild the hut to allow an application for funding to the Back Country Trust.
The Connors Creek Hut team included: Bill Gilbertson (a licensed builder with experience in building backcountry huts), Marion Gilbertson, Bob and Val Chittenden, Iain Dephoff and Diana Gabric, Roger Gaskell, Simon Field, Steve Johnstone, Gerald Gaskell, Cate and Ingrid Huygens, and Bob and Jill Dickinson. As well as estimating and ordering materials, Bill shouldered the lion’s share of the work.
DOC’s Graeme Omlo volunteered his own time to clear the long grass around the hut. He dug a new toilet hole, shifted the toilet, supplied chopping blocks and an axe, as well as assisting with the actual rebuild.
Work occurred over several periods in February and March 2020, before Covid-19 temporarily halted progress, then began again in May, with more stints in July, August, October and December.
A summary of the work undertaken: exterior cladding removed and some framing replaced; three windows replaced; new Coloursteel exterior cladding and insulation installed; interior and ceiling relined with plywood; new ‘Sparky’ wood-burner installed to replace the open fireplace; new shelves, drying rack and bunks built and a second-hand stainless-steel bench installed; new mattresses supplied. The concrete entrance pad was extended, along with flagstones carefully placed by Ingrid, Diana and Marion. A new woodshed was built allowing the entrance porch as storage for packs, parkas and boots. Lead roof nails were replaced with Tec screws. Finally, the woodshed and hut was painted in traditional DOC colours.
The hut is an ideal location for use by horse trekkers, mountain-bikers, trampers and climbers and is especially well positioned for a family with young children to have their first stay in a backcountry hut.
Special thanks are due to the Nelson Honey Company (Philip Cropp), which holds the lease for Rainbow Station and station managers Gene and Amie Thomas for granting access to the site whenever needed. St Arnaud DOC staff were very supportive: John Wotherspoon, Phil Crawford, Tracey Grose and Daryl Stephens. Grateful acknowledgement to the Backcountry Trust for the funding!
What’s next for the Nelson Ski Club team? They hope to re-cut the track into the head of Connors Creek.
Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury - October 2020
The popular Mt Somers Track encircles Mt Somers – a prominent peak near the Canterbury town of Staveley. While trampers have been visiting the area for a long time, only in the last 20 years was possible to walk right around the mountain, when the South Face Track was completed by memberS of the Mt Somers Walkways Society.
As parts of this South Face route are boggy, society members led by Brian Senior organised half-round posts, made into corduroy, and attached by Number 8 wire. Over time however, parts of this construction had slumped, and the fine square mesh used for boot grip had deteriorated, making the track unsafe for trampers – especially in icy conditions.
A year ago, Society members decided to fix the problem, and were supported by a grant from the Backcountry Trust.
In September 2020, a helicopter lifted two tonnes of timber in four loads onto site, and a team of volunteer Society members began work.
It had been decided to leave the original timber in place, and screw new treated boards on top. This was packed in places to level the surface. The deck is now 750mm wide, as apposed to the 600mm previously. Cleats were screwed on every 750 mm, and galvanised rabbit netting stapled on.
Work was completed on three different sections, totalling 130 metres, each an hour’s walking distance apart. The job was completed in time for the Round Mt Somers race.
The team included: Barry Austin, Alan Ayers, Colin Bellamy, Marian Bellamy, John Corbett, Phill Everest, Bryan Humm, David Mavor, John Milne, Charles Ross, Robert Schikker, Paul Severins, Nairn Stuart and Alan Wakelin.
Altogether, they spend some 250 person-hours doing the work.
Many thanks also to Evans Lumber, who supplied the timber at mate’s rates.
Silverpeaks Scenic Reserve, Dunedin, Otago - November 2020
Recently, a volunteer group supported by the Backcountry Trust has worked with DOC staff to upgrade tracks in Dunedin’s beloved Silverpeaks. Although modest by New Zealand mountain standards, the Silverpeaks offer Dunedin residents some of their best and most accessible local tramping.
The area has a range of tracks and several shelters, including Jubilee Hut (10 bunks), Philip J Cox Memorial Hut (4 bunks), and the ABC Cave. Connecting many of the area’s landmarks and huts, the 25-kilometre Silverpeaks Circuit crosses regenerating forest and tussock-covered schist hills, and provides an almost uninterrupted panoramic view of inland coastal Otago from any of the four 700-metre peaks.
Over the last 20 years, a group called the Green Hut Track Group (GHTG) has maintained an extensive network of tracks in the Silverpeaks and other local areas, on behalf of DOC and the Dunedin City Council. The group works most Wednesdays. This is a remarkable and commendable service provided by the mostly retired volunteers, and they have an impressive 56 tracks in their programme.
In November 2020, twelve members of the GHTG and two DOC staff spent 430 hours working on the Silverpeaks Circuit Track, cutting almost 7 kilometres of overgrown track. It had last been cut in 2012. The Backcountry Trust funded helicopter access, enabling equipment, people and supplies to be ferried onto site for work on the remoter parts of the circuit. Over five days, they worked on the section of the track between Pulpit Rock and the ABC Cave.
Led by Graeme Elliot, the GHTG members included Kevin Blair, Arthur Blondell, Geoff Brookes, Craig Freeman, Morris Hall, Sarah Martyn, Lloyd Reddington, Dick Simmers, Peter Smith, Rex Thompson and Aaron Whitehead. DOC rangers Felicity Sime and Barry Atkinson completed the team.
At first, rain and ominous cloud almost scuttled plans, but the HeliOtago pilot David Gale managed to sneak his machine on to the top of Green Ridge, using a brief break in the cloud to land one team. The other team wasn’t so lucky, and had to work up the Devils Staircase, instead of the planned (easier) downhill! Scrub-cutting began in earnest on the Pulpit Rock to Devils Staircase section, hampered somewhat when two machines broke down. That day, everyone walked out, to re-group for the next stage based at Jubilee Hut.
The 14 workers split into three groups to tackle different sections of track, and were ferried in by helicopter. After the scrub-cutters did their work, the clearers came through to remove the cut vegetation – made more difficult in the slippery conditions after rain. Flax often required clearing by hand, as it is usually too tough for the scrub-cutters.
The team at Jubilee Hut installed 10 new mattresses, and affixed a drainpipe to take wastewater from the sink. They also cut steps from the creek up to Jubilee Hut, improving the footing on this section, and warratahs were installed on the river flats. Opportunity was also taken to clean the hut’s windows and toilet, and to fix the toilet seat.
With the GHTG in high gear, they completed the work faster than expected, enabling them to tackle the track beyond Jubilee Hut as far as the ABC Cave.
After several successful days of hard work, the tired but satisfied team departed. The peaks may be silver, but the track work has been gold standard!
Kapiti Coast, Wellington - November 2020
The Kapiti Mountain Bike Club (KMBC) has been active again building a new mountain-bike track in Whareroa Farm on the Kapiti Coast side of the Akatarawa Forest Park, with funding support from the Backcountry Trust.
The (as yet un-named) ‘Track 2’ drops down from Campbell's Mill Road into the Whareroa Farm mountain-biking designated zone, traversing both sides of the middle ridge of the three available to the club for track building. It finally drops in to connect with our first track – Red Tape, a short distance before Bridge 3.
Track 2 is an approximate distance of 1.2 kilometres, and once connected to Red Tape will provide an overall downhill ride down to the Water Settlement Race of around 2.7 kilometres. This new track has more features and is of a more technical nature than the faster, rollercoaster Red Tape track.
Stage 1 of Track 2 is now nearing completion. In November 2020, club president Steve Lewis supervised Dan August (BTR Trails) to complete a last roll-through with the digger, and finish mulching and do a general tidy-up.
Other volunteers who worked on the project include Cherie Ruscoe, Ryszard Balejko, Eeuwe Schuckard, Penny Cameron, Rob Futter, Paul Olson and Steve Meeres, most of whom serve on the KMBC committee.
Every effort has been made to establish a high track standard, with good drainage, ensuring future maintenance is kept to a minimum. Views from the track are superb, with the coast and Kapiti Island visible. The track’s northwest aspect will ensure it stays relatively dry, and suitable to ride 95% of the time. The club hopes to get the track completed before the end of the summer, with volunteers expecting to do more work over the Christmas break.
May 2019 to September 2020
In April 2019, major flooding just about wiped out Thomas River Hut – a loss that would have been all the more painful considering great work restoring the hut in recent years, led by Geoff Spearpoint. Fortunately, a hunter reported it and a Haast helicopter pilot confirmed just how precarious the hut’s position was.
In May, four DOC staff led by Jeff Rawles flew in, put the hut on skids, and winched it safely away from the eroding riverbank. They also dug a new longdrop pit, relocated the toilet, and cleared a new hut site. A fantastic effort that undoubtedly saved the hut.
Fast-forward to September 2019, and a team of Backcountry Trust volunteers flew back in with Jeff Rawles to continue the job. The team included Geoff Spearpoint, Jane Morris, builder Colin Morris and Hugh van Noorden.
The first task was measuring the new hut site, and digging holes for the new piles.
Then the big job: moving the hut into position. As Geoff described: ‘Jeff set up turfors on anchor stumps. We used high-lift jacks to remove tree rounds the hut was sitting on then placed rollers under skids. The winch then dragged the hut across towards the new site. We used a second winch from the side to keep it on track. The hut moved relatively freely, but had a tendency to slide anywhere downhill.’
The hut now required levelling – a task that relied more upon old technology (a 2m level and much checking) than new (a laser level). With the hut held level and in position by the jacks, the team affixed the new piles, leaving them hanging free into the freshly-dug holes.
The next task was mixing concrete for the new piles (‘a bit of a mission’) and clearing vegetation, as well as an overhanging tree. With the concrete poured and set, the jacks could be removed.
The team also re-sited the woodshed to get better sun, and concreted it into place.
In September 2020, a team including Ollie Clifton, Vanessa Lukes, Jane Morris, Colin Morris and Geoff Spearpoint flew in to put the chimney and fireplace back in, which involved some tricky metalwork, and pouring a new concrete hearth. Windows were repainted, and new fly-screens secured.
Finally, in October 2020, Geoff and Jane returned to make the final touches, including removing the last of the lead-head nails, fitting a smoke deflector, and installing a wider chimney cowling.
All up, over 370 volunteer person hours has ensured Thomas River Hut should be safe from floods for some decades to come.
Fiordland National Park, Southland
Once again, members of Permolat Southland have been cutting tracks in Fiordland – this time the Poteriteri Track. This track goes through lowland forest between Lake Teal Hut and Lake Poteriteri Hut in the southern part of the national park, crossing a low, forested ridge en route.
On 9 November 2020, five members took the Wairaurahiri Jet water-taxi over Lake Hauroko to Teal Bay Hut. The team included: Naomi Brooks, Alastair Macdonald, John McDonald, Gavin Sinclair and Les Scown, with Ross Mason joining them the following day. Gavin and Les tramped in to camp at the first major river past the Rata Burn, then cut towards Lake Poteriteri, while the rest of the crew walked in each day from Teal Bay Hut and cut towards Gavin and Les’s camp.
The track was well overgrown with crown ferns, sometimes so thick it completely hid the track and orange track markers. The team had to deal with a few wind-falls as well.
Altogether the team completed 158 person-hours of track work over five fine days, clearing approximately 14 kilometres of track. It’s now well-cut, marked and easy to follow.
Permolat Southland thanks: DOC Te Anau for allowing us to cut this remote track in this fantastic part of incredible Fiordland; Johan and Joyce from Wairaurahiri Jet; and the Backcountry Trust for financing this project and others.
Kahurangi National Park, Murchison
Nestled beside a strip of beech trees beneath the looming limestone bluffs of the Haystack, Larrikin Creek Hut occupies a striking valley head in what could only be Kahurangi National Park. Nearby lies the bluff-fringed Hundred Acre Plateau, also known as the Devils Dining Table.
Built in the 1970s, the standard 4-bunk S81 ex-Forest Service hut featured flat galvanised iron cladding, a corrugated iron roof and water tank. Unlike many other similar huts, it had retained its original open fireplace and steel chimney.
While in reasonably sound condition, damp had crept into the walls beside the fireplace, there was no woodshed, the window frames were deteriorating, and the hut needed re-painting and a general tidy-up.
Early in 2020, when calls for interest in the hut appeared on the Backcountry Trust Facebook Page, Ross Cullen from Richmond put his hand up. He assembled a group to restore the hut in two phases.
In addition to Cullen, the Phase I team included builders Max Dorflinger, Rod Woodward, Marty Bisdee and Sonny Jim. For Marty and Sonny, (both of Murchison based Ultimate Descents), this was their third restoration project of the year, having earlier completed work on the two huts in the Matakitaki Valley as part of the Kaimahi for Nature funding.
The Phase II team included Cullen, Rod Woodward, Bruce Davies and Jane Furkert – a mixture of cavers and New Zealand Alpine Club members.
In March, Backcountry Trust manager Rob Brown, Nick Thorpe and Cullen flew with Murchison Heli Tours to Larrikin Creek Hut for an initial assessment. Brown arranged a Scope of Works agreement with DOC, but the Covid-19 restrictions delayed fieldwork. However, by 9th October, three loads of materials and tools were helicoptered onto site, and the Phase I team began work.
After removing the old roof iron and paper, the team replaced it with new liner and colour steel, as well as a new heavy-duty guttering. They also chose a site for the new woodshed, dug holes and concreted in the piles, began work on the frame, and used some of the hut’s old iron for the roof.
The Phase II team began work on 12th October. They completed the woodshed, added snow-braces to the guttering, fabricated a new chimney cowling from the old hut materials, treated the window frames, dug a drainage channel to keep water away from the hut, and prepared the exterior for re-painting. Over the following two days, the team applied the two coats of paint to the exterior, replaced the damp-damaged walls and alcove with new plywood, and cut back vegetation and soil to give the hut better light and airflow.
After a final tidy-up, and removal of old lead, waste timber and rubbish, Larrikin Creek Hut is set for some years to come. Altogether, the team put in close to 200 person-hours. Many thanks to all involved for a great job.
Access to Larrikin Creek Hut is from the Matiri Valley, near Murchison, and takes six hours from Matiri Hut, passing Poor Pete’s Hut en route. The newly-refurbished hut offers a superb base for exploring the local plateaux, or climbing the Needle and Haystack.
On 19–21 September 2020, seven members of Permolat Southland worked on a track to Teal Bay, following on from track maintenance work they began two years ago.
Situated in southeast Fiordland, this 4.7-kilometre-long track begins from a 4WD vehicle road in the Rowallan Forest, near the South Coast. It climbs through forest to the northern end of Hump Ridge, where it intercepts the track descending down to Teal Bay on the shores of Lake Hauroko (this was the section the team cut in 2018).
The team, comprising Alastair Macdonald, Sally Tucker, Lois Bishop, Annabel Newman, Gavin Sinclair, Kerry Mulvany and Stanley Mulvany enjoyed fine weather, and on the first day walked to the tops of the Hump Ridge and began cutting the track downhill. By late afternoon, they had completed about half the track. Crown fern and sapling re-growth took the most effort.
Team members also affixed new markers where needed, and exposed old ones covered in moss. A kea pair came and checked out progress. Blue skies the following day saw the team split into two to complete the rest of the work. Altogether, the team worked for 105 hours, and completed 4.7 kilometres of track. Permolat Southland gratefully acknowledges the support of the Backcountry Trust, DOC and Rowallan Alton Inc, the traditional landowners of the area.
Along the Havelock Valley, in the Rangitata catchment, is a 4WD access track that leads through to Growler Hut. In recent years this former farm road had become so rutted through that vehicles using the track had started bypassing the worst parts by using the airstrip next to it, which in turn had started to tear up the airstrip and the potential for that to become dangerously rutted as well. This may not have been such a big issue if vehicles had kept travel to the edges of the airstrip, but in using the centre of it, safety concerns for light aircraft landings became an issue. A joint decision was made between DOC and the local group to repair the access road to protect the airstrip for both its concessionaires and its historical value, with part funding sourced from the Backcountry Trust.
The NZDA's Southern Lakes Branch was keen to get into a project following the Covid-19 shut down that all but ruined the annual seasonal high point for hunters. They contacted the Backcountry Trust in April itching to get out into the mountains and by the following month we had a project up and running for them in their patch.
Project lead Dave Rider went in with DOC Te Anau's Senior Ranger Grant Tremain in mid May and put together a work plan to catch up on some of the maintenance work on the hut. While there it was also decided it was timely to replace the roof, underlay and strengthen the roof structure.
Built in 1975, Upper Spey Hut is one of the classic designs unique to Fiordland National Park and after 45 years of fine service on the Dusky Track is still in good condition. This 12-bunk design has been a simple and effective solution and many were built by Lands & Survey to open up recreational opportunities in Fiordland. The roof underlay was long past its use-by-date and condensation was beginning to seep through onto the rafters as well as near the top plates where the skylights are part of the roof.
Built in 1968, Monument Hut is a tidy S70 6 bunk hut built by the NZFS in the Hopkins Valley. The New Zealand Forest Service had a great vision for opening up recreation in this valley pre-DOC with 2WD access formerly maintained up to Monument Hut. This opened up a huge area of backcountry ideal for family tramping, hunting and climbing. Over time the weather has chipped away at the road and it is now only suitable for competent 4WD vehicles. Without a 4WD many users will park at Ram Hill carpark and walk, or mountain bike, up to Monument Hut. A great little first stop on any adventure through the Hopkins Valley, or lunch break on the way to Red Hut, Huxley Forks or Dasler Biv. The area is also open to 4WD adventures up to the NZAC owned Elcho Hut.
Lake Man Biv was built in 1968 by the NZFS and is a 2-3 day round trip between the Doubtful and Hope valleys, located in the Lewis Pass area. Sometime in the early 2000s the original open fire place was removed leaving this less attractive as a winter destination, but still welcome shelter for most times of the year.
Apart from this modification, the biv had not had regular maintenance for 20 years before Peter Alspach applied for funds from the Backcountry Trust in Round 6. An assessment trip was undertaken in September 2017 to get an idea of the work needed on the biv.
Built in 1962, Mid Waiohine Hut in Tararua Forest Park has long been managed as an original S70 6-bunk hut with it's as-built features intact. Grant Timlin applied for a grant in Round 4 for the exNZFS to replace the ageing roof on the hut.
Murphy’s Biv is one of a group of huts accessible up the Havelock Valley, and is a 1.5hr walk up Murphy’s Stream from the Havelock River. This standard S186 biv was built in 1965 and is a favored base for hunters, particularly in early winter for the early winter Himalayan Tahr season. Unfortunately the chimney had sustained some severe wind damage, in fact it had all but been completely flattened, leaving only the firebox base partially intact. Heating for this hut is integral to the hunting experience here so the decision was made to restore the open fire.
Mike Lagan of Geraldine applied for a small grant to do the work as part of Round 3 of the Outdoor Recreation Consortium funding. It would be the first of a number of projects Mike would take on in the local area.
Howletts Hut is one of the most historic club huts in the country, and has served as welcome refuge for trampers and hunters for over 80 years. It's located in a snug location on Daphne Ridge in Ruahine Forest Park. The first hut to occupy the site was built by local botanist and school teacher William Howlett in 1893-4. Howlett's hut lasted until 1930, and was replaced by a second hut built by the Ruahine Tramping Club (RTC) in 1940, with help from the Heretaunga Tramping Club. After the RTC disestablished, the Heretaunga Tramping Club took over the hut, and undertook a major renovation in 1979-1980. Club members have lovingly maintained the hut ever since, and made several small upgrades over the years, but have largely retained its original shape and character.
The Nelson Tramping Club were one of the early organised tramping clubs to get involved with local hut renovations in their area utilising Outdoor Recreation Consortium Funding. The first project they decided to take on was the historic Flora Hut in Kahurangi National Park. Built in 1927, Flora Hut is one of only a couple of huts remaining with the distinctive two separate bunk rooms consistent with the social norms of the time. The hut was built by the Mt Balloon Scenic Reserve Board but by the 1970s had fallen into such disrepair that the New Zealand Forest Service decided to essentially completely rebuild it to the original design in 1972. By this the road end was quite close to Flora Hut and sadly it started to suffer from some vandalism by the end of the 1990s. At one stage removing the hut was considered, but the 2002 Recreational Opportunities Review saw a resurgence of support for retaining this hut as a key family entry level opportunity. In 2013 the Nelson Tramping Club decided to restore the hut in partnership with DOC Motueka.