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’.