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.