Tararua Forest Park, Wellington – February 2022
Penn Creek Hut occupies a grassy clearing on the banks of its namesake creek, a tributary of the mighty Ōtaki River. From Ōtaki Forks, a good track leads to Penn Creek via Field Hut and Table Top, making it accessible in a long day, or an easier overnight tramp.
The six-bunker is one of a dozen or so ex-Forest Service deer-culling huts remaining in the Tararua Range, and recently got some attention from the ex-NZFS group, organised by the ever-energetic John McCann and his team of merry men. They were supported by a grant from the Backcountry Trust.
McCann’s group of ex-cullers have been steadily working their way through almost all of the old NZFS huts and bivvies in the range, aiming to conserve them in good condition for future generations.
Until this year, the Victoria University of Wellington Tramping Club (VUWTC) had sole responsibility for Penn Creek Hut, but the student trampers have now agreed to work jointly with the ex-NZFS team.
John’s team included ex-NZFS track cutter Steve Alger, until recently the caretaker at Ōtaki Forks, and Bart Gurkurt, who has previously worked doing wild animal control on Rangitoto island before recently shifting to the Wairarapa.
Steve and Bart cleaned inside and out, and then painted the hut exterior, restoring its original glorious orange.
Penn Creek Hut was constructed by Forest Service builder Paul Gush in about 1966, McCann says, replacing an older tent camp that had existed since the early 1960s.
Since then, the hut has gone through various shades, including a memorable purple phase in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Check out the gothic script!
Steve and Bart also assessed what other work might be required. A VUWTC team plans to head in to clear back some vegetation around the hut, and also complete one more coat of paint on the roof.
McCann says the ex-NZFS team hopes to remove the woodburner and reinstate the old open fireplace – in keeping with their ethos of retaining authenticity where at all possible. McCann recalls his culling days in the valley fondly, with the open fire crackling merrily.
Nice work Steve and Bart!