Wednesday 10 January 2018

Huts of New Zealand 2017 - Part 2

You came back for part two? Wow, how bored are you? Well, it is January, so I’m guessing that the answer to that is very. Plus fed up of work, plus probably suffering from some kind of ill-health…Ooop, too real? Let’s get back to the huts.

July (31/07/17)
This is Awatere hut on the Makateru river in the Ruahine forest.
As you know, I always look for the story, but there isn’t always a story lurking, sometimes a hut is just a hut. The most details I could find were– ‘This is a basic three-bunk hut in the Hawke’s Bay region.’ What more could you need to know?

But there are two things to note. One, despite this being the 7th hut I’ve researched this year, I’ve only just come across the practice of ‘Hut Bagging’ which is as straightforward as – visit a hut and you’ve bagged it. There appears to exist a whole sub-culture around this practice, which is, of course, charmingly nerdy. For more information, go here -
The second thing is that this hut is only an hour and half’s drive away from where I’ll be staying in a couple of weeks. I have looked into the feasibility of actually going there, but I just won’t have the time, resources or money to pull it off on this occasion.
However, is does strike me that it might be pretty awesome to actually visit one of the huts at some point. But given that they are usually at the top of mountains, this is quite a challenge in itself. I suppose there are 5 more huts to go, so let’s hope that one of them was built to shelter people feeling a bit wan from climbing a small embankment, or a slight incline, or something along those lines…

August (30/08/17)
Yeah, I know what the date is, I know how close to the wire I am (again!) But give me a break dudes, I’m just not feeling it right now.
Having said that, I’ll be buggered if I’m gonna let such rampant introspection ruin this fun thought experiment, not 8 months in at least. So, without further faff…
August’s hut is the Pell Stream Hut in the Lewis Pass National Reserve, which is in the West Coast/ Canterbury area. The hut is pretty basic from what I’ve read, and not very well maintained (mattresses on the floor, with free bleach available to get them up to a “gingerly lay your head down while you frantically fever dream about what darkness that bedding has seen” standard) but the area that the Pell Stream Hut is in, is far from basic.

Lewis Pass is the northernmost of the three main passes across the Southern Alps, even higher than the Haast Pass (which, if you’re paying attention, I’ve talked about before) and this pass is in the saddle between the valleys of Maruia River to the northwest and Lewis River to the southeast. But I can’t really TELL you how awesome a place looks, for that you’ll need to have a gander at the pictures and this fantastic video filmed at the top of the pass, kindly shared on the YouTube by a generous tramper – thanks Greg, you’re the man - I hope you enjoy life too!
Besides all of the astounding beauty (as my friend Kirby would say – put it away New Zealand, really) there’s a not a lot else to note here except that one of the nearby mountains is called the Philosopher’s Knob (because if you could name mountains, you just would, wouldn’t you?) and I found a super charming blog by a guy searching for a wild kiwi that’s worth a read, if you’re in a procrastinating kinda mood.

September (29/09/17)
September’s hut is Shute’s Hut in Ruahine Forest Park. The Ruahine range is the largest of several mountain ranges (including the Tararuas and Rimutakas) in the North Island that form a ridge running parallel with the east coast between the East Cape and Wellington. It’s made of stone and its original form has been maintained in order to keep it as a place of historical interest, as well as a habitable hut.

It was built in 1920 by Alex Shute, described as a ‘rabbiter and practical joker’ who decided to spend 20 years wandering around the Ruahine back country, rabbiting and presumably practical joking... although I can’t find any evidence of what sort of japes he got up to. It does somewhat beg the question, if a practical joke is set up and paid off in the woods and nobody is around to see it, is it still funny? He also planted a small orchard of pine and gum trees behind the hut, which are mostly still there. The hut is only accessible from No Mans Road, which, I mean, if this was named on the basis of trying to accurately depict what to expect, it’s kind of like calling it Immediate Death Road or something. I hope the name just comes down to some hunting based posturing. Or maybe Mr Shute’s famous wit.
Hunting is quite a big thing in NZ, and while it does make me feel all wibbly wobbly at the thought of it (not in a good way) I can see how it does neatly segue with population control of certain introduced species that might otherwise run rampant. I guess this includes rabbits. And yes I’ve just made the connection between those two words, but let’s push past that if we can.
There’s not a lot more to say here beyond the obvious fact that the idea of just buggering off and living in the wilderness for decades, when the wilderness looks like this, is more than a little appealing.

October (24/10/17)
October’s hut is Jean Hut in the Whakaari Conservation Area, Otago.
Whakaari (meaning "to hold up to view") is found between Glenorchy and Mount Aurum and boasts two major walking tracks – the Mount Judah and McIntosh loops. There’s a whole heap of huts nearby, Jean hut being one of the oldest.

This area was important for scheelite mining during the gold rush times, hence the abundance of huts.
Jean hut was cladded using flattened drums, which has the effect of making it look like something straight out of a Pratchett Discworld novel. It has only 2 bunks, but is equipped with heating and a working toilet, so far more modern than the exterior would have you believe.
Scheelite became quite an important mineral during the two world wars in particular. It’s a pretty looking stone (known to be passed off as diamond on occasion, apparently) but its main property seems to be its denseness (I can identify with that) and the fact that it can be alloyed with steel to make, well, a super hard steel. This is me trying to interpret geological writings about it – so basically it’s like a kind of kryptonite then? Come on scientists - why not just say that?
Of course, there is the usual amount of surrounding NZ beauty but in my searching I came across a particularly stunning natural wonder – the willow trees of Glenorchy in Lake Wakapitu. The photos of this I have nabbed from a dude’s blog, which I will link to here because he went to an incredible effort to get these shots, so credit where credit really is due.

November (30/11/17)
Jesus, I nearly forgot about this! But how could I ever fail to come through for the 2, or possibly even up to 3 or 4 of you who are kind enough to read it?
November’s hut is Cameron Hut in Hakatere Conservation Park, by the Arrowsmith mountain range, in Canterbury.

Cameron Hut was built in 1952 but then re-built in 1982 with a new pre-fabricated hut having to be helicoptered to the site. You would think that this was due to it being somewhere particularly remote, but I’ve seen a few helicopters being used for similar purposes in Wellington, because everything in this land is either surrounded by jungle or atop an insanely steep hill. The hut has 9 bunks, is solar powered, and has a mountain radio for emergencies, but the toilet is outside which could be a little… chilly, I reckon.
Hakatere Conservation Park is obviously stunning (do I even need to keep noting this or can we just take that as a given now?) But more interestingly, two of the mountains there, Mount Potts and Mount Sunday, were used as locations for Edoras – the fortress city of the Riders of Rohan in the LOTR films. Apparently they built a fully realised set for Edoras on Mt Sunday. It took the production crew 9 months to build, constructing Golden Hall on top of the cliffs along with the other buildings and a gatehouse and yet more buildings at the bottom. It was all dismantled when they were finished and they left it as they found it, but the area unsurprisingly attracts a good number of fans each year. As does most of the rest of NZ for similar wizard and hobbit related reasons. Another fun fact: the filming locations for LOTR are clearly listed in the road maps here. We drove past the location of the Battle of Pelennor Fields on the first trip down to Welly. Also known as Paraparaumu to the locals.
Finally I realised that I actually have a few photos of the area we’re talking about here – the Southern Alps and the Canterbury Plains, due to going up on the gondola back in Christchurch. These photos aren’t quite as spectacular as the ones of the Arrowsmith range, but they’re still quite pretty, even if I do say so myself.

December (28/12/17)
December’s hut is the historic Cone Hut in Tararua Forest Park in the Wairarapa region.

Cone Hut is the second oldest hut in the Tararuas. It was built by New Zealand’s first tramping club, the Tararua Tramping Club, in 1946, and remains one of the best surviving examples of a ‘slab hut’ in New Zealand.
By the early 1980s, the hut had fallen into disrepair. After assessing the historical importance of the site and developing a plan, it was decided to rebuild the hut using the same construction method and materials as the original build. This work was undertaken by the Tararua Tramping Club with the assistance of the Department of Conservation.
Unfortunately, in 2015, Trampers discovered that their beloved hut had been trashed by vandals. This story was picked up by Stuff (think the BBC for NZ, so big time news) and they reported on the damage in detail. A 10-litre can of white acrylic paint had been tipped on the floor, mattresses had been slashed and one dumped in the pool of paint. The hut was strewn with rubbish and the hut book (which I’m assured is a vital safety tool when it comes to wilderness survival) was missing and its case smashed and burnt.

Club president Paul Maxim observed that it was the worst case of hut vandalism he had seen, saying ‘Why you would go in and do that wilful damage to a hut in such a beautiful spot? It just defies imagination.’
Right on, Paul, it is truly bizarre that people would tramp a full 2 hours into a national park to smash up a hut. That’s a great deal of effort to go to for a random act of vandalism. The perpetrators have not been caught since, despite a big push for justice after the story broke. But shaking off the sadness, the Tararua Tramping Club, together with a number of community groups, made good the damage and returned the hut to its former glory.
You know full well that I stumbled into this writing experiment with my tongue firmly in my cheek, because the idea of quaint back country huts is ridiculously Royston Vasey and intrinsically amusing. But it became a thing I was committed to, and every time I thought, what the hell could I possibly write about this hut? There was always a story to find and something to play off. I think the fact that the last story is one of resilience and endurance, is very fitting, because it rings true to what I have found about New Zealanders in a more general sense, they tend to take their knocks and roll with the punches. Kiwis are very aware of how beautiful this country is, and the pride they take in it and the lengths they go to to preserve and enjoy that beauty, has never ceased to impress me. Huts will continue to be around for as long as NZ is, because huts help to facilitate that close relationship between the land and its people.
So, yes, to confirm, this is the last hut of 2017, and my last entry in the series. I’ve got a whole other writing experiment to play about with next year, the ideas for which have already amused me a great deal, so I’m looking forward to it. But is the end of exploration into the huts of NZ? I’m doubtful on that score, because I gave a Huts of 2018 calendar to my awesome friend, Charlotte. And the idea of doing some kind of hot dudes in huts crossover, is deeply funny to us. So, is the end? Yeah, nah, probably not.
Finally, to answer a question nobody has asked, have I collated this hut series into one coherent blog post that can be shared shortly hereafter?
Well… what do you think?


I was going to write some kind of conclusion here, but I think I did that pretty well in December’s entry. From a writing perspective, it was fun to watch something that began as a complete piss take grow into something else, and I think you can see a distinct improvement in how I approached this as the months wore on. The lesson here is that you never know, once you start anything, where it’s going to take you, and writing is a continual process of making yourself do something, no matter how arbitrary, that forces you to find and develop different muscles that you didn’t even know you had. Yes I am still talking about writing here. Well, what do you know? I ended up concluding with another conclusion anyway. Jeez, writers, man, do they ever just shut the fuck up? No, no we don’t.

Sources of hut images (unless otherwise linked in the text)

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