Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Huts in the Ruahines

Those who love mountain travel in New Zealand are blessed not only by the large number of mountain ranges, National and State Parks, both in the North and South Islands, from which to act upon our chosen pursuits, but also by the large number of huts within those areas to take shelter in, or to just enjoy the relative luxury of a hut compared to a tent in weather tempermental areas. By luxury I mean catering to the basic and simplistic needs one requires, a tin roof and walls, between 4 and 6 bunks, as a general rule, which vary greatly in degrees of comfort, either an open fire or a firebox for heat, and if high up on the tops, a water tank capturing water from the roof, or if by a river one simply gets water from it. There are higher use huts located within a few hours of road ends which are larger, 12 -30 bunks, which also have gas heating and cookers, and in many of the higher use parks and ranges these would be the norm. The Ruahines, however, are not a high use area, only two huts, Sunrise, and Rangiwahia, are in the class of the latter hut description, both being 2-3 hours from their respective road ends and fairly often used by school groups and other larger parties. Almost every other hut inside the interior of the park, if not all of them, are the very basic shelters I have described. Yet each has its own flavour and character, most located in sublime spots, either close to or on a river, or high up on the ranges or ridges. Most were not put in the beautiful spots they are in for aesthetic reasons, but rather the rugged nature of the mountains dictating the only possible places for them to be built.

The Ruahine huts were originally built as places for men to stay in who were part of government efforts to control exploding deer populations. Deer were an introduced animal to Aotearoa, and with no natural predators to keep herds in check, they flourished in the mountains and soon grew into huge herds, destroying the forest undergrowth, enhancing natural erosion, and seriously altering the natural balance of the forest. Thus, these men, or deer cullers, were sent into the oceans of New Zealand mountains and forests for months on end, to kill as many deer as possible. They lived, at first, in tent camps, set up at various places so as to cover their huge territories, and eventually as a system of tracks grew, huts were put in to make their meagre existence more "comfortable". These were hard men and this chapter in the mountains history an interesting and colourful one. These huts and tracks are now left to those who travel in the mountains, and kept up and maintained by the Department of Conservation, who charge a small fee for the use of them. The Ruahines have over 60 huts interspersed along its open tops, ridges, and rivers, indicating the rugged nature of the country - the cullers always wanted a safe refuge within reasonable reach in the volatile mountains. I have personally been to over 40 now, some I revisit often, others only once, but one thing they have in common is that I have been damn glad to see them all come into view after a hard slog to get there! So I thought I would share some photos of some of the huts I have visited and a few thoughts about them. This will be an ongoing post, as many of the huts I have visited I do not have postable photos of, and, of course, there are always new ones to be added!

The first photo above is Top Maropea, overlooking the Maropea valley, and one of my personal favourite Ruahine spots. I have spent 23 nights at Top Maropea, sometimes in passing through, sometimes as a destination on its own. It was built in the mid 1950's as culler hut and is still the original structure, and now an historical sight. Though it is only 3-4 hours from the road end, and an hour from Sunrise over Armstrong saddle, it is relatively rarely visited. A lovely place at 1242 metres, on a nice day simply stunning, on the more often windy, rainy or snowy day, still cool. I have had to stay here twice longer than expected because of bad weather. Being as it offers both a special connection for me personally, and a route deeper into the wonderful interior it will not be too long till I return here once again.

About 4 hours below Top Maropea, via the river, is the above hut pictured, Maropea Forks, which is, simply put, the overwhelming favourite Ruahine spot of most RTC members, and certainly mine. Located in a truly sublime spot, just above the confluence of the east and west branches of the Maropea river, hence Maropea Forks, and situated perfectly to the path of the sun moving across the valley, if you are lucky, it is just a wonderful place to be. Pretty much in the heart of the Ruahines, or at least on a veritable highway of tramping options, I have arrived via the river, over the tops, and left in every direction. It has also become just a favoured spot on its own, either on my own or in the company of others. One I have stayed at up to 3 days simply enjoying its beauty.

It is a 6 bunk hut, with a Corker wood stove, ample room inside for ones gear, and as one can see, has a roofed in porch to while away the hours should it be raining. The river runs close by, as a matter of fact it has dramatically changed course and is now cutting severely into the very bank the hut is sited upon. This will be a major concern should it continue. Again, built as a culler hut, the current structure was rebuilt in the 1980's and was recently refurbished again from the above photo. Many of the old cullers who worked out of here have written of this place and a special appreciation they hold for this area. They are not wrong.

I have made 13 trips to this hut, the first were merely passing through on crossings for a night, yet it made such an impression on me I began to return again and again, and will continue to do so. The walk down from Top Maropea would be one of the finest mountain river walks in the world.

Another area in the Ruahines which has become a personal favourite is the Makaroro valley and Parks Peak ridge. Offering excellent access to the main Ruahine range, and multiple tramping options, or, again, as a destination in itself. Above is Parks Peak hut, situated high on Parks Peak ridge, around 1300 meters, in a very unique and mysterious stunted beech forest. It is a long tough climb and walk to this hut, commonly taking me anywhere from 5-7 hours. And while the hut itself is fairly unimposing and basic, 4 bunks with a temperamental Corker, in an often boggy and wet location, it has also become a personal favourite. Perhaps because seeing it come into view is always such a relief, but more so it is such an amazing place both micro and macro, with awesome views across the ridge to the main range, and yet often misty and closed in revealing the tussock grasses, mountain flowers, leatherwood, and incredibly stunning looking dripping mosses on the stunted beech. One of my favourite spots to wander tin cup in hand.

This is a classic example of the first deer culler huts built in the 50's. Basic and simple, meant to provide shelter. It has for me 8 times now, and will again. Also located on the cusp of other great tramping routes, particularly the sublime Upper Makaroro a few hours away.

This is Upper Makaroro hut, a few steep hours down a spur off Parks Peak ridge and across the Makaroro river. Another two hour equally steep climb up will bring one to the main Ruahine range, or 3-4 hours downriver is Barlow hut. I have had some beautiful summer days here, the river is full of crystal clear pools for swimming, and also trout. It took me 3 attempts to finally get to this hut, and I have now been there 4 times. Very short days in winter as the valley is very narrow and the sun moves over it quickly, but the hut, although the basic Forest Service design, is comfortable and has a great wood stove with ample wood available at this altitude, 800 meters or so. Another favoured river spot, and not often visited.

Above is Waterfall hut, an extremely remote location in the Kawhatau headwaters, and a long way to get to from any direction, any of which is tough and challenging. It is at least a two day walk to get to this hut, which lies on the confluence of Waterfall creek and the Kawhatau river up on a natural terrace above a unique horse shoe bend in the creek. A very wild and stunning location underneath Mangaweka and the Hikurangi's to the west, and the main Ruahine range to the east. Mangaweka is the highest point in the Ruahines at 1733 meters, and this hut is in some of the most rugged Ruahine terrain. I have been here twice with John, once coming over from the eastern side and Waikamaka, and once coming directly down from Mangaweka. A basic 6 bunk hut with a fireplace. Always glad to be here.

Five hours or so down the Kawhatau river from Waterfall hut lies this little gem, Crow hut. A few years ago John and I walked a few hours down from Waterfall, then camped on the river, and carried onto Crow the next day. The Kawhatau is a bigger river and comes up quite quickly, and with two nasty gorges to negotiate it pays to keep an eye on the weather. Notice the swing bridge is high over the river, this is for a reason! Crow hut is also 6 bunks and recently been refurbished, new walls and lining, fireplace replaced with a new wood stove, all good. The hut, as one can see, sits above the river with ample room to pitch a tent or just lounge away, and the river below offers excellent swimming and trout fishing. I have been here 3 times, once with RTC members Steve and Rick, once on my own, and once with John. An exceptionally cool spot with excellent views of Rongotea on the Mokai Patea's, the Hikurangi's to the south, and once again, the main Ruahine range to the east. An amazing place to watch the sun set on the eastern tops, the colours which emerge never fail to stir my very soul. With ample wood about I am keen to return here for a winter tramp.

High above Crow hut, and to the west, on the Hikurangi's, is Mc Kinnon hut pictured above. Perhaps the finest upper alpine located hut in the entire Ruahines. Fantastic views in every direction, the Kawhatau valley far below, and the Mokai Patea across the valley, and the main range literally across the way from the hut door. I believe this is the highest hut in the Ruahines at over 1400 meters, just slightly higher altitude than Howlett's hut. A long day to get here over the Hikurangi's but a stunning walk through rolling tussock and tarns, ( natural depressions in the tussock which collect water), one actually the size of a small lake. Just when one reaches a main turn in the Hikurangi range to the south, there is a near vertical long drop to the hut, which can be seen high above, but still seems to take ages to get to it. From here it is 4 hours or so to to the Ruahines highest point, and another 2-3 hours to get down to Waterfall hut. Or one can drop down to the river and find Crow hut in a short 2 hour jaunt. I have been here twice, once solo, and once with John. Again would like to spend some time in winter here, with a comfy 6 bunk hut and stove, combined with the astounding views, how could I go wrong?

Howlett's hut, on the main range. Perhaps an even more dramatic setting than Mc Kinnon, due to its proximity to the main range, and the view out onto the east coast of the North Island. A larger hut, with room for up to 15 on platform, or Maori bunks, and a coal burner. This hut is actually owned and maintained by the Heretaunga Tramping Club, who require a bit of koha, or donation, for its use. Situated just off where Daphne spur meets the main range above 1300 meters, it is a dauntingly steep 2 hour climb from Daphne hut on the Tuki Tuki river.

The hut has a long history in the Ruahines, originally built in the 1930's with hut material carried up on the backs of the original HTC members, and the hut contains many of the old hut books copied and left to be read, along with some amazing photos.

It is also the gateway to Sawtooth ridge, which lies just to the north, an hour or two beyond the hut and accessed via Tiraha. I have been here twice, once with John in winter when this photo was taken, and once with Nigel and John waiting for the weather to clear so we could get to Sawtooth. It didn't and we retreated back to Daphne. I will return again.

One of the more interesting valleys in the Ruahines, to me, is Pohangina valley. I have spent a bit of time exploring it, with Nigel and John, and mostly on my own. I find it to be a very haunting place, and I do not mean that in a scary or fearful sense, rather, to me, in a spiritual sort of way, that I am not the first, nor last, to feel the connection between man and Nature in this place. The valley has 4 huts situated in it, I have visited them all, Top Gorge, pictured above is Leon Kinvig, Ngamoko, and Mid Pohangina. To do a proper trip either up or down the valley would take 3 days.
Leon Kinvig, above, is the second hut on the river coming down from its source. Named after a deer culler who drowned in the 1950's - perhaps part of the reason for never actually feeling alone in this valley, it is another sublime location on the river. It has Maori bunks for 6, and an open fire, a roofed in porch, and is another relatively rarely visited hut. My last trip there a few years ago I was only the 8th party through in more than a year. I was also there with Nigel in 1998 on the very first overnight RTC crossing, when we came over from the eastern side on a very long and hard tramp. It is equally hard, if not more so, from the western side as it involves another long and steep climb up to the Ngamoko range, and then a long meandering, but enjoyable, stroll along the tops before the normal steep drop to the river. Coming up river, or down would involve a few days as well, so it is not often visited. Yet, for those who do take the time the rewards are many, and the hut book is full of return visits from ex cullers coming to take a last look at a place they obviously were impacted by greatly. It is a hut I look forward to returning to one day.

Approximately 3 hours down river from Leon Kingvig is Ngamoko hut, pictured above. It had just had extensive renovations done when I came across it in November 2005, and I was the first tramper to enjoy its relative luxurious amenities. 6 bunks and a new wood stove, new walls, floor and tables, I happily ensconced myself. Which proved a good thing, as the next day trying to get out via the tops I was forced back here by high winds and white out conditions, and had to spend an extra night.
The hut sits high above the river and is 2-3 hours upstream from Mid Pohangina, then another 5 hours from there to the road end. Again, not a high use hut, I was the 9th party in a year to visit, and only the 4th that tramped to it. The rest were hunting parties helicoptered in, and the work parties who rebuilt it, also helicoptered in. I will return again to do an entire traverse of the valley, taking my time. I sat out in front of the hut down by the river when there by myself and a Blue Duck flew by, then he turned around and flew back, landing 20 meters away from me and jumped up on a rock in the river, seemingly as inquisitive about me as I was about him. A cool moment.
I will, as I wrote, update this entry as more photos become available, which might be boring to some, but so be it. It is a cool way to track the huts visited, and also to remember them. Not to mention it is probably me who is the only one to read this anyway. Ka ki te!


Anonymous said...

Nah, never fear, others are reading and getting inspired. Makes me want to jump on a plane home and start tramping. I'm sending the link to my brother, who's planning a trip around Christmas - I may have to wait a bit longer but meanwhile thanks for the photos and the specifics about each hut. It's good to think of people keeping up that network the cullers set up. Precious good info. Thanks, take care and keep posting as you go!

Ruahines said...

Kia ora mate!,
Just found this comment, but again, these are perhaps the most gratifying words one can read. That others far away from here who know and love these special and unique ranges, and appreciate those qualities can find a bit of refuge here. Kia ora!

young tramper said...

I got Iron Bark, on my website-www.freewebs.com/hellmission/

Ruahines said...

Kia Phillip,
You rock my young friend! Keep on Truckin!

Anonymous said...


I would love to see more Ruahine huts on your list! Your words are interesting and the pictures are precious!


Ricky said...

Fantastic writing here. Brilliant descriptions of the huts; simple but thoroughly illuminating. A great resource for trampers.

Sausage Fingers said...

Gidday Rob. This is the first time I've seenyour blog. Its great, quite informative, especially with the photos. Jeff Logan