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February 2013 Issue
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An easy step back in time

Shutes Hut – an historic four bunker. Photo: Richard Davies
2-3hr to hut
There is a car park at Comet Hut at the end of Komata Road

Shutes Hut, Kaweka Forest Park

Many old huts dot the back blocks of New Zealand. Beech pole huts, cut from the nearest stand of beech trees. Slab huts, hewn from the local podocarp population. Miners’ huts made of slabs of schist from the local stream bed. What is more unusual to find is an old hut made of materials that weren’t found on site.

Imagine, in 1920, building a hut all out of stone, in an area where the only rocks are crumbly and unsuitable for building and where the river that is full of stones is a long way below you.

Shutes was built in 1920 as a backcountry mustering hut for Big Hill Station. It is not hard to imagine the sheep country then, as even now, the trees have not totally reclaimed the pasture.

But before we get to the sheep country, let’s backtrack to the end of the road, and another part of New Zealand’s back country history, New Zealand Forest Service pine plantation.

Komata (or Comet) road leaves the Napier-Taihape Road on the Taihape side of the infamous Gentle Annie. This gravel road heads through regenerating scrub and pines along the flat top of Kaikomata Ridge. At the roadend is the small orange box of Comet Hut, surprisingly tidy for a roadend hut.

From here a steep, loose and stony track ascends through the pine towards Komata Peak (1083m). This is the southern-most point of Kaweka Forest Park and the track feels like so many others in the park as I grunt up under a hot sun.

Some pleasant beech stands on the ridge surprise me, and put a smile on my face before the long descent to the Taruarau River begins amongst more pine trees. This track goes straight down, losing around 600m to gain the river. Once out of the pine trees, low scrub gives good views up the Taruarau and across to the northern Ruahine ranges. I was thrilled to hear, then see, whiteheads flitting through the manuka here.

The Taruarau was cool and inviting for a dip after the long descent. We were pleased to encounter low flows as the crossing would be a challenging one if the river was up. Regaining the track on the other side we climbed quickly through the manuka that is reclaiming the grass.

As we  followed the old sheep tracks I reflected on what had driven men to try and farm this land. Desperation? Or just a strong need for challenge? Sighting a large stand of pines up ahead, I knew we were close to Shutes, named after Alex Shute, a rabbiter who lived a solitary life here for many years and planted fruit trees as well as the pines.

Shutes itself is a cute wee thing measuring just 4m x 2.4m with a concrete floor and manuka pole bunks. It has been well looked after over the years.

But what an extraordinary story survives in those small stone walls. The rocks had to be carted in by packhorse and then concrete mixed up on site. Even by the hardy standards of those building back country huts in the 1920s, it was an impressive feat.

Because it only take three or four hours to reach the hut, we had  packed a few treats for dinner and had a wonderful night in front of the open fire, reading a copy of the hut book that goes back to the 1950s.

While the return trip is a little longer with more climbing, it is still a cruisey weekend trip and a wonderful slice of history to boot.

– Richard Davies