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Off the radar

Image of the April 2020 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
April 2020 Issue

Ministry of Works Historic Hut, Kahurangi National Park

Deep in the wild heart of northern Kahurangi is a subalpine tableland that rises to 870m. Mackay Downs features numerous granite tors which punctuate peat-filled valleys of tussock. Home to Powelliphanta snails and weka, this piece of paradise is truly off the radar. Tucked away up a narrow lane on the edge of this peneplain, almost out of sight, is a standard six-bunk hut – an island of candlelight in an ocean of waving red tussock.
Hard-to-find huts are a sort of holy grail for hut baggers, and a welcome refuge for those adventure seekers with competent off-track navigation skills.

This iron-clad SF70 has been preserved in nearly original condition as a monument to its troubled history. In 1970, the Ministry of Works erected this building on the site of their surveyors’ campsite in Juno Creek, which had been too exposed to wet weather. The surveying teams were investigating a road down the Saxon Ridge to Big River. This would link Collingwood with Karamea.

However, public opposition developed out of a desire to protect the popular Heaphy Track. A petition of 20,000 signatures made the road proposal a political hot potato and the government procrastinated ‘due to a lack of funding.’

Fifty years on, the old hut gets visited about four times a year by trampers who penetrate the labyrinth of tussock valleys and forested hills. These parties punch through waist-high scrub for half a day from the Heaphy Track, beginning at Otepo trig, or the bridge at Blue Shirt Creek. Other parties bush-bash from the lighthouse keeper’s hut at Kahurangi Point for 12 gruelling hours.

Regardless of the route, this hut is celebrated for its unique history and appreciated as a shelter from the elements.

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Distance
37.8km
Total Ascent
2859m
Grade
Moderate / Difficult
Time
Road end to Perry Saddle Hut, 5hr; To Gouland Downs Hut, 2hr; To Saxon Hut, 1.5hr; To Blue Shirt Creek, 1hr; To Ministry of Works Hut, 3hr
Accom.
Perry Saddle Hut ($34, 28 bunks), Gouland Downs Hut ($34, eight bunks), Saxon Hut ($34, 16 bunks), Ministry of Works Historic Hut (free, six bunks)
Access
From Aorere Valley Road end
Map
BN22, BP23

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