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March 2021 Issue
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Josh Murray, Brendon Yaxley and Jeff Lock outside the completed Toka Biv. Photo: Rob Brown

Volunteers around the country are restoring huts to their former glory. Shaun Barnett recommends five to visit.

Want to visit an old hut with a brand new look?

Here’s an idea: plan your tramping around some of the faithfully restored huts funded by the Backcountry Trust (BCT).

With about 1000 backcountry huts, thousands of bridges and tens of thousands of kilometres of tracks to manage, DOC has its work cut out; too much for one government department to handle. Happily, willing volunteers offer their help, and since 2014 the BCT has facilitated much good work, in partnership with DOC, which primarily funds it.

The BCT is run by a board, which makes decisions about which projects to support from many suggested by outdoor clubs and community groups. While volunteers do the work, the BCT funds costs such as materials, transport and food.

The board has representatives from Federated Mountain Clubs (Peter Wilson and Geoff Spearpoint), the New Zealand Deerstalkers’ Association (Craig Benbow and David Keen), and TrailFund NZ (Nessa Lynch and Guy Wynn-Williams).

The Back Country Trust website showcases the BCT’s restoration of more than 100 huts and 900km of walking and mountain-bike tracks.

Here are five BCT hut projects worthy of being added to your bucket list.

1. Toka Biv, Ruahine Forest Park

Josh Murray loves hunting the Ngamoko Range, often staying at Toka Biv, a classic ex-Forest Service dog-box. But over the years, he had witnessed the biv’s ongoing deterioration. In February 2020, he and two mates built a new two-bunk biv, added a water tank and installed new mattresses. It’s reached on a 4-5hr tramp on either the Knights or Shorts Tracks.

2. AreteForks Hut, Tararua Forest Park

Over recent years, a group of ex-Forest Service hunters, including John McCann, Derrick Field, Paul Gush and Grant Timlin, have taken on the task of restoring many of the old culling huts in Tararua Forest Park. Perhaps their finest effort has been the restoration of Arete Forks Hut in 2016. For the sake of authenticity, Field went to extraordinary lengths to get permission for pulling out the wood-burner and reinstating the open fireplace. The remote hut, now back to its classic orange colour, sits near the head of Arete Stream, and will take 2-3 days to reach.

3. Larrikins Creek Hut, Kahurangi National Park

Nestled against the beech forest, Larrikins Creek Hut is dwarfed by the towering, striated bluffs of the Haystack, on the edge of Kahurangi’s Thousand Acres Plateau. In October 2020, a team led by New Zealand Alpine Club member Ross Cullen replaced the roof, repainted the hut, fixed the chimney and built a new woodshed, with help from staff from Murchison-based Ultimate Descents. It’s reached on a 6-7hr tramp from the Matiri Valley, near Murchison.

4. Puketeraki Biv, Oxford Forest Conservation Area

BCT chair Craig Benbow is himself a dab hand, and in June 2017 led a team of hunters to restore Puketeraki Hut in the Canterbury backcountry. Situated above the Waimakariri Gorge, on the slopes of the Puketeraki Range, the hut was in a rough state. Benbow’s team put in new piles, joists, floor, windows, built a new toilet, and repainted the hut, leaving the place looking tip-top.

5. Thomas River Hut, South Westland

BCT deputy chair Geoff Spearpoint led a team to restore this ex-Forest Service six-bunker. It’s located on a flat beside the Thomas River, one of the many tributaries of the formidable Haast River. Spearpoint’s team repainted and restored the hut, and thought the job was done. But a flash flood in 2019 wiped out most of the flat, leaving the hut perched precariously over the river. DOC rangers saved the hut by moving it onto a safe site. In 2020, Spearpoint led three work parties to put in new piles, build a woodshed, re-affix the chimney, and give the whole structure a good re-spruce. Reaching the hut is relatively straightforward on a pleasant track, but first you have to get across the Haast River, which usually needs a canoe or jetboat.