In winter, a warm hut with an open fire is good for the soul.
With winter deepening, huts become more appealing than tents. There’s nothing quite like stretching out after a good meal, watching the sparks of a crackling fire shoot up the chimney.
Some early huts had chimneys made of stone, where good rock suitable for stacking was available, such as the South Island high country and West Coast. Stanfields Whare, a private hut beside the Tauranga-Taupo River in the Kaimanawa Range sported a pumice chimney, which had the curious characteristic of leaking smoke through each pore. Sadly, the river swept away this whare in about 2010.
Other hut chimneys were constructed out of timber, but these sometimes caught fire. Deer culler tent camps often had semi-permanent timber-framed chimneys that used corrugated iron cladding to reduce the risk of the wrong thing catching aflame.
A large open fire had the advantage of leaving plenty of room for hanging multiple billies and camp ovens.
When the Forest Service began its great hut-building phase in the mid-1950s, most huts and some bivouacs had open fires and the chimneys were usually made with flat iron (as in the picture).
While Forest Service huts built for deer culling still make up most of New Zealand’s hut network, many of them have been significantly altered over the decades. As romantic as staring at the flames in an open fire is, this design is not especially efficient and so hundreds of huts have had the open fire replaced by a wood-burner of one sort or another. That’s often an improvement, but not always. Fortunately, heritage-conscious DOC rangers and volunteers have been trying to ensure a representative sample of huts retain their authentic near-original condition. For example, these five huts which all feature a soul-nurturing open fire.
1 Makahu Saddle Hut, Kaweka Forest Park
Huts don’t get much more authentic or accessible than Makahu Saddle Hut, one of the early Forest Service designs built in 1956. The four-bunk hut is located just five minutes’ walk from the car park at Makahu Saddle, so makes an ideal destination for those of lesser mobility or anyone simply wanting a night in the hills.
2 Ikawetea Forks Hut, Ruahine Forest Park
Ikawetea Forks Hut, as the name suggests, lies next to a river junction – the Ikawetea River and Apias Creek. It’s a remote hut in the northern part of the Ruahine Range, with several possible routes to get there. The most interesting is from Golden Crown Track, along the tops past No Mans, and down the forested spur from Tauwharepokoru. Allow a full day (8-10hr) each way.
3 Mid Waiohine Hut, Tararua Forest Park
Mid Waiohine Hut is one of the few near-original NZFS S70 huts remaining in the Tararua Range and was reroofed and repainted in 2016 by exNZFS volunteers. The six-bunker is usually reached on the Holdsworth Track. Climb past Powell Hut, over Mt Holdsworth and Isabelle, then take the track down to the Waiohine Valley over Isabelle. It’s a long, steep descent. Allow 6-8hr.
4 Youngman Stream Hut, Puketeraki Forest Conservation Area
Youngman Stream Hut lies in an attractive grassy clearing on the edge of beech forest in this accessible conservation area not far from Oxford. The six-bunk hut was repainted by a group of New Zealand Alpine Club volunteers in 2016. Access is on a track up the Ashley River, which takes 4-5hr. From the hut, it’s possible to make a round trip over the nearby tops via Tarn Hut.
5 Tunnel Creek Hut, Paringa Valley
Tunnel Creek Hut sports a bright red door and orange paint job, thanks to work done by Geoff Spearpoint and other Backcountry Trust volunteers over recent years. It lies up the Paringa River, which offers a gateway to the wild mountains of the Hooker-Landsborough Wilderness Area. Allow 6hr to get to the hut from SH6.