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March 2013 Issue
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Time travel

Historic Cecil Kings Hut. Photo: Ewan Paterson

Cecil Kings Hut, Kahurangi National Park

Aside from the obvious enjoyment of tramping outdoors and staying overnight in a backcountry hut, a trip to Kings Creek Hut is also a journey into the past.

It starts at Tapawera with the tiny Kiwi railway station which serves as a museum to the Nelson railway that ran through here. The line closed in 1955 but not before a young Sonja Davies and other female activists staged a sit-in protest at the line’s closure.

Passing a large abandoned building on the road to Kahurangi National Park adds to the sense of melancholy. This was the headquarters for the New Zealand Forest Service Golden Downs forest, the South Island’s largest exotic tree plantation. In 1987 the government sold this forest to private interests, leading to more than 100 workers and their families leaving the area.

Once on the trail, spirits are restored by the simple pleasures of an easy walk through primeval beech forest close to the Wangapeka River. A high swingbridge after 8km leads across the river and on to Kings Creek Hut, a short distance further. Built by the Forest Service and now a DOC Standard hut it has been carefully maintained to provide clean and dry shelter. Two bunkrooms link a large kitchen dining area, with a large wood burner providing welcome warmth to all rooms if needed.

But it is a second hut nearby that provides the highlight of this trip. It was built in 1936 from red beech slabs by a gang of men on Government subsidy prospecting a nearby gold claim. Cecil King returned to the hut every summer to work the claim – mostly alone – for the next 46 years until his death in 1982. The hut was neglected but then restored in 1991 and now sits contentedly in a small clearing by the riverbank.

A small plaque records that Cecil King’s family scattered his ashes hereabouts. A warm spiritual place.

– Ewan Paterson

Wild File

Access From Tapawera follow the signposted road to a small car park above the Wangapeka River, just past the DOC camping area

Grade Easy

Accommodation Kings Creek Hut, 20 bunks

Time 3hr

Map BQ23