About Remote Huts
This site is provided and sponsored by
groups can collaborate
easily using email.
(Top Olderog Biv in the Arahura catchment: Photo Andrew Buglass 2004)
The Remote Huts website was created in 2003 to profile and raise awareness about a number of remote
high-country huts and bivouacs in central Westland that were unmaintained, or poorly maintained,
and under potential threat of removal by the Department of Conservation (DOC).
Permolat is an online group set up in conjunction with the website which currently has
over 250 members from diverse backgrounds. The group has become a strong voice for the retention of remote
low-use back-country facilities, as well as an active collective carrying out hut and track maintenance and other tasks that
DOC is no longer able or willing to do. The underlying ethos is that these remote
facilities provide a wonderful alternative to the more well-maintained, and often crowded
circuits that are being promoted here and abroad.
The online medium has proved to be a highly effective means of connecting a widely dispersed group of remote
enthusiasts. Permolat also has a Facebook Page www.facebook.
In 2013 Permolat received $10,000 seeding funding from DOC for work on maintenance projects in the remote Hut area.
We were also recently successful with a number of funding bids to the
new High Country Consortium and that allowed us to carry out a number of projects over the 2014/ 15 summer season.
The Permolat Trust was formed in 2014. This a charitable trust and allows us to manage the increased
complexity of funding and project organisation.
A general management agreement has been formalised with DOC to allow us to do this.
As a volunteer group we are reliant on donations and funding from a limited number of sources.
If you use these remote facilities, or just like what we
are doing and want to make a contribution, our account is;
Permolat Trust, Kiwibank, 38-9016-0266330-00. Our Charities Registration No. is CC50626. Donations are tax rebatable -
if you want a receipt just email us.
Koha or donations specifically for Mt. Brown Hut
are separate from our enterprise and go to the Mt. Brown Hut Project: Kiwibank: 38-9011-0071171-00.
The Remote Huts website currently profiles 66 huts and bivs on the western side of the Southern Alps,
from Karamea down to the Haast valley in South Westland.
Most of the structures were built by the New Zealand Forest Service (NZFS) from the 1950's through to the 1970's,
principally for animal control, but also with recreation in mind.
A separate platform was added to
the remote Huts website in 2012 for the Ruahine Hut Users Group in the North Island, and we are more than happy to help folk
start something similar in their own region.
The aim of Remote Huts and Permolat is to raise and maintain awareness
of remote back-country facilities, to encourage their continued use, and to preserve them for future generations.
The website provides up-to-date route information and updates on hut and track conditions, and the Group's activities.
We want to engage with and to motivate high-country users to take on trackwork and hut maintenance roles
in areas where DOC is no longer able.
All of our initial projects were individual maintain-by-community contracts with DOC, however this has recently been extended to
a general agreement that allows us to work on 20 minimal maintenance huts and their access routes in the Westland conservancy.
Around 150 huts and a connecting network of tracks and bridges were built by the NZFS on the
western side of the Southern Alps from the late 1950's to the early 1980's.
Their main function was the provision of shelter
for government cullers employed
to curb an exploding introduced red deer population that was seriously damaging
high-country ecosystems. While the animal control narrative is consistent
from the onset, there was also
evidence of a recreational ethos driving hut construction from the mid-1960's.
In fact construction continued for another 10 years after the foot cullers were phased out the early 1970's.
The NZFS network on Crown Land along with the huts built by Lands and Survey and
and alpine clubs in the National Parks provided New Zealand's outdoor community with a dream network of remote
accommodation and trails. The era of expansion ended in the 1986 when the newly created Department of
Conservation took over management of high-country resources under much more stringent funding regimes.
Attempts to impose user-pays models of management
resulted in many of the more remote, less-used huts and tracks
receiving little or no maintenance, and falling into disuse and disrepair.
While the Department continued to spend money on the more popular huts
and walks that cater mostly for overseas visitors (these could generate a bit of income). Many
of the less visited Huts started becoming run down
or dilapidated, tracks overgrew, and footbridges
were washed away or damaged, and not repaired or replaced.
The overgrown tracks deterred all but the hardiest trampers, and a lack of good quality information on routes and hut conditions
compounded the situation. Decreasing levels of use justified
continued low or zero maintenance, created a spiral of disuse, which eventually led removal of structures, often merely for accounting
DOC continues to be chronically underfunded and is subjected to regular, usually pointless, and ultimately
destructive internal restructures.
It took a while for outdoor users to respond to the gradual running down of back-country facilities.
This is probably due to having had it all laid on by the NZFS for three decades and the sense of
entitlement that developed as a result. Unfortunately the golden era was over and it wasn't coming back.
A few folk started working on the trails themselves and keeping the huts useable,
albeit in an ad-hoc fashion. DOC was going through an autocratic
phase around this time, and wasn't particularly welcoming of this type of activity.
Despite this the unofficial adoption of a few huts by caring individuals did happen.
Griffin Creek Hut,
Browning Biv, Koropuku Hut and
Newton Hut) were kept provisioned and in good order through the 1990's
by these folk. This had a positive impact on their level of use and
is likely to have influenced DOC to continue some form of maintenance further down the track.
What was needed however,
was a more coordinated response from community groups and individuals.
In 2003 DOC did a big stock-take of its high-country resources, including
the 150 huts and bivs in Westland's Tai Poutini Conservancy. It was decided with some
user-group input to continue fully maintaining 80 of these structures. Another 60 would be "minimally maintained,"
which was effectively had been happening for a couple of decades already.
The remainder were considered too dilapidated, unsafe, or infrequently used,
and designated for removal.
Some vigorous lobbying from high-country groups resulted in a few of the minimal maintenance structures being shifted back
to fully maintain status, and a few were from
remove back to minimal maintenance. A couple of unmaintained tracks
reinstated to full maintenance, and a couple of swingbridges down for removal were
kept as minimally maintain. The huts
that weren't able to be saved can be viewed in our
Removed Or Lost Huts Archive.
DOC defines minimal maintenance as,
with minor maintenance to keep structures
sanitary and watertight. This could include painting, repairs
to windows, and/ or sealing. A hut that was no longer
weatherproof, safe or sanitary, would be removed. The irony here is that the cost of a hut removal
is about the same as the amount needed to make it sound and weatherproof for 15-30 years.
It seemed then that the minimal maintenance regime would inevitably lead to the loss
by slow attrition over time of the structures in this category. This was a wake up call for
high-country users and coincided quite nicely with the inception of Permolat and Remote Huts.
This along with the high level of public and the strong negative publicity
about the unnecessary removal of high country huts was the beginning of a softening in DOC's stance towards
community action and community input. By 2013 hut removal
had basically stopped and DOC in Westland were approaching community
groups before considering this.
Permolat's first project took place in 2005 when volunteers recut a notorious unmaintained section
of the Kokatahi valley from Boo Boo Hut to the Twins
swingbridge. Scottys Biv which was designated for removal in 2004,
was our first maintain-by-community in 2006,
with myself as contract signatory.
In 2007 Permolat cut the tracks in the upper Waitaha and County valleys, which were
no longer being officially maintained. Our second maintain-by-community project was
Mid Styx Hut in 2008, with Mark Mellsop-Melssen
of Hokitika as signatory.
In 2010 Permolat provided a some funding and volunteer input for Eddie Newman and Julia Bradshaw's
Mt. Brown Hut project. In 2011 we went in and recut the
upper Waitaha and County valley tracks again after they were damaged by severe storms in 2008.
In 2012 Peter Robins of Christchurch took on Polluck Hut as a maintain-by-community project.
In 2013 Jason Campbell organised a combined Permolat/ DOC initiative to
repair and restore the historic Kakapo Hut in the Karamea valley.
2014 saw three maintain-by-community projects: Serpentine Hut in the Hokitika
with myself as signatory, Mungo Hut with Rob Brown of Wanaka as signatory, and
Tunnel Creek Hut
in the Paringa with Geoff Spearpoint of Birdling's Flat as signatory.
In January 2014 Permolat members working collaboratively with DOC installed of a watertank
at Yeats Ridge Hut in the Toaroha valley.
2014 also saw Top Waitaha Hut repainted and receiving minor repairs,
the complete restoration Old Julia Hut, and Lower Olderog Biv
painted and having floor and frame repairs. All three projects had DOC input in the form of materials, and
helicopter backloads. In the case of Top Waitaha we were able to get a backload of gear and people from the
First Crossings TV crew. Tunnel Creek Hut received a major overhaul and paint in December, and the access track to it up
the Paringa valley was recut. Crystal Biv in the Toaroha valley had floor and frame repairs carried out in
2015 has seen an old FS track to Newton Biv recut,
Mullins Basin Hut in the
Toaroha repainted by the Brennan family of Ross and Hokitka, and Serpentine Hut
was repiled, painted and a long-abandoned track linking it with the Hokitika roadend recut and marked.
In March 2015 Johnson Hut
was painted and repaired with
DOC Westport providing materials, and DOC and Karamea Helicopter Charters covering the flying costs.
The work on Tunnel Creek Hut was completed,
and the track to Cone Creek Hut
in the Haupiri valley was cut and marked. Paul Reid
of Christchurch undertook maintenance projects on Top Crooked Hut
and Top Trent Hut and their access routes.
The upper Waitaha valley was recut in September. In November Geoff Spearpoint and friends
fixed up the Roaring Billy Hut in the lower Haast valley, and started on a bit of trackwork. Rob
Brown and friends gave Mungo Hut
a major makeover and repairs in early December. In March 2016 Newton Biv situated on the tops above
the Styx valley was re-roofed
by Bruce McLelland, an ex FS culler. An old FS track
providing access to it from the Styx valley has been recut.
Permolat's Canterbury members have also been getting involved in some projects on the Eastern side of the Alps, particularly
in the last year or so with the setting up of the High Country Consortium, and DOC Canterbury becoming more amenable
to community input. Their projects include Minchin, Murphys, Veil, Candlesticks and Ant Stream Bivs, and Bull Creek and
Lochinvar Huts. The Biv jobs have been major makeovers in most cases.
This work can be viewed on www.facebook.
The maintain-by-community movement has started gaining traction outside of Permolat on the Coast.
Graham Jackson of Hokitika has taken on Kiwi Hut and Townsend Hut
in the Taramakau catchment,
and in 2013 Bruce Reay of Haast signed a 10-year contract for
Top Okarito Hut. Both huts are profiled on the website and Permolat
will probably provide assistance with maintenance on Okarito Hut. Garry Wilson of the NZ Police and a gang of friends
have offered to take on maintenance of Healey Creek Hut,
in the Mikonui later this yerar. The makeover will include repiling, waterproofing and installing a water tank.
Unofficial trackwork had been occurring in certain areas prior to Permolat's inception,
and from 2005 onward Permolat volunteers began opening up some of the unmaintained trails.
An informal agreement with the Westland Conservator around 2006 allowed Permolat to work on tracks
on the DOC estate that were no longer officially maintained providing hand tools only were used. The other proviso
was that we used historic markers (permolat in this case) and not their orange triangles. Permolat was the name
given to the venetian blind strips that were used by the NZFS to mark tracks.
It's been a long time coming, but we are now able to use chainsaws, providing our members are ticketed, and have had
a two hour assessment from a DOC person.
Volunteer trackwork is now taking place in all of the central
Westland valleys and the Tracks page on this site lists
their condition, maintenance status, and who is responsible for their upkeep.
It is becoming increasingly common now to see loppers sticking out of trampers'
packs and folk are starting to catch on that it's not only OK to cut an overgrown track, but a healthy paradigm shift
back to a community empowerment model.
DOC's recent change of focus to community partnership has been a timely shift and provided an opportunity for Permolat to
formalise its relationship with the Department.
Along with the Roaring Billy, Geoff Spearpoint also has a maintain-by-community contract
for the Thomas River Hut
in the lower Haast valley. Maintenance of this and its access route will
take place in the coming spring/ summer season. Paul Reid has just had Consortium funding granted to do some maintenance
on Top Trent Hut, Campbell Biv in the Arahura valley, Frisco Hut
in the Hokitika, Sir Robert Hut in the Mungo, and Yeats Hut in the Toaroha.
Lastly, Rob Brown has obtained some Consortium funding to do some repair work on Newton Creek Hut in
the Arahura valley, and plans to do this in the coming Spring.
For the first 10 years of its existence, Permolat's funding for various projects came solely from donations
from many generous individuals who supported our cause.
In 2013 institutional recognition came in the form of a $10,000 seeding grant from DOC for maintenance of non or minimally
maintained huts in Westland. In April 2014 we received
a $4000 donation from David and Jane Ellis of Earth Sea Sky Equipment for track and bridgework.
The most recent and
significant development for remote hutters is the the establishment of a Community Conservation Partnership Fund
in 2014 by means of which DOC will distribute $26 million to local communities over a four year period
to support volunteers doing conservation and recreation work in the high country. A portion of this goes
to an Outdoor Recreation Consortium, an alliance of The Federated Mountain Club (FMC), Deerstalkers Association
and TRAILS (a mountain biking organisation)
The ORC gets to bid for funds from a pool each year and this gets divvied between the three organisations.
It got $700K in the first round
and $550k in the second
to distribute. This is a devolution of DOC's functions
and while there's the probable and ubiquitous cost cutting motive in there somewhere,
from a remote huts perspective it's one of
the best thing that could have happened, as it gives a significant degree of ownership back to user groups.
Several Permolat members have applied for, and succeeded in acquiring, grants from the ORC for
projects in 2014 and 15. This has resulted in 2015 being our most productive and prolific year in terms of projects undertaken.
In 2012 a Ruahine Users Group was added to the Remote Huts/ Permolat online platform.
There have been big cutbacks in DOC's high-country maintenance programme in the Ruahine Forest park, with
up to 50% of the huts being dropped from their schedule. This online group is separate from the
Westland one and Julia Mackie of the Napier Tramping Club is the Group Administrator.
Permolat wants to promotes a culture of community ownership and responsibility for
remote high-country facilities.
This includes trackwork, hut checks and minor repairs, but also keeping
us informed about what needs to be done. If you are visiting one of the Huts or using
the tracks or routes covered by the Website, please make a note of hut and track conditions, changes, and
use the contact link to give us feedback and updates. The
high-country is constantly on the move and we want to keep the information we provide current. This is very
important for the low-use facilities.
If you are unsure of the maintenance status of a hut or track, check the relevant web-page.
DOC still need to be informed about repairs needed to fully and minimally maintained huts, but with the latter,
tell us as well, as we may be able to get there quicker.
Carry some lightweight loppers and a small fold-up pruning saw when using tracks that aren't officially maintained.
An amazing amount can be done with these simple tools to keep
the trails open. A roll of cruise tape is handy for keeping key entry and exit points marked, and
for marking routes around windthrow. Build rock cairns at these places if existing markers have
been obscured or washed out.
The West Coast DOC staff have been extremely supportive of Permolat over the years and regularly assist
us and other community groups with our projects. They have often provided materials, hut paint
under the Dulux scheme, and backloads of materials to hut sites when they doing other work in the area.
For more complex
have offered to co-work with individuals, provided they are capable and can meet building
code standards and Health and Safety requirements.
Interested individuals have also been able on occasions, to
DOC maintenance staff as volunteers on official maintenance projects.
The Permolat Trust has just signed a
general Management Agreement with DOC that will allow the Group to undertake larger projects
(up until now only individuals have been
able to sign maintain-by-community contracts).
DOC's current Director General Lou Sanson grew up in Hokitika and used the local networks
extensively before heading off over the hill. He has publicly stated that there will be no more hut removals and
we won't hesitate to remind him of this.
Some previously recalcitrant and autocratic conservancies such as Canterbury, have suddenly started
being nice to community groups. A sure indication a bit of trickle down from the higher echelons.
There are still a few of these, the most common and irritating being bureaucratic and regulatory ones.
DOC despite having plenty of goodwill, is ensnared in a web of Health and Safety and Building Codes,
many of which are totally unnecessary for the basic structures and facilities we are dealing with.
Mt. Brown Hut should have been a simple shift valley floor to mountain top, but ended up as an complete rebuild,
with the Hut needing to be able to withstand 240kmh winds. The majority of tops huts built in the 1960's
have the same simple frame design Mt. Brown's original one, and are still standing.
If Julia and Eddie had known all of the hoops they'd need to get through
for the project beforehand, they said they wouldn't have started. Other more mind boggling examples are
the policy of all the small two-person Bivouacs having to have a fire exit signs on
their one and only door. DOC have spent thousands of dollars flying workers in to install a pathetic 50cm long metal
guard rail on the top bunks of all their huts.
How many people have been killed or injured in the past 50 years falling off a hut bunk? Spending money on things like this
leaves the kitty empty for the few simple repairs needed to maintain the basic integrity of these structures.
There was talk for a while of stopping volunteers from painting hut roofs due
to ACC safety protocols. A process ensued with DOC after photos appeared on Facebook of volunteers painting
Mungo Hut's roof (a small 4-bunker with soft peaty surrounds) without harnesses.
We believe we are quite capable of managing risk sensibly and don't need to be micromanaged in this way. Again not so much DOC's fault
but a result of
the more inane and pathological excesses of the compliance industry. The culture post Cave Creek, post
Christchurch earthquake, has gone from sensible risk management, to risk aversion, or more accurately, liability avoidance.
The primary concern seems not to be for our safety and well-being, but for being busted for not following
Risk of the managed variety, as all high-country users know, is an integral part of the challenge and mystique of any remote experience.
statutory bodies need to relax, get rid of a few managers, and
develop a bit more flexibility for unique situations such as the ones we operate in.
Many of the regulations developed for urban building sites
aren't relevant or necessary for your simple unlined 4-bunk forestry hut.
A two-tier system of high-country facilities has been developing over the past couple of decades.
One is busy and crowded,
four-star, expensive, super safe and sanitised. Every stream is bridged and bluff fenced, often with elaborate and
structures. Humourless warning signs abound.
The second tier exists off the radar of
Tourism NZ and Lonely Planet, and comprise the not too insignificant remnants of the old NZFS networks.
This is a zone of simple shelters and rough unformed tracks and is the preferred abode of the remote hutter.
A parallel universe in which there is great beauty and the opportunity to experience true wilderness solitude. Places where
risk and challenge, are essential ingredients of the journey.
The need for a connection with nature, solitude and challenge, seems deeply wired in some of our species.
This powerful enigmatic drive propels us out of air-conditioned offices and cosy suburbs into the remote valleys
where crude shelters beckon with a curl of smoke from their chimneys, and the view takes the breath away.
Demand for the remote hut experience is not likely to lessen, more so
as pressure, mostly from overseas, increases on a finite resource. Management of the tourism/ recreation interface has been
poor and piecemeal and led to overcrowding and rationing
on the more popular walking circuits and National Parks.
The wilderness is commodified in outdoor magazines, and packaged and flogged off to consortiums interested only in profits.
The two-tier hut and track system that has come into being is probably not such a bad thing, and in many ways an inevitable development.
It's pretty clear now too, that the future of low use facilities will be in the hands of the community groups and individuals,
rather than governmental agencies. This is great as it ensures they'll be looked after a lot better.
EXPERIENCE, PHYSICAL FITNESS, AND
ADEQUATE GEAR AND PROVISIONS ARE ESSENTIAL REQUIREMENTS FOR VENTURING INTO THE REMOTE HUT ZONE.
This means experience in the New Zealand high-country, not Alaska, the Rockies or the Swiss Alps.
Folk need to be able to follow unformed and/ or
overgrown tracks, and to navigate untracked
bush and alpine routes. Many of the huts and bivs on this site are in remote
rugged, settings in which tracks may be overgrown, or non-existent. Some of the huts
can only be approached
by high-altitude routes. If you don't have this type of experience, find a guide who does,
or talk to DOC about an easier walk.
Having the right gear and equipment is essential as high-country weather is extreme and can change from
summer to blizzard in in a matter of hours. The 10km wide strip
from the frontal ranges to just before the Main Divide
on the western side of the Alps gets around 10 metres of rain per anum. Most of the huts on this site are situated
in this band.
The Cropp River in the Whitcombe valley holds NZ's record rainfall measurement, 1049mm rain over a 48 hour period in 1995.
Rivers and side-creeks rise rapidly during heavy rain and become uncrossable, and most of the latter are unbridged.
Following rivers or creeks
needs to be done with caution unless you have prior knowledge
of their navigability. This is due to the numerous waterfalls
and gorges that characterise the
watercourses in this type of terrain.
Alpine crossings above 1500m are likely to be snow covered from winter through to early summer.
The snow tends to burn off below 1800m in most places by late
summer and the tops may remain bare into early winter. Heavy snowfalls are more common in winter, but
can occur at any
time of the year and you need need to be prepared for this.
Ice axes will be needed for some crossings during the colder months, and crampons
and possibly ropes in some cases. Experience and skills gained in alpine
or wilderness areas in other parts of the world are not necessarily going to save your butt to the remote huts zone.
There will probably be a few vital skill sets missing,
usually relating to bush and river travel, and weather.
The bush and snowlines here are much lower than they are in
Europe or parts of North America, which means you can't cross Copland Pass in running shoes.
Some of the feedback we've had on
the travel times posted on the website say that they are unrealistically fast, and some
that they're unrealistically slow.
The times provided are provisional, and only roughly approximate to
what a fit, experienced tramper should be able to do in this type of country.
They should on no account be compared to track times
on tourist grade tracks in National Parks, or other parts of the country. These are calibrated
for the less experienced and fit.
can vary considerably with weather conditions, and change overnight due to slips, washouts and treefall.
Estimates for tops travel are for the snow-free months, late summer and autumn.
Travel can be just as fast in
winter if the snow is firm, or considerably longer if the snow is soft and deep, or icy.
Information, updates, comments and suggestions can be emailed to
firstname.lastname@example.org. This is
also the contact for those interested in joining Permolat and getting involved at a
hands-on level with remote hut and track preservation and maintenance activities.
An electronic invitation will be sent out once your request is received.
This will give you access to our online forum where information is shared and projects organised.
A warm thanks to everyone who
has helped Remote Huts with their time, labour, photos, support, feedback, donations and encouragement
from the Permolat Trust Trustees: Craig Benbow, Andrew Buglass, Joke De Rijke, Alan Jemison,
Paul Reid, Geoff Spearpoint and Hugh van Noorden. 2017.