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About Remote Huts

Top Olderog Biv

(Top Olderog Biv in the Arahura catchment: Photo Andrew Buglass 2004)

Origins Of The Website

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

Permolat is an online group set up in conjunction with the website which currently has over 260 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. com/groups/permolat.

In 2013 Permolat received some seeding funding from DOC for work on maintenance projects in the remote Hut area. From 2014 onward we have made regular use of the new High Country Consortium to access funding for high-country projects.

The Permolat Trust, a registered charity, was formed in 2014 allows us to manage the increased complexity of funding and project organisation, and a management agreement formalised with DOC to allow us to do this.

Donations

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, you can donate to 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.

Area of Operation

The Remote Huts website currently profiles 67 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. In 2017 Alastair Macdonald started a Permolat Southland Group www.facebook.com/groups/222367988262777/

Our Aim

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 21 minimal maintenance huts and their access routes in the Westland conservancy.

A Brief History

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 reasons. DOC continues to be chronically underfunded and is subjected to regular, usually pointless, and ultimately destructive internal restructures.

Responses From Remote Hut Users

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.

The DOC 2003/ 4 High-Country Review

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.

Minimal Maintenance

DOC defines minimal maintenance as, two-yearly inspections 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 Community Hut and Track Projects

2005: recutting an unmaintained section of the Kokatahi valley from Boo Boo Hut to the Twins swingbridge. 2006: Scottys Biv designated for removal in 2004, was our first maintain-by-community project with myself as signatory. 2007: Permolat cut the tracks in the upper Waitaha and County valleys, which were no longer being officially maintained. 2008: Mid Styx Hut repiling and reflooring (Mark Mellsop-Melssen signatory). 2010 Funding and volunteer input provided for Eddie Newman and Julia Bradshaw's Mt. Brown Hut project. 2011: Recutting of the upper Waitaha and County valley tracks after they were damaged by severe storms. 2012: Peter Robins of Christchurch took on Polluck Hut as a maintain-by-community project. 2013: Jason Campbell organised a combined Permolat/ DOC initiative to repair and restore the historic Kakapo Hut in the Karamea valley. 2014: 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. Permolat members working collaboratively with DOC installed of a watertank at Yeats Ridge Hut in the Toaroha valley. Top Waitaha Hut was repainted and received minor repairs, The complete restoration Old Julia Hutwas carried out by Max Dorfliger. Lower Olderog Biv was painted and had floor and frame repairs. Tunnel Creek Hut received a major overhaul and paint, 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. 2015: The access track to Newton Biv was reopened. Mullins Basin Hut in the Toaroha repainted by the Brennan family of Ross and Hokitka. Serpentine Hut was repiled, painted and the long-abandoned track linking it with the Hokitika roadend recut and marked. Johnson Hut was painted and repaired by Jason campbell and Co. in collaboration with DOC Westport Karamea Helicopters. 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. Geoff Spearpoint and friends fixed up the Roaring Billy Hut in the lower Haast valley, and recut the tracks. Rob Brown and friends gave Mungo Hut a major makeover. 2016: Newton Biv in the Styx valley was re-roofed by Bruce McLelland, an ex FS culler. Geoff Spearpoint rennovated Thomas River Hut in the lower Haast valley reopened its accees tracks. 2017: Rob Brown completely restored Newton Creek Hut in the Arahura valley in a joint Consortium/ DOC/ permolat project. Jason Campbell, Mayer Levy and friends did up Greys Hut in the Karamea and Alastair Macdonald and friends did some major maintenance on Explorer Hut in the Mikonui. Paul Reid of Christchurch carried out maintenance on Top Trent Hut, Campbell Biv in the Arahura valley, and Frisco Hut in the Hokitika.

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, Kowai, Bull Creek, Lochinvar Huts, and Turnbull Biv. The Biv jobs have been major makeovers in most cases. This work can be viewed on Canterbury Remote Basic Hut Restorations; www.facebook.com/groups/341718286036736/.

Non-Permolat Projects

The maintain-by-community movement has started gaining traction outside of Permolat on the Coast. GraemeJackson 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. In February this year a team lead by Kevin Riley renovated Ivory Lake Hut in the head of the Waitaha. 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 year. The makeover will include repiling, waterproofing and installing a water tank.

Volunteer Trackwork

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.

Planned Projects

Paul Reid is planning maintenance on Sir Robert Hut in the Mungo, and Yeats Hut in the Toaroha. Rob Brown is planning some more comprehensive maintenance on Crystal Biv in the Toaroha in August or September.Permolat Trust recently agreed to take over temporary management of Mt. Brown Hut from Eddie Newman and Julia Bradshaw. Mt. Brown has become an unprecedented success and is being targeted by overseas travelers, putting quite a strain on the tiny structure and resources. We'll be looking at solutions for what looks like being the Hut's high-use future. A new maintain-by-community contract has been signed by Permolat's Hugh Van Noorden for Otehake Hut and track, on the western side of Arthurs Pass National Park. Hugh looks to be planning some maintenance in the coming finer months.

Funding

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. The most recent and significant development for remote hutters was 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 has gone to an Outdoor Recreation Consortium, an alliance of The Federated Mountain Club (FMC), Deerstalkers Association and TRAILS (a mountain biking organisation) The ORC got to bid for funds from a pool each year and this got divvied between the three organisations. It got $700K in the first round and $550k in the second to distribute. More recently the three groups have formed the Backcountry Trust which will continue along the lines of the ORC. 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 to 17. This has resulted in our most productive and prolific period of project work.

Ruahine Online Group

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.

How You Can Help

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.

DOC Involvement And Recent Changes

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 projects they 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 accompany 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.

Remaining Barriers

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 procedures.

Risk of the managed variety, as all high-country users know, is an integral part of the challenge and mystique of any remote experience. The various 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 Back-Country System

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 unnecessary structures. Humourless and unnecessary 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 self-reliance, self-sufficiency, risk and challenge, are essential ingredients of the journey.

A Short Summary

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.

Remote Safety Issues And The Ubiquitous Disclaimer

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.

Track And Travel Times On This Website

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. Track times 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.

Contact Us or Join Permolat

Information, updates, comments and suggestions can be emailed to andrewbuglass62@gmail.com. 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.

Thanks

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.