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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 network of remote high-country huts and bivouacs in central Westland that were unmaintained, or poorly maintained, and under potential threat of removal at the time by the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Permolat

Permolat is an online group set up in conjunction with the website and has over 300 members from diverse backgrounds and localities. Over time the group has developed into an active collective that now maintains a fair number of remote huts and their access tracks, that DOC was no longer able or willing to. Permolat has also become a strong lobbying voice for the retention of the more basic structures and networks. Although these demand much higher levels of skill and experience than your average Great Walk or tourist track, they provide a wonderful alternative to the DOC managed and promoted circuits that are often crowded or increasingly booked out. The online medium has proved to be a highly effective means of connecting a widely dispersed group of remote high-country enthusiasts. Permolat also has a Facebook Page www.facebook. com/groups/permolat that provides a more open platform for group and non-group members alike.

Permolat Trust

The Permolat Trust was formed and became a registered charity in 2014 in order to manage the increased complexity of funding required for the larger maintenance projects. A management agreement drawn up with DOC around the same time has allowed us to move away from individual hut maintenance contracts to a more general area-wide arrangement.

Donations

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 and 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 from the 1950's through to the 1970's, principally for animal control, but also with recreation in mind.

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, as well as the Group's activities. We want to encourage and motivate all high-country users to get involved in trackwork and hut maintenance in the areas where DOC is no longer able. In previous decades we've had it laid on for us by Government agencies, and an expectation developed that some department will always be around to keep these networks oiled and running. This hasn't been the case for some time and it's time for user groups to get involved and take some ownership.

A Brief History

Around 150 huts and a connecting network of tracks and bridges were built by the NZFS, or Lands and Survey on the western side of the Southern Alps from the late 1950's to the early 1980's. Their primary function was to provide shelter for government cullers employed to curb an exploding introduced red deer population that was seriously damaging high-country ecosystems. There was also a recreational ethos underlying hut construction from the mid-1960's, as evidenced by building activity continuing for quite some time after foot cullers were phased out the early 1970's. The networks on Crown Land and National Parks along with huts built by various alpine clubs provided New Zealand's outdoor community with a dream network of remote accommodation and trails.

In the 1986 the newly created Department of Conservation took over management of high-country resources, but under much more stringent funding regimes. Attempts early on by DOC 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. The Department has continued to prioritise funding on the more popular, high-use huts and walks, many of which now cater mostly for overseas visitors. The less frequently used Huts and tracks started becoming run down or dilapidated. Footbridges that were washed away or damaged were 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, creating a spiral of disuse, which eventually led removal of structures, often merely for accounting or liability avoidance (a.k.a. safety) reasons. DOC continues to be chronically underfunded and has been subjected in recent years to regular, usually pointless, and ultimately destructive, internal restructures.

Responses From Remote Hut Users

There was a considerable delayed response from hut users to this gradual running down of back-country facilities. We'd had it so good for so long that a sense of entitlement and expectation had developed. Surely someone would eventually turn up and fix things if we just kept complaining. Unfortunately the golden era was over and it wasn't coming back and a few pragmatic and caring individuals recognised this and started working on the trails themselves, and keeping the odd hut provisioned and in good order. These unofficial adoptions had a positive impact on levels of use and may have influenced DOC to continue some form of ongoing maintenance, but they were ad-hoc and didn't extend to the majority of the at-risk structures. What was needed 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 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 were designated for removal. Some vigorous lobbying from high-country groups resulted in a bit of shuffling around and a few huts being brought back from remove status. The huts that weren't considered salvable can be viewed in our Removed Or Lost Huts Archive.

Minimal Maintenance

DOC defined minimal maintenance as minor maintenance to keep structures sanitary and watertight, however if a hut became no longer weatherproof, safe or sanitary, it would be removed. The irony at the time was that the cost of removal, if spent instead on maintenance, would have have kept most huts sound and weatherproof for 15-30 years. It was pretty obvious that the minimal maintenance regime would inevitably lead to the loss by slow attrition of all 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. The corresponding public outcry and the strong negative publicity about removal of high country huts caused DOC to backtrack a little. Permolat's instant popularity and rapid transition into a working collective led to a corresponding a softening in DOC's stance towards community maintenance of huts and tracks. The first maintain-by-community contract for a hut was signed in 2006, and by 2013 hut removal was off DOC's agenda nationally.

Permolat's Community Hut and Track Projects

2005: reopening the Kokatahi valley tracks from Boo Boo Hut to the Twins swingbridge. 2006: The first maintain-by-community contract was signed Scottys Biv in the Taipo valley. Scottys was designated for removal in DOC's 2004 Review. 2007: Tracks recut in the upper Waitaha and County valleys (no longer officially maintained). 2008: Mid Styx Hut repiled and refloored. 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: Polluck Hut in the Kakapotahi valley became a maintain-by-community project. 2013: A combined Permolat/ DOC initiative to repair and restore the historic Kakapo Hut in the Karamea valley. 2014: Maintain-by-community contracts Serpentine Hut and Mungo Hut in the Hokitika catchment and Tunnel Creek Hut in the Paringa valley. A Permolat/ DOC collaboration installing a watertank at Yeats Ridge Hut in the Toaroha valley, Top Waitaha Hut was repainted and received minor repairs, the historic Old Julia Hut in the Taipo valley was rennovated, Lower Olderog Biv in the Arahura was painted and repaired, Tunnel Creek Hut received a major overhaul and paint, and the access track recut, and Crystal Biv in the Toaroha valley had some repair work done. 2015: The access track to Newton Biv was reopened. Mullins Basin Hut in the Toaroha repainted, 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,the track to Cone Creek Hut in the Haupiri valley was cut and marked. Maintenance was done on Top Crooked Hut and Top Trent Hut and their access routes, and the upper Waitaha valley was recut. Major maintenance was carried out on Roaring Billy Hut in the lower Haast valley, and the recutting of the access track commenced. Mungo Hut was given a a major makeover, Newton Biv was re-roofed, and renovations carried out on Thomas River Hut in the lower Haast valley. Its access tracks were also done. 2017: A complete restoration of Newton Creek Hut in the Arahura valley as a joint DOC/ Permolat project. Greys Hut in the Karamea valley was repaired and major maintenance done on Explorer Hut in the Mikonui. Maintenance was carried out on Top Trent Hut, Campbell Biv in the Arahura valley, and Frisco Hut in the Hokitika. Otehake Hut on the western side of Arthurs Pass National Park also got a major makeover. 2018 projects carried out so far are the repainting of Top Crooked and Frisco huts, and the re-roofing and painting Sir Robert Hut in the Mungo valley. A recce, minor maintenance, and trackwork was carried out at County Hut in the Waitaha. In April a major makeover of Healey Creek Hut in the Mikonui was commenced. The Hut was re-roofed, had a water tank installed, and re-piling was started and will be finished along with painting in the Spring. The access track was recut in June.

Permolat's Canterbury members have been really gearing up on the Eastern side of the Alps, particularly in the last year with Backcountry Trust funding, and DOC Canterbury becoming more amenable to community input. Their projects include Minchin, Murphys, Veil, Candlesticks, MacKenzie, Glenrae, Turnbull and Ant Stream Bivs, Kowai, Bull Creek, Lochinvar, and Glenrae Huts. Work has started on Puketeraki 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/. The Veil Biv project can be viewed at www.facebook.com/groups/veilbiv/

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. In February 2017 a team lead by Kevin Riley renovated Ivory Lake Hut in the head of the Waitaha.

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 can now use brush bars and potentially chainsaws, although the health and safety hoops we have to jump through, even with fully ticketed members, are still pretty much unworkable at a practical level.

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 OK to cut an overgrown track. We see this as a healthy paradigm shift back to a community empowerment model. DOC's recent change of focus to community partnership has been timely with regard to this.

Planned Projects

Paul Reid is planning more maintenance at Yeats Hut in the Toaroha, and to finish maintenance on Campbell Biv. Rob Brown is planning some 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 a high-use future. Hugh van Noorden has taken over interim responsibility, and has done a toilet shift. Hugh is also planning some trackwork in the Otehake valley in conjunction with the Otehake Hut renovations. Geoff Spearpoint plans to go back into the County this coming spring, do more maintenance, and repaint the Hut. Tom Hayes and his crew will be going back up to Healey Creek Hut around the same time to finish re-piling and painting the Hut. Ted Brennan of Bold Head is planning to do some painting and sealing work on Mikonui Spur Biv some time in the not too distant future.

Funding

For the first 10 years of its existence, Permolat's funding for various projects came solely from donations by the many generous individuals who supported our cause. Earth Sea Sky gave us our first big donation of $4000, then in 2013 institutional recognition came in the form of a $10,000 seeding grant from DOC. In 2014 we saw the establishment of the Community Conservation Partnership Fund from which DOC would distribute $26 million over a four year period to local communities to support volunteers doing conservation and recreation work in the high country. A portion of this went to an outdoor recreation, recently renamed the Backcountry Trust, which is an alliance of The Federated Mountain Club (FMC), Deerstalkers Association and TRAILS (a mountain biking organisation) www.backcountrytrust.org.nz/. The Trust will bid for funds from a pool each year and divvy it between the three organisations. It usually manages to secure 3-400K per annum. This represents a devolution of DOC's functions to the community sector, and although there most likely to be cost cutting motive in there somewhere, from Permolat's perspective it's one of the best thing that could have happened as it gives a significant degree of ownership back to user groups.

Ruahine Online Group and Permolat Southland

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.

In 2017 Alastair Macdonald, A Permolat Trust member, moved to Southland and set up a Permolat group there. This group had its charitable status approved in October. www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=permolat%20southland.

How You Can Help

Permolat wants to promote a culture of community ownership and responsibility for remote high-country facilities. This includes track and hut checks and maintenance, but also keeping tabs on things for us so we can update the website in real-time. 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, any changes, and use the contact link to provide 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 their fully maintained huts, but let us know 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

DOC staff on the Coast have always been supportive of Permolat and regularly assist us and other community groups with projects. They have often provided materials, hut paint under the Dulux scheme, and backloads of materials to hut sites when doing their own 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. Permolat Trust has a general Management Agreement with the Department that allows us to undertake larger projects. 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. Previously recalcitrant and often obstructive conservancies have started behaving much more nicely to community groups. A sure indication a bit of trickle down from the higher echelons.

Remaining Barriers

There are still a few tensions at the volunteer/ DOC interface, the most common and irritating being the bureaucratic and regulatory ones. DOC despite having plenty of goodwill, is paralysed by some of it's own processes, 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 could have been a simple shift valley floor to mountain top, but ended up as a 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 as 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 simple and vital 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, 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. Managed risk, 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, elaborate and unnecessary structures abound surrounded by clusters of humourless and unnecessary warning signs. The second tier exists off the radar of Instagram 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 still 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 a part of the primordial wiring in many of us. This powerful enigmatic drive propels us out of air-conditioned offices and cosy cafes into the remote valleys where crude shelters beckon with a curl of smoke from their chimneys, and the views take the breath away. Demand for the remote hut experience is not likely to lessen, particularly 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 corporates. The two-tier hut and track system that has come into being is 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. You foreign outdoor types are going to be lacking a few unique skill sets essential for a happy and safe passage here, regardless of what you think. These relate mostly to bush and river travel, unformed and/ or overgrown tracks, untracked bush and alpine routes, and weather!! 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. 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. 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. If you are not experienced in all of the above, find a guide who is, or talk to DOC about an easier walk.

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. 2018.