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Johnson Hut

Johnson Hut

(Johnson Hut 2015)

Maintenance Status

Johnson hut is now covered under the general maintenance agreement Permolat has with DOC. The Johnson valley is zoned as "remote experience," meaning existing facilities may be maintained, but not necessarily replaced. The access tracks haven't been maintained for many years. In the autumn of 2015 Jason Campbell and Mayer Levy of Permolat, and Bruce Polkinghorn, went in did some major repairs, painting, and scrub clearance around the Hut. DOC Westport provided the materials, and DOC Westport and Karamea Helicopter Charters shared the costs for the flights.

Location

Mokihinui catchment. Map BQ22. Grid Ref: E1539566/ N5409093 (BQ22 396 091). Altitude 392m. Johnson Hut is situated on the TR of the Johnson River, 1.7 km above its confluence with the North Branch of the Mokihinui River. The Hut is 70m further West from the River than marked on the topo map in a small clearing surrounded by scattered regenerating silver beech which merges with taller forest North of the Hut. Johnson Hut is mostly a fly-in facility that gets around two walk-in parties per years. There are around five fly-in parties per year, mainly for trout fishing, and the rest for deer, or goat hunting.

Access

The Johnson River lies on an historic mining/ prospecting route that linked the Wangapeka and Lyell pack tracks. Hunters arrived much later in the piece. The original blazed tracks were severely damaged by the 1929 earthquake and never repaired to their original standard. By 1979 the track from Piano Creek in the Little Wanganui River over Kiwi Saddle had become overgrown. It's unlikely that there has been any official track maintenance since then, although some informal marking and cutting has been done from time to time. The original trackline is still marked on the current Topo map and while it can be followed in most places, it is generally quicker to make your own route.

The Johnson Hut route commences an old routered sign on the TR of Piano Creek, just up from its junction with the Little Wanganui River. It climbs up onto the terrace, sidles SE into Kiwi Creek and follows the creek's TL bank. There is quite a bit of windthrow at the bottom end, most of which can be avoided by sidling on the uphill side. Alternately, continue along the the Wangapeka Track until about 50m West of the Kiwi Creek confluence and head up the Creek between the two areas of windthrow. It is a mix of bush and stream travel further up, with the last section to Kiwi Saddle on the TR.

There is a side-track that goes West from the Saddle past a clearing with great views, and continues up Silver Creek. The main Johnson valley track drops from the Saddle through boggy scrub into Silver Creek where it follows an old blazed on the TL. It is also possible to climb East and circle above the scrub through open bush before dropping to the track. The track crosses Silver Creek and follows the TR of the Johnson. It is reasonably easy travel, albeit rough underfoot in places. An impressive gorge is bypassed upstream of Fugel Creek after which it is fairly easy river travel, with the odd bush detour where trees have collapsed into the water. The old trackline is not well marked except for a short permolatted section around a small gorge and the track below Little Fugel Creek is scrubby and boggy and it is easier to stick to the River. A sign on the riverbed marks the track up to the Hut which crosses a grassy clearing on the way. Allow two days from the Little Wanganui roadend to Johnson Hut; 2.5 hours from the roadend to Bell Town Hut, 3.5 hours from here to Kiwi Saddle, 1.5 hours to Fugel Creek, and four for the remainder to Johnson Hut. The Return trip is a bit quicker.

There is a helipad East of the hut on the grassy clearing near the River.

Type

Johnson Hut is an unlined four-bunker with an open fire built in 1957 by the NZFS Nelson Conservancy. The materials were air-dropped by a Beaver plane. The Hut predates the S81 design that eventually became Service's high-country standard. There were only small number built, the only other remaining example being Kakapo Hut in the Karamea catchment. The Hut has a single four-pane window which is a characteristic of the early Nelson Conservancy huts and had a skylight was retrofitted at some stage. Its interior is plastered with visitor names dating back to 1967.

Condition

In 2015 Jason and his crew managed to prep, spot prime, and apply two coats of paint to the Hut exterior before rain hit. They installed two new twin-pane glass windows, to replace the screwed-in perspex ones. They realigned the riverstone/sand hearth in the fireplace, and replaced the inner iron heat shield, and reconditioned the wood-box. The vegetation around the Hut was opened up, and the Hut given a general spruce-up and clean. The downside of the Hut's mainly fly-in traffic is an accumulation of bottle an cans (mostly alcohol), and other rubbish. Sadly there are still enough of these types in fishing and hunting fraternities to give everyone else in them a bad name. If you are flying in please take out what you bring in (more if possible), and leave the hut clean and well provisioned for the next person.

Routes

Johnson Hut can be accessed from Mokihinui roadend via the Mokihinui and Hemphill rivers and Johnson Ridge. This is an untracked route which takes around three days. Day one takes you to the Mokihinui Forks and a second fairly long day to lakes Phyllis, or Marina. From The lakes it is around seven hours up and over Johnson Ridge to the Hut. According to Dave Pratt, anyone attempting this route should have a fondness for subalpine scrub, however he adds that the Hemphill River is a joy, with a feeling of remoteness second to none.

Johnson Hut can be accessed upriver from the North Branch of the Mokihinui. This is not an easy route, and can only be done when River flows are very low. Numerous crossings are required in the gorge, including a two-jump crossing using a rock in the middle of a deep channel that could be difficult and potentially dangerous with a heavy pack.

Repairs needed

Rain prevented the roof and wood-box from being painted during the 2015 maintenance. Enough paint and a small paint brush were left inside the hut to finish this off. Many of the leadhead nails on the roof are in poor condition and need replacing with tech screws. DOC Westport will try and get this done at some point.

Provisions On Site

Four mattresses, two aluminium basins, a plastic bucket, a broom, a hearth brush and shovel, a small hand saw, an axe, a billy, a frypan, a small paint brush, and a quantity of paint.