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Johnson Hut

Johnson Hut

(Johnson Hut 2015)

Maintenance Status

Johnson hut is designated as minimal maintenance, and is now covered under the general maintain-by-community agreement Permolat has with DOC. The Johnson valley is zoned as "remote experience," meaning existing facilities may be maintained, but not necessarily replaced. The original tracks in the valley 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. 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. This merges into taller forest North of the Hut. Johnson Hut gets around two walk-in parties, per year, usually trampers. 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 route that linked the Wangapeka and Lyell pack tracks and was used by miners and prospectors in its heyday. 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 and down the Johnson River 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 despite being overgrown, it is generally quicker to make your own route.

The route commences on the TR of Piano Creek just up from its junction with the Little Wanganui River, and is marked with an old routered wooden sign. It climbs up onto the terrace, sidles SE into Kiwi Creek and follows the TL bank. The bottom end of the Creek has quite a bit of windthrow, 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 Kiwi 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 an NZFS sign on the Saddle, and a side-track that goes West past a clearing with great views, and continues up Silver Creek. The main Johnson valley track drops from the Saddle into Silver Creek, down through boggy scrub on the TL to an old blazed track in the beech forest. 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 Fugel Creek it is fairly easy river travel for a while, with the odd detour around sections where trees have collapsed into the water. The old trackline is not well marked except for a short permolatted section around a small gorge. It is easier to stick to the River below Little Fugel Creek, avoiding the track, which traverses some wet, scrubby flats. A new sign on the riverbed marks the turnoff up to the Hut with the track crossing a grassy clearing on the way. The trip from the Little Wanganui roadend to Johnson Hut could be done in 10-16 hours by a fit party, but a saner approach would be to allow two days, particularly if you are unfamiliar with the area. Allow 2.5 hours from the roadend to Bell Town Hut, 3.5 hours from here to Kiwi Saddle, another 1.5 hours to Fugel Creek, and four hours from here 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 has a single four-pane window which is a characteristic of the early Nelson Conservancy Huts the hut design predates the S81 model that eventually became the high-country standard. There were only small number built, the only other remaining example being Kakapo Hut in the Karamea catchment. Johnson Hut 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 Johnson Hut's external cladding before rain hit. They installed two new twin-pane glass windows, to replace the screwed-in perspex ones. They reconditioned the fireplace, which meant digging out the accumulated filth, realigning the riverstone/sand hearth, and replacing the inner iron heat shield. They reconditioned the wood-box by installing a pile, and replacing the rotten timber and flat-iron. The vegetation around the Hut was opened up, and the Hut given a general spruce-up and clean. The downside of the all the fly-in traffic is an accumulation of bottles and cans (mostly alcohol), and other rubbish. Sadly, there is still a small group of lazy fuckwits in the fishing and hunting fraternities continuing to give everyone else in them a bad name. Please take out what you bring in, and leave the hut clean and well provisioned for the next person.

Routes

Johnson Hut is occasionally accessed from the Mokihinui River via the Hemphill River and Johnson Ridge. This is an untracked route that takes around three days from the Mokihinui roadend. Allow one day to Mokihinui Forks and a second fairly long one from here 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, but that the Hemphill River is a joy, and has a feeling of remoteness second to none.

Johnson Hut can be accessed upriver from the North Branch of the Mokihinui, although 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 leadheads holding the roofing iron are in poor condition and need replacing with bolts. 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.