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Explorer Hut

Explorer Hut

(Explorer Hut: Alastair Macdonald 2017)

Maintenance status

Explorer Hut was designated as minimal maintenance by DOC in 2004, but didn't get any, and by 2017 was in need of some fairly urgent repair work. Alastair Macdonald of Permolat got hold of some ORC funding and got most of this maintenance done in February 2017. The tracked sections of the access routes to Explorer from the Mikonui and Hokitika River roadends are not officially maintained, but have been kept open by various Permolat people. Explorer Hut gets around a dozen visits a year, mostly from the Mikonui side, and since Eigill Wahlberg recut the Doctors Creek access from the Hokitika valley, a few more parties have been coming in that way. A fair proportion of Hut users are hunters, and there is quite a bit of deer sign down in the Mikonui below the Hut.

Location

Map BV18. Grid Ref: E1431670/ N5236720. Altitude 460m. Explorer Hut is located on Douglas Saddle, between the Mikonui River, and Doctors Creek, a tributary of the lower Hokitika. The river catchments on both sides and the Saddle itself lie on the Great Alpine Fault. Explorer Hut is an easy 3-4 hour trip up from the Mikonui roadend when river levels are normal, making it a great little overnighter with remote deep-bush ambience. Access from the Hokitika side via Doctors Creek can be done in a day by a fit, experienced party, but is longer and rougher going. Powelliphanta shells have been found around Douglas Saddle and on the Fraser Peak track, and seven whio (blue duck) were spotted in Doctors Creek between Bramhill and Surveyors Creeks in 2013. Ruru, kea, weka, kaka and the odd friendly bush robin provide for the acoustics and some entertainment around the Hut. For those visiting in summer, it is recommended that you take some mossie nets or repellent, as the little critters come down the chimney at night.

Explorer Hut location

Access

The route to Explorer Hut from the Mikonui roadend is mostly river travel with two short tracked sections. The first of these is around the TL of a small gorge just upstream from the Dickson River confluence, and was recut and marked in August 2015. The current topo map shows the track continuing all the way up to Murdoch Creek, whereas in reality it drops straight back into River the at the top end of the gorge some distance downriver from it. A ford is required at the top of the gorge to the TR. This is groin deep and although not swift flowing, would be difficult if the River was any more than normal flow. Continue up the TR to a bluffy section 400m below the Kaka Creek confluence. Ford back to the TL and cross Kaka Creek. From here up it is a question of finding the best line, fording where appropriate. Ford to the TR at Explorer Creek where the Mikonui veers sharply south-east here. A large orange triangle marks the start of a trail of cruise tape and cairns that leads up a dry watercourse, then through patchy scrub to the toe of the hill where the track proper starts (around E1431280/ N5235970). It climbs steeply up the bush faces for around 20 minutes, then sidles a short distance around to Douglas Saddle. The Hut is located in a small clearing backing on to podocarp forest, just above the Saddle.

The route into Doctors Creek from the Hokitika side is over Murray Saddle and is accessed from the Hokitika Gorge. The tracked sections of this route, including a section up the TL of the Hokitika from the Gorge to Minnow Creek, were recut and remarked in early 2015 by Eigill Wahlberg. If the Hokitika is low it is quicker to walk from the locked gate at the roadend on the TR of the Hokitika and ford the Hokitika opposite Minnow Creek.

Follow the creekbed of Minnow Creek initially to the start of the track, which climbs steeply up the TR of Minnow Creek. The track crosses to the TL where the terrain flattens, then back to the TR a bit further up. It drops from Murray Saddle into Surveyors Creek which is followed down to a large side-creek on the TL. Head up the side-creek a short distance, then over a flat ridge and down into Doctors Creek. Travel to the Smith Gorge is along the river flats, then a section of track on the TR around the Gorge. It is boulderhopping from here to Bramhall Creek including a second small gorge that can be walked through at normal flows. The track up to the Saddle starts 140m up Bramhall Creek on the TL and goes up the ridge between Doctors and Bramhall Creeks for 5-10 minutes before leveling and passing through an area of podocarp forest. Allow 4-6 hours from Minnow Creek to Explorer Hut. Add an extra hour if you are traveling up the riverbed from the Hokitika Gorge.

An open clearing bang on the Saddle and just below the Hut, provides chopper access. Some scrub clearance was done in August 2016 to make it more user friendly.

Type

Explorer Hut is an NZFS 4-bunk S81 design with open fire, probably built in the early 1960's, perhaps a bit earlier. Derrick Field recalls visiting it in 1964 and says it had already a few years old at that stage. Explorer was lined, had the cupboard on one side of the door removed, and a roof-fed water tank added at some point. It has a toilet, which because of the the high water table, tends to be a splasher.

Condition

DOC repainted and resealed Explorer, repaired the roof, and replaced the water tank and stand in March 2004. Permolat started taking more of an interest in Explorer around 2015 when it was became clear that DOC wasn't going to be doing any more work on it. In February 2017 Alastair and his team went in and repiled the Hut, replacing and adding joists and bearers where necessary. Flashings were added at pile level where necessary. Repairs to the chimney and chimney flashing were made. The Hut was re-roofed and had new side flashings and ridging put on. A section of rotten floor, floor plate, studs and dwangs in the cupboard in the SE corner were replaced, and the cupboard removed. Repairs were made to rotten sections of the window frame, wall and floor on the end wall, and some rotten sections of floor on either side of hearth replaced. The Hut exterior was repainted, a small woodshed built, and drains dug around the Hut to prevent water running underneath. See: www.facebook. com/groups/permolat. I went in a few days later and finished some framing and floor repairs in the NW corner, and gave the exterior its second coat. Thanks a million to Alastair and the work crew, Alan Jemison, Liz Stephenson, Mike O’Connell, Geoff Spearpoint, and Antony Johnson.

Routes

There is an alternative route up Doctors Creek from the Hokitika River confluence, which is longer and rougher going than the Murray Saddle route. It takes around an hour to reach Doctors Creek from the Hokitika Gorge using an old bulldozer track on the TL of the River. Follow Doctors Creek up to the first TR side-creek upstream of Shadow Stream. Follow this up to around the 200m contour line, then exit over a low saddle and continue sidling along the bush faces well above Doctors Creek until the large flat above the first gorge is reached. Drop back into the Creek and boulderhop to the gorge just upstream from Surveyors Creek. This can be negotiated on the TR. Pick up the Murray Saddle route at the next river flat and continue as per this to Explorer. Allow a full day for this route.

An old NZFS track up Fraser Peak from Explorer Hut was given a rough cut and cruise-taped to around 940m in May 2016. From here on it is quite open, easy travel. The track starts on the NW edge of the helipad and heads up the lower slopes of the Bald Hill Range to a small creek. It follows this up for around 400m, then exits on the TL and climbs steeply onto a flat shelf at around 680m. From here it climbs the bush faces onto the eastern ridge of Fraser Peak. From the 940m mark on the ridge the track continues through scattered scrub and open patches and is in surprisingly good order despite not having had any work done on it for well over 40 years. This is probably due to a combination of the infertile granite substrate found on the western side of the alpine fault, and the large amounts of herbicide applied by NZFS on tops tracks in days gone by. There are great views from Fraser Peak of Mt. Bowen, Remarkable Peak and Ragged Peak, and there are three old toppled trig beacons near the summit. A rock biv off the side of the track around the 675m contour (NZTM2000 E1431450 N5237218) marked with permolat would sleep one or two people, but has no handy water supply. Allow 3-4 hours to reach the summit of Fraser Peak, and two hours back down to Explorer Hut.

There is an old track from the Totara Valley up onto Bald Hill, which offers an alternative tops traverse, or circuit to and from Explorer. An old miners bench track up to a stamper battery site at around 450m in the Farmers Creek catchment was recut by Glenn Johnston in 2016. On old cullers track that went from here to the tops was recut and marked by Glenn and myself in Jan/ Feb 2017. Access to the start of the track is from the Totara valley road. Ford the Totara and follow the TR 50m down past Weir Creek. The start of the route is marked with cruise-tape and passes through some grassy clearings being recolonised by gorse to an old logging road which is followed for around 800m. The entrance to the old miners track is cruise-taped at a bend where the road veers North. The old bench goes up the ridge dividing Farmers and Weir Creeks to the battery site (the battery is gone, but there are some old pipes lying around). The cullers track starts here and heads SE up onto a prominent ridge that leads onto the Bald Hill Range. It is easy travel of around a kilometre along the crest of the Range to Bald Hill. The gap between Bald Hill and Fraser Peak is partly tussock and low scrub, with 100 vertical metres of big scrub from around 1030m on the ridge leading up to Fraser Peak. Glenn's cut a rough pilot track and sparsely marked through this. Allow 7-8 hours for the traverse from the Totara to Explorer.

A second ex NZFS track onto the Miserable Ridge tops starts directly behind Explorer Hut was recut to and marked in 2016/17. There is heaps of deer sign around point 1122m, and the small tarns are getting muddied by their activity. It is possible to do a tops circuit from Explorer to Mikonui Biv, over to Rapid Creek Hut. An old NZFS track from Rapid Creek up onto Miserable Ridge was recut by Andrew Friedman in 2017.

There was another old NZFS track that went directly up onto Mikonui Spur from the upper Mikonui River, opposite the start of the track up to Douglas Saddle. Although permolatted it hasn't been maintained since the early 1970's, or perhaps earlier, and may not be followable anymore, particularly in the alpine scrub zone. The best and most reliable way to access Mikonui Spur Biv from Explore is to head back down the Mikonui to the maintained access track that starts at the Dickson River.

Work Still To be Done

The corner where the cupboard was removed still needs lining with two sheets of lining ply, 2x1m. The Hut interior still needs painting. The paint, roller and brushes are under the bunk. I didn't have a ring spanner to re-hex bolt the wall cladding I detached to do the framing in the NW corner, so I've refastened it with good old-fashioned flathead nails. The paint I've reapplied should seal them, but they will need replacing with hex bolts in the medium term. The track up Fraser Peak track needs more markers and a bit more trimming.

Provisions on Site

An extra mattress, two small trestle seats, a pot, pan, a billy, a teapot, a broom, a spare broom handle, an axe, two galvanised buckets, a plastic bucket, a small coal shovel, a hearth brush and some rat poison. There are two spare louvre panes under the bunk. Under the Hut are the bits of cladding, cupboard, some rimu framing, and roofing iron that were removed in the renovations.