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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 attention following this. By 2017 it was in need of some fairly urgent repair work. Alastair Macdonald of Permolat got hold of some ORC (now Back Country Trust) funding and got most of this maintenance done in February 2017. The access tracks and routes to Explorer are not officially maintained, but have been kept open by volunteers. Permolat was granted some bulk funding from the Back Country Trust in 2019 to carry out trackwork. Mel Jarratt and friends did some preliminary work and Jane Morris of Birdlings Flat took over the Explorer component and did a major recut of the adjoining tops tracks and additional Hut repairs in 2021. Explorer Hut gets around 20 visits a year, mostly from the Mikonui side, with a few parties coming via the Doctors Creek route from the Hokitika. A fair proportion of the hut's visitors are hunters, and there is quite a few deer in both the upper Mikonui and Doctors catchments.


Map BV18. Grid Ref: E1431670/ N5236720 (BV18 317 367). Altitude 460m. Explorer Hut is located on Douglas Saddle between the Mikonui and Doctors Creek catchments, both of which run along the Great Alpine Fault. Explorer Hut is a relatively easy 2-3 hour walk from the Mikonui roadend or 54-5 hours from the Hokitika side via Doctors Creek, making it a great little overnighter. There is a great feeling of deep-bush ambience around the Hut and ruru, kea, weka, kaka, kakariki and the odd friendly bush robin provide the acoustics and entertainment. There are whio down in Doctors Creek and powelliphanta shells have been found around Douglas Saddle and on the Fraser Peak track. For those visiting in summer, mossie nets or repellent are recommended, as the little critters come down the chimney at night.

Explorer Hut location


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 January 2020. 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 has altered a little since the flood of December 2019 and would be difficult now if the River was flowing higher than normal. It's river travel from here with the odd ford necessary including one to the TL to avoid a bluff just below the Kaka Creek confluence. From here up it is a question of finding the best line, fording where appropriate. Ford the Mikonui to the TR at Explorer Creek (the Mikonui veers sharply south-east here). Head up Explorer Creek for around 400m, exit on the TL and follow a grassy corridor 200m to the toe of the hill. The track heads uphill here at around E1431280/ N5235970 (BV18 313 360). 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 tracked portions of the route were trimmed and marked in 2020.

The route into Doctors Creek from the Hokitika side is over Murray Saddle and was recut and marked in 2020. The start of the route can be accessed from the Hokitika Gorge. A tracked section up the TL of the Hokitika from the Gorge swingbridge is in the process of being benched to extend the Gorge tourist circuit. From the top end of the gorge the river can be followed to Minnow Creek. 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 where the track exits on the TR (E1436288/ N5239724) and climbs steeply up the the bush faces on the TR of the Creek. The terrain levels at around 240m altitude and the track drops back into Minnow Creek and follows it for 1.5km towards Murray Saddle. The track crosses the Saddle and drops into Surveyors Creek which is followed down to the large side-creek on the TL at E1433529/ N5239561. Head up the side-creek for around 400m to where the track exits on the TL and climbs over a wedge of terrace before dropping into Doctors Creek. Follow the river to the Smith Gorge which is tracked on the TR, then a section of boulderhopping to a second small gorge that is also tracked on the TR. The river is followed from here to Bramhall Creek. The going is bouldery and multiple crossings required are very easy 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 on the Saddle just below the Hut provides chopper access.


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 on it 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 high water table, tends to be a splasher. The chimney was replaced, had a cowling added, and the hearth was renewed in 1971. The fireplace smokes unless the end louvre is opened a tad.


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; Alan Jemison, Liz Stephenson, Mike O’Connell, Geoff Spearpoint, and Antony Johnson, 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. 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. Emma Richardson gave the interior and a clean and first coat at the end of 2017. I did a bit more sealing in early 2018. In 2021 Jane's crew put in a new fire surround and finished off the interior ply work.


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 has was recut and marked by Jane's crew in 2021. The track starts on the NW edge of the helipad and heads up the lower slopes of the Bald Hill Range, crosses a small creek, 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. 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 (BV18 315 372)) and marked with permolat isn't that spacious or comfortable looking and 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 opened up 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 2017. Access to the start of the track is from the Totara valley road. There is a routered sign at a bend in the road between Rocky Gully and Long Creek. Ford the Totara and follow the TR 50m down past Weir Creek. The start of the route (E1425523/ N5241277) is marked with cruise-tape and passes through some grassy clearings being recolonised by gorse to an old logging road (E1425612/ N5241273) which is followed for around 800m. The entrance to the old miners track is cruise-taped at a bend where the road veers North (E1426083/ N5241057). The track 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 route starts from here and heads SE up onto a prominent ridge that leads up to the open tussock and it is easy travel 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 and Ted Brennan of Bold Head has done some more trackwork on the old packtrack section at the bottom of the route. Allow 7-8 hours for the traverse from the Totara to Explorer.

An old NZFS track onto the Miserable Ridge tops starts directly behind Explorer Hut. An old NZFS track onto the Miserable Ridge tops starts directly behind Explorer Hut. It was recut for the first time in many decades by volunteers in 2017-18 and given a thorough trim and marking to Point 1122m by Jane's team in July 21. It climbs steeply up the bush faces onto a more defined ridge that connects with a flat area of open tops at the 1100m mark. There are a few small tarns on this section which leads to a second steep pitch up onto Miserable Ridge proper. The route transects a second band of alpine scrub through which a trail has been roughly cut in most places. Miserable Ridge is a total misnomer for this high-altitude tussock bench sprinkled with large tarns and idyllic camping spots. It is possible to do a tops circuit from here over Mt. Bowen to Mikonui Biv. The Miserable Ridge side of the traverse to Mikonui Biv has one steep quite exposed section between 1550 and 1650m. It is also possible drop off Pt. 1433m down an old NZFS ridge track on the TL of Illusion Creek to Rapid Creek Hut in the Hokitika. This track was recut and marked in 2017 and starts at the bottom end at the Rapid Creek swingbridge which is currently closed due to flood damage. The short section up Rapid Creek to the bridge from the Hokitika has also been flood damaged.

An 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 has not been maintained from the early 1970's, perhaps earlier, and is not followable anymore. The best and most reliable way to access Mikonui Spur Biv from Explorer is to head back down the Mikonui to the maintained access track that starts at the Dickson River.

Work Still To be Done

The cladding on the NW corner is still fastened with small flathead nails that will need replacing with tech screws in the medium term.

Provisions on Site

An extra mattress, two small trestle seats, a pot, pan, a billy, a teapot, a broom, a spare broom handle, three plastic plates, an axe, two galvanised buckets, a plastic bucket, a small coal shovel, a hearth brush and some rat poison. There is a paint tray, roller and extension, a large and a small paintbrush. There is a small quantity of Tech-screws, some Janola,white top coat paint (5 litres), water-based white primer (10 litres), water-based white (8 litres), Exterior Orange (3.5 litres) a scrubbing brush There are two spare louvre panes under the bunk. Under the Hut are the bits of cladding and roofing iron that were removed in the renovations.