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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. 24 visits were recorded in 2017, a fair proportion of of which were hunters, and there is quite a bit of deer sign down in the Mikonui below the Hut.


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


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 Explorer Creek to the toe of the hill. The track exits on the TL and follows a grassy corridor 200m to where the track heads uphill 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 tracked portions of the route were trimmed and marked in 2017.

The route into Doctors Creek from the Hokitika side is over Murray Saddle and is accessed from the Hokitika Gorge. The tracked section of this route up the TL of the Hokitika from the Gorge to Minnow Creek is now 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. From Minnow Creek to Vanina Creek was recut in June 2018 by Eigill Wahlberg. The bit from Bramhall Creek to the Hut was recut in 2016. 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. This section could do with another trim. 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. Some scrub clearance was done in August 2016 to make it more user friendly.


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.


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. 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. 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.


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 and marked in 2016/17. There is plenty of deer sign around point 1122m and further up the ridge. 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.

Another old NZFS track went directly up onto Mikonui Spur from the upper Mikonui River, opposite the start of the track up to Douglas Saddle. Although permolatted it wasn't maintained from the early 1970's, perhaps earlier, and is probably not followable anymore. 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, plus some beading (flat 5m, corner 3m) and small panel pins. DOC are willing to backload materials in for this job if anyone is interested. Emma intends giving the interior a second coat at some point. 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 small 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 marking and a bit more trimming. The Miserable Ridge track needs marking at the top end and a few more markers at the bottom. The track from the Hut to Bramhall Creek needs a bit more of a trim.

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 jolthead nails (90x3.55) and hex-bolts, 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, cupboard, some rimu framing, and roofing iron that were removed in the renovations.