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Mt. Brown Hut

Mt. Brown Hut

(Mt. Brown Hut looking South: Photo Andrew Buglass 2010)

Maintenance Status

Mt. Brown Hut is a community initiative undertaken by Eddie Newman and Julia Bradshaw of Hokitika. The Hut began its life as Lower Arahura Hut in the valley of the same name, and spent its first 50 years there. It was a standard NZFS 4-bunk S81 design, built in 1962. When DOC decided to build a new Hut at the site in 2010, Eddie and Julia were able to convince them to fly the dismantled sections of the old hut out to be reassembled on Mt. Brown. The project ended up becoming a total rebuild due to the plethora of building code and safety requirements that didn't exist in the 1960's when the Hut was built. Considerable community input, volunteer labour and donations made it possible for the project to reach fruition. The Permolat Group contributed financially and with volunteer input and the Hut was opened for public use in November 2010. It was an instant success, debuting in Wilderness Magazine, outdoor calendars, DOC posters, and the cover of "Shelter From The Storm," a book on high-country huts by Rob Brown, Geoff Spearpoint and Shaun Barnett. The Hut is now profiled on local tourist brochures and i-Sites and the majority of visitors are now foreign tourists or travellers. The high levels of visitation show no sign of abating. In 2017 Eddie and Julia emigrated to Christchurch and delegated oversight of the Hut to the Permolat Group. Hugh van Noorden from the Permolat Trust has kindly taken on the lead role for the the project.

Mt. Brown Hut has no fixed fee system and is reliant on a koha (donation) for its upkeep. Koha means a contribution, not just donate-if-you-feel-like-it. The Hut has a small firebox and because there is no good wood supply at 1100m, coal needs to be flown in. Supplies tend to get used up very quickly and when it runs out it is not uncommon for less conscientious types to start hacking into the living alpine scrub around the Hut. Contributions also go towards hut maintenance and upkeep of the access tracks. Sadly, the majority of visitors are not donating. This Hut is not DOC funded so don't be freeloader. Donations are payable to Permolat Trust, Kiwibank, 38-9016-0266330-00. Our Charities Registration No. is CC50626. Please specify that the donation is for Mt. Brown so we can earmark it for that purpose.

Links

www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-Kaniere-New-Zealand/Mt-Brown-hut/349616583077 and www.flickr.com/photos/mtbrownhut/.

Location

Styx catchment. Map BV19. Grid Ref: E1452950/ N5252150 (BV19 530 522). Altitude 1120m. Mt. Brown Hut is located above the bushline on the West ridge of Mt. Brown, which is an outlier of the Newton Range. Access up to it is straightforward in most weather and on clear days there are fabulous views of the Southern Alps, Lake Kaniere, and the coastal plain.

Access

There are two routes up to the Hut providing an overnight loop for those interested. The most direct and frequently used is from Geologist Creek on the Dorothy Falls Road that goes around the back of Lake Kaniere. The track starts at a washed out parking area on the South side of the Geologist Creek Bridge. It is generally well marked, but is getting very boggy in places through high use, particularly the sub-alpine section. In April 2019 some diversion channels were installed above the bushline to stop water running down and eroding the trail. Work was also done on some of the boggy areas of track on a flat section of ridge around 900m altitude. Some clearance of flax, toi toi and seedling regrowth was done in conjunction with this.

The track leads from Geologist Creek across the foot of the hill, climbing gently through hardwood forest to a small creek. This is crossed and its TL followed up for a bit, then the trail veers South and climbs steeply up the bush faces onto the SW spur of Mt. Brown. The spur levels for a bit in the sub-alpine zone and then ascends in a series of steps through the scrub to the tussock. There is a small tarn on the Styx side of the ridge just before the tussock is reached. There are few windfalls at the bottom end of the track that can be easily skirted. There are a few patches of Onga Onga (bush nettle) in the mid section that are starting to encroach on the trail. The route is poled from the scrubline to the Hut. Allow 3-4 hours from the start of the track to the Hut depending on fitness.

The other approach to the Hut is from the Styx valley and starts at the large unnamed side-creek known locally as Mt. Brown Creek. Access up the Styx valley is along a rough farm trail that turns off the Dorothy Falls Road at sharp bend 400m North of the Mark Wallace Bridge. There is a DOC carpark at the start of a farm trail which is only useable for a few hundred metres due to flood damage. The farm trail ends after one and a 1/2 kilomtres and the Styx riverbed is followed for a couple of hundred metres to some shingle bluffs which can usually be negotiated at normal flows, but could be difficult or impossible if the River was up. Mt. Brown Creek is five minutes upriver from the bluffs and the Mt. Brown track starts on its TL, 20m up from where the main valley track crosses. The track follows the spur up onto a bush terrace, which it crosses, then climbs up a broad bush face onto the Southern spur of Mt. Brown. The spur flattens at 800m, passing the old Mt. Brown Hut site (the Hut was removed by DOC in 2006). The track continues up the spur to around 1000m, crosses a sub-alpine gully, then resumes its climb up through the scrub towards the tussock line. Snow poles lead up the last portion of the spur through scattered scrub onto a flat tussock bench with a small tarn just below the Hut. Glenn Johnston keeps the track open and did more work on it in May 2019. There is still the odd bit of windthrow that he'll go back and tidy up at some point. Allow around four hours currently from the Styx bluffs to Mt. Brown Hut. Those doing the circuit have a three kilometre walk along the Dorothy Falls Road between carparks.

Type

Transitioning a standard 4-bunk FS design with an open fire to an alpine setting required numerous modifications to meet a host building code and DOC safety standards that didn't exist in 1962. An alcove with a small coal-burning stove replaced the chimney, the original louvre windows were replaced with double-glazed ones, and an extra side window added. The bunks were modified from stand-alone to single upper and lower platforms, an aluminium roof flashing was added to protect kea from lead poisoning (although it hasn't stopped them picking away at it), along with a porch, a deck, a roof-fed water tank, and an outside sink bench. Coal is stored in sacks in the alcove under the Hut. The Hut toilet is a simple NZFS design held in place by warratahs and wire tie-downs.

The Hut has been strengthened to withstand 250kmph winds without tie-downs There are 4.5 tons of concrete in the foundations and the hold-down fastenings are in excess of safety requirements. The Hut is lined with 12mm plywood and the floors are 10mm ply on top of the original rimu tongue and groove. The ceiling lining covers a 300 x 100mm ridge, fastened by 16mm bolts at each end. The framing is fastened with hold-down straps, and the wall studs are at 400mm centres with 25x1x400mm hold-down straps, top and bottom. Hurricane clips were added to the clearlight on the porch six months after the Hut was opened, because it was flexing and tearing around the nails in the high winds. The water tank tap freezes regularly overnight in winter, so fill your water containers before you go to bed. If the tank runs dry the water in the tarns on the bench below the Hut is potable.

Condition

Mt. Brown Hut is in excellent condition structurally, however the unpredicted high visitor numbers have impacted on toilet, fuel supply and track. Coal for the stove has been dropped in regularly, and used up in short order by day trippers and overnighters alike. 200kg was consumed over a two-month period last winter. People have taken to burning the green scrub from around the Hut and are also ripping pages out of the hutbook to light the fire. A bit of graffiti has started appearing on the Hut walls. The original toilet hole proved inadequate and Hugh and some friends dug a new toilet hole and moved the toilet over to it in November. Another working bee in April 2019 saw the Hut completely repainted inside and out, and the deck stained. The glass pane in the stove is broken, and so currently can’t be properly damped.

Routes

A traverse the Newton Range from Mt. Brown to Newton Range Biv is a great and scenic option for fitter, more experienced types. The route is rough and undulating and dips well into the alpine scrub zone just East of Mt. Brown. A rough trail exists on the scrubbier bits, however there are quite a few ups and downs before a steep uphill section that leads to point 1240m. One more scrubby knoll needs traversing after this in order to reach open tussock. There are some nice tarns just before point 1336m and some interesting, ultramafic rock outcrops on its eastern flank. The Range dips again after point 1336m and this is followed by a short steep climb over point 1240m. The terrain flattens after this and there is a lot of deer sign and some very well-used trails on this section. Newton Biv is tucked against a tussock bank at the western edge of a flat peaty bench with tarns (around E1458757/ N5251170 (BV19 588 512)), and would be quite easy to walk past in claggy conditions. Allow at least five hours in good conditions to make the traverse to the Biv from Mt. Brown Hut.

Repairs needed

A replacement pane for the coal stove. The track from Geologist Creek needs a bit of windthrow clearance at the bottom end, and a good trim in the alpine scrub zone on the bits that weren’t cut in the 2019 working bee. There is one bog at 950m that needs boardwalking.

Provisions on site

A kettle, a coal bucket and two shovels, a poker, and a broom. There is an aluminium ladder under the hut.