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Serpentine Hut

Serpentine Hut

(Serpentine Hut: Photo Andrew Buglass 2015)

Maintenance Status

Maintain-by-community. Serpentine Hut was originally designated for removal in DOC's 2003 high-country review. It was in good condition, but hardly ever visited because the access tracks hadn't been cut since the mid-1970's and had vanished back into the bush. The extremely rough nature of travel both up and downriver from the Hut was an additional deterrent. The place had considerable sentimental value for me, having first visited there in 1973, so when a maintain-by-community project with a local kayaking group fizzled out, I stepped in and signed a maintenance contract with DOC. We started work on opening up parts of the old track to Serpentine in 2014, and with the help of some funding from the Outdoor Recreation Consortium and Permolat, were able to repile and paint the Hut in early 2015. The trackwork around the canyoned sections of valley from the Whitcombe Junction was completed shortly after, and the route to Frisco Hut, upvalley from Serpentine in May 2015. The lower Hokitika is now open through to the DOC maintained Toaroha-Frew Saddle loop in the upper valley for the first time in almost 40 years.

History

The Maps Past website shows where bits of track have existed between the roadend and Serpentine since 1899. Some of the sections of benched track below the Hokitika-Whitcombe Junction probably date from the 1880's. Maps Past has a 1919 map showing a track going all the way to Serpentine and beyond. The tracks were put in to assist gold prospectors, and believe it or not, graziers/ drovers. There were a smattering of gold miners working and prospecting in the Hokitika above the Junction at various times from the 1860's to the 1930's. There is one prospectors mine shaft very close to the track near the Junction. Moose were released in the lower Hokitika in the early 1900's, but failed to establish. Deer cullers reused some of the old tracks and constructed new ones.

Location

Hokitika catchment. Map BV18. Grid Ref: E1443495/ N5235934. Altitude 300m. Serpentine is located on the TL of a large unnamed side-creek midway up the lower Hokitika valley. A series of impressive and visually stunning gorges (three are named on the topo map, but there are in fact six) lie between the Hokitka - Whitcombe junction and the Hut. Prior to the opening up of the valley Serpentine had the distinction of being the hut least visited by foot parties on the website. Gaps of 2-3 years between hutbook entries were the norm, with no recorded visits between 1987 and 1993. From then on there were odd drop-ins from kayaking parties who rarely stayed overnight, and very occasional foot visits. Serpentine featured briefly in a short film on extreme kayaking shot several years back, called "Flow Hunters." Since the trackwork has been completed there has been a slow stream of visits and 2016 was a super busy year with 10 visits.

Hokitika Tracks

Special Note

The lower Hokitika is an extremely rugged, gorged valley, and several sections are actively slipping. There are four large unbridged side-creeks that are often uncrossable after heavy rain. Entry points to the tracked sections around the canyons are marked with a combination of cairns, cruise-tape and permolat. The going is generally rough, even on the tracked bits, with lots of ups and downs, and there are several sections of riverbed travel. I've recently grubbed a bench across two new slips (February 2016), one in the lower Omatane Canyon, and the other on the unnamed canyon just down from the Hut. The benches are secure but narrow and exposed. Those that don't like narrow and exposed have the option of climbing up and around the slips through the bush. It's a long haul up from the Rapid Creek cableway to Serpentine and high levels of fitness and experience are essential prerequisites.

Access

The first tracked section to Serpentine starts at the bush edge on a gravel bar around 500m up from the Rapid Creek cableway. It crosses a large flat area of lowland forest, to a stretch of riverbed below New Year Creek. Follow the riverbed from here to the mouth of the lower Kakariki Canyon. The track restarts at an old cableway and climbs up and sidles around the steep faces above the Canyon. Travel is rough and undulating, crossing some old slips regenerating in kio kio and small hardwoods, then some active slips which are cairned and cruise-taped, before dropping back to the River just before Moose Creek. After Moose Creek the track re-enters the bush and sidles up around the beautiful slow-flowing upper Kakariki Canyon before dropping again to the River. Boulderhop from here to a small eroding creek where the track re-enters the bush for a prolonged and high sidle around the Kawau Gorge. There is a spectacular view from the ascent of a large deep blue pool and the Whitehorn Creek waterfall. The track drops down to the lip of the waterfall, then climbs to point 298m, levels and drops down an extremely narrow rib to the unnamed creek top entrance of the Kawau Gorge. The rib is a razor back in places, but has plenty of trees to hold onto. A short sidle across some slips follows to a section of track that goes as far as Lyes Creek.

After Lyes Creek there are two climbs around the Omatane Canyon separated by a section of boulderhopping. The track around the upper Omatane is accessed up an active slip with a small creek and is marked with a mix of cairns, and cruise-tape. A side-gut goes off the main slip and provides access back into the bush. This slip is constantly scouring out and will need ongoing monitoring. The track climb/ sidles around the upper Canyon, then drops back to the River at Serpentine Creek. The river is followed for 500m, then a short steep climb over small unnamed canyon 500m downriver from Serpentine Hut. The track drops to the River down a small creek and there is a short section of boulderhopping, followed by the last tracked section to the Hut. Allow 7-10 hours travel depending on fitness, to Serpentine from the Whitcombe road end. Several of the s could be . The unnamed side-creek right next to the Hut is problematic, or impassable after heavy rain, due to it's steepness and single channel.

Access down from Frisco Hut was restored in 2015. The track leaves Frisco and sidles across the bush faces for just under a kilometre onto a broad ridge with montane forest. It traverses some open marshy hollows with mossed-over tarns and well-used deer trails to point 910m. From here it drops down a broad ridge on the TL of Nogo Creek to the River. There are animal and vegetation survey plots on the ridge every 400m or so, with permolat stakes, and tagged trees. Follow the riverbed from Nogo to Bonar Creek. A short section of track is followed by another river section, then a steep climb up and around a waterfall and small gorge. This can be avoided when river levels are low by fording the River and recrossing at the mouth of the gorge (around E1443912/ N5235376). There is a small bluff that must be negotiated on the TL just before you cross back. From here to Serpentine is a mix of river travel with a couple of short tracked bush detours. Allow 2.5- 3.5 hours currently for the journey from Frisco to Serpentine (add and hour for the reverse trip).

Serpentine's chopper pad was cleared, enlarged and leveled in 2015.

Type

Serpentine was one of four of an unique run of 4-bunk NZFS B48 designs built the NZFS in Westland in 1957. Dave Tiller and Jock Fisher erected the Hut from materials dropped in by fixed-wing aircraft. The Serpentine design was a forerunner of the standard SF81 model that followed, and owes much of its layout to Department of Internal Affairs structures built in the area earlier in the decade. The Hut had flat-iron cladding on both walls and roof. The roof iron was replaced by corrugated iron at some point in the 1960's. In 1983 the NZFS did some major renovations on the Hut including removing the fireplace and installing a wood burner, and replacing some piles and framing.

Condition

Serpentine survived a 20-year maintenance gap between 1983 and 2004 in very good shape. It had its exterior repainted and resealed, and some of the less solid framing replaced in the summer of 2003/4 by DOC. By 2014 the original silver pine piles were rotting out at ground level and needed replacing. They were uncemented and only went down 10-15cm into the soil. In 2015, 11 of the 15 piles were replaced and concreted in and diagonally braced. Some flat-iron flanges were added to protect the tops of some of the piles that were protruding out from the base of the wall.

The roof had a thick layer of red lichen removed and was repainted, along with the end wall and other areas of the iron cladding that needed it. A rotten purlin under the clearlight on the south side of the roof was replaced and along with a damaged section of clearlight. Some sealing was done around the bottom of both door studs. The regrowth around the Hut was cut back and the Hut given a good descunge. The work crew comprised myself, Alan Jemison, Paul Reid and Joke de Rijke. The woodburner installed by the FS in 1983 is still in good order. It's a simple NZFS constructed iron box, which is hot enough to cook on. Water is from the River or a couple of plastic containers next to the Hut. An outside bath was added as a extra feature and a rudimentary toilet constructed. The Hut does get the odd rat coming in, but has a supply of poison and traps. Don't leave anything edible out to encourage them.

Tops Routes into Serpentine

It is possible to access to Serpentine over the Diedrichs Range from Mullins Hut via the upper TL branch of Mullins Creek. Exit the Creek at the waterfall at E1446515/ N5237253, up the small steep-side creek on the TL at the foot of the fall. Climb to the 1600m mark on the SE ridge of the low peak of Mt. O'Connor and sidle across the basin under the middle and high peaks. A conspicuous bench can be followed over to the low point between Mt. O'Connor and point 1718m. Drop from the crest of the Range into the Hokitika at around E1445682/ N5236537. The top of the drop-off is very steep and care is needed, and this provides access onto a well-defined section of spur further below. At around 1150m the top entrance of an old NZFS track that once led down to the Hut can be picked up. The track vanishes in thick alpine scrub a short distance further down and no more permolat can be found until a knoll in the montane zone is reached. This also peters out after a short distance, and the remainder of the trip down to the River is an unpleasant bush-bash. The track was roughly recut from the Hut up to around 450m in 2017.

There is an alternative route down into the valley via Serpentine Creek, although accounts in the hutbook vary widely in their approval ratings. There are some good campsites in the upper basin of Serpentine Creek and travel is easy initially. Further down the Creek gets rougher and there are waterfalls that need skirting through steep bush. This route has been done at least 3 times in the last 30 years and the least favourable comment is from Dave Pratt who wrote in the Serpentine hutbook in 2011 that he'd rather have his throat cut than do it again. Boulderhop up the TR of the Hokitika from Serpentine Creek to the Hut. There is one detour into the bush to get around a small gorge, which is now cruise-taped.

Both of the above routes can be used to access Serpentine from Gerhardt Spur Biv. A traverse of Jumble Top can be avoided by dropping off Gerhard Spur around the 1300m contour into the top fork in the headwaters of Diedrichs Creek (at E1445315/ N5240625). Climb up onto the Diedrichs Range up via the TL fork of the Creek. The top of the climb is steep with crumbling rock and care needs to be taken here. Ice axes may be needed on this pitch during the colder months. Allow around 10 hours to do the traverse from Gerhardt Biv.

Access to Serpentine is also possible over the Meta Range from the Whitcombe valley, and could potentially be done in a long day by a fit party. An old NZFS tops track provides access to the tops from the Frew Saddle track, and was recut by Glenn Johnston and John Hutt in 2011. It was still OK to follow in 2014, although it could do with better marking. It branches off from the Frew track on the Terrace above Tom Creek at around E1440915/ N5232014, and is marked with a mix of the original permolat and cruise tape. The track emerges at the tussock South of point 1235m, around E1442808/ N5232655. Travel along to Inframeta is mostly good, although there are several points where the Range dips into the scrub before and after point 1325m. Most of it is OK due to a very well used animal trail. Access into the Hokitika is down a gut just NE of Mt. Inframeta (around E1442093/ N5234736). The top of the descent is cruise-taped and leads down into an open gut that becomes an unnamed side-creek further down. Where the terrain flattens around 700m, veer North through a band of mountain holly into the next creek catchment downriver. This is blown-out out a short distance further down and provides easy access all the way down to the Hokitika directly opposite the Hut. There is a waist-deep winter-only ford here. In summer the flows are too strong and you'd need to cruise upriver for a good half hour to find a decent ford. Allow 7-9 hours from Frews Hut to Serpentine Hut.

There is also a very overgrown NZFS track up onto Mt. Inframeta from the Hokitika - Whitcombe junction that may be of some interest to masochists. It branches off the original Frew track which is also very overgrown, on the TL the Hokitika above the site of the old cableway. The cableway was removed in 2011 and was a short distance up the Hokitika from the Whitcombe junction. The Hokitika River can usually be forded at normal flows at the old cableway site. The lower section of the Mt. Inframeta track goes up a broad face and will probably be a serious bush-bash through dense quintinia and other hardwoods by now. Further up where the ridge becomes better defined the track may be easier to follow. After this there is a long section through the sub-alpine and alpine zones, which I surmise will be pretty hideous. This section has areas of subsidence above the big slip that wiped out the original Frew track in 1975. Access down into the Hokitika would be the same as for the Tom Creek route.

Repairs still needed

Some the rear piles that were protruding out from underneath the Hut had channelled water under the bearers, some of which were starting to deteriorate. We weren't aware of this until we removed these piles We were able to brace the bearers along the areas of rot, which were relatively small, but over the long term some of the bearers will need replacing. One short bearer under the Hut has borer and needs replacing. The piles we didn't replace are OK, but may need looking at over the longer term. Water blows in under the door during the more extreme weather and some form of flashing may be helpful here.

Provisions on Site

Two foldout deckchairs, One axe, one shovel, two buckets (one plastic, one aluminium), two basins (one plastic, one aluminium), a broom, a frypan, a large casserole pan, a pot, and utensils and cups, a small crowbar, a small gin trap, two rat traps, a mouse trap, a small hand saw, a car jack (no winding arm), a small set square, a plastic scrubbing brush, a sealant gun, 2 hacksaw blades, 15kg cement, a wire brush, 8 litres of karaka acrylic, 9 litres of lichen acrylic, 7 litres of anti-rust primer, turpentine, 3 paint brushes, a paint roller and tray, 1.5 kg large jolt head nails, 40 10g x 25mm hex bolts (for securing the external wall cladding), 40 12g x 50mm hex bolts (for securing the roofing iron), 20 z-nails, 2 coach bolts, a small quantity of 6" nails, a small packet of fence staples, some small flathead nails and a small quantity of permolat. There are a couple of rolls of No. 8 wire under the Hut, one 900m long treated pile and half a sheet of clearlight.