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Tunnel Creek Hut

Tunnel Creek Hut

(Tunnel Creek Hut: Photo Hugh Van Noorden 2015)

Maintenance Status

Tunnel Creek Hut is one of the more recent Permolat maintain-by-community initiatives, with Geoff Spearpoint as contract signatory. The Hut had missed out on having any significant maintenance for a couple of decades, although DOC had deemed it fit in that time to spend thousands of dollars flying workers in for inane compliance tasks, such as putting up "no smoking" and "fire exit" signs (in a Hut with one door!), and top bunk restraining rails. The track up from Stew Creek had been left similarly unmaintained and river travel had become the norm as an alternative in many places.

The Hut is now in good hands, has had a complete makeover from Geoff and his various helpers, and the access track cut. DOC is now fully behind our efforts, but still seems to be having the odd problem coming to grips with this brave new world of partnership. The March work crew were surprised by the arrival by helicopter of a DOC worker, who spent 40 minutes inspecting the work they were doing, and replacing some warning signs above the cooking bench, and an exit sign on the door that had mysteriously vanished.

Location

Paringa catchment. Map BY13. GPS Ref: E1321593/ N5142317. Altitude 150m. Tunnel Creek Hut is located in the head of the Paringa valley in South Westland. It drains the Solution Range which includes Mts. Hooker and McCullaugh, both rugged and glaciated peaks. The Paringa is a valley of contrasts, with picturesque, gentle lower reaches and rugged, remote alpine headwaters. The unnamed saddle at the head of the Paringa provides access into McCullagh Creek and the Clarke valley in the Landsborough. Tunnel Creek gets a reasonable level of use from range of groups, including hunters, fishermen, possumers, trampers and climbers.

Tunnel Creek Hut location

Access

Access to Tunnel Creek Hut is up a farm track just South of the Paringa bridge on SH6. Ben Monk (Tel: 03 751 0899) farms the River flats up to the Otoko confluence and likes folk going through to ring and let him know. Most folk travel up the TL which is a mix of easy grassy flats and shingle riverbed sections. It is possible to cross and recross the River at low flows to get a straighter line and reduce travel times. There is a small bluff on the TL just below Stew Creek and depending on River levels and the lie of the channels, it may be possible to pass under it and take a direct line to Stew Creek, however this is not usually the case. If this isn't possible there is a cruise-taped route over the bluff that drops into Stew Creek up a bit from its confluence with the Paringa. At last report (2016) this wasn't the best of travel. Another option is to ford the Paringa further down, travel up the TR, then cross back opposite Stew Creek.

There is a locked hut belonging to Ben on the TR of Stew Creek. A track commences by the shed here and goes up the TR of Stew Creek for around 500m before cutting South through open grassy meadows and patches of forest to connect with the Paringa River a couple of kilometres above the Otoko confluence. From here to the Hut it is mostly track with several short sections of river travel. A large unnamed side-creek around an hour up from Stew Creek would be problematic to cross if it was high. The tracked sections are mostly across fairly gentle terraces with a silver beech canopy and crown fern (piu piu) understory. The River is stunningly picturesque, with beautiful clear water, and large still pools and mossy boulders. Serpentine Creek has blown out and enters the Paringa in two separate channels, the second of which has quite a bit of windthrow in it. The track crosses both branches a short distance up from the river, and the track entrance on the TR may not be obvious due to ongoing bank erosion. From here however, it is an easy 15 minutes to the Hut Allow 1.5-2 hours from the Bridge to Stew Creek, and 2.5-3 from there to the Hut.

The Condon family used to jet boat folk up to Stew Creek when they had the farming lease for the valley. Ben Monk the current runholder has a jet boat, but I'm not sure whether he would be willing to hire it for transport. There is helicopter access on the grass clearing next to the Hut.

Type

Tunnel Creek Hut is a standard NZFS 6-bunk SF70 design with open fire, built in 1965. It was lined at some point. A toilet was built in the late 2000's by some community spirited type. The woodshed was built by Geoff and Co. in 2014. Water is from the River right next to the Hut.

Condition

Tunnel Creek was in remarkably good condition prior to the 2014 repairs, even after a couple of decades of neglect. The frame, joists and bearers were sound, and the structural wood all treated pine. In April 2014 some broken floorboards were replaced by Geoff and Liz Stevenson, a leak between the chimney and side window repaired. and some facing around the door replaced. Later that winter Geoff, Hugh van Noorden and myself recut and marked the track up from Stew Creek. December 2014 saw the bulk of the maintenance completed by Geoff, Hugh and Peter Fullerton using funding from the new High Country Consortium. The flat-iron doorstep protector, back windowsill, skylight and roof ridging were replaced. The woodshed was built and the fireplace relined and concreted on the inside. Sections of buckled interior ply lining were replaced, the exterior repainted. A drainage channel leading away from the Hut was dug. In January 2015 Hugh and Tracy Burkhart walked in, finished the exterior walls, and put the first two coats on the interior. Then a month later in March, the final exterior colours, skylight drip cover, long drop upgrade, and interior top-coat were completed by Geoff, Liz and Hugh.

Repairs still needed

None currently.

Routes

There is a track up to Tunnel Creek Rock Biv from Tunnel Creek Hut that isn't marked on the current topo map. It probably hasn't received any maintenance during DOC's tenure, but has been kept open at a rudimentary level by those using it. The entrance is on the TL of Tunnel Creek a short distance up from its confluence with the Paringa. The track climbs steeply up the bush faces initially, then flattens and proceeds in a series of steps onto point 542m. The forest on the top of this knoll is thin and stunted with open patches. From here the track drops into a hollow before climbing the broad spur up to the biv. Geoff did some clearing and taping on this section in 2012, and re-marked and trimmed some sections in 2014. Around the 1040m contour the terrain flattens and the silver beech forest transitions abruptly to open tussock. The rock biv is just north of where the track emerges. It has a fireplace and can sleep four or so people quite comfortably. Water can be a bit of a problem up here in dry periods, and the couple of small shallow tarns in the vicinity sometimes get fouled by deer stomping around in them.

To access the head of the Paringa from the rock biv, head South across the bench and up through a narrow tongue of beech forest around into the top basin of a small side-creek that feeds the upper Paringa. Sidle southeast along the low ridge bounding the creeks TL, and past the tarn marked on the map. Countinue sidling at around the 1200m contour for another 4-500 mteres, then drop down into the head basin of the Paringa. Follow the Paringa up to around the 1220m contour where it veers NE, exit and head straight up the tussock faces to the unnamed saddle at 1440m. There are a few bluffy bits on the McCullagh Creek side of the saddle which can be avoided by picking the right line down.

The large tussock flat just above the bushline in McCullagh Creek has plenty of good camping spots. From here it is a long, rough descent down to the Clarke River, up Saddle Creek, and over to Marks Flat. Alternately, there is a high tops sidle around the head of Murdoch Creek and the lower SW ridge of Mt. Hooker that would provide access to Marks Flat. Allow a full day for both routes. A higher sidle is also possible under The Buttress and points 2005 and 2018m onto the South McCullagh Glacier, then around the 2000m contour and down into the top basin of Murdoch Creek, just below the ice lake. Alpine gear and skills are required for route as there are some big slots on the upper McCullagh Glacier.

Mt. McCullagh is a relatively easy climb via its western ridge from the low point just East of point 2018m. This is a rock scramble in late summer and autumn, but would require snow gear at other times.

The Solution Range is traversable in a SW direction from the Saddle at the head of the Paringa all the way down to Eureka. The head of the Moeraki and Middle Head Hut can be accessed from the Saddle in the head of Zeilian Creek. Drop into the top basin of Zeilian Creek from point 1561m, South of Rough Ridge.

There have been sporadic crossings of the saddle in the head of Serpentine Creek between Tunnel Creek and Middle Head Hut, but it is not a particularly easy route, with bluffs and alpine scrub to contend with. The lower portion of Serpentine Creek is gorgy most of the way, but can be negotiated on the terraces on the TL. The head of Serpentine Creek is scrubby and bluffy with waterfalls around the 500m contour. An unmaintained, overgrown NZFS track goes the open flat at point 606m down to Middle Head Hut. 12-14 hour track times are the norm for this route. The track from Middle Head down to Horseshoe Flat in the Moeraki is no longer maintained, but is still relatively easy to follow.

Provisions on Site

Two frypans, two billies, a plastic wash basin, a stainless steel bucket, two plastic buckets, two saws, a bowsaw, an axe, a shovel, a hearth shovel and broom, a broom, an NZFS food bin, and assorted nails.