Our group of five headed westward along the Napier-Taihape Road to Castle Rock Road. At the Lakes carpark, we were surprised to find it nearly full despite the gloomy forecast. It was good to see a school minivan among the vehicles through.
Close to the car park the forest was dominated by Fir trees, but after the firs the track goes upwards through a section of Kanuka and smaller shrubby trees. There, we found quite a number of native flowers to enjoy; the Ourisia was nearly finished but the small Clematis were still flowering profusely alongside the odd native iris and mountain daisy. Soon, the kanuka was replaced by Contorta pine, which has become a huge problem in this area of the Kawekas, despite quite a bit of time and effort aimed at controlling it.
The weather man had predicted high cloud for the weekend; but here the cloud was low and spoiled any chance of obtaining good landscape photos. We got to the junction with the Smith-Russell Track just before 10 where we met a hunter returning empty handed from a mornings hunt. The Smith-Russell track takes one down to the Cameron car park and is named after two HTC stalwarts from the 1940/50 era; Clem Smith and Angus Russell. We continued uphill on the ridge track through smatterings of mossy Beech forest interspersed with Contorta, until reaching the tops for an early lunch a short distance away from Kiwi Saddle Hut.
The Kiwi Saddle Hut is the second one at this site and both were built by HTC Club members. Our first two huts built were Kaweka Hut (built 1936, burnt down 2002) and Waikamaka (1939). . After the war, the Club decided to erect a third hut and considered a number of sites in the Kaweka Range. When a party of nine high-school boys came out 3 days overdue from a tramp in Manson country they realised that there was a need for a hut in the Kiwi Saddle area. So, in 1947 the first Kiwi Saddle Hut was erected and the afore mentioned Angus Russell and Clem Smith were a main part of the building team. By 1987 this original hut was pretty dilapidated and so it was decided to build a new hut, a project that involved most of the active Club members under the guidance of Eddie Holmes. In 2014 a smaller group, lead by the late Geoff Clibborn, replaced the walls and roof with colour-steel, replaced the gutters and did other general improvements to give us the hut as it is today.
In 2015 we helicoptered in the bench seat which sits on the grass near the hut. The seat is a memorial to Nancy Tanner, another Club stalwart who was very active in the 1940s to 60s and remained a member until her death in 2012.
As it was still very foggy, after a rest and a cup of tea or two, we decided to do some hut maintenance rather than to carry on to take in the non-existent views. While two blokes proceeded to collect and cut firewood the two females oversaw Derek cleaning out the gutters.
Once we had got him sorted, we washed down the coloursteel walls which had a liberal coating of algae on them. After a couple of hours we called it a day and had another drink or two before proceeding to make our dinner. Later on, some lazed and some walked in the fog towards Castle Camp, but it wasn’t long before we were all in our beds.
Joining us in the hut for the night were two keen hunters who had left Whangarei at midnight on the Friday and then walked into Kiwi Saddle in search of deer (the weather man hadn’t told them about the fog too) – they understandably were in bed just after 6 pm. Sunday morning the fog was still there so there was no early morning hunt. Instead the hunters rose about 6 AM to start their trip back to Whangarei!
Our group were up only a little later, and after breakfast we finished washing the last hut wall. We bade farewell to our club hut before wandering into the mist and back up the 240 metre climb towards civilization.
Glenda Hooper is a member of the Hastings based Heretaunga Tramping Club. HTC is one of a number of Kiwi Clubs that have built and maintain huts on public land, which form part of NZ’s incredible network of back country huts. They currently have 3 huts; Howletts Hut in the Ruahine Range was acquired from the Ruahine Tramping Club in 1978. The club has been active with track maintenance in the region too. Wilderlife has previously published a history of 80 years of HTC, which delves further into the proud heritage of the club.
To learn more about community and club projects to maintain the infrastructure of our outdoor heritage, visit the Back Country Trust website (formerly Outdoor Recreation Consortium), and check out the last chapter from the award winning book, Shelter in the Storm; PRESERVING THE HUTS: A BACKCOUNTRY PARTNERSHIP