While many trampers perhaps most value a hut on the tops, for others, a hut set beside a river is their ideal haven. New Zealand has plenty of huts beside rivers; there are few backcountry valleys without at least one hut. I asked paddlers from Whitewater New Zealand about their favourite huts, and added a few of my own to come up with this subjective list of our best havens for whitewater trips.

John Coull Hut, Whanganui National Park

Paddling the Whanganui River is almost a rite of passage as a New Zealander. Māori have used the river as a transport route for centuries, and the valley is steeped in lore and history. Paddleboats took tourists along the river between the late 1800s and early twentieth century, but in recent decades these have been replaced by jet-boats and canoes. And since the Te Araroa Trail opened in 2011, southbound walkers have used the river to give their feet a welcome rest, as they instead take up paddles. Three huts exist in the valley: the Whakahoro Hut, once a schoolhouse, the Tieke Marae Hut, and John Coull.

John Coull Hut, Whanganui River; Photo: Shaun Barnett/Black Robin Photography

Mangakirikiri Hut, Mōtū River,

Raukumara Forest Park

While most of the mighty Mōtū wends its way through wilderness with little in the way of facilities, Mangakirikiri Hut exists a short distance up one of the river’s many tributaries. It’s also used infrequently by trampers making a challenging west-east crossing of the Raukumara Forest Park.

Cameron Hut, Kaweka Forest Park, Hawke’s Bay

Two muscular rivers power through the Kaweka Ranges; the Ngaruroro and Mōhaka, and both offer good whitewater travel for rafters, kayakers and pack-rafters alike. Te Puia Lodge is the sole public hut on the Mōhaka, while in contrast the Ngaruroro offers a whole network of shelters: Boyd Lodge, Harkness, Ngaawapurua, Ōmarukokere, Rocks Ahead, Kiwi Mouth and Cameron – all classic ex-Forest Service huts.

Goose Flat Hut, Clarence River, Canterbury

Canterbury’s Clarence River offers one of the country’s classic whitewater trips, with several huts en route. Jonathan Hunt of Whitewater New Zealand says that for him, Goose Flat Hut has been invaluable as a place to shelter from the severe nor’west winds that often sweep down the valley. Palmer Hut is another in the valley often used by paddlers.

Venus, Karamea Bend and Grey Huts, Karamea River, Kahurangi National Park

Jonathan Hunt also values the huts on the Karamea River, the largest watercourse in Kahurangi National Park. Beginning in the headwaters of the Allen Range, near the Wangapeka Track, the river makes a great horseshoe, running east, curling north, then out west towards the sea. The devastating 1929 Murchison Earthquake dammed parts of the lake, caused scarps to form, and created some serious Grade five rapids – perhaps the hardest commercially rafted ones in the country. Several huts offer accommodation for trampers and paddlers alike. ‘Karamea Bend is well-placed to collect a food-drop while doing the multi-day Karamea,’ Hunt says.

Karamea Bend Hut, Kahurangi National Park; Photo: Shaun Barnett/Black Robin Photography

Packrafting Huts on the Waiau and Pelorus Rivers

Packrafting, that hybrid between tramping and paddling, is changing the face of adventure in New Zealand, and resulting in some obscure huts becoming more valued than they perhaps used to be.

According to Whitewater New Zealand, the Upper Waiau River has long been considered a ‘classic multi-day intermediate trip’. But access has traditionally been by helicopter, four-wheel drive, or carrying kayaks over Maling Pass. In January 2015, Chris Coutts and Thomas Land used packrafts on the river, and went over Fowlers Pass. Coutts wrote: ‘It was to be our first real Grade three river, and was promised to be a spectacular example of New Zealand
sub-alpine valleys and gorges, which did not disappoint. Our adventure consisted of six hours hiking over the Fowler Pass to Lake Guyon, then three lazy days on the river, paddling 67 kilometres and ending under the bungy-jumping Waiau Ferry Bridge near Hanmer Springs … It’s like this circuit was designed especially for packrafters!’ En route huts include Lake Guyon, Pool and Tin Jug Huts, with the latter managed by Glenhope Station.

Likewise, Middy Creek and Captain Creek Huts on the Pelorus River in Mt Richmond Forest Park offer overnight accommodation for pack-rafters wanting to tackle the emerald waters of this lovely Marlborough river.

Serpentine Hut, Hokitika River, West Coast

In recent years, the West Coast of the South Island has become a Mecca of whitewater paddling, recognised as offering some of the wildest, world-class water on offer. The Whitcombe, Waitaha, Hokitika, and Wanganui Rivers all offer committing paddling, and all these valleys are graced with huts too.

Kev England of Whitewater New Zealand says the huts he most values are Serpentine Hut on the Hokitika River, and Ivory Lake Hut on the Waitaha River.

‘Serpentine Hut,’ he says, ‘serves as an overnight stay on the ultra-classic Mungo to Upper Hokitika River. There are no tracks to this hut so the hut book only has three to four entries per year. The vast majority are kayakers. The Mungo River flows into the Hokitika River (although at the confluence it looks like the other way around, since you’re paddling down the Mungo River and the Hokitika River tumbles almost vertically in from the left) and then enters Frisco Canyon, which is one of the world’s most amazing places. Class five whitewater for hours! Some of the most technically demanding and committing paddling that you can do.

After the epic Frisco Canyon, the Serpentine Hut is always a very welcome sight. It’s positioned at the confluence with Serpentine Creek, which flows off the south face of Mt O’Connor in the Diedrichs Range. Unfortunately, Serpentine Creek is eroding into the flat bench on which the hut sits and it may not be there much longer! DOC have stopped maintaining it, but agreed to leave it there for river safety reasons.’

Paddling the Frisco Canyon, Hokitika River; Photo: Kev England

Creswicke Flat Hut, Landsborough River, West Coast

One of the most formidable rivers in the country, the Landsborough surges for nearly 60 kilometres beside the Main Divide, dropping from the high peaks south of Aoraki/Mt Cook and Westland National Parks, until it joins with the Haast River, near State Highway Six. While the headwaters are part of the Hooker-Landsborough Wilderness, and so have no tracks or huts, lower down there are some basic facilities.

The original Fraser Hut, located at the bottom of the Brodrick Pass route, was built for deer recovery, but was replaced in 2016 by the more up-market Creswicke Flat Hut using a bequest from hunter Barry Smith. It’s used by trampers, rafters and paddlers tackling the lower river. Those staying there might listen out for mohua, or yellowhead, which is surviving in the area thanks to DOC’s predator-control efforts.

FMC thanks Shaun Barnett from NZAC Wellington for sharing his article, which was originally published in the March 2020 edition of Backcountry Magazine. To subscribe to the print version, visit www.fmc.org.nz/aboutbackcountry. It has been republished here on Wilderlife as part of FMC’s 2022/23 focus on Whitewater Kayaking. Details can be found on our website.