Ranger resurrects old miners huts
Old sheelite mining huts in the mountains are being restored for trampers
Department of Conservation Queenstown services ranger Jim Croawell works on protecting and restoring the historic heritage of the district.
His favourite place is the old scheelite mining huts to be found high up in the mountains above the small township of Glenorchy.
In the early 20th century miners tunnelled high in the Richardson mountains to find the treasured scheelite, amineral vital to make armaments for the war effort. The miners were subject to the extremes of weather, at times they would bear the full force of the westerly storms.
To provide comfort from the rigours of altitude the miners built several huts around the loft peaks. These huts were rudimentary, however they provided much shelter and cheer for workers at the end of the day.
Several of these huts remain standing and are now protected within the Whakaari Conservation Area. In recent years the department has been progressively restoring these huts to preserve the heritage of this mining era.
Trampers can now visit the huts, either as a lunch stop during an active day in the hills, or an overnight trip – some of the huts have been decked with bunks and camping is possible outside.
Sleeping in these high huts provides unique sunrises and sunsets, and the joy of a hot cuppa under the stars. The views across Lake Wakatipu to the Caples, Routeburn, Rockburn, Dart and Rees Valleys must be one of New Zealand’s finest. In winter the huts sit above the valley cloud, in the sun for most of the day.
Some of the first huts to be renovated include the McIntyre, McIntosh and Heather Jock Huts.
Last summer Jim set his sights on the rundown ‘‘Shickers Hut’’, a short distance from the McIntosh hut. This hut is perched high at 1400 metres, a short distance from the summit of Mt McIntosh (1700m). The hut has views directly to Mt Earnslaw /Pikirakatahi. ‘‘Shickers Hut’’ was named after ‘‘Shickers Point’’, a nearby rocky outcrop. Relatives of the old miners recall stories that there was often an over appreciation of liquor on ‘‘Shickers Point’’ whenever the moon was full.
To assist him in the restoration Jim was joined by volunteers and the team’s first job was to clear the site of rubbish and remove rotten timber. They then worked to rebuild the hut, in keeping as close to its original condition as possible.
The hut now has a floor of recycled rimu, a door of recycled beech and the roof is recycled corrugated iron – which was water proofed. The walls of the hut were re-built with the original flat tin cladding.
Whakaari Conservation Area is located just south of Glenorchy, about 45 minutes drive from Queenstown.
Access is mostly along bulldozed trails that zig-zag across the steep slopes. From the carpark on the Queenstown-Glenorchy road the Heather Jock hut is a three to four hour walk one-way, McIntyres Hut is about the same while the McIntosh Hut will take most people five to six hours.
Shickers hut will soon have bunks installed. The adjacent McIntosh Hut already has four bunks, and water.
Room with a view: DOC ranger Jim Croawell and the view from inside McIntosh Hut.