A pri­vate tramp­ing hut in the Oron­gorongo Val­ley em­bod­ies the prelap­sar­ian spirit of the peo­ple who built it by hand 56 years ago.

HOME Magazine NZ - - Contents - Text Greg Dixon Pho­tog­ra­phy Paul McCredie

‘Tai­hoa’, a 1963 bush hut in the Rimu­takas

There can be few build­ings in New Zealand that em­body friend­ship quite so pro­foundly and quite so uniquely as tiny ‘Tai­hoa’. The pri­vate tramp­ing hut, built by school mates more than half a life­time ago, has been both source and sus­te­nance for the friend­ships forged in its mak­ing – re­la­tion­ships that, in the years since, have grown and ma­tured like the bush that sur­rounds it. And the story of Tai­hoa’s mak­ing – in an al­most prelap­sar­ian New Zealand of good keen young men and women – and the his­tory of its con­tin­ued ex­is­tence in the wilds of the Oron­gorongo Val­ley near Welling­ton, are yarns best heard on the walk to its door. On a fine, cool morn­ing in early Novem­ber, with wild winds promised later in the day, I joined six of its own­ers and guardians – in­clud­ing Welling­ton ar­chi­tects Philip Por­ritt and Chris Cochran – on the gen­tle, 90-minute ram­ble from the Rimu­taka For­est Park’s Catch­pool carpark to Tai­hoa, which sits hugged by bush above the Oron­gorongo River. The hut, Por­ritt said, as we walked through stands of red beech, rimu and nikau, might not have been built at all, if not for a re­mark­able woman, Gwenda Martin.

The year was 1962, and Martin, a bi­ol­ogy teacher and leader of the tramp­ing club at the not-long-es­tab­lished Welling­ton high school, Onslow Col­lege, guided a small party of its stu­dents to a hut set deep in the Oron­gorongo Val­ley, which lies in the south­ern Rimu­takas. Called ‘Paua’, the hut was one of scores al­ready dot­ted down the val­ley. Oron­gorongo Val­ley is to Welling­to­ni­ans as the Waitakere Ranges are to Auck­lan­ders. But it is a pe­cu­liar­ity of the val­ley that, for nearly 60 years un­til 1980, the Welling­ton Wa­ter Board, which ad­min­is­tered the area, al­lowed pri­vate hut-build­ing. Shaun Bar­nett and Chris Ma­cleans’ com­pre­hen­sive Tramp­ing: A New Zealand His­tory, calls the area the coun­try’s largest en­clave of pri­vate huts on public land, with dozens of rough shel­ters and cosy huts be­ing built from the 1920s. By the 1960s and 70s the num­ber was well above 100. At first, Martin told Por­ritt and fel­low stu­dent Mar­a­lyn Clark that she had a mind to buy an ex­ist­ing hut. At Clark’s sug­ges­tion, she de­cided to build one in­stead. “Dur­ing the school tramp­ing trip to Paua hut,” says Por­ritt, “Gwenda and Mar­a­lyn qui­etly came to me in the af­ter­noon and said ‘We’re off to look for a hut site, do you want come and help?’ Gwenda said she wanted it to be by a sig­nif­i­cant tree. So we found this great rātā and de­cided that would be a good site. “In those days, the land be­longed to the Welling­ton Wa­ter Board, and we chose a hut site, drew it on a map and said to them ‘We want a li­cence to build a hut’, and it was just au­to­matic. They gave us the li­cence and it was one pound a year. Once we had the per­mis­sion, we started plan­ning.” In the first of Tai­hoa’s many beau­ti­fully bound log books (there was a self-con­scious record­ing of its his­tory al­most from the mo­ment it was con­ceived) there is, among the black-and-white pho­to­graphs of Por­ritt and his friends as bright young things, a draw­ing made by him of how the hut might look. Over the sum­mer of 1962-63, Martin and about a dozen stu­dents – in­clud­ing Por­ritt, Cochran, Jill and Ian Good­win and Tai­hoa’s chief doc­u­men­tar­ian Al­lan Shep­pard – built us­ing sec­ond-hand ma­te­ri­als, na­tive tim­ber sourced on site (“You’d go to jail if you did that now!” Por­ritt laughs) and a lot of na­tive, as well as naive, know-how. “Peo­ple did what they were good at and, in some cases, what they weren’t good at,” says Ian Good­win. “Gwenda and I talked about how it should be and she had some pretty clear ideas about what the space re­quired be­cause she tramped a lot,” says Por­ritt. “We agreed on a de­sign and started col­lect­ing sec­ond-hand win­dows, and that sort of in­flu­enced the plan. There are a whole lot of hor­i­zon­tal win­dows, which I got from a neigh­bour, that set the tone.” Martin also wanted black rafters and a white ceil­ing and walls: she showed the stu­dents pic­tures of churches, even though she was the last per­son you’d think of as churchy, and she wanted a slight Māori in­flu­ence – you can see both those in­flu­ences in the hut. “There was a ru­mour go­ing around the val­ley,” says Por­ritt, “that there was a teacher and a bunch of kids build­ing a hut in the Oron­goron­gos and it ‘won’t last six months’. But we were com­pletely con­fi­dent that what we were build­ing was go­ing to last for­ever.”

“We agreed on a de­sign and started col­lect­ing sec­ond-hand win­dows, and that sort of in­flu­enced the plan.”

The name Tai­hoa – it trans­lates var­i­ously from Māori as ‘by and by’, ‘wait’ and ‘no hurry’ – was cho­sen by Martin. But a bet­ter name for the hut now might be Whare Ton­garewa, or mu­seum. Once at Tai­hoa’s door, you find a trea­sure trove of the group’s shared his­tory – a mu­ral of the hut’s build­ing, the log books, carv­ings, tools and knick­knacks – along with a fine li­brary, in­clud­ing some rare first-edi­tion New Zealand books, such as Colin Kane Bell’s beau­ti­fully il­lus­trated Po-Ling: The Cook from Ti Tree Point. The mu­ral in the hut was painted in the first year by one of the hut builders, Rikki Dun­can, and rep­re­sents the dig­ging of the hole for the out­house – de­signed as a trib­ute to Welling­ton’s Byrd Me­mo­rial. If a mu­seum is what it now seems, it is a liv­ing one. The hut con­tin­ues to be used, cher­ished and as­sid­u­ously main­tained by the orig­i­nal builders, their fam­i­lies and their friends. Martin, who died in Jan­uary, vis­ited Tai­hoa for the last time in 2007 for the hut’s 50th birth­day. She was 86. More than 70 peo­ple came from all around the coun­try to cel­e­brate. And there was, as there had been for so many sig­nif­i­cant birthdays for the hut and friend­ships it fos­tered, a home-baked cake dec­o­rated in a homage to the hut’s quaint, rus­tic lines. “Gwenda said that last time, it wasn’t re­ally the walk­ing that was more dif­fi­cult so much as hut life and sleep­ing on a hard bed and peo­ple be­ing around,” says Jill Good­win. “Which is sort of sad, be­cause that’s what tramp­ing is! But she en­joyed it. She broke the mould – she was amaz­ing.” And so, too, is her legacy, Tai­hoa.

Right The ‘Tai­hoa’ tramp­ing hut was built by its founders over the sum­mer of 1962-63, us­ing sec­ond-hand ma­te­ri­als and na­tive tim­ber sourced on site. Be­low The cor­ru­gated roof takes shape; the first part of the hut to be built.

Above The open fire, with its wet back, is the hut’s fo­cal point.

Right Philip Por­ritt, at the front of the group, is fol­lowed by Al­lan Shep­pard, Ian Good­win, Penny Por­ritt, Jill Good­win and Chris Cochran.

Above right Ian and Jill Good­win on the web­bing bunks that are a unique fea­ture of the hut.

Top A misty morn­ing in the val­ley.

Above A bor­rowed truck crossed the river to de­liver the build­ing ma­te­ri­als to the bush site.

Be­low left, mid­dle Good­win (far left) and the Por­ritts pre­pare for a cuppa.

Bot­tom The Ther­mette, a New Zealand in­ven­tion used in WW2, can boil wa­ter al­most as quickly as an elec­tric jug.

Left The hut is reg­u­larly vis­ited by many of its guardians and orig­i­nal builders, in­clud­ing the Good­wins (far left), Chris Cochran, Philip Por­ritt, Al­lan Shep­pard and Penny Por­ritt.

Right The kitchen with Rikki Dun­can’s mu­ral in the fore­ground. Be­low Early days at the hut.

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