Burn Creek Hut measure-up | November 2023

In January 2020, decades after a school trip with four other 16-year-olds, I revisited a remote hut in Nelson Lakes National Park. I sensed the dirt-floored hut could do with some work.

A few friends had been discussing a restoration mission separately, and negotiations with the Backcountry Trust had commenced. Over the course of 2023, a vague Scope of Work was established with a budget of $15,000 set aside.

A face-to-face meeting of six interested volunteers was set up, and enthusiasm levels were gauged. Photos from my trip helped explain the situation to the three members of the team who hadn’t visited.

It was a goer.

What was missing was a detailed appraisal of exactly what work was essential.

I was ready for a reconnaissance mission and measure-up so we could work out what remedial work was required, like the need to pre-fabricate the chimney rebuilding, and work out a wood shed to give a safe surface to gather water, not running it over the lead-based paint of the hut. We needed a water tank, as the existing water supply was a mission.

We discussed helicopter transportation for a preliminary visit, but the pricing was preposterous. Feet would have to do.

Suited me.

I’d already been planning a trip to better mark the track. An experienced Nelson tramper had recently taken nine hours from Downie Hut, and considering the first half is quite straightforward, the track or lack thereof was a challenge for him as well.

Having done more than 100 building measure-ups in my time and realising that absolutely everything had to be thought through and helicoptered in, I’d been a good bloke to trust with the measurements and assess the damage.

I was just waiting for the next fine period to avoid problems with crossing the seriously large Matakitaki River.

No one else was available. I was on my own.

I was enthusiastic enough to want to make a second trip once I drew up the plans and elevations to check the measurements. That second time around, I was promised some company.

Sometimes, life doesn’t work out how you planned.

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Day 1 | McKellar Stream camp

The Matakitaki River is way down on the track to Downie Hut, Day 1. |  Nelson Lakes National Park

The creek was roaring. The birds singing.

All was right with the world.

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Day 2 | Burn Creek Goldfield campsite

Hint here. Don't go up the creek as there is a waterfall to get around. Look for the vague track markers on the left. | Burn Creek, Nelson Lakes National Park

I bashed up the increasingly chunky creek until, with a cascade of bus-sized rocks hindering easy access, I moved into the slightly easier forest and found an old NZFS track, at times.

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Day 3 | Burn Creek forks campsite

Camped here before. A splendid place to put up a tent.| Burn Creek goldfields campsite, Nelson Lakes National Park

A 4.5 kg gas bottle marks the start of the plunge, but looking over the edge, it seemed daunting.

Do people really go down that?

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Day 4 | Burn Creek Hut

Now you are down, bad enough, you need to climb up the other side. | Burn Creek junction, Nelson Lakes National Park

I didn’t feel like climbing up the steep slope with little to cling onto, weighed down by the ridiculous lump on my back, so I heaved my pack ahead.

Some muttering was involved.

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Day 5 | Burn Creek Hut, Night 2

Mature mountain beech trees near a small rivulet above the Burn Creek Hut.  | Burn Creek, Nelson Lakes National Park

I was at the hut for a measure-up and also to check on the structure. How it might be restored to last another 50 years.

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Day 6 | Burn Creek Hut, Night 3

Burn Creek Hut prior to restoration, November 2023.  | Burn Creek, Nelson Lakes National Park

I started writing up my findings and scope of work, and that somehow filled the day. It’s easier when you are on the job, and everything is still fresh in your mind.

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Day 7 | Nardoo Hut

Looking up to the western Emily Peak, 2028 m.  | Burn Creek to Nardoo Creek, Nelson Lakes National Park

Looking back across the creek I noticed the sheer cliff into the creek I had just circumvented. Luckily, I had no knowledge of the 20 m vertical drop I’d been skirting above.

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Day 8 | Nardoo Creek camp

If you tear your Achilles tendon, set up your tent in the rain and take the rest of the day off. | Nardoo Creek campsite, Nelson Lakes National Park

Suddenly, pop, my calf pinged.

That hurt.

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Day 9 | Murchison

Welcoming committee near the Matakitaki River bridge and DOC carpark.  | Nelson Lakes National Park

I hobbled on, much of the time with my eyes shut from tiredness.

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Epilogue | Back in Nelson

A cast is much more of an impediment to mobility than you might imagine. | Back in Nelson

Plans? Well, those can be changed.