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Homer Hut – History

Homer Hut Management

The first hut on that site was built in 1925 by the Government Tourist Department long before there was road access.  It was built of beech timber pit-sawn nearby.  The rest of the materials were transported by packhorses from Elfin Bay up the Greenstone Valley to Howden Hut.  From there they were backpacked by humans to Homer Forks.  That hut rotted away in the 1940s.  About 1935 the road from Te Anau reached Homer, and work on the Homer Tunnel began.  The tunnel was opened in 1953, at which time NZAC acquired two huts from the Public Works Department road works camp (NZAJ 1954, p579).  They became the Club’s base huts at Homer during the 1950s and early 1960s.  These two huts sat side-by-side at the site of the 1925 hut near the huge boulder known as “the pebble”.  In March 1962 NZAC began construction of a new hut beside “the pebble”.  This hut, able to sleep 50 people, was opened at Labour Weekend 1965 (NZAJ 1966 pp307-310). See below for details of the current hut that was renovated in 2006.

Banner image is one of the two former road works huts taken in January 1962. The image is credit belongs to Bill Keir.

2019

  • May: Gas cylinders repositioned and secured, wood for winter delivered and broken warden’s fridge removed for re-gassing/replacement.
  • April: New califont installed to supply gas-heated water for the warden’s shower.
  • February: holding tanks serviced

 

2018

Homer Hut Common Room Image: Ron McLeod

  • A work party of 11 led by Ron McLeod and Al Walker repainted outside walls, cleaned internal walls and put a new coat of polyurethane on the ceiling, walls and shelves of the Common Room. Other work: additional cutlery brought in, lampshades fitted, gas cylinders exchanged, fire extinguishers serviced, wood and coal replenished. Photos were removed for refurbishing as frames were stained. Door closers fitted to bunk rooms and seats and doors were prepped and painted.
  • Radio antenna repaired on the roof.
  • holding tanks serviced Feb/Mch

 

2017

  • Summer 2017/2018:
    – Guttering cleaned and middle water tank reconnected as water was low, but improved supply now with further rainfall.
    – Jaz and Al Uren erected shelves in each bunkroom, took the doors off the cupboard in the common room and repurposed it to hold food bins for hut users, put in a door closer to the common room, took the button-type latch off the door as no longer needed, relocated the old map to the main door and in its place mounted the whiteboards for weather forecasts, notices, etc, built a hut book box by the dining table, removed old posters in the entrance area, added a couple of exterior coat hooks where the wooden ones were broken, removed damaged kitchen utensils and consolidated cutlery supply. Extra assistance from Steven Fortune and Michael Eatson.

 

2016

  • March: holding tanks serviced and gas tanks all full. Three early Homer log books returned and entered into the NZAC Hocken Archive Collection, including the first two hut books from the 1965 ‘new’ hut rebuild.

 

2015

50th Anniversary of Homer Hut (source Southland Section Newsletter)

50th Anniversary of Homer Hut                     (source Southland Section Newsletter)

  • Oct Labour Weekend: 50th Anniversary Celebration (image above)
  • July: Darran’s Winter Meet report
  • Apl: coal drums filled, dry wood shifted to warden’s quarters woodshed, two large trailer loads of wood ringed and stacked. Prework for new solar panels done. Gravel path constructed to woodshed and old water tank sited for wood storage.
  • CCPF grant used to add one extra 250-watt panel with MPPT solar regulator on mounting frame supplied by Sustainable Growing Solutions (South) Ltd, Balclutha (Feb). Al Walker’s report and images available here: Solar Panel Upgrade Project PDF
  • Waste holding tanks serviced
  • Two full gas tanks dropped off and three empties removed (one surplus to requirements)

 

2014

  • Cut and stacked one trailer load of firewood (Dec)
  • CCPF grant used to replaced the 2 steel water tanks with 2 x 5000-litre plastic ones and two new stands for tanks made (Dec)
  • Smoke alarm batteries replaced and tested (Nov)
  • Fire extinguishers serviced (Sep)
  • Bait stations checked
  • 30yr DOC concession renewed to 28 Feb 2043.

 

2013

Complete lease renewal planned. Replaced roof 6/7April 2013. Then on  20/21 April a working bee from Invercargill saw the woodshed filled, drain from common room unblocked, more spouting brackets fitted, ceilings reinstated after skylight removal, batteries recharged

 

2006

Renovation of the hut was completed on May 6th, 2006 and a re-opening ceremony was held. The inside of the hut was upgraded with firewalls isolating the bunk rooms. Plywood wall relining includes insulation and the concrete floor has been ground and sealed to give a smart finish. There is also an additional toilet.

There is now a significantly enlarged common room with new, much larger double-glazed windows, a new solid fuel burner, new kitchen benches with running water and gas stoves. Two long-drop toilets and no showers.

Bunk rooms have had the same lining and floor makeover as the rest of the hut. New bunks and cubbyhole storage was installed.

The warden’s quarters has been moved to a larger section of the hut. It has new bunks, double-glazed windows, a new solid fuel burner, shower (not for public use), kitchen sink with running water and a gas stove.

Homer construction of first hut on modern site 1960s Image: Bill Gordon

2005 – Contract let for renovation work to commence in spring. Lease extended by Doc. Concession granted to control of camping in Homer Hut area.
2004 – Renovation plans being prepared.
2003 – Renovation plans being prepared. Fundraising flyer included in Climber. Southland Section work party repaints part of the hut.
2002 – Money made available for renovation of Homer Hut.
2001 – Report presented on options for hut upgrade.
2000 – Report requested on options for upgrade.
1999 – Old gas cookers removed from bunkrooms and temporary units set up in the main common room. The issue of the poor condition of Homer Hut was raised.

1965 – Homer Hut completed after several years of volunteers building and a cost of 7000 pounds.

1960 – Planning for a new Fiordland hut begins.

Road workers hut Homer Hut site 1960s Image: Bill Gordon

1953 – Around this time the NZAC acquired two huts from the Public Works Department road works camp and these became the Club’s base huts at Homer through to the early 1960s.

1925 – The first hut on this site was built in 1925 by the Government Tourist Department long before there was road access. It lasted until the 1940s when it rotted away.

 

Background

The current Homer Hut is one of the New Zealand Alpine Club’s six base huts. The first Homer Hut was built by volunteers from Southland Section of the New Zealand Alpine Club in the early 1960’s and was opened in 1965. The hut cost some £7,000 to build, half of which had been raised by the Southland Section of the New Zealand Alpine Club and the remainder was granted by the Fiordland National Park Board.

Homer Hut is around 3/4 hour’s drive from Te Anau and 20 minutes from Milford Sound by car, some 90 kilometres from Te Anau, off the Milford Road shortly before the Homer Tunnel. As such it lies almost at the head of the Hollyford Valley, in the Darran Mountains.

Homer Hut provides bunks for 35 people in 4 bunkrooms and a warden’s quarters and can accommodate 45 people if bench squabs in the common room are used. It provides the only easily accessible, permanent accommodation in the area suitable for climbers and mountaineers. Facilities provided are basic: bunk-space, two gas cookers, two pot-belly fires, outside tank water and an outside long-drop toilet. There is neither electricity nor telephone, but over the summer season, a resident warden has a short-wave radio with which to communicate with DoC in Te Anau and to receive weather forecasts.

The prime purpose for Homer Hut is to provide ready access to the Darran Mountains, New Zealand’s premier alpine rock climbing area. Unlike most of New Zealand, the rock here is granite, which allows rock climbing of unsurpassed quality on crags and buttresses. As well as rock climbing routes, mountaineering face and ridge climbs to the peaks are also to be found here. The mountaineering routes range from those suitable for novices to some of the most demanding found in New Zealand. In winter, the ice walls and frozen waterfalls to be found in the Darrans provide some of the most challenging ice climbing in New Zealand.

There are a limited number of walking tracks in the Upper Hollyford. The track to Gertrude Saddle, a popular destination for tourists, walkers and trampers, starts from outside Homer Hut. In recent years advanced New Zealand and overseas white-water kayakers have started to run the Hollyford River.

The hut is used by mountaineers, climbers, trampers, kayakers and tourists from Southland, New Zealand and overseas. A number of nature safari, cycling and suchlike concessionaires use the hut facilities from time to time. Previously, school parties used the hut for accommodation for school trips and this continues in a limited way. Recently SIT (Southern Institute of Technology) field trips have used the hut and may continue to do so.

It is difficult to readily quantify the use of the hut over time as different wardens record the makeup of invoices and cashbooks differently. However, it would appear that the main use of the hut is over the summer season, from a little before Christmas through to Easter, depending on the weather. A small but significant number of people use the hut over winter, mainly at the weekends.

The only alternative accommodation in the immediate vicinity is Gunn’s Camp, in the mid-Hollyford Valley, some 20 km away. Accommodation there costs, on last advice, $10.00 per night per person in the old PWD huts. Those staying at Gunn’s Camp are supplied with coal for heating and hot water from the coal range in each hut shared hot showers and free access to Murray Gunn’s museum. Gunn’s Camp is better maintained and is thus usually a lot cleaner than Homer Hut.

By 2000 it became clear that a strategic assessment of the hut was in order. To this end, a working group consisting of some Southland Section committee members under the leadership of Bill Gordon and in association with John Cocks, Convenor of the Club Huts Committee, began work in mid-2000. A Terms of Reference was prepared and Club Committee allocated $4,000 towards the investigation. This budget was well under-spent through using resident expertise and local contacts. This allowed some of the budget to be instead used immediately to remedy the more serious deficiencies, including the smelly toilet which had become a serious embarrassment.

In the process of carrying out the assessment of Homer Hut, it became clear that a number of matters could be dealt with by the working group at the time, and any opportunities to do this were taken by the group. The most important of these was to work closely with local DoC management and Environment South staff to attend to the driveway and deal with problems arising from day visitors and campers.

Renovations were completed in 2006.

Camping
The open flat immediately before the hut used to be a reasonably popular camping area with canoeists, some climbers and camper-vans. The campers tended to use the hut facilities, often without paying for them. This gave rise to some management difficulties as there were no other toilet facilities or shelter in the vicinity. Casual public use of Club facilities was commonplace. Arising from discussions with DoC in 2000 by Southland Section Executive, all camping in the area is now prohibited, being within 200 metres of the road, and “No Camping” signs are posted. DoC has also recently established a carpark on the road side of the creek with a toilet for day visitors to the Gertrude Valley, which will further restrain casual day use of Homer Hut facilities. Camping is still allowed inside the Club “compound”, at the Warden’s discretion and subject to day-use fees. This has appeared to work well.

Wardens
The single most important management difficulty is finding and keeping reliable wardens for the hut at the hut. The warden’s quarters are dark and gloomy and being inside the hut has little privacy. Late night Friday arrivals often disturb the warden’s sleep. The conditions are sufficiently primitive that only climbers tend to offer themselves as wardens. Such people tend to prefer climbing to wardening and it is usual for the warden to depart on overnight weekend expeditions in fine weather with mates instead of collecting fees in what are peak revenue periods. Discussions with wardens and potential wardens indicate that it would be possible to attract non-climbing wardens only if the quarters were brought up to standards to be found in other huts.

Day to Day Management
It is clear that there is a need for Club representatives to live in relatively close proximity to the hut. Running the hut from Dunedin or Christchurch is not practicable, and is only just possible from Invercargill. At this stage, there are sufficient Club members in Southland who are prepared to continue managing the Homer Hut, although it has been found necessary to call on Southland Tramping Club members to assist in labour intensive tasks from time to time. Fortunately, there is a close rapport between the Southland Tramping Club and the Southland Section and many members are shared. The complexities of organising and inducting hut wardens are onerous and it is intended to hand over the management of the hut wardens to the NZAC National Office.

Creek Bank Erosion
One of the major sources of concern for Homer Hut is the effects of the normally dry creek which flows down from the Macpherson Cirque to between “The Pebble” and the hut. The driveway to the hut from the road crosses this creek. This creek is normally dry, but during rain can make access to the hut impossible. In the past there has been creek scouring at the top end of the hut compound which, if left unchecked, could have threatened the hut. The scouring no longer seems to be a problem: since boulders were dropped into place along the creek bank in the early 1990’s, no further erosion has taken place. Advice is that the bank is no longer subject to erosion. The most likely place any erosion could take place is a little upstream of the hut. However, it would be straightforward to stabilise the bank with the judicious placement of another boulder, or some gabion baskets as groins.

Driveway Erosion
An on-going problem remains with the driveway from the road. A reasonably satisfactory, if rough track, suitable for saloon cars was in place until early 2000 when the creek bed was excavated by a roading contractor, making the route difficult even for 4-WD vehicles. Southland Section executive spent considerable effort in getting the situation rectified and in January 2001 a new access way was established after the Regional Council, Environment South intervened. While this new route is superior to the previous driveway in that the approaches are protected by large boulders, the bed of the creek is still subject to scouring. It is hoped that the creek bed will continue to stabilise over the next few years which will minimise the need for driveway maintenance. If the driveway continues to scour with normal creek flows, Environment South has undertaken to lead a delegation to address the matter. In addition, a submission has been made to DoC for the Fiordland National Park Management Plan to restrict gravel extraction from the area. No further major difficulties are expected.

Toilets
Long-drop toilets in various forms have always been a feature of Homer Hut. The more recent attempts at a modern, hygienic toilet have been somewhat disappointing in performance. Happily, a local plumber/drain layer reworked the outflow of the spare concrete toilet waste tank and transferred the existing toilet edifice onto it just before Christmas 2001. This has resulted in satisfaction and comfort to all concerned.

Territorial Authority Compliance
The architect (see below) has advised that there are no compliance issues with Homer Hut. A minor discrepancy regarding a building consent for the toilet has been addressed.

Lease
Comparing GPS readings with the current lease document shows that the area leased by the Club (approx 133sqm footprint) for Homer Hut is, in fact, the confluence of the two branches of the Hollyford River, and more or less the site of the original Homer Huts. This needs to be updated in the next lease to show the correct location. The north-east corner of the hut is actually at grid reference 2114603E 5592538N and the northeast corner of the veranda of the proposed warden’s quarters is at 2114602E 5592575N, some 35 metres away. The lease currently only allows NZ Alpine Club members, their guests, and school and church groups to use the hut. This is too limiting and needs to be changed in the next lease to allow a wider range of users, including concessionaires. DoC has indicated that to do so would be acceptable to them. Keeping the hut open to the general public will certainly remain a condition of the lease and would also be required by funding agencies for the proposed work. The lease term is only for 5 years. This is not satisfactory, especially if costly improvements are made to the hut.

Update: A new lease agreement was signed 8 May 2014 with the Department of Conservation. The new lease authorises the activity of both the Homer Hut and its surrounding camp-ground area for 30 years commencing 1 March 2013 with a final expiry date of 28 Feb 2043.

Utilities
The hut’s relative isolation means that it is without power or telephone. Indeed, the possibility of providing either is non-existent. Gas bottle and coal supply to the hut is arranged through local arrangements set up by the Southland Section. The chief problem is that it is never clear when these supplies are running low and are in need of replacement through poor communications to or infrequent visits by Southland Section members.

Security
Basically, it is impossible to guarantee the security of the hut: it lies only a short distance from an extremely isolated road and is frequently uninhabited. Any passing opportunists would have ample opportunity to acquire any items in the hut they may covet. In the past, coal stored in bags rather than dumped into the coal bin has been stolen. On occasions over the years parts of the hut have been locked, but to no avail, notwithstanding that, a condition of the lease is that the hut is to be kept unlocked. Interestingly, there has never been any vandalism and the collection of antique alpine photographs in the common room has never been interfered with.

Location
The Southland Section executive examined and explored the possibility of relocating the hut. The construction of the hut means that the only way to relocate it would be to demolish the hut and rebuild another. It was considered that a more sunny location would be desirable. However, there are very few areas in the vicinity that get much more sun than the present location and are accessible. Of these, none are safe from avalanches. It was concluded that the present location, for all its difficulties, offers the only practicable site for a hut.

Car Parking and Camping
Car parking inside the compound is acceptable but less than ideal. The same applies to the area available for camping. Discussions with DoC confirm that it is possible to extend the compound area by judicious felling for branches and some limited tree clearing. The large boulders in and around the compound prevent extensive development, but with landscaping and some in-filling, a satisfactory result should be obtained. Other than organising earth moving machinery and a few loads of fill, there is not a lot of work required to do this.

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