Over the summer of 2017/18 I'd spent my time living in the Catlins, managing a small hostel and chilling out while recovering from my third lot of surgery on my left eye. I'd visited most of the tourist attractions in the area, but there were a couple of huts up in the forests inland that I was keen to visit.
My first hut was Tautuku Hut. It's only a couple of hours, if that, walk from the McLean Falls carpark, but it's not signposted and with the falls closed due to a landslide along the track, the access was actually blocked off. I ran into the DOC ranger as I drove down to the carpark and he told me to jump the fence as I wasn't planning on going to the falls anyway.
The hut itself is merely a tin shed near a river. There is no fireplace, you get water from the river, and there is no toilet. Permolat Southland has been given the go ahead to seek funding for improvements to the hut and track, so that is likely to change.
The track is a little muddy in places, but otherwise a pretty easy stroll up a hill, along a ridge, then down to the hut beside a small river. The forest is mixed podocarp, and there is lots of birdlife. There's a reason for this.
This section of forest sits behind the Lenz Reserve, a 550 hectare conservation area owned and managed by Forest and Bird. Extensive trapping, both within the reserve and in the forests around it, have made it a haven for wildlife. It is absolutely teeming with birds.
I spent a quiet night, but was woken early by a spectacular morning chorus. Something I used to look forward to every morning on the Bibbulmun Track is a distant memory in New Zealand. But not today. As I walk back through the forest I take a sound recording. My friend who works for DOC later counts more than 10 different bird calls. She is so thrilled she asks me to send her a copy! She also tells me about some other huts to go visit...
My second hut adventure starts with me taking what I think is a shortcut, up a dirt road that quickly deteriorates. I have nowhere to turn around so I stupidly keep going, and then get stuck. I have a low slung 2WD, not a big grunty 4x4, what was I thinking?
I have no signal on my phone, or my satellite beacon, so I initially start to self rescue, attempting to dig the car out with my hand trowel. This is slow, dirty work, but I make some headway, jacking the car up and placing branches in the deep wheelruts. Still I am stuck.
I walk a little way to see if I can improve the signal, but for some reason, even though I have direct line of sight to the sky, no messages get through. I find a spot in the pine trees and pitch my tent. I am fully prepared for a few nights out bush anyway, just not quite there!
The next morning my beacon decides to work, and I get a message through to a friend at Papatowai, who calls a friend in Owaka, who drives out with his mate in a 4x4 and they pull me out. I give them $50 for their effort and drive sheepishly on to Surat Bay, where Jack and Esther give me a warm welcome and a bed for the night. The next morning I enjoy my breakfast from my usual spot.
Then I head off for more adventures....