Huts have been built in the Orongorongo Valley since the early 1900s – though they look a little different from today’s modern DOC huts! Early huts were built from materials at hand – manuka poles as framing and totara for piles. Some materials were strapped onto pack frames and carried in. Flattened kerosene tins were used for cladding and in later years roles of malthoid and even bags of concrete were carried through the Five Mile track!
After World War II, transport became more available and old army trucks were hired to bring materials up the valley. In the 60s and 70s, home made buggies become popular with hut builders and made the job a little easier. Some builders of this era prebuilt huts out of ply from old car packing cases, dismantled and numbered them before driving the materials in. Though they still had to be carried up tracks to the hut sites, a long slog for some.
Why did people build huts in the valley?
Many of the first campsites and huts in the valley were used and built by keen hunters in the 1920s. Some were employed by the Wildlife Department and others were undertaking the first scientific research into the habits of possums.
In 1919 the first tramping club in New Zealand was set up – the Tararua Tramping Club and in the 1930s tramping took off and became a popular form of recreation for young men and women. During this time the tramping club built Waerenga Hut to accommodate the growing interest.
The Orongorongo Valley was easily accessible from the city and became popular for tramping club trips. Trampers caught the ferry from Wellington to Eastbourne, walked over into Gollans Valley, through Jackson’s Farm and over the Guts Buster into the Orongorongo Valley, a trip that took three to four hours, double the time of the well maintained Orongorongo Track today. When transport became more available, tramping and mountaineering groups went further afield to the Tararuas and Ruapehu.
Some preferred the ease and community of the Orongorongos so stayed and built their own huts to enjoy with their extended families and friends. A hut licence could be obtained from the Wellington Water Board who managed the valley in the early days. Huts continued to be built until the 1970s with the last one built in 1980. Today there are just over 50 huts in the valley of all shapes and sizes constructed with hard work and discarded materials from friends and family. Not only are the huts unique in look but in name christened with titles like Bedlam, Stonehem, Bushman’s Arms, Tijuana, Boar Inn, Shalimar and Erewhon.
In 1987 the Department of Conservation took over management of the valley from the Forestry Service. Some hut owners either left the valley or passed on and these huts were taken over by DOC. Jans and the old Oaks and Haurangi huts all owe their roots to the early tramping fraternity.
A Unique Community
Since huts were first built, the valley has seen families come together to form a friendly community who readily pitch in and give each other a hand when needed. The valley has always been a social place and many good times have been spent visiting other huts, around riverbed campfires, hangis, the Kid’s Moa Hunt Competition and the famous Riverbed Golf Tournament. Children have grown up together enjoying the delights of the great outdoors and acquiring an appreciation for nature.
Over the years hundreds of newcomers have begun a keen interest in the outdoors when introduced to the valley through the huts network. Many school and scout groups have spent nights in the huts and even helped build and maintain huts through a teacher’s or student’s connection to the valley. With the recent construction of new DOC huts and the continued presence of private huts, it is hoped that generations of local families will continue to enjoy the valley and it's heritage.
Baine Iti - the oldest hut in the valley