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Volunteers keep track of bush huts

There are over 600km of tracks and 52 huts in the Tararua, Aorangi and Remutaka forest parks. Maintaining them is a mammoth task that the Department of  Conservation [DOC] could never achieve alone; and thankfully it doesn’t have to.

The Greater Wellington Backcountry Network [GWBN], formerly known as the Tararua Aorangi Remutaka Huts Committee [TAHRC] has an agreement with DOC to maintain 310km of tracks and six huts. The groups that make up the GWBN membership have agreements to maintain an additional 36 huts.

The group has rebranded but will continue doing the work it has been for the past 30 years. Since the GWBN was launched in October a record 100 members including clubs and individuals, have joined.

GWBN chairman Derrick Field said he started tramping and hunting in the Tararua when he was 13 and has spent his life obsessed with the place, so he’s very keen to preserve it.

“It’s not a short-term thing, it’s a forever thing. The bush will always grow, it goes on forever. It’s a long-term commitment, to keep those tracks accessible for tramping and future generations.”

In the past 10 months GWBN volunteers cleared 132km of track in the Tararua and Aorangi forest parks – 1238 hours of effort.

Most recently on the Mt Frith track, volunteers averaged 10 hours a day, with about seven hours on the scrub bar and the rest of the time walking in and out. The job took 10.5 days to complete.

One volunteer is Alistair Barr, who was ‘roped into’ a day’s track clearing on the Remutaka summit a few years ago by Field.

Barr said many of the tracks in the Tararua and Remutaka forest parks were cut by deer cullers in the 1960s. “They were then taken over by DOC, but what has been established is a huge network to maintain.”

An avid tramper of the Tararua since 1963, the thought that the tracks will go if no one makes the effort motivates Barr.

“I’m delighted to help a worthy cause,” he said. “It also keeps me pretty fit. You don’t need to go to the gym, the gym comes to you.”

DOC Wairarapa provide an annual grant to support GWBN, but the group relies on donations of funds and equipment too. Stihl Shop Masterton and the Trust House Foundation are both generous supporters.

Along with its track maintenance programme, GWBN plans to undertake repairs to at least four remote huts in the Tararua range this summer. So, there’s plenty to do if you don’t mind getting stuck in. If you’re interested in becoming a member of GWBN or making a donation, contact [email protected]

Field said while track cutting is the ‘hardest job you can imagine’ it is also very rewarding.

“I don’t wake every morning and say I want to carry a scrub bar through the hills. But once you’ve done it it’s satisfying. Walking back after a day track cutting, I feel bloody good.”

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