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Tuhoe back-country hut debate: ‘Time will tell if it was the right decision’

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Sandy Bay Hut at Lake Waikareiti will remain open. Photo / Ben Piggot

News of the destruction of some huts in Te Urewera sparked fierce debate, and court action. Sarah Curtis talked to outdoorsman Ben Piggott about the characteristic back-country shelters.

A court order has put a temporary stop to the planned destruction of the last remaining Department of Conservation huts in Te Urewera.

When it was handed back to Tūhoe under a Treaty settlement in 2013, Te Urewera had been a national park for 60 years. Before and during that time, a network of about 50 huts dotted throughout the landscape sprang up, providing shelter for recreational users, hunters, and conservation workers. They ranged from small, basic huts to larger buildings that could shelter numerous people.

Te Urewera’s governing Māori authorities have a new vision for the area, and some want Crown-owned structures, including most of the huts, removed with a view to constructing new, purpose-built facilities. Among the huts that will remain open are all but one of those on the Waikaremoana Great Walk, and Sandy Bay Hut at Lake Waikareiti.

“Decommissioning” of the other huts began in October this year when the Tūhoe Te Uru Taumatua Trust (TUT) ordered contractors to start burning them down.

It’s estimated at least 20 of the huts have gone.

Debate over the loss has loomed large in media reports, and there’s been fiery discussion. However, one passionate outdoorsman, Ben Piggot, says while it’s “a significant loss for back-country heritage and huts, it’s important to have an open mind”.

Piggot has backpacked into many of the huts over the years, and recently shared his collection of images of these characteristic back-country shelters to an online tramping site.

In an accompanying post, Piggot said it had been “a real journey and privilege” travelling through Te Urewera to these places.

“It is a special ngahere with value to many manuhiri and, of course, Tūhoe — it’s their rohe.

“These huts have all played a part in the conservation and recreation story, but their time is at an end, with decommissioning planned to be finished by December.

“The next chapter will be interesting, to see the future recreation opportunities and plans to protect the biodiversity of Te Urewera as per the Te Urewera Act,” Piggott said.

“It’s a very dynamic and tricky place to try to understand — not easily done from media or Facebook comments,” he said.

He encouraged people to get out for a walk to truly see and understand the beauty of Te Urewera for themselves.

“Time will tell if the decisions now being made are truly to benefit Te Urewera and her biodiversity, or for the benefit of people.”

– Gisborne Herald

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