Zekes Hut needs an apostrophe, but the topo won’t give it one. Named after Turangi hunter Zeke Martin, the sparkling new hut was built in 2007 and evidently doesn’t see much traffic, according to the hut book, which goes back to the first entry of the new instalment. It’s a warm four-bunker, with a roaring wood burner (handy, given it gets snow in winter), and really if you’re warm and cosy, do you really need that apostrophe?
I hadn’t bagged Zekes Hut, so I rounded up a tramping companion (Pete aka Papa Smurf, 69 but still in good nick, goes fast on the uphill, shares his snacks) and off we went to check in to the Hihitahi Forest Sanctuary. Here’s Papa Smurf, aka Tracker Smurf, in his natural habitat:
The track goes off SH1, with only minimal parking, and it feels like a dodgy place to leave your car overnight; thankfully we were just doing a day trip. Over farmland, across a swingbridge, then sidling a stream, the track begins to climb at first steeply but then gently towards the peak of Hihitahi itself (more on the DOC site here). At 1116m and with a clear top, it affords beautiful views of Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe on a clear day.
The topo map will have you believe that there’s a trig station up there, but it’s either invisible to the human eye or it’s disappeared altogether. Here, Papa Smurf ponders the loss of one of the country’s pre-eminent structures (Think Big!).
And with plenty of room on the top (and perhaps the remains of an old structure – the hut before the old hut?) it’s a real shame the new Zekes Hut didn’t end up here, as the new hut site isn’t a patch on this spot. There’s plenty of room to swing a cat, or a billy, depending on how you like to roll.
The track then loses 160m down to the hut, and although the track on the topo is different from the actual route, it’s approximately correct. You won’t, however, find the northern continuation of the track to Whakatara easily; Papa Smurf, who as a LandSAR and Forest Service veteran can sniff out all manner of routes, found vestiges of a path, but it’s certainly not as well-worn as the topo would have you believe. The track beyond Zekes Hut, however, does seem to continue, although we didn’t explore further.
After a long lunch at the hut and baking ourselves in the sunshine, we signed the hut book, packed up and headed back out, making a good pace of 2.5 hours on the return journey compared to 3-3.5 hours on the way in.
Hurrah for Zekes. What it is lacking in grammar, it makes up for in outdoor delights.