In 1910 the NZ government held a land lottery for five allotments of native forest, situated between Awakino and Pirongia.
The lucky winners were then tasked with clearing the steep slopes, for farming.
Despite being surveyed for roads in 1902, they never came, making the assignment all the more difficult.
Then World War I broke out, and the winners were sent off on a gruelling trip to fight for a vague cause on the other side of the globe. Of the eight farmers, only five were to return. Of those five, four abandoned the land, broken by the soul-destroying job of clearing the forever encroaching bush in an area so remote even today it’s still an arduous journey through gravel roads dodging wild goats along the way.
The most isolated ‘farm’ belonged to Sam Leitch. He had a vision. His block of land included a gentle flat section running along the headwaters of the Awakino River. He was convinced that it was to be the next big thing, a bustling hub for the upcoming farming community. Just as soon as the government built those roads. It would be any day now. The plans had already been approved.
While he patiently waited, Sam busied himself with bush-clearing, hut-building, and planting macrocarpa trees. Remnants of his home and garden are (apparently) still visible today.
The roads never came. Not in Sam’s lifetime. Not today.
Now, his ‘farm’ has been absorbed into Whareorino forest park. Sam Leitch’s land clearing remains, and is now the site of a very good DOC hut, named after the dedicated farmer himself.
We decided to check it out.
Travelling down to Whareorino forest from Kawhia, on gravel roads, we gained an appreciation of just how isolated this area was.
There are three tracks accessing Leitch’s Hut, one is a difficult 7 hour tramp and is no longer maintained, the second is a mostly gravel, several hour drive, even from the nearest township of Piopio. The third track, starting at the end of Leitch’s Road, is a three hour tramp, accessed within a 20 minute drive from Piopio on almost entirely sealed roads.
Not equipped with PLBs, we opted for the ‘Leitch’s Road’ tramp.
Despite its isolation this is a very pleasant tramp. It is noteworthy for being a remarkably well-maintained track, suitable for all seasons, and not containing any steep hills.
Along the way we spotted several wild goats (despite DOC’s winter culling programme), and one exploratory hedgehog.
After two hours we reached Sam Leitch’s clearing.
It was still clear.
In the middle of the forest, there is a sprawling section of land covered by lupins and metre high summer grass, with an inviting bubbling Awakino River snaking it’s way through it.
A pleasant 20 minute walk through the clearing saw us reach the Hut which, with its polished wooden floors, is the best I’ve stayed in yet. We celebrated our arrival by going for a quick dip in the river, before investigating the Hut more closely.
The hut receives visitors about once a week. Of those, a large number are hunters, evidenced by the assortment of makeshift fishing rods, DOC built dog-kennels, and miscellaneous hunting accessories left behind until their next visit.
However, I can see this relatively unknown track becoming more popular in time. The hut and surrounding area are gorgeous and I could easily imagine spending a day just relaxing in the clearing, exploring the river, or finding Sam Leitch’s old home.
Both the hut and track make it ideal for first-time trampers, or people with children, come rain or shine.
Of the many failed farming attempts by the early government, Sam Leitch’s was one that was not in vain.
We will be back.
View all photos here.