Questions remain over mysterious Te Urewera hut fire

5:31 pm on 30 November 2022
Panoramic view of Te Urewera National Park, New Zealand.

The Otamatuna Hut in the Waimana Valley was found burned down yesterday (File picture). Photo: 123RF / Daria Trefilova

The mysterious destruction of an old biodiversity hut in Te Urewera while a court injunction is in place has highly concerned some locals and conservationists.

The Otamatuna Hut in the Waimana Valley was damaged by fire and is thought to be suspicious.

Te Uru Tamatua, the operating arm of iwi Ngāi Tūhoe, was dismantling huts until it was forced to stop by the high court.

Former Te Urewera Mainland Island project manager Pete Shaw said the latest fire was a travesty.

"It's just part of the ongoing degradation of Te Urewera under Te Uru Taumatua. They've let the tracks go over, they've let the weeds run rampant, they've let the pests go ballistic."

Shaw knew the 1990s-built hut well.

"I was working for DOC [the Department of Conservation] when the hut was built. Prior to that, we had a rumpty little dirt floor hut next door, which we used for a few years with an open fireplace. The new hut was like a palace by comparison."

It was not open to the general public.

"The Otumatuna Hut was built specifically for biodiversity work, so it was a big base for people doing pest control and also people that were monitoring rare species like kōkako especially," Shaw said.

But the conservation work had now been dialled back to its bare bones, he said.

"It was the home to the biggest kōkako population in the world, but the way things are going, they stand to be functionally extinct within five years."

Matt Te Pou (Ngāi Tūhoe, Te Whakatōhea) is a trustee of Tetaiāhape Marae in the Waimana Valley.

The area was beautiful, Te Pou said.

"It's like a sanctuary, it's a special place. When you come to Te Urewera, it's one of those places that's a jewel in the crown."

He believed the Otamatuna Hut fire was a "bit of mischief" by someone.

"I'm certainly of the view that it's not anyone in Te Uru Tamatua that would do that. Those who were originally burning those huts were doing it under instruction.

"There's a legal case on that to protect the final huts that are there, so I don't see it as Te Uru Taumatua, because what would they gain out of it? They'd gain nothing."

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