You are currently viewing A day in the life at Pinnacles Hut
Robert Brouwer is one of two DOC hut wardens up at the Pinnacles track, near Thames. Photo: SUPPLIED

A day in the life at Pinnacles Hut

It’s the Australian bullfrogs that wake Robert Brouwer up at the Pinnacles Hut.
The New Zealand native Hochstetter’s frogs are “gorgeous” but rarely seen, so it’s left to the croaking Aussie bullfrogs to drive Robert and his colleague “nuts”.
“The noises that you get up there are completely different to the noises in town.
“When you’re in town, you’re used to traffic and people and trucks going past. Up there, it’s the weather or the wildlife,” Robert said. “But some nights, you’ll wake up just because it’s so quiet.”
Robert is one of two Department of Conservation hut wardens up at the Pinnacles track just outside of Thames.
Being in the job for five years has meant he’s seen many sunsets and sunrises, and even the odd thunderstorm.
“Sometimes you can get up to see a wonderfully still night where it’s completely black outside, or maybe the stars are out, and there’s just nothing. No voices, no traffic, just nature.
“Other times, the weather’s coming through and thunderstorms are great fun… we don’t get many but they add a bit of excitement,” he said.
The Pinnacles Hut is situated 6km along the popular Kauaeranga Kauri Trail. The public hut is a two bunkroom, 80-bed hut with a large kitchen that trampers can hunker down in for the night.
There is also another hut for the wardens, which Robert said has been converted pretty much into a “three bedroom bach”.
It is his home away from home; the place he stays for his eight-day shift, returning after six days back in Thames.
“Two of us share that home but not at the same time,” he said. “We are effectively flatmates but we only see each other once a week.”
Before the start of each shift, Robert has to walk the 6km up to the hut, carrying food that’ll last him eight days.
“It’s actually not as hard as you think,” he said, “because our clothing and bedding stay up there, so you’re literally just carrying fresh food for the week, and you can actually eat pretty well.
“When you’re up there, you don’t live off freeze-dried food. We’re just as likely to be having a nice venison steak with a fresh salad from the veggie garden we have up there.”
Yes, according to Robert, the warden’s Pinnacles Hut provides the DOC staff with their fresh greens, housed in a greenhouse to avoid competition with the possums and birds.
He said the job provides him with a healthy lifestyle, both mentally and physically due to the length of the weekly climb, which has an altitude of 600m.
“The guide time to walk there is three hours.
“A fit person will walk it in two hours. Staff, we will routinely do it in an hour and a half. For a trail runner, an hour is not unusual, and the speed record I know of is someone who ran it in 35 minutes,” he said.
“On the other end of the scale, the average teenager takes 4-5 hours and they think they’re dying, and then they find out there’s no wi-fi and they know they’re dead.”
Robert said not only was the popular track a good cardio workout, it was also a “gloriously lush regenerating forest” that was accessible by all ages.
“Let’s be honest, you get 20 minutes into that walk and the back of your legs are going: ‘Why am I doing this?’ Another 20 minutes later, your chest is puffing away going: ‘Why am I doing this?’ and then after that, you get into cruise mode and once you get up there, there is a real sense of achievement.”
Robert’s day up at the Pinnacles begins around 7.30-8am. He’ll head to the main hut first, have a chat with the guests, and then start the clean up and maintenance, which can be anything from fixing a leaking tap or door handle and dealing with pests, to spreading gravel along the track.
Come nightfall, he has a stockpile of ghost stories about “unexplained noises and mysterious happenings” to tell the most easily-fooled.
“I’m in a job where I’m paid to go for a walk… how good is that?” he said. “And along the way you meet really interesting people from all over the world.”
But Robert admitted some aspects of the job weren’t all “paradise”.
“Some of the clean ups we do would probably make your hair stand on end,” he said. “In some countries, toilets are different… and we’ll get people coming to New Zealand who are familiar with squat toilets, and they will stand on our toilet seats and squat.
“Now, you can’t probably print this, but I’m talking sh*t everywhere.”
But Robert said you can’t be squeamish when up on the track. In fact, he’s come to be very protective of the Pinnacles, and wants to see it stay in its pristine condition.
“It’s really healthy, and the more it rains, the healthier it is,” he said.
“You’ll get to the end of your eight days up there and you’ll want a break, so you come home, chill out, and within 2-3 days you’re ready to go back.
“It really is an awesome job.”