“On a Mish” #314 Resting in Pieces – RIP Gunns Camp. Hollyford Valley. Fiordland National Park. 28.12.2021. Many years ago, when I worked as a guide on the Routeburn Track, I would tell people that the collection of buildings in the mid Hollyford Valley was a remote prison, before explaining that they were looking down at Gunns Camp. If it really was a prison I would have done whatever crime needed to get a life sentence there!
My first encounter with the camp was when I drove through it to get to Moraine Creek in the lower Hollyford River and immediately I became a fan. It became the norm to visit the camp around the end of the guiding season (late April), and from there I would go on many a mish into the incredible environment which surrounds it. The camp sits at the northern base of the mighty Darran Mountains, and to me there is no equal when it comes to a truly epic landscape. When staying here I would always request ‘Pop’s Hut’ to be my home for my time in the area. Pop’s Hut is the smallest of the cabins and the only ‘Hut’ in the camp (the rest are CABINS!). Having the little fireplace cranking and the rain tapping on the tin roof is an outstanding way to spend a night, or two or three… 2020 was a rather disruptive year for everyone, however the ball got rolling earlier in Fiordland National Park. The rain in this part of the world is legendary and for 40 hours it took it to the next level. Invercargill’s annual 12 month rainfall was dumped down from a great height in less than two days! The incredible deluge was not only spectacular but also devastating on the surrounding environment. The Milford Road and both the Routeburn and Milford hiking tracks had sections obliterated back to bare rock. Huge parts of the Milford Road were also pushed into the raging waters of the Hollyford River, and a huge slip rolled down off Key Summit hitting the back of Howden Hut on the Routeburn Track – with people in it!
Of all the destruction in that 40 hours of fury what hit the heart the most was the landslide that engulfed Gunns Camp in the mid Hollyford Valley. It took a direct hit when a huge chunk of Ocean Peak(1848m) went on a brutal journey to the ground floor of the valley. Many of the cabins didn’t stand a chance against millions of tons of mountain debris and gravity. It would be a long time before I got a chance to see the destruction for myself as I had to deal with the destruction of my hip at the same time. On the drive to another mish, myself and my bro Mark got a chance to stop in and assess the damage and what we came across made our hearts sink. I couldn’t understand why people were saying that Gunns Camp will probably never be rebuilt until I got to see it with my own eyes. Some of the cabins are now just piles of wood and tin. The little roads that went amongst the buildings are now unrecognisable. Total devastation. I couldn’t believe there wasn’t any fatalities with the amount of damage. As I stood on a mound of landslide debris I had to hold back the tears, knowing that this awesome place would never be the same again. We wandered around the wreckage and to my absolute joy I spotted Pop’s Hut completely unscathed – the only building that looked the same as it did before the storm in 2020. A small glimmer of light in a very dark place. I don’t know what the future is for Gunns Camp, but I am very thankful for all the outstanding times I had there in the past. Long live the memory of Gunns Camp!