Monday 8 January 2018

Huts of New Zealand 2017 - Part 1

Back in January of 2017, through a series of odd coincidences, I was given a calendar for work all about the back country huts of New Zealand. I shared this on Facebook because, hey, look, a weird calendar celebrating a bizarrely niche subject matter! As a follow on, somebody suggested that each month I could write something about the featured hut, and share photos. The idea was immediately amusing to me because I knew nothing about huts or their purpose, and yet they seemed very, well, twee. I don’t think there’s another word for it.  So for no other reason than the idea made me laugh, I began writing monthly Facebook posts about the huts. I did this on my personal page only, for a number of reasons- I didn’t know how interesting it would be to other people, whether I would actually keep it up for a 12 month period, and to publish it on my blog would mean doing proper referencing so as not to be a dick in sharing pictures that were clearly not my own (but hey, that tedious work is now done!)

Surprisingly, I did keep it up, and throughout the year, no matter what else was going on, I made sure I found something to say about each hut. And some people did find it amusing and interesting (or at least claimed to!) I guess there’s nowt so queer as folk. But we already know that. Because this ended up being a somewhat successful writing experiment, I decided to collate the posts into a two part blog for you.
What follows is the posts, pretty much as they were originally written, with some edits to make it a bit flow-ier. I’ve (for the most part) removed the constant reference to how late in the month my posts usually ended up being (you’ll notice the dates started out fairly reasonable but soon devolved into a last minute approach to every entry) and what amazed me every time was that there was pretty much always something to say about the history or location of each hut. On the months where the entries are a bit sparse, this was usually due to me calling it in, rather than a lack of story. Although I protested otherwise, of course, but the truth is just that I got better at finding the story, and for this reason, it was the weirdest, most pointless, and yet one of the more consistent writing exercises I’ve undertaken thus far. Now, without further a to-do, let’s go on a journey through 12 of the most beloved huts in the New Zealand wilderness.

January (posted 16/01/17)
January’s hut should come as no surprise to you as it was the one on the cover!
This is Mungo Hut, located at the junction of Mungo River and Park Stream, in Hokitika, in the West Coast region of the South Island. 

Mungo hut was built in 1962 to replace an older hut. The local community look after it and it was given a good overhaul in 2015. It’s free to stay in and works on a first-come, first-served basis. Apparently it doesn’t get many visitors (only 5 or 6 parties per year) but it would be a steep walk if you were to make the trip only to find it ocupado!
It has 2 bunkbeds, a toilet, its own spade, a cast iron frying pan, a camp oven, 2 buckets, a bow saw, 4 billies (uh, what?), a small library (!), a small seat, an aluminium basin, a hearth shovel and a hand broom, a broom, an axe, and some spare louvre panes (um…) Basically, all your mod cons. Except for hot water.
As with most things in my life, this started out as a joke, but it became interesting somewhere along the way… Although do expect me to switch up the format for future months, because I can bore easily!

February (05/02/17)
February’s hut is Brewster Hut, accessible via the Haast pass and river, overlooked by Mount Brewster and Mount Armstrong, in the South Island. 

This recently built hut was designed to house the admirably insane individuals who like to climb incredibly steep mountains in freezing temperatures. I guess people do this for the view, but I also think it’s linked to that adrenalin junkie sense of achievement thingy, a gene possessed by my father (the mountain bike enthusiast) but not inherited by either of his daughters. Or at least, I can think of a number of other far more interesting activities linked to adrenalin highs that don’t involve any kind of extreme spots, or risk of falling from a great height.
In any event, this hut is a mere 3 hour vertical climb, located on a small plateau above the bush line (the bush being predominantly beech trees I’m reliably informed) There are 12 bunks, a deck with a pretty kickass view, an outhouse, it’s often surrounded by snow, and there is no heating of any kind. 

My favourite anecdote from Bewster hut related research came from a blogger who had bumped into a couple of older Kiwi dudes during their stay. These guys had decided to undertake a summit based exploration of the country as a twosome. They had only been travelling with each other for about a week by the time they reached the hut, but the journey was apparently not turning out as hoped, and the blogger soon learned that the pair had developed a deep dislike of each other. This resulted in one man taking off during the night, leaving his travelling partner a note to find in the morning that simply read ‘left to hitch a ride to Hokitika. Have a good life.’ Which begs the question: how annoying does someone actually have to be to make you want to set off down a track like that in the middle of the night?

Now, let’s take a moment to look at the pictures taken by brave individuals such as these, so that we can enjoy the view from the comfort of our warm sofas.

March (08/03/17)
I don’t know what to tell you with this month’s hut. I mean, I quite literally don’t know what to tell you.

I had a little google and nothing particularly interesting stood out to me. I think this may be related to my current mental state, which has my cognitive function somewhere around the ‘fire-bad, tree-pretty’ level. 

So in quick succession – this is Powell hut. It can accessed via Holdsworth Road end on the popular Mt Holdsworth Jumbo Circuit in the Wairarapa area. It has 28 bunks and costs $15 per person, per night. 

And why stay there? Probably because of that astoundingly breath-taking view I guess.

Seriously dudes, NZ has a good deal of the world’s pretty, and me (not so much with the pretty, but I am a lot of fun) so remind me again why you’re not here already? 

April (05/04/17)
It’s April already, and here we have the historic Cecil King’s hut on the Wangapeka track in Kahurangi National Park.

Maybe I’ve been watching too much American Horror Story recently (which is a whole other deal that I’ll articulate better another day. The only thing I’ll briefly say on that now is that it’s AWESOME to watch Kathy Bates being AWESOME #favouriteactressever ) but some of these photos do make the hut look incredibly ‘home of a serial killer-y/ there’s a witch in those-there-parts-y’ (such liberties I take with the English language, but I know you can handle it) It was also built by a Depression era gold rush dude, which has all the hallmarks of a potential ghost story. So, by all means, stay in the hut, the view is (as ever) amazing, but if all they find of you is a frantic journal that trails off with sinister sentences such as:
‘I think that tapping sound is getting louder’
‘I’m sure I left my climbing pick on the bed’
'The ground shakes, drums… drums in the deep’
Or at the very worst- ‘I’ll swallow your soul… dead before dawn!’
Then I will at least sleep better at night knowing that I gave you fair warning.
Although, for that last one, if this is immediately followed by a shout of ‘hail to the King, baby’ – you’re probably gonna be alright 

May (29/05/17)

This month it’s Colin Todd hut over on Mount Aspiring. 

It was built in memory of a young Dunedin climber who passed away in a motorcycle accident. The actual building of the site was stressful in the extreme, each attempt to get materials up the mountain was beset with constant weather problems and near death experiences for everyone involved. It took eight attempts to fly the materials up the mountain, and even on the successful attempt they ended up in the wrong location, and from there, well, I’ll quote a typically understated Kiwi account of what happened next:
‘To make things worse, a party sent in to retrieve the materials were lucky to survive when they flew to the Bonar Glacier in a ski-plane that botched the landing and flipped on its back. The occupants of the plane were able to descend to the valley floor on their own legs, but needless to say no work was done on the hut.’
All of that insane sounding hard work paid off eventually though, and now the hut is regularly packed out and can hold up to 12-14 visitors at a time. I did find this cool video taken from outside the hut of the mountain itself, so enjoy that ( ) And I’ll leave you with this final thought…
Look at that interior shot. Now look at the top bunk and the wall next to it. Then feel free to raise an eyebrow with me… I mean, really?! You’re a young guy (I’m assuming a lot here, but I think I’ve got good odds of being correct) you’re on holiday with your family, or your friends, and you can’t even go a matter of days without photos of titties next to you while you… sleep?

June (30/06/17)
Let it be said that I’m nothing if not woefully reactive and able to procrastinate until the last feasible minute until I actually do the thing I should have done at the very beginning, and on that note, here’s June’s hut, on the very last day of June.

This is Banfield Hut at Jagged Stream above the Rakaia Valley in Canterbury. The Rakaia Valley constitutes part of the belt of mountains that run all up the South Island, known as the Southern Alps. This area of New Zealand is arguably the most stunning, and that really is saying something given that, y’know, it’s New goddam friggin’ Zealand.
More details on Banfield Hut can be found on this link
This is not just me being characteristically slack, there really is no particular angle to spin on this one. It’s set within epically breath-taking surroundings, so I’m inclined to just let the photos I found do the talking.
One observation – I would imagine that the experience of a night here would bring a whole new meaning to the word ‘cold’. I think this therefore adequately explains the empty bottles of whisky in the interior picture. Along with what I assume is a jar of Nutella? Which would make sense, because whisky and Nutella sounds like a good time.


Eager for more mindless observations about random huts? Why not check out part two? If you’ve made it this far, I can promise you a distinct upswing of effort in part two. This is not just me blowing my own trumpet, on a re-read, the writing for the latter six months was much improved!

Sources of images for huts (unless otherwise linked in the text):

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