Image of the May 2013 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
May 2013 Issue
Home / Articles / Waypoints

Changes at Chancellor

Chancellor Hut is New Zealand's oldest alpine hut. Photo: Hugh van Noorden

Chancellor Hut, Westland Tai Poutini National Park

On a tussock shelf high above the Fox Glacier, Chancellor Hut shares its perch with keas and chamois. Out front there is a comfortable view across a sloping tussock bench, a few meters from the back wall there is a vertical 300m drop into the chaos of the upper icefall. That the hut has survived 80-plus years of the worst weather and has avoided the hazards of avalanches and rock slides to become New Zealand’s oldest alpine hut still on its original site, is thanks to the experience and judgement the legendary Peter Graham showed when he selected the site in 1930.

There is nowhere else like it in the world. Above the hut you can see the highest peaks in the Southern Alps while below the grumbles and crashes of the Fox Glacier seracs can be heard. Far below, the glacier melt feeds the thin silver streams of the Fox River flowing through green rainforest and when the sun sets you can make out the lines of breakers on Gillespies Beach.

Travel up the Fox Glacier has often been tricky, but when mountaineers can scramble around the worst of the ice pinnacles, avoid the most dangerous of the unstable moraines and cross between the icefalls at Victoria Flat, a steep but pleasant track through a belt of subalpine scrub gives good access to the hut. For climbers heading for the snowfields and peaks, at the head of the tussock shelf the grass and scree soon gives way to hard white ice, deep crevasses and a long upwards slog to the névé.

Many people use helicopter services to get a quick lift to Victoria Flat or to the tiny landing pad at the hut itself. While Chancellor has traditionally been a staging post for parties heading for alpine summits and a refuge for those escaping storms, these days  it is as likely to be visited by people who wish to pause a while to appreciate the historical ambience and enjoy the stunning location.

– Hugh van Noorden

Wild File

Access Via helicopter from Fox Glacier or with appropriate glacier travel experience south of the township at the end of the road heading up Fox River

Grade Moderate-hard

Time Car park to hut, 5hr (Helicopter: 5min)

Map BX15