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Cold comfort at Mt Brown Hut

On the track to Mt Brown Hut with Lake Kaniere far below. Photo: Pat Barrett
Total Ascent
Mt Brown Hut (free, four bunks)
The car park on the southeast side of Lake Kaniere at Geologist Creek. Also accessible from the lower Styx Valley Track when the river is low
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Mt Brown Hut (gpx, yo 13 KB)
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Mt Brown Hut, West Coast

Westland was arrayed below us in all its incredible glory as we laboured slowly up the rough snow-bound track from the edge of beautiful Lake Kaniere. Our destination was Mt Brown Hut on the Newton Range overlooking the Styx and Arahura rivers.

It was now a fine warm day, although there had been a severe early frost in the sheltered Lake Kaniere basin. The chill forced us to pack away the tent and gear pretty quickly in order to have breakfast and get moving to ward off the cold.

It was a small price to pay for the view of the Westland landscape as we climbed the range. Such colour and diversity is unequalled anywhere on earth; from the lofty summits to gorges, river plain and the Tasman Sea in barely half a turn of your head.

If I was to rate my absolute best tramping country, it would be Westland on a fine day, heading for the tops and a night out in a hut. Mt Brown has boasted a hut in earlier days, but the orange box here now was ‘borrowed’ from an adjacent catchment, re-sited and given a complete make-over. It now welcomes all who venture up from the lowlands on the muddy track.

Mud was not the issue for us that day. It was snow, with masses of it clinging to the hillsides, bowing the trees and filling every clearing. It had iced over in the shade and swamped the tussock terraces above the bushline, making for wade-through walking.

There was still a trail of sorts, one stomped out by previous walkers. It resembled a tunnel as it passed through ranks of bent-over saplings near the bush edge.

The hut sits on a sloping terrace at 1100m, near the edge of a scrubby face that drops sheer for 1000m to the lakeshore, a proximity with an opera-box-like view of the Westland symphony playing out before us as the afternoon progressed.

After depositing our gear at the hut, downing lunch and setting up for dinner, we trudged through the snow to the summit of Mt Brown, two kilometres away. A good fight ensued with snow, scrub and sharp ascents along the ridge as the sun dipped into the sea.

At the modest little hilltop vantage of Mt Brown we could look out over much of the lower Arahura, Westland’s famous greenstone river, the over-steepened gulch of the Styx and, further off, the Hokitika and Taramakau valleys. Scattered among those catchments are the ridges, bluffs, and razorbacks of the fortress-like interior of the hinterland. Trans-alpine trips here come at a cost, and comfort is the first to be discounted.

Arriving back at the hut just at dark, we soon had dinner ready. There was a warm sleeping bag to fill, a book to read and best of all a small coal fire to provide a little cheer.

Tomorrow we had our sequel – out to the lake via the Styx Valley, through snowed-up forest and river flats.