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Haunted huts

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October 2023 Issue

Heading into the hills this Halloween? Perhaps you’ll be brave enough to visit one of these haunted huts.

Old Julia Hut, West Coast

The old Julia Hut that sits at the confluence of the Julia and Mary creeks in the upper Taipo Valley was built in 1958. There is now a new Julia Hut nearby, but it’s the old hut that holds interest: it’s supposedly haunted by Julia or Mary.

In 1876, Julia and Mary Griffin, after whom the creeks are named, were sent from Wainihinihi up the Taipo River to retrieve cattle. The weather turned and the girls never came home. They were 8 and 11,

A deer culler, who worked the valley in the sixties, told of hearing a knock on the hut door one night around midnight. He wasn’t game to open it. Over the years the hut fell into disrepair, especially after New Julia was built.

Max Dorflinger and Dick Brasier spent two weeks restoring Old Julia in 2013. When I asked Dorflinger about the ghost, it was the first he’d heard of it. “Haunted! Really?” he said. “We went everywhere in that hut. On the roof, even under the floorboards.”

In 2019 mountaineer Simon Murfin had “a weird experience” at Old Julia – he thought he heard someone in the forest behind the hut and ended up decamping to New Julia. “I wasn’t happy about staying there. I’m not sure why,” he said.

Murfin painted a picture of the old hut and later, when he heard the ghost story, added a girl. 

Further down the Taipo, trampers have reported seeing a woman in a nineteenth-century cloak near Seven Mile Creek. And at Dillons Homestead Hut, to this day visitors report ‘feeling watched’ and ‘hearing footsteps outside’.

“We haven’t had anyone contact us with stories of a haunted stay in Julia Hut,” said DOC Hokitika operations manager Owen Kilgour. He said the Taipo River Track offers “great huts, including both Old Julia and Dillons Homestead”. There are hot pools downstream of the Julia huts and trampers can expect to see plenty of whio. 

Cedric the Ghost, aka Don Millward, at Powell Hut. Photo: John Rundle

Powell Hut, Tararua Forest Park

The first Powell Hut, built by the Hutt Valley Tramping Club (HVTC) in 1939, was thought to be haunted by hunter Cedric Wilson who was based at the hut and went missing near Mitre in 1945.

The legend of Cedric the Ghost began when two of Wilson’s friends went looking for him. ‘While staying at Powell Hut they felt his presence and had a terrifying night,’ wrote John Rundle in Chris Maclean’s book, Tararuas. ‘A later party had a similar experience.’

Years later the HVTC played a trick on a group of scouts. One misty afternoon, club member Don Millward donned a sleeping bag liner and hid beside the track from Mt Holdsworth summit. When the scouts emerged, he drifted across the track before racing back to the hut by another route. The shaken scouts arrived with breathless tales of their ghostly vision.

Other encounters have not been practical jokes. In 2001, Millward told Wilderness, trampers had “seen the door open and watched someone accompanied by a small dog come into the hut” and settle by the fire – yet there was no evidence of them at first light. The sightings have been “so strong and unsettling” that some people have fled. The legend grew to include a pack of howling ‘fog dogs’, heard across the ranges.

On Facebook, several people recall Cedric and have ‘warm memories of him’. One wrote: ‘Had a few interesting nights in the old hut. Unexplained noises, doors opening with no-one there. Cedric was active back then.’

Is he still active today? Powell Hut, on the popular Mt Holdsworth – Jumbo circuit is the most frequented in the Tararua. DOC says there have been no reports of ghosts since the old hut burned down in 1981. Instead, trampers can expect some of the best tops travel in the range, with 360-degree views from Mt Holdsworth summit.

Since being relocated away from Copland Pass, no ghosts have been reported at Hooker Hut. Photo: DOC

Hooker Hut, Aoraki/Mt Cook 

Hooker Hut opened in 1910 as a base for mountaineers crossing Copland Pass. It was constructed on the moraine wall at the foot of the pass and was planned by Hermitage chief guide Peter Graham and built with help from Jim Murphy and Darby Thomson.

Many people have reported ghostly activity over the years, the most notable being Graham himself, whose account was included in his 1965 autobiography.

‘I lit the lamp and as I did so there was movement in the inner room like someone moving about on the bunk,’ wrote Graham. ‘I flung the door open – no-one there.’ The third time, he was just dozing off: ‘I felt it moving again and this time there was a difference. I could feel it was creeping, slowly, slowly and quietly towards me.’ Graham got up around 3am, tossed his things into his pack and took off. ‘When I locked the door, I felt I was locking someone in.’

Between 1948 and 1994 the hut was shifted three times, away from the unstable moraine. And the ghost appeared to move with the hut. Mountain guide Jane Morris and visitor centre assistant Monica Yeoman had a sleepless night there in 2009. Morris told the Timaru Herald they’d only been in bed for about 15 minutes when they heard footsteps on the deck outside. ‘It sounded like someone was unloading a pack … The noise was constant.’

Supposedly, it’s the ghost of Darby Thomson, who died in an avalanche and is said to haunt the stretch between Hooker and Ball huts.

Hooker Hut was dismantled in 2015, then restored and reopened near the Hooker Valley Track in 2021. At the time, DOC senior ranger David Dittmer said, “It’s an unknown whether the ghost has come with this new build. Only time will tell.”

Dittmer told me that since the relocation “there have been no reports or rumours of any supernatural events occurring”.

These days, the hut offers families and novice trampers access to the alpine environment. One tramper said the only thing that went bump in the night was a child falling out of bed.

Visitors to Page Shelter have reported hearing footsteps and one person was even dragged across the floor. Photo: Hugo Young

Page Memorial Shelter, Temple Basin Ski Area

Perhaps the most vivid story of a haunting comes from Page Memorial Shelter at Temple Basin. The shelter, at Downhill Basin, was completed in 1966.

Several almost identical accounts of footsteps circling the hut were collated by Rob Greenaway, who had his own bone-chilling encounter there in the 1980s – he felt his mat dragged 3m across the floor.

John Aitken’s account appeared in The New Zealand Ghost Book, by Robin Jenkin. Aitken and a friend had settled down for the night when ‘suddenly, they heard very clearly the sound of footsteps crossing the rocks around the hut’. They put on a light and sat up. The footsteps stopped. The pair decided someone must have seen the two-bed hut was occupied and continued on, and they turned off the light. Then, the footsteps started again stopping just short of the door. The third time it happened, Aitken and his friend were waiting outside. They turned on their torches to find – nothing. No tracks, no rockfall. The footsteps kept coming until 10.30pm when the trampers had had enough. ‘I’ve never been so glad to get out of a hut,’ Aitken is reported as saying.

Club vice-president Hugo Young told me how, as a teenager in the seventies, he’d washed dishes for Hans Bohny at The Chalet in Arthur’s Pass. One night Bohny – who had completed the stonework for Page Shelter – recounted his experience. “He heard the noise of an ice axe coming down the scree and thought it was a climber arriving late, so he put the billy on. The noise came down, went around the hut and disappeared off again.”

Young spent a week in the shelter the following year but heard nothing. He said plenty of people had spent uneventful nights up there since.

“It’s a bit of folklore around Temple Basin. I feel lucky to have heard the story first-hand from Hans,” he said, adding: “If there is a ghost, I don’t know who it is attached to.”

The shelter was partly funded by Nancy Page as a memorial to her husband Robin and son Fred. The Pages were early members of the ski club; one outcrop at Downhill was known as their ‘landmark’. After their deaths – Fred en route to London as a teenager – the shelter was built on that outcrop.

These days it exists primarily as a day shelter for skiers caught out by weather.

Other supposedly haunted huts

Avoca Homestead, Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park

Gas canisters being knocked over, doors opening, a bed being dragged across the floor and obstructing the door … Several trampers have commented on social media of being freaked out here.

Kime Hut, Tararua Forest Park

Some say Kime Hut has a ‘chilly’ presence. The hut is named after young photographer E.J. Kime, who died of exposure at Alpha Hut in 1922 after spending five nights out in the open in winter.

Whariwharangi Hut, Abel Tasman National Park

Originally built in 1897, the restored weatherboard hut is said to be haunted by the ghost of a nineteenth-century sailor murdered by Māori. A tramper from Christchurch once claimed she saw a vision of a young man bending over a sea chest.

Skips Hut (Whangatawhia), Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tāne Conservation Park

At the oldest hut in Whirinaki, several hunting parties have reported hearing a ‘clump, clump, clump’ going up and down between the bunks. Today, the Moerangi Track is popular with mountain bikers and Skips is a good place to spot whio and hear kiwi.