- Pillar Conservation Area
- Big Hut, 25 bunks
- About 5km north of Middlemarch there is a DOC sign at the junction of McKinnon Road and SH87. Drive along the track and park at the designated spot
Big Hut, Rock and Pillar Conservation Area
I’d just handed in my PhD thesis and at the same time my friend Joe had completed his Master’s degree. As such, we both found ourselves in that feckless limbo between postgraduate life and gainful employment. One positive of this uncertain state, however, was the freedom to capitalise on some good weather by tackling a midweek tramping trip.
Joe and I have a history of our trips turning ‘adventurous’, the most notable of which being a backcountry ski trip involving ill-fitting crampons, a slide off an icy ridge, and a full-momentum smash into a boulder. This time around we decided to play it conservative, the main objectives being to avoid any near-death situations and to eat well.
As such, we opted for an overnight tramp to Big Hut. An added bonus to this low-risk approach was that there wasn’t too much driving involved: even allowing for a coffee stop in Outram, it still only took us just over an hour to get from Dunedin to the tramp start, a few kilometres north of Middlemarch.
A sign at the start of the trail warned that the tramp up was an ‘energetic grunt’. Indeed it was: a steady 1000m ascent through the tussock and spaniards. Joe set the pace and I lumbered along behind. It was also unseasonably warm: setting out early to beat the heat was not something we’d considered for Otago tramping in mid-May.
A few hours later we reached the ridge, whereupon the route was marked by poles every few metres. The poles may seem over-zealous, but the weather can change for the worse in a few moments on the range. My flatmate once had to resort to a hands-and-knees crawl along the ridge, and the weekend after our trip Middlemarch Search and Rescue was called on to rescue a Dunedin school group lost in the fog.
Big Hut is quite a large structure, sleeping up to 25 people in two bunk rooms. It originally operated as a ski lodge in the post-war recreational boom and is now run by the Rock and Pillar Hut Trust. Big Hut’s other ‘unique selling point’ is its table tennis board.
Being mid-week, Joe and I had the hut to ourselves. We ate lunch and drank tea then headed back outside to read our books. Sitting amongst the rocky outcrops beneath the winter sun, the silence was almost palpable across the stark and beautiful Taeiri landscape.
While Big Hut has solar lighting, it has no heating and that evening our down jackets and lofty winter sleeping bags, which had seemed overkill on the walk up, came into their own.
The following morning we awoke to an inversion over the Taeiri Plain, the newly-arrived breeze giving us just a hint of how unforgiving and exposed it could get up there. Descending into the cloud and dew, we were at the car by mid-morning
Our 24 hours in Taeiri had passed without incident. Objective achieved.
– Lisa McGonigle