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Private Mt Cook hut could become public

The 10-bunk Caroline Hut is used exclusively by Alpine Recreation but there are calls to make it public. Photo: Neco Wieringa

A spectacular private hut in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park may soon become public as DOC is reviewing the concession for Caroline Hut.

The 10-bunk hut is on a ridge about 1800m up the Mt Cook Range, above the Tasman Glacier and below Mt Cook’s Caroline Face. It was built by guiding company Alpine Recreation in 1990 and has been operated as a private hut for guided trips over Ball Pass and for mountaineering courses. But its 30-year concession expired last year and the company has applied to renew it.

The hut includes an emergency shelter, but the bulk of the building is locked to the public.

The company applied in August 2019 with submissions closing in June last year, but DOC still hasn’t made a decision on whether it will remain private.

Alpine Recreation said the hut was not big enough to allow use by both public and guided parties.

“The viability of the hut would be jeopardised if all 10 bunks were not available solely for Alpine Recreation,” it said.

The application was supported by former prime minister Helen Clark, who wrote that she had been on trips with Alpine Recreation for 25 years and that privately-owned huts “improve access to alpine environments for older skiers, trekkers, and climbers” by allowing them to carry lighter packs.

A large number of trampers and climbers who had used the facilities also supported Alpine Recreation. However, both the NZ Alpine Club (NZAC) and Federated Mountain Clubs (FMC) opposed renewing the concession. FMC said facilities in national parks should be for public use, “not only for use by those who can afford to pay for a guiding service”. It said DOC’s plans call for private huts to be phased out on conservation land. The Aoraki/Mt Cook management plan also states all huts in the park should be public. 

NZAC said any concession should only be granted for one year, until a new park plan had been finalised. In 2018, DOC’s new draft plan for the park also called for the hut to be public, although that draft was later put on hold. 

The Canterbury Aoraki Conservation Board, which advises DOC, recommended granting a five year lease and for the hut to transition to become a bookable public hut with a private concession for guided parties.

DOC wouldn’t comment on when a decision would be made nor answer any questions while the application was being processed.