Red Hut was built as part of a madcap tourist venture. Now it provides an easy overnighter for the decrepit and the young. Hazel Phillips paid a visit.
Sometimes the best ideas are those mad ones. But sometimes they’re just, well, mad.
Red Hut was a mad idea. Not the hut itself, resplendent in brick red with its white trim windows. The hut was rather sensible, right down to its segregated sleeping quarters, a compartment for each gender. It was the reason for the hut, the trip idea behind it, that was a bit bonkers – even by today’s standards.
Red Hut was once part of an overly ambitious tourism venture by local businessman and entrepreneur Rodolph Wigley, who approached the Tourism Board in 1916 and asked for some cash to build a hut that would be the last comfort stop on a route from Lake Ohau to Mt Cook Village. Tourists would travel by car around Lake Ohau, on horseback to the head of the Hopkins Valley, cross into the Dobson Valley (and it’s hard to ascertain exactly how, as the terrain looks rugged and unforgiving), climb to Barron Saddle, drop to Mueller Glacier and walk out to The Hermitage for a night of luxury.
Red Hut was built by Wigley and friends to shelter the tourists before they left the safety of the Hopkins Valley. However, it’s unclear if any clientele ever made the trip, although the ascent from the Dobson to Barron Saddle isn’t uncommon now. Evidently, the tourism venture failed, although many other Wigley efforts succeeded and the hut was eventually used for mustering on Huxley Gorge Station.
Red Hut sits on the true left of the Hopkins River, underneath the Naumann Range and just upstream from Monument Hut. There’s easy 4WD access up the Hopkins – even beyond Red Hut – which means these Hopkins huts tend to suffer from that curious affliction of being abused by their users, even though they visit armed with wagons to remove the heaps of rubbish they seem to leave behind. Go figure.
My tramping buddy Simon and I weren’t feeling overly enthusiastic – certainly we weren’t angling to get to Barron Saddle – and with both of us nursing sore bodies from Too Much Tramping Syndrome, Red Hut offered an easy overnighter.
Proper 4WDs can get beyond the gate near Huxley Lodge at Ram Hill car park but I didn’t want to abuse my Subaru, so walked the extra distance. Even then, it’s a flat 9km to Monument Hut and around another 3km to Red Hut.
Red Hut proved to be tricky to find. It’s located on a terrace away from the river, but thankfully near some refreshing streams. I stripped off for a quick, cold dunk while Simon busied himself with hut photography. It was the summer break and we expected to be joined by hoards of four-wheel-driving enthusiasts, but those who drove past seemed uninterested, or perhaps unaware of this slice of history.
Red Hut gives easy access to exciting scrambles such as up to Dasler Bivouac and the nearby Pinnacles, and a variety of other huts to bag further up the valley, culminating in the Richardson Rock Bivouac and the Richardson Glacier. Our trip was less challenging, though it did have its moments of excitement – such as when I killed a mouse using only a broom handle while Simon pulled the covers over his head and prayed he would be spared my wrath and make it through the night unscathed.
Although Wigley failed, his legacy has left behind a thoroughly usable and accessible hut that will be enjoyed by decrepit trampers and families alike. Just be sure to take a mousetrap.
- Total Ascent
- Ram Hill car park to Monument Hut, 3hr; Monument Hut to Red Hut, 1.5-2hr.
- Red Hut ($5, 12 bunks)
- Hopkins Valley, past Lake Ohau to the Ram Hill car park