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The Wilderness 40: 12 best huts in Canterbury and West Coast

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March 2023 Issue

The 12 best huts in Canterbury on on the West Coast.

This entry is part [part not set] of 4 in the series The Wilderness 40 Best Huts

20. Kōhanga Atawhai – Manson Nicholls Hut, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve

An iconic New Zealand outdoor setting ensconced between lake and bush.

By Pat Barrett

This is a newly sited and built hut by the jetty on Lake Daniells. The hut is named after the victims of a landslide tragedy here and has become an enticement for family groups for decades with the bush basin, often reflected in the lake’s inky depths. There’s a fire pit and sit-out area between hut and lake and there is bound to be birdsong from the forested hills surrounding the lake.

Grade Easy Time 3hr.

21. Nina Hut, Lake Sumner Forest Park

A comfortable hut perched among stunted mountain beech with views of the surrounding ranges.

By Shaun Barnett

Nina Hut (10 bunks) is the second hut of this name, built in 2002 to replace a damp, dark affair on the far side of the valley. 

It is reached on a good tramping track from SH7, beginning from near Palmer Lodge. The track crosses flat, forested terraces until reaching the Nina River shortly before a small gorge (excellent swimming), then crosses to the true right to begin the climb to the hut. The hut is also a base for pest control operations, and the local birdlife is excellent including rare species such as kākā, kākāriki, titipounamu, kea and kiwi. Beyond the hut, tracks lead to Nina Biv or Devils Den Biv.

Grade Easy Time 3hr.

22. Lake Morgan Hut, West Coast

Grandstand views, a remote lake and a hard-to-find hut make Lake Morgan a must-visit.

By Ray Salisbury

This six-bunker has been recently renovated and is a welcome refuge on a demanding 3–4 day West Coast journey over the Morgan Tops. Human footprints here are as rare as the whistling whio. This is big country, glorious and majestic, where trampers must be competent in off-track navigation. To reach this remote backwater means struggling up the vertiginous Bryan O’Lyn route above Gloriavale before a delightful traverse over Mt O’Shannessy to a tussock plateau. Lake Morgan is an hour beyond the hut, an over-sized tarn trapped amongst jagged peaks.

Grade Moderate Time 7–9hr.

23. Waimakariri Falls Hut, Arthur’s Pass National Park

Perched in an exceptional location beside a gorge and beneath Mt Rolleston.

By Shaun Barnett

The hut lies near the crest of Kā Tiritiri o te Moana/the Southern Alps, surrounded by several peaks over 2000m, and, in summer, a garden of alpine flowers. Clad in rustic red corrugated iron, the six-bunker has more than a hint of yesteryear. During the Second World War, Canterbury Mountaineering Club members hauled in materials by foot, 22km up the Waimakariri, to build the original bivouac here. By the 1960s, a larger hut was needed, and this time the club used a plane to drop in materials. Access is up the Waimakariri River from near Klondyke Corner, passing Carrington Hut en route. In winter and spring, check avalanche conditions before departing.

Grade Moderate-difficult Time 7–9hr.

Series Navigation
Barker Hut and the nearby tarn. Photo: Hazel Phillips

24. Barker Hut, Arthur’s Pass National Park 

Get off the beaten trail to this rustic hut next to a shimmering tarn.

By Hazel Phillips

The Canterbury Mountaineering Club runs some huts in stunning locations and Barker is no exception. Sitting on a knoll at the head of the White River, there are views and access to the Marmaduke Dixon Glacier, White Glacier, and peaks such as Harper and Murchison. Kea are frequent visitors and photo opportunities abound at a tarn next to the hut. The hut book is great reading, a who’s-who of climbing and adventure, and you’re bound to run into someone interesting.

The untracked route up the White River also offers a small challenge.

Grade Moderate Time 8-9hr from Klondyke Corner.

25. Mungo Hut, West Coast

With its open fire and remote location this hut oozes original Forest Service history from deer culling days.

By Rob Brown

A night spent at Mungo has the feeling of being immersed in remote, yet typical, wild country for this part of the West Coast. You may have already stopped at Brunswick Creek hot pools before plodding up the final 180m from the Park Stream junction to the crow’s nest clearing, where this hut sits. It has a small library and woodshed with water from a spring-fed creek beside the hut.

One of the best trips from here is the journey over Hokitika Saddle into the Wilberforce catchment in the east.

Grade Difficult Time 3 days.

Ivory Lake Hut is a Holy Grail of NZ hut bagging. Ray Salisbury/Hot Pixels Photography

26. Ivory Lake Hut, West Coast

This to-die-for destination in the Southern Alps is the Holy Grail for hut baggers.

By Ray Salisbury 

Ivory Lake is a three-act drama: the glacier, the lake, and the hut.

Erected in 1970 for meteorological research, the hut perches precariously on smooth bedrock above the headwaters of the Waitaha River. This six-bunker, with its quirky lean-to workshop, squats above its namesake lake, a milky viridian circle cradled in an alpine amphitheatre. Beyond, a remnant glacier crumbles over a cliff into the cirque, a shadow of its former self.

This hut is remembered fondly by those who have toiled up the ravines, leapt over house-sized boulders and pushed through heinous West Coast scrub to finally arrive.

Grade Difficult Time Allow a week.

27. Mistake Flats Hut, Te Kahui Kaupeka Conservation Park 

Located in grand mountain scenery at the very foot of the Southern Alps.

By Pat Barrett

Deep inside the massive valleys of the upper Rangitata catchment, Mistake Flats Hut takes some effort to reach. It’s not due only to the distance, but to the many turbulent rivers to ford. Along the final approach and at the hut though, this location becomes an all-consuming focus. Soaring mountain walls, pocked with snowfields and glaciers, great peaks, including Mt D’Archiac (2875m), an intimidating snow and ice pyramid, rear above the tussock flats. The hut is beside the Forbes River and commands viewing angles both up and down river. It has been an important waypoint for generations of trans-alpinists, climbers and hunters all seeking adventure among the hidden corners of this wild estate.

Grade Difficult Time 2 days.

28. Welcome Flat Hut, Westland Tai Poutini National Park

A thermal wonderland nestled among New Zealand’s highest mountains.

By Sam Harrison

The hut is hidden deep in the shadow of the Sierra Range at the foot of the Southern Alps, and, with its associated hot spring, it has long been a favourite with walkers of all kinds. In summer, southern rātā turn the valley into a blaze of red; in winter the surrounding mountains are snow-covered – making a dip in the hot pools even more irresistible. The track up the Copland River to Welcome Flat follows the vestiges of an old bridle road which was built in the early 20th century. The plan was to create a tourist route over to The Hermitage at Mt Cook. From Architects Creek it climbs steadily until the smell of sulphur fills the air and the spacious 35-bunk hut comes into sight.

Grade Easy-moderate Time 7hr.

Mueller Hut is an accessible abnove-the-bushline destination. Photo: Sam Harrison

29. Mueller Hut, Aoraki Mount Cook National Park  

Drink your morning coffee on the deck while gazing at glaciers hanging opposite.

By Hazel Phillips

Mueller Hut the Fifth. It sounds royal, and is indeed a regal affair – the fifth incarnation of this historic hut. A red shed alpine barn, it’s nestled at 1800m on the Sealy Range at Mt Cook and provides an accessible above-the-bushline experience for snow and ice lovers. The hut offers epic views to glaciers, sheer rock faces, ice formations, and Aoraki / Mt Cook. Watch out for Mount Cook lilies, gentians and buttercups, and consider a side trip to the easy peak of Mt Ollivier (1933m), Sir Ed’s first summit.

Grade Moderate Time 3-4hr.

30. Mataketake Hut, South Westland

If the views aren’t on, at least there’s the hut library.

By Hazel Phillips

Built in 2021 thanks to a bequest from adventurer and conservationist Andy Dennis, this hut offers excellent views across South Westland and wonderful travel over tussocky tops dotted with alpine tarns. But if the West Coast weather doesn’t cooperate, there’s the hut’s well-stocked library, a specially constructed shelf with Andy’s own book collection. It’s possible to see peaks such as Hooker and Dechen, and on a sunny day there’s plenty of alluring alpine swimming spots. The hut has also opened up a new route on the Mataketake tops, using the historic Mica Mine Track and Haast to Paringa Cattle Track for access.

Grade Moderate Time 8-9hr.

Main Huxley Forks Hut. Photo: Rob Brown

31. Main Huxley Forks Hut, Ruataniwha Conservation Park

An ideal destination for family tramping.

By Shaun Barnett

Huxley Forks occupies a beech-fringed clearing with high mountains rising on three sides, in the heart of Kā Tiritiri o te Moana/the Southern Alps. Access to the Huxley, one of Canterbury’s loveliest valleys, is from Lake Ōhau Road. Tramp up the Hopkins Valley, past Monument Hut, before branching into the more secluded Huxley, through beech forest and over flats, to the forks of the Huxley River south and north branches. At this river junction are two huts, a small two-bunker, and the six-bunk Main Huxley Forks Hut. It’s worth spending a couple of nights here and exploring the two branches. The north branch leads to Brodrick Hut and pass, while the south branch leads to South Huxley Biv.

Grade Moderate Time 7–9hr.

32. Stafford Hut, West Coast

A rainforest escape on the wild and rugged coast of South Westland.

By Sam Harrison

Stafford Hut is nestled underneath the Stafford Range in dense temperate rainforest with the Tasman Sea roaring close by. It’s the perfect place to escape civilisation. Built in 2010, the six-bunk hut is a spot to reconnect with nature, whether enjoying the surrounding bush or collecting kaimoana off the nearby rocks. The three hour walk to the hut from Jacksons Bay feels delightfully wild and is often spent splashing in rivers and streams that cut through the dense bush of the area.

Grade Moderate Time 3hr.