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The Wilderness 40: Eight best upper South Island huts

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March 2023 Issue

The eight best huts in the upper South Island, from Kahurangi National Park to Nelson Lakes National Park.

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

12. Mt Fell Hut, Mt Richmond Forest Park

Well-placed bushline huts provide water, firewood and shelter en route to exposed, windswept tops.

By Ray Salisbury

The Richmond Ranges south of Nelson offer spectacular tramping opportunities, with rolling tussock tops, rocky peaks and bush-clad valleys reminiscent of North Island terrain.

This iron-clad NZFS-era hut, built in 1964, was recently moved by an airforce chopper, then given a new lease of life by the Nelson Tramping Club. The hut features memorable views to Mt Fishtail, poking above the folded ridges of the Marlborough hinterland.

Side trips include ascents of Mt Fell and Johnston Peak. Other routes include a 22km circuit over Mt Richmond, or the infamous fixed-wire traverse down to the Pelorus River.

Grade Moderate Time 6-7hr.

13. Larrikin Creek Hut, Kahurangi National Park

This modest four-bunker is nestled into a copse of beech trees between the 100 and 1000 Acre plateaux.

By Shaun Barnett

Larrikin Creek Hut is a sanctuary, hidden in the southern reaches

of Kahurangi, well off the tourist radar.

From the idyll of Lake Matiri, a brutal spur track climbs abruptly onto Hundred Acre Plateau to reach Poor Pete’s Hut. A poled route leads over rolling ridges of tussock then a muddy track sidles through claustrophobic forest to a gnarly rock step and, finally,  the hut. It’s a struggle, but that makes the place seem sweeter. Opportunities for exploration include an ascent of a mudstone ‘Matterhorn’ named The Needle. Nearby, the Devil’s Dining Table – also known as the Hundred Acre Plateau – is a subalpine tableland encircled by an impenetrable line of cliffs. Closer to the hut, Larrikins Creek provides a pleasant swimming spot before the waterway disappears over the edge.

Grade Moderate Time 2 days.

Series Navigation
Ghost Lake Hut perched above a cliff face. Ray Salisbury/Hot Pixels Photography

14. Ghost Lake Hut, Kahurangi National Park

Suspended between the Lyell and the Mokihinui watersheds, this is the gem of Old Ghost Road huts.

By Ray Salisbury 

This hut has a gentle approach up a historic mining road, now a popular cycle track, unusual for a sub-alpine trip. From Lyell Saddle a series of switchbacks leads to the Lyell Range. It’s through cloud forest and dracophyllum, as the path skirts Heaven’s Gate and Rocky Tor to arrive at this bespoke cabin perched above a cliff face. In cloudy weather, an exquisite panorama is revealed below: a circular tarn of yellowy-green hue materialises like an apparition – Ghost Lake. Further along the ridge, rocky pinnacles stab into the mist like a Tolkien dream. After dusk, the lights of Murchison twinkle like stars in the east.

Grade Easy-moderate Time 2 days.

Angelus Hut sits on the shores of an alpine lake. Shaun Barnett/Black Robin Photography

15. Angelus Hut, Nelson Lakes National Park

A spectacular alpine location that showcases the best of Nelson Lakes National Park.

By Sam Harrison

It sits at 1660m on the sparkling shores of Lake Angelus / Rotomaninitua, and is one of New Zealand’s premiere alpine huts. The hut and the lake occupy a glacial basin in the heart of the park, surrounded by impressive mountain peaks often capped in snow. Despite feeling remote, the hut can be reached via multiple different routes in just 6hr. The most popular route follows the exposed Robert Ridge, with excellent views over Lake Rotoiti and the St Arnaud Range.

Grade Moderate Time 6hr.

16. Lees Creek Hut, Marlborough

A tidy four-bunker on a grassy flat with the ragged Raglan Range above.

By Shaun Barnett

Recently done up by a Backcountry Trust team, there’s never been a better reason to visit the lovely Lees Creek. A tributary of the Wairau River, Lees Creek offers pleasant tramping up a beech-cloaked valley to its open headwaters. From the Rainbow Road, cross the Wairau on a swingbridge, then it’s an easy tramp, meandering through beech forest and over grassy flats, with the warm Marlborough sun beating down more often than not. Beyond the hut, adventurous trampers might scramble up the surrounding peaks, or climb from the valley head over to the Branch Valley where more huts await.

Grade Moderate Time 4hr.

Immerse yourself into the beauty of Nelson Lakes at West Sabine Hut. Photo: Pat Barrett

17. West Sabine Hut, Nelson Lakes National Park

A deep forest and river valley location where the beauty of the park is all pervading.

By Pat Barrett

The hut is on a bush terrace just upstream of the confluence of the East and West branches of the Sabine River in Nelson Lakes National Park. It’s a large structure set amidst bush and river scenery. There is a tangible sense of immersion into the beauty of the Sabine here.

It’s amplified by the constant roar of the river as it rebounds off the steep forest-clad mountainsides on its way to Lake Rotoroa. The hut is also along the route of Te Araroa and a half day’s journey from pristine Blue Lake.

Grade Moderate Time From Lake Rotoroa, 5hr; from St Arnaud, 2 days.

18. Blue Lake Hut, Nelson Lakes National Park 

On this hut’s doorstep is a lake with the clearest water in the world and we aren’t joking.

By Hazel Phillips

It’s surrounded by forest and mountains, but that all pales into the background once you see the real deal: Rotomairewhenua / Blue Lake, with the purest, clearest water in the world. (Please don’t swim or do your dishes in it). The hut is nothing of note, and will probably be replaced with a giant tourist barn to house all the Instagrammers, but for now, you can bathe, not in the lake itself, but in its pure blue-green aura. It’s also at the intersection of several routes over epic alpine passes – Moss Pass and Waiau Pass – and offers a side trip to Rotopōhueroa / Lake Constance, the feeder lake.

Grade Moderate Time 2 days.

The historic East Matakitaki Hut. Photo: Rob Brown

19. East Matakitaki Hut, Nelson Lakes National Park

Located in a quintessential Nelson Lakes landscape next to a clear mountain stream.

By Rob Brown

Built in 1962, this hut is one of the few remaining NZFS S70 six-bunk huts that remains unmodified with its original open fire. It’s a fine example of what people consider to be a design classic in simplicity and cost effective utility in the New Zealand backcountry. It’s also in excellent condition after recent work by a Jobs for Nature team and is managed as a historic asset.

The fire smokes a little if a window isn’t ajar, but that only adds to the atmosphere.

The hut is usually visited as part of the classic Nelson Lakes to Lewis Pass trip. It’s on the way to Bob’s Hut which is another NZFS classic which has provided shelter in the West Matakitaki for over 60 years and is in fine condition.

Grade Moderate Time 3 days.