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Big Hut, Rock and Pillar Conservation Area

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June 2022 Issue

Among the diverse tramping destinations in Aotearoa, there’s nothing quite like the gently rolling tussock plateaux of Central Otago. The Rock and Pillar Range is perhaps the most accessible and the finest to photograph.

The Rock and Pillar Range runs parallel with the coast, only an hour’s drive from Dunedin. A demanding access route begins from Glencreag Station on the patchwork of Strath Taieri Plain. It’s a few clicks from the tiny town of Middlemarch, known as the terminus of the latent Taieri Gorge Railway and the start of the 152km Otago Central Rail Trail.

Through the farm gate on SH87 the trailhead is a kilometre along a gravel road. Park by the large, grey farm shed, cross the stile into a paddock and follow sporadic red markers along the fence line. 

After strolling for about 15min there’s a DOC sign signalling the boundary of the Rock and Pillar Conservation Area. Turn hard left to climb steeply for 30min along the fence line. It’s grassy and a bit greasy as it punches through bracken and flax.

Once the main spur is reached, the angle of the ascent eases, but still climbs relentlessly for a further hour on tussock, often zig-zagging up the steeper sections. There is no respite for aching calf muscles and, when it appears the top has been crested, it hasn’t. 

Marker poles march across a small gully, becoming more frequent through snow grass, indicating the direction toward the hut, which is hidden over the lip of the plateau. Some poles have red reflectors to guide trampers in the dark; some even sport lamps. This exposed hillside is no place to be during inclement weather.

During winter, Big Hut can be buried in snowdrifts; it’s a veritable freezer at 1325m. A fixed rope leads from the front door, past a gigantic boulder, to twin long drops. Solar-powered lights inside provide a touch of comfort, with the unique feature of a full-size table tennis table in the living area. Water is usually sourced from a tiny tarn below Luncheon Rock, 200m south, or by boiling snow. Surprisingly, there is cell phone reception.

From the hut, trampers can wander freely across the undulating plateau, admiring the hundreds of rock tors and schist pillars that punctuate the fell fields. Some of these landmarks are gargantuan, some are stacked like plates, and a few sport human ‘faces’. Summit Rock (1450m) is about 30min from the hut.

Perambulating along the Rock and Pillar Range is a welcome alternative to tramping through bush. 

Total Ascent
2-3hrs from Big Hut
Big Hut ($12 (paid to Rock & Pillar Hut Trust), 25 bunks)
5km from Middlemarch. Track begins inside Glencreag Station on SH87 (Wandle Road).

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Big Hut (gpx, 5 KB)

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