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Brewster Hut, Mt Aspiring National Park

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December 2017 Issue
A firm favourite

The route to Brewster Hut requires an immediate crossing of the Haast River, a trickle in low flow. The marked track on the opposite bank then begins its gruelling climb. Running parallel with Fantail Creek, the route follows a ridge through beech forest to the bushline at 1160m.

I climbed the ridge steadily for an hour until a chilling wind whistled through the anorexic tree canopy. Snow flurries fell – even though it was summer – and I felt exposed in my sweat-soaked t-shirt and shorts. By the time I donned full storm gear, the sun was out again, blazing.

The bushline is clearly delineated, switching from stunted beech to snowgrass. As I cleared the bush, I looked down to the Haast highway below, with its plethora of cyclists pedalling through paradise.

The trail traverses a narrow spur, its sides dropping away steeply on either side. Resting at a marker pole,  I spotted the hut long-drop – it looked a little out-of-place in this sombre alpine basin of tawny tussock and chiselled grey rock.

In less than two hours I reached Brewster Hut, elevation 1450m. This larger hut was built by DOC in 2007 to replace a four-bunk bivvy, and it’s impressive. Painted cardinal red, it sports a bunkroom for a dozen dozers, a foyer for storing ice-axes and a snow shovel, and a tidy lounge area filled with tables, an assortment of stools and a cooking bench.

Sited well above the treeline, there is no fireplace, but double-glazed windows and an excellent ventilation system provide plenty of light and dryness.

Once inside the cosy cabin, the fury of the wind intensified, sending tiny snowflakes dancing onto the window panes. I sat there, safe and snug on the Main Divide, peering into the hazy green of Westland.

From near the hut I watched a glorious light display over the highest peaks of Aspiring National Park, including Mts Earnslaw, Aspiring, Castor, Pollux, and Awful, whose white snowfield caught the low angle of the late afternoon sun. Above me, the three-kilometre bulk of Brewster Glacier blocked easy passage to its namesake summit, rising in a rock pyramid to 2515m. According to the visitor book, Mt Brewster is regularly climbed by suitably equipped mountaineers. However, it is Mt Armstrong (2174m) that is more accessible and less demanding for trampers.

Next morning it was a tropical zero degrees and there was ice in the wash basin. Wind screamed over the ridges like a blocked vacuum cleaner. Caution is the better part of valour, so instead of climbing Mt Armstrong, I retreated to the Haast River in an hour.

Brewster Hut was more than just another hut added to my collection – and more than merely a useful stopover – this place rates highly as one of my firm favourites, a special spot with a tangible sense of exposure to the elements; its modernity a magnet for all who desire such lofty seclusion.

Total Ascent
Car park to Brewster Hut, 2–4hr; Hut to Mt Armstrong, 2-3hr
Brewster Hut (12 bunks, $15 – booking required)
At Fantail Falls, just past Haast Pass on SH6

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