Historic huts always worth a visit
I’ve been trying to put my finger on what it is that some modern huts lack, something that makes them cold of spirit, hard and unwelcoming. A trip to Dillons Homestead Hut in the Taipo Valley helped me to identify one of their shortcomings: there’s nowhere comfortable to plonk your backside. This wonderful hut, which dates from 1945, is classed as historic, which is always a good sign if you’re after somewhere unique to spend the night. A tramping rule I live by is if you see a hut marked ‘historic’ walk towards it. You nearly always get a place with character, the warmth of spirit (and hopefully of hut) and a story.
Dillons Homestead Hut is the first hut of many up the Taipo River, with the landscape getting progressively mountainous as you travel upstream into the heart of Arthur’s Pass National Park.
But it isn’t a tramping hut as much as a wanderer’s refuge, and a gorgeous one at that. Its former life as the homestead of Mary and Paddy Dillon has been preserved in the sawn timber bunks, the open fireplace and – best of all – the cushioned armchairs that you can pull up to the roaring fire while the rain patters on the roof. Old newspaper clippings are plastered on the walls, historical photos are hung lovingly. You walk on carpet, not timber. You stay in a home, not a hut.
It’s an easy walk from a DOC car park off SH73, not far from Otira. A 4WD track climbs over a ridge then drops into the valley and follows the surging white water of the Taipo River upstream for a walk of 1-2 hours. It’s an unlovely, flat, weedy road, as most vehicle-accessible tracks are, but the Taipo provides a majestic and sobering tramping companion. It’s the kind of West Coast river that will drown you in an instant, a beautiful but deadly torrent. You get wet feet, though, and the crossing of side creeks near the hut mean it’s not a place to visit if heavy rain is forecast. It would be easy to get stranded at the hut, but if that happens there would be few better huts in which to hole up for a day or two.
The hut is situated in open, grassy flats, and the track continues up the valley to the new Dillon Hut, just a few minutes away. Push on a bit further upstream and you’ll come to what’s marked as a cableway on the topo map. It’s actually been replaced with a standard three-wire bridge. Beyond is increasingly wild and mountainous country and the valley eventually funnels into Harman Pass, passing several huts on the way.
Experienced parties can think about tramping all the way to Klondyke Corner, just south of Arthur’s Pass township. Other options from the hut include a climb along a marked track to Kelly Saddle and Carroll Hut.
On our visit, the fire warmed the hut even more than its rustic aesthetics already had, and we slept snug on sawn-timber bunks, some that even had pillows. Talk about home comforts.
By early morning, the rain was belting down and we made a quick pack-up at first light, eager to get out before the creeks swelled. It was a good move – the side creek crossings were manageable and beside us, the Taipo raged like a lion. The walk out was classic downpour tramping – sodden socks and water dripping down our backs. We didn’t stop once but made a beeline for the car park, happy to have put ourselves through a small amount of discomfort for the reward of visiting a hut like no other. We’ll be back.
- Total Ascent
- Dillons Homestead Hut (free, 10 bunks); Dillon Hut ($5, 10 bunks)
- Off SH73, 36km east of Kumara Junction