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Kirwans Hut via Montgomerie Hut, Victoria Forest Park

Image of the March 2019 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more articles from the
March 2019 Issue

A hut with entrancing views

There’s something of a wild west feel to this rewarding two-night circuit in the South Island’s Victoria Forest Park, starting and finishing near the town of Reefton. The highlight of...

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Negotiating windfall on the way out. Photo: Ricky French

At the foot of the spur leading to Kirwans Hut sits the Lord Brassey Stamper Battery, a hulking, rusted relic of the mining days that looks incongruous against the lush bush and rushing creek. It’s a hint of things to come as the track zigzags its way up 500 vertical metres, passing cableways and fallen structures and the site of Kirwans Reward, an open cast quartz mine. Nature gets the upper hand the further up you go, and soon the bush is alive with birds. A South Island robin shares our lunch spot, hopping around us playfully against a backdrop of green ridge tops and dark river valleys.

Kirwans Hut is one of a kind: a bold, light-filled lodge perched on a rounded, grassy summit. Instantly arresting is the huge window that gives visitors magnificent views to the coast and the Southern Alps. You can see Aoraki/Mt Cook on a good day, but up here there’s really no such thing as a bad day.

Summer allows for sunbathing on the lawn, while in winter the open slopes outside the front door are perfect for improvising toboggans and getting immersed in snow play. The one downside of the hut is the stubbornly useless fireplace. We couldn’t get anything to burn. I thought it must just be us, but an examination of the hut book revealed consistent complaints about it.

A worthwhile diversion is the high point on Kirwans Hill, which offers the only views to the east, across the high peaks of Victoria Forest Park. The track is marked but becomes a little indistinct after leaving the bushline.

It’s a long but easy descent out to the road end at Capleston along a wide track that follows various spurs before levelling out on the pretty Topffer Creek. We encountered numerous large windfalls across the track.

Approaching the road end, unedifying signs of civilisation crept back: cows, weeds, a burnt out car. It’s not quite a complete loop, either. To find your car you need to scramble up a steep ridge and hike down a road before finally descending to Waitahu River Road (all routes signposted). Allow an extra hour to finish a unique and eye-opening tramp that gives a close up view of the impact humans have had on this still quite wild land.

Distance
36.8km
Total Ascent
2303m
Grade
Easy / Moderate
Time
Gannons Road bridge to Montgomerie Hut, 3-4hr; To Kirwans Hut, 4-5hr; To Capleston, 4hr
Accom.
Kirwans Hut ($15, 12 bunks), Montgomerie Hut ($5, 6 bunks)
Access
Waitahu River Road, off Gannons Road, 2.6km along SH69 north of Reefton
Map
BS21, BS22