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Aspiring Hut

11 June 2010

Coordinates 44°28.619′ S, 168°39.602′ E

Aspiring Hut. Photo D Hegg

Aspiring Hut is located at 470m of elevation in the Matukituki River West Branch, in the river flats on the true right bank of Cascade Creek. Owned by the Otago Section of the New Zealand Alpine Club, it is currently managed by the Department of Conservation as part of the Aspiring Huts management agreement (aka Matukituki agreement) [1].

The main building consists of two bunk rooms (38 bunks with mattresses) either side of a large common room, with wood burner and a kitchen area. The latter has running water and gas stoves operating when a warden is in residence during the summer season. Flush toilets and a hut wardens’ residence are in separate smaller buildings, and an open shelter was recently erected 100m from the hut to cater for campers. Aspiring Hut is special in a New Zealand context in that it is built from stone sourced from the nearby Cascade Creek. Not only are stone buildings made to last – Aspiring Hut is 60 years old, and there is no word of retiring it – they also fit in the mountain environment like no other human construction. I will argue that, in its size category, Aspiring Hut is the most beautiful hut in the Southern Alps.

Hut fees can be paid to the hut warden when one is in residence, or at any DoC office in Otago. Follow this link for current fees and other relevant information. Camping near the hut is allowed in the meadow near Cascade Creek, but is also subject to a fee. 

Aspiring Hut interior. Photo D Hegg

History

After the completion of Cascade Hut in 1932, the Otago Section hosted a climbing camp in the Matukituki Valley in 1939. The camp was highly successful, thanks also to some unusually good weather, and every peak in the valley was climbed at least once [3]. It soon became apparent that the size of Cascade Hut was way too small, and the idea of a large hut as a climbing base in the area was conceived. The war put any plans on hold, but soon after a hut committee was set up to push the project ahead.

Thanks to some financial assistance from a Government recreational fund, in 1946 two buildings at Berwick were purchased, including and old pub, to provide roofing iron and timber. The transportation of building equipment and materials from Wanaka to the hut site was initially on sledges pulled by horses, but an army truck was soon made available to speed things up. The ten wheeled GMC truck proved invaluable since it carted over 50 tons of material over a period of two years. The trip to the construction site was not without its challenges, off road on rough terrain and it required fording the Matukituki River, easily impassable after rain. A road was built by a party of students under the supervision of Jack Gillespie, to overcome a bluff opposite Rob Roy Stream – it was jokingly named “Gillespie Street”.

Construction was delayed by bad weather and at times by the lack of available labourers, and yet Aspiring Hut was largely completed by Labour Weekend 1948. Some 200 trampers and climbers stayed at the hut during the summer 1948/49, and the official opening ceremony was held during Easter 1949 [2,4].

In 1979, the hut had a narrow escape when it was surrounded by gravel and silt from an active slip. Some engineering work was required to divert the stream and reinstate the site [5]. Management of the hut was transferred to the Department of Conservation as part of the first “Matukituki Agreement” in 1987. More recently, a camping shelter was built in 2002, and the hut wardens quarters and flushing toilets were completed in 2003.

Access

See the notes about the Matukituki River West Branch for access to Aspiring Hut. The hut is reached in two hours from the road end, and gives access to the tracks to Cascade Saddle and to the head of the valley. It is an ideal place for a wee rest en route to Liverpool Hut, French Ridge or Mount Aspiring.

Plaque in memory of Major Bernard Head, Aspiring Hut

References

[1] p27-28 in Dowden, P. Editor (1999) Aspiring Hut: 50 years of climbing and adventure. Published by the New Zealand Alpine Club. 28 pages

[2] p5-8, 16-17 and 22-23, same as above

[3] Sim, A.J.: Camp Three. The New Zealand Alpine Journal, Vol VIII, No 27, 1940, p155-168. Published by the New Zealand Alpine Club.

[4] Craigie, A.R.: The Aspiring Hut Campaign. The New Zealand Alpine Journal. Part 1: Vol XII, No. 34, 1947, p118-121. Part 2: Vol XII, No. 35, 1948, p277-281. Part 3: Vol XIII, No. 36, 1949, p116-121. Published by the New Zealand Alpine Club.

[5] Bishop, G.: Alpine Huts – Havens or Headaches? The New Zealand Alpine Journal, Vol XXXII, 1979, p76-78. Published by the New Zealand Alpine Club.

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