The huts along New Zealand’s nine famous Great Walks are no secret. The well-manicured shelters play host to hordes of trekkers, domestic and foreign, every year. Those crowds can make a hut trip through the country feel anything but wild.
For those who want a true New Zealand wilderness experience that involves rugged trails, little huts with character, and views without the masses, these remote backcountry huts on the South Island are a gift.
5. Stafford Hut
Past the end of the road on New Zealand’s West Coast lies a sweet little shack that will make you feel like the star of your own surf movie. Stafford is a six-bunk hut on the banks of the Stafford River just a hundred yards from the Tasman Sea. It’s popular with hunters, and you’ll likely open the door to find it well-stocked with dishes, empty whiskey bottles, and other treasures left behind by previous inhabitants. It has a clean stove with an abundance of split wood for chillier beach nights, and a front deck that peeks through the rainforest to the ocean.
If you like well-defined trails and dry socks, this one isn’t for you. Instead, get ready to channel the kid inside you: you’re going to get muddy. The trail to the Stafford hut starts in Jackson Bay, and crosses Kakapo Creek several times in the first few kilometers—be on the lookout for orange Department of Conservation (DOC) blazes to guide you to the next crossing. You’ll have a couple hours to dry out your shoes as you hike over Stafford Saddle, which deposits you at another unnamed creek. Hike down the creek for a kilometer or so until it reaches the Stafford River. Cross the river and find the hut half a kilometer down the far bank.
Tip: Plan your return hike at low tide to walk the remote coastline back to Jackson Bay.
Nestled in the mountains of the west coast, the tiny, four-bunk Mount Brown hut is strategically placed for great views of Lake Kaneire and the ocean beyond it. Mount Brown is a community-maintained hut: volunteers keep it in good shape and stocked with coal for the small but surprisingly efficient coal-fired stove, and a sign on the far wall tells the story of the hut’s construction by dedicated mountain lovers.
The path to Mount Brown begins above the tiny oceanside town of Hokitika, and is steep right out of the gate. Hikers often have to get creative, scaling two-meter rootwads and leaping large mud puddles left by frequent storms. Luckily, it’s a short trail, and once it rises above treeline, it mellows out. Stick with it and you’ll eventually crest a grassy ridge to where the little yellow hut sits with its amazing view.
Tip: Turn this into a 3-day trip by spending the night at the Newton Range Biv.
3. Brewster Hut
The Brewster hut is a recently reconstructed 12-bunk hut that sits among glaciated peaks and waterfalls in the Southern Alps. It has one of the sweetest decks in the entire hut system, built with slack-jawed scenery-gazing in mind; if you can peel yourself away from the view, Brewster makes a great base camp for climbing Mount Brewster (technical mountaineering knowledge and equipment required) or Mount Armstrong, or exploring the glacial lakes at the foot of the Brewster Glacier.
Begin your hike about an hour north of the sleepy town of Makarora. The Brewster Hut trail starts by crossing the Haast River just a few steps from the parking lot. On the other side, the orange blaze marking the start of the track leads up a washed-out step-up. The trail ascends sharply through beech forest for a few kilometers, then climbs through tussock to deposit hikers on a rolling, knife-edge ridge. The ridge soon plateaus as the hut comes into view.
Tip: Drop your pack at the hut and follow cairns to the top of Mount Armstrong for a once-in-a-lifetime 360-degree view of the Southern Alps.
You’ll work hard for five to six hours to get to Liverpool, a 10-bunk hut at the top of one of New Zealand’s steepest trails. But it’s worth it: The view is spectacular in every direction, with Mount Avalanche and Rob Roy Peak rising across the valley and Mount Liverpool and Mount Barff looming over the hut. The motherlode, however, is Mount Aspiring, a towering, snow-covered peak with a sawtooth ridgeline.
The first four hours of the hike to Liverpool meander through pastureland in the Matukituki Valley, alternating between beech forest and long, lovely flats alongside the Matukituki River. At the end of the last flat, a swing bridge crosses Liverpool Stream, and you kiss the mellow trail goodbye and head straight up. No switchbacks, no mercy: just two hours of hauling yourself up vertical roots and slick rock. But it’s worth the effort. Once you clear the treeline, you’ll find the little red shack on its impossibly high perch.
Tip: Bring your sleeping bag out to the hut’s deck for sunset to watch Mount Aspiring light up with alpine glow.
1. Barker Hut
Barker is a 6-bunk hut that sits high on glacial moraine at the head of the White River valley in Arthur’s Pass. Getting there is a bit of a mission, involving tough route-finding and multiple river crossings without a bridge in sight. The hut is surrounded by Mount Murchison and the Marmaduke-Dixon glacier, and looks out down the White River at the beginning of the Southern Alps. Inside, the space is littered with visitor logs dating all the way back to the 1960s, bearing decades of entries from explorers and climbers.
The two-day trip to Barker begins in the massive riverbed of the Waimakariri River. After four to six hours on the trail, hikers can rest at the 36-bunk Carrington hut.
From Carrington, the route heads up the White River’s confluence with the Waimakariri, passing under a historic cable car. Soon, an old trail starts to put some elevation between hikers and the river. Close to the valley’s head is evidence of an old swing bridge that was washed out and never replaced; instead, hikers make a steep descent down a scree-filled chimney and a low-water-only crossing of the gorge. Cairns lead the rest of the way up to the hut.
Tip: Climb the ridge above Barker before dawn for the alpine sunrise of your life.