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The Foundation

The History of the Wapiti Area Huts

In conjunction with the Department of conservation the Fiordland Wapiti Foundation have agreed to administer the maintenance and upkeep (not booking) of the huts in the Wapiti area.

The huts involved are the Hankinson, Thomson, George Sound, Caswell, Glaisnock and Worsely. The older huts like the Hankinson need quite a considerable amount of work. If you would like to help out with the huts restoration please contact the Wapiti Foundation.

Prepared by Ken Bradley.

Dedicated to protecting and sharing all the things that make Fiordland Special

Everyone has an affinity with a hut somewhere. In New Zealand they are a very special feature of our remote back country. They all have a history and as the old saying goes “if walls could talk” they would have thousands of stories to tell from the last 100 years or so. There are huts over this age and many approaching it. The greatest number of huts built for recreational use was during the 1950s and 1960 as the formation of our National Parks and the deer control programme run by the NZ Govt. Providing better accommodation for Government hunters was a priority during the mid to late 1950s.

Recreational huts in National Parks started to appear from the early 1960s. Built to a set pattern, they were most commonly a 12-bunk hut. Fiordland had a dozen built during this period, mainly around the lake edges and the Hollyford Valley.


The huts built within the Wapiti Area were Junction Burn, Glaisnock Hut, and Worsley Hut. They were built of 75 x 50mm framing in the most part to ease the loads of the people carrying material from the lake side to the site. Cladding was galvanised iron to give long term protection from the elements and plenty of light was admitted through what were generous windows for that time. A good open fire was provided in the internal living room of the hut. These being later replaced by wood burner type stoves.

These huts were built for quite a low cost in 1975. Two new huts of the same design were built on the Dusky Track for $4000 (materials only), half being donated by estates and the other half provided by the government as a national subsidy to the National Parks Boards, the governing body at this time. Transport and wages to staff were not costed to the hut building project. Transport was often provided at reduced rates by companies or individuals supporting the project. Wages of National Park staff were seen as an annual cost of park operations. Ranger staff of the time were often from a building background and enjoyed the construction of new huts.

George Sound Hut

The first material for a hut at George Sound was dropped off by ship in 1895, but never seen again!! This was part of the Tourist Department project to build a track from Lake Te Anau to George Sound, over the next summers a small team of men worked on forming the track and bridges.

Large tent camps were built to accommodate workers and tourists. There is a very good description in Papers Past of the track in 1900. (Otago Witness, issue 2432, 24th October 1900) But by 1905 the track was abandoned, as no tourists used the track and it had become overgrown and the boat on Lake Hankinson was rotten.

The existing hut at George Sound was built for the exploration and survey carried out in the 1920s to see if it was possible to build a hydro dam from Lake Te Anau to George

Sound. A team lead by Mr Johnathon Leigh- Hunt were looking at options throughout Fiordland, including building a large power scheme in Milford Sound using the Bowen Falls to generate power for a large phosphate works. They also surveyed the area from West Arm, Lake Manapouri to Deep Cove Doubtful Sound. Here they used the existing huts built for the tourist track operated by the Murrell Family.

The original site was closer to the mouth of the Katherine River, but due to site flooding in the 1980s the huts was dismantled and moved to the present site. The materials would have been landed in the sound from the Govt steamer Hinemoa. After the survey the hut was used by the early Wapiti hunters and still used today by hunters. There was for many years a boat based at the hut and two on Lake Alice, but due to health and safety they had to be removed.

The hut is built of Rimu timber with matched tongue and groove wooden linings, it has one of the few open fires left in a hut within Fiordland, a special feature that should remain to retain the special character of this hut.

 

Caswell Sound Hut

Built from material left after the 1949 joint American/NZ Wapiti scientific expedition, its purpose was to provide emergency shelter for amphibian passengers if a plane was caught on the Fiordland Coast. It had supplies such as food, clothing and blankets

left there, so passengers could be comfortable

while waiting out a weather change. There was another hut built in Cascade Cove of Dusky Sound for the same purpose and stores were also left at George Sound hut and Deep Cove Hut.

Caswell Sound hut is one of the only huts built for this purpose left standing, making it quite historically significant. It was due to be demolished by the National Park

management, but this was never completed and in 1987 under the new Conservation Act its heritage significance was given higher consideration and hence has become an Active Managed Heritage site.

During the mid-1990s the hut has work undertaken by DOC and volunteers from Southland NZDA. It has had an annual visit to clear drainage and vegetation and in the late 2000s more timber restoration work was undertaken. The portal was built in the middle of the hut to support the roof. The existing timber has suffered from borer, but with regular treatment it should stay standing for several years.

 

Lake Hankinson Hut

 

This was the site of a tent camp for the tourist track built between 1895 and 1900, but by 1905 it was abandoned due to lack of use and the lake boat becoming unsafe for use.

In the 1920s the existing hut was built to shelter the exploration and survey team investigating the possible hydro scheme between Lake Te Anau and George Sound. After this project was completed the hut was left for general public use. Wapiti Hunting was just starting and for some time they were not found on the eastern side of the main divide.

The first trophy was shot in an eastern catchment in 1924 by John Deans from Canterbury. It was taken just east of Henry Saddle, a 14 point 47” x 40” head, shot at over 450 yards with open sights!

The hut was built of Rimu timber with T&G linings, originally with an open fire. It is covered with galvanised iron with the original still on the exterior walls. The roof was replaced in the late 2000s when a bad April storm blew off the original roofing iron. The repair team had quite a mission to replace it as the roof purlins were so borer ridden they would not hold nails. Other parts of the hut are suffering from borer but it will not fall over. Major restoration work was done by the FWF in 2019

There is a bunkroom attached to the hut, the date this was added is unknown but it was present in the early 1950s.

Backcountry Hut Under Repair

Glaisnock Hut

 

Another standard National Park Board Hut built during the early 1960s, during an unprecedented period of hut building never again repeated in the parks history. The Park Board Rangers of the day were mainly carpenters or trade trained. Locals at the time were employed for the duration of such a project.

The materials were carried by the MV Tawera, the lake tourist Launch that for many years carried the annual Wapiti Hunters to the lakeside blocks, all in one long day. And in three weeks did the return trip to pick them up.

The hut was re-roofed and the original interior configuration changed in the 1980s

Worsley Hut - Len Holdaway Memorial Hut

The last of the three standard huts built around Lake Te Anau, again materials carried up on the MV Tawera and built by Park Board carpenters.

This hut was funded by the family of Len Holdaway, who lost his life from a fall while hunting in the Wapiti Country and still lies buried there today. Quite a number of Fiordland huts have been funded or part- funded from family bequeaths. The National Park Board could claim a three to one subsidy from the crown for facility construction such as huts or bridges.

The Worsley Hut is very popular over the summer months as a base for fishing the river.

The Future

The future is secure for all these huts with the Back-Country Trust and Fiordland Wapiti Trust taking on the long-term maintenance of all these huts.

Many users have in the past made some contribution through hut fees or work on site. Fiordland National Park Board staff, prior to the formation of the Dept. of Conservation,

carried out 100% of the maintenance. But with the wider call on DOC funding and different priorities the future of many back-country huts will fall back to user groups to maintain.

However, one must remember, a great number of huts in New Zealand were built by tramping and hunting groups so turning back the clock from time to time does work.