As spring starts to turn to summer many of us look forward to disappearing into the hills. We thought this month we’d take a moment to celebrate the Routeburn Track, and in particular, the early huts.

Many of you may not know but among the treasures of the Glenorchy Museum is the door to the original Routeburn Flats hut. Well-carved with the names of visitors from its inception in the summer of 1908 ‘til the 1970s when it was replaced with today’s Routeburn Flats Hut, it is a real who’s-who of anyone who spent a rainy day in the hut with nothing more to do than write or carve their name in the door!

According to the histories, there were two huts. One was local guide Jock Edgar’s hut and the other was built by the Tourist Department to accommodate the growing number of tourists interested in spending the night in the Routeburn. You can see them both in this month’s photos.

We’re also lucky to have a copy of the diary of a Mr. A.E. Wildey from Christchurch  who spent the summer of 1908-9 at the Routeburn Hut with the famous “artist-explorer,” painter Samuel H. Moreton. We thought you might enjoy a few selected pieces from his entries. Clearly if you’ve ever woken in the hut to find a mouse scurrying by, you would be in good company as his adventures. While Wildey tells one version of his time there, if you read to the end, you’ll see that the Lake Wakatip Mail tells quite another and makes for very good reading, as it reminds us all that visitors have long made themselves very much at home in the huts.

Happy reading and welcome summer!

18th December: Bought steamer ticket for Kinloch 5/-. Left Queenstown at 8:50 am, steamer called in at Mt. Nicholas Station and at Elfin Bay…At 12:45pm we disembarked at Kinloch and stayed overnight at the Government Hut on the wharf. We walked to an old timber mill up the mountain then along the road towards Routeburn, and saw hundreds of rabbits; we threw stones at them but without success. The weather was pretty cold and windy and threatening to rain. We had a good view of Mts. Earnslaw, Cosmos Peaks, Richardson Range, and the Humbolt Range. After a snack we turned into our blankets and slept among hundreds of mice, they being driven inside by the heavy rain. It rained heavily all night but cleared in the morning. A breakfast of oatmeal porridge with mice sitting around the edges of the plates was a new experience for me. The pests of things were everywhere and at night they were in the blankets and crawling over our billies and everywhere and nipped at my ears. A couple of ship biscuits with marmalade and a billy of tea completed breakfast.

20th December: We broke out camp at 10 am for Routeburn Hut. On the road we saw wonderful scenery for sketching. I took a sketch of Mt. Somnus, 7424 ft. alt. from the Routeburn road. Here, the beautiful waterfall leapt into cascades from a small glacier. We climbed the zig-zag track to the saddle to about 4000 ft high where we boiled the billy and had 2 ship biscuits with cheese for lunch. We arrived at Routeburn Hut at 5:15 pm, had bacon for tea with 2 more biscuits and a billy of tea. Rain started to fall at 5:30 pm. On the track along the route we saw a number of native birds, tuis, fantails, stitch, blackbirds, bush-hawk, harrier-hawk, paradise duck, parakeets, kakas, wrens and keas. There was a great variety of ferns, lycopodiums, mosses in a great variety of reds, greens, browns, ambers, yellow, russet purple, orange citron and blue, samples of which I gathered and carried to the hut where we made a study of them to my great delight. We came upon a patch of red snow, Latin name “Sperella Nivalis” (Von Haast: Protococus Nivalis”)

1 January 1909: I went up to the Harris Falls, blazed a track alongside the falls from the bottom through the bush at side of Routeburn Hut, and gathered a collection of many-colored mosses and brought them back to the hut. The weather unsettled, rained on and off all day. No visitors today. I tried to catch 4 kakas (a species of parrot) in the bush but no luck. After tea a steady downpour set in, the barometer reading 27.60, the lowest since our arrival at hut. Almost a plague of mice. We sat around the log fire catching mice with a cup and glass bottle stopped with a piece of bread fixed in the top of the cup, and then had bets of matches how many mice would crawl out of the fire alive. We were catching 5 and 7 at a time in the cup – it was great fun.

11 January: Sunday: In the morning I accompanied 2 girls, Miss Birss of Invercargill and Miss McGeorge, to the Right Branch, showing them the sights we had sketched. At the Hut, I met a Mr. William Thompson and his young brother Alex of Kaikorai, Dunedin… Then I met George Paulin and his fiancée, Miss Agnes Elliot, and Miss Louis Lourich of Christchurch, and a very charming party they were, so we treated them, preparing their lunch and tea and gathered the ladies posies and celmesias and ranunculus Lyalli; we had a long talk with them, a good joking party. They went to Lake Harris and returned at 6:30 pm. George Paulin and his brother, Ronald are the proprietors of the Scheelite Mine in the Rees. Scheelite is a metal used in the manufacture of flexible steel for armaments and the Paulins export it to Germany as there is no British market for it at the present time.

23 January: Saturday: Weather the worst yet experienced. Terrible peals of thunder all night and day, vivid flashes of lightning, tremendous avalanches falling. One fell about 4 miles from the Hut door off a spur of Mt. Somnus. I had breakfast in bed and got up at 2:30pm. Rain poured in torrents all day and night, Routeburn in very heavy flood. The water covered all the flat to the other side of the valley and the river rose to within a few inches of the bank at the front of the Hut.

30 January: Saturday: Weather fair. Mr. Moreton and I left the Routeburn Hut for good on the homeward journey at 9:30 am. Arrived at spot near Routeburn Sheeprun, homestead, at 1:45 pm, pitched the tent and camped. We met Charles Harris with a four in-hand buggy and 2 ladies and a gentleman. Harris brought Moreton 2 letters, one from Miss Rose Woolley and the other from the Tourist and Health Resort Department Queenstown complaining about us staying so long in the Routeburn Hut…

The Lake Wakatip Mail of 2 February 1909 reported quite a story on the subject! Apparently Mr. Wildey never mentioned Samuel Morton’s colourful wardrobe or grumpy demeanor…



A reporter of the Otago Daily Times who was in the region of the Routeburn Valley recently, reports as follows to his journal:—" Considerable annoyance is expressed by tourists at the condition of the Routeburn Hut, which is used as an overnight sleeping place by those who visit Lake Harris Saddle in the Lake Wakatipu district. For some months past an elderly individual, who is described as an artist, in company with a young man, has taken up his abode at the hut, and visitors are made to feel on arrival and during their stay that to some extent they are there practically on sufferance. The elderly occupant of the hut is robed in a yellow costume fashioned somewhat on the lines of a Chinese mandarin, and, like his companion, he adopts a curt and uncommunicative manner when addressed. The interior of the hut, particularly in the men's compartment, is in a dirty and untidy condition, owing principally to the storage of firewood inside, some of which is placed beneath the sleeping bunks. The floors, which probably have not been washed over or scrubbed since the structure was erected, bear evidence of being regularly trodden upon with muddy boots, and some of the towels, etc, hanging over lines of cord stretched across the interior of the men's compartment have had a far-distant acquaintance with the washing tub. On the 16th and 17th, a party of four ladies including a lady medical practitioner from Wellington, who was in company with the wife of a well-known medical gentleman from the same city, occupied the ladies' compartment of the hut, but before doing so they took the precaution to thoroughly air the bedding and, finding some soap, they also washed a number of the towels. The bunks in this compartment were also cleaned out and packed with new forest bedding in place of the crumbling dried fern which had ceased to serve its purpose. The floor was also thoroughly swept, and a general clean-up made the place look wholesome and cheerful. The commotion and bustle occasioned by the ladies' sanitary precautions, and similar action on the part of three gentlemen occupants of the men's compartment, were looked upon with stolid curiosity by the two "resident" occupants, and an offer from the ladies to wash some towels in the men's quarters was met with a curt refusal. A representative of the 'Daily Times' who was with the party above referred to was informed that an angry altercation took place between the elderly artist and a member of a previous party, owing to the latter insisting that one door of the hut should be kept open to allow of the admission of fresh air. The facts above mentioned, it is understood, have already been brought under the notice of the Tourist Department, and representations on the matter will also be made to the Hon. T. Mackenzie, the Minister in charge of the department.


Routeburn Flats and Jock Edgar’s Hut

Routeburn Hut (from the Alexander Turnbull Library Collection)

Routeburn Hut February 1910

Tent at the Routeburn Hut

Routeburn Hut from Lakes District Museum Collection

Routeburn Valley from Falls

Bruce Morton’s 1947 Trip to Falls Hut. L-R : Peter Mower, Maurice Kearney, Bruce Morton, Tony Johnstone, Basil Pearce. In front: Bob Rogers

Routeburn Flats Door from the Glenorchy Museum