Ask any two trampers what their favourite backcountry hut is, and it’s unlikely they would name the same one. There are more than 950 huts dotted around the valleys, hills and mountains of our backcountry. There’s even a website devoted to ‘hut bagging’ (visiting as many huts as you can), and competition is fierce.
The good news is, you don’t need to be a hard core tramper to access a hut. Barely two hours from the road end, Packhorse Hut on Banks Peninsula is ideal for stretching the legs after a leisurely brunch. Espresso and exercise combined: for me and my friends, Saturdays don’t get much better than this.
From the carpark on the northern side of Gebbies Pass, a 4WD track heads across open farmland, marked with coloured poles. Several weathered and twisted tree stumps are dotted throughout the paddocks. Along with small pockets of native bush, these are the only survivors of a forest that once blanketed Banks Peninsula.
Barely 30 minutes from the carpark, the track crosses into an exotic pine plantation. It’s a pleasant place to walk, summer or winter, as the trees block the sun and the wind.
After an hour-long steady uphill walk, the forest opens out onto tussock-clad slopes. But chances are you’ll barely notice the tussock. Instead look to the left, to the views over Lyttelton Harbour. The harbour and the craggy hills around it are the remnants of a volcano that erupted around 10 million years ago.
Twenty minutes of awe-inspiring views later, we reach Packhorse Hut. Built in 1917 from locally quarried volcanic stone, the hut has recently had a spruce-up and now sports a distinctive red roof and windowsills.
Packhorse Hut was part of local MP Harry Ell’s grand scheme to link Christchurch and Akaroa via a summit walkway. Framed posters inside the hut give a fascinating insight into Ell’s life and work. It’s possible to stay overnight, but beds must be booked in advance with the Department of Conservation.
Sitting outside the hut, with the tussock waving in the breeze, it’s easy to lose track of time. Modern life beckons back home, but for the moment my friends and I are content to sit here and watch the clouds go by.
The big hand on the clock has done another full rotation by the time we are ready to leave. Hearts and minds refreshed, we retrace our steps to Gebbies Pass – we're already planning our next 'hut bagging' adventure.