History  McCormack Hut

Experienced DOC ranger Bruce Postill recounts the valley-hopping history of what was McCormacks Hut

During the early 1980s, McCormack Hut existed for a few years at Luncheon Rock to serve as an emergency shelter for tourists visiting the Franz Josef Glacier. Despite its short-lived nature, the hut has an interesting history.

Luncheon Rock had long been used as a lunch spot for tourists on guided day-walk trips onto the glacier. When it became too difficult to gain access up the terminal face of the Franz Josef Glacier during the late 1970s tourists were taken by helicopter to and from Luncheon Rock. In about 1980, Westland National Park staff built McCormack Hut there as an emergency shelter in the event that the helicopter could not return to pick up guided tourist parties in bad weather.

The hut was named after Peter McCormack, a gentleman guide who took thousands of people on to the Franz Josef Glacier between the 1950s and 1970s. He was once a high guide and close friend of renowned guide Harry Ayres. I once saw Peter and Harry give a step-cutting demonstration at Fox Glacier during their later years, and it was impressive.

During the mid-1980s, the Franz Josef stopped retreating and began advancing rapidly, threatening to engulf McCormack Hut. Westland rangers made the decision to relocate the hut before the glacier crushed it. The night after this photo was taken in 1985, a block of ice crashed into the back of the hut, doing some minor damage. The next day, the hut was cut into sections and flown off Luncheon Rock to have a new life elsewhere in Westland National Park.

The sections of the hut were flown into Welcome Flat, on the Copland Track, and fashioned into a temporary accommodation hut, used while Westland National Park staff built the new Welcome Flat Hut.

McCormack Hut gained a third life when park staff moved down to the confluence of the Copland and Karangarua rivers, where it was to be used by Corrections Department scheme dubbed ‘Hoods in the Woods’. The scheme folded almost before it started, but he hut remained, used occasionally by hunters and park staff.

During the mid-1990s, the hut was recycled yet again. This time, it was cut in half to make two four-bunk huts. In 1994, one of the huts was flown to Christmas Flat, in the head of the Karangarua Valley, to replace the original cullers’ hut. The other half stayed on site, but was rarely used. In 2008, a combined agreement with New Zealand Deerstalkers’ Association and Safari Club International saw this hut relocated to replace the original Lame Duck Hut.

Preparations for the relocation started off well. The roof iron and trusses were removed McCormack Hut, photographed at Luncheon Rock on the day before it was dismantled, to make the load lighter, and a helicopter lifted the main section of the hut on a strop. But problems arose with turbulence. On the way to Lame Duck Flat, the hut had to be jettisoned, fell hundreds of metres, and smashed to pieces.

A new floor and walls had to be constructed for Lame Duck Flat Hut II, but the still intact roof and trusses were installed, with the design matching the original McCormack Hut.

All in all, McCormack Hut has had several lives, serving variously as a glacier guides’ shelter, hut builders’ accommodation, the base for an employment scheme and now as two hunting/ tramping huts in the Karangarua Valley. Perhaps no other hut can claim to have been recycled as much.

(Bruce Postill was a senior Westland National Park ranger during the mid-1980s, and since 1987 has worked for DOC in the Waikato. This article first appeared in the FMC Bulletin – November 2013)

Wilderlife