If you fancy a spot of table tennis, lace up your hiking boots because you’re in for a climb! Historic Big Hut perches atop the Rock and Pillar range high above Middlemarch in Central Otago and must surely be the only foot-access alpine tramping hut in the country to boast a table tennis table and a living room large enough to accommodate it.
Operated by the Rock and Pillar Hut Trust, the little known hut is well above the snowline at 1325 metres. Surrounded by alpine vegetation and towering tores, it s a steady 3 hour haul straight up on a moderately rough but obvious track which is well marked with snow poles towards the top.
In summer, crickets and wild butterflies adorn the trail which zig zags up over DOC conservation land, and in winter, deep drifts of snow and challenging winds make the climb an invigorating hike. Whether you go up and back on a day trip or choose to stay overnight, nothing quite prepares you for the sight of the hut itself.
In contrast to its name, the 4 roomed building is the size of a modest home and boasts two spacious bunk bedrooms, a large kitchen, ample porch and ‘locker room’ and, of course, the table tennis/living room (the bathroom is a hand basin located in the porch).
How a building of such proportions came to be on top of a mountain is all down to its historic background. A playground for hardy Otago Ski Club members who climbed, with all their gear, from the bottom of the mountain for a weekend of fun in the snow, ‘the Lodge’, as it was then known, was opened in 1946. Assembled with voluntary labour from 30 odd ton of building materials towed into place by a crawler tractor and trailer (no easy helicopter access in those days) it became the place to head to before Coronet Peak’s easy-access slopes lured the punters away.
A visit to Big Hut is unforgettable. The clear Central Otago air and unique light makes for spectacular views over the planes below and out to the sea 53km away. At night, the lights of Middlemarch twinkle in the distance, and by day the spartan mountain top is alive with nateive wild flowers, vegetable sheep and other alpine flora. Rock climbers will enjoy scaling the strange tor outcrops, and walkers will be tempted by the 2 hour return side trip to Leaning Lodge, a neighbouring hut which is also open to the public.
If planning a trip to Big Hut, take ample water supplies for the journey up, primus or gaz cooker, warm clothes and a 3 season sleeping bag (even in the middle of summer, temperatures can dip to below freezing, and gale force winds can arrive without warning). Solar lighting is available but torches will be required. And, of course, it always pays to carry your own table tennis balls!
How to get there
To reach the setting off point for the hut, watch for signage on State Highway 87 approximately 5km north of Middlemarch, close to Glencreag Station. The car park from where you leave is approximately 2km along an unsealed road.
© Photos curtesy of Diana Noonan