Mt Brown Hut, Newton Range, Hokitika Mt Brown Hut, Newton Range, Hokitika CREDIT: Rob Brown

Shelter from the Storm: the story of New Zealand's backcountry huts

Thursday 25 October 2012, 2:55PM
By Kathryn Carmody

Nearly 200 years of unique architectural history is captured in a beautifully illustrated new book from Craig Potton Publishing.
Shelter from the Storm: the story of New Zealand’s backcountry huts by Shaun Barnett, Rob Brown and Geoff Spearpoint looks at the network of over 1,000 working and recreational huts that are located deep in New Zealand’s mountains and forests, and profiles 90 of the most emblematic.
The project took the three author/photographers three years to research and write, but they have been gathering photographs for decades. They spoke to dozens of people and fossicked through numerous museums and archives to gather stories about why the huts were built, by whom, and how they’ve been used since.
“Nowhere else in the world has a network of huts like ours, and they’re a defining feature of New Zealand’s backcountry. The stories behind how and why they were built are often fascinating,” says co-author Shaun Barnett.
“The oldest date back to the mid-1800s, and originally housed gold miners or shepherds acting as boundary keepers. Many of the earliest were built of stone, but later corrugated iron became the material of choice. It’s incredibly durable, and can last a long time too, especially on the drier eastern side of the Southern Alps.”
“The most remote huts take 3 or 4 days of tramping to reach, and when you arrive at these places, in all sorts of weather, and realise that in many cases they were built by people carrying the materials in on their backs, it lends a real sense of thankfulness to the whole experience,” says Shaun.
“Even after planes made air-drops possible, things didn’t always run to plan. Colin Todd Hut, for example, took eight attempts, including one plane crash, and even then materials ended up on the wrong side of Mt Aspiring.”
For those who venture into our wild places there is often a passionate attachment to the huts. Over 400 photographs illustrate the book, with several essays telling the history of several different hut-building eras, including pastoral huts, mining huts, those built by tramping and mountaineering clubs, and various Government departments including the Internal Affairs, Lands and Survey, the New Zealand Forest Service, and the Department of Conservation.
Shelter from the Storm is a landmark publication, the first wide-ranging history of our backcountry hut network. The book has its own Facebook page, here, and is available from bookshops and libraries nationwide and online at