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Backcountry huts are simple structures. A mix of tin & timber crudely shaped to provide safety, shelter & refuge for weary travellers. But peer beneath their utilitarian veil, and you’ll find their secret lives. Guardians, gatherers and gatekeepers; huts play an integral part in our backcountry history – housing the stories of our great adventures and people that came before us. 

It’s early March and we’re in Otago, New Zealand. Between its golden triangle of Queenstown, Wanaka, Alexandra, Otago has more natural beauty than Beyonce has booty. A lake the shape of a lightning bolt, mountain ridgelines that resemble a stegosaurus spine and some of the best ski touring routes in the southern hemisphere. So, when Sophie told us she wanted to go on a hut scouting mission in preparation for the fast-approaching ski-touring season, we were all in…

British born, Sophie moved to Italy when she was twenty to work the ski slopes, before moving to New Zealand in the late nineties. An avid bikepacker and ski-tourer, we met Sophie on the Warmshowers app and quickly became friends, taking over her house, life and bikepacking plans in one fell swoop. Our first mission with Sophie was simple. Find the illusive Boundary Hut (1500m) by bike, stay for a night filled with good food and stargazing, and then map out the route back to Alexandra so Sophie could get a lay of the land in time for winter ski-touring.

We set off in the early morning, deciding to get dropped in the heart of the Old Man’s Range through messy bogged 4×4 tracks. As we skid across deep muddy ruts I secretly was very pleased we didn’t decide to ride up this part – a slip and slide push with mud up to our ankles is not the most appealing start to a ride. But it definitely is fun in a 4WD!

At 800meters we decided to take off on our bikes, with most of the slippery mudfest out of the way. We spun off eagerly in the hot midday sun to our first stop of the day, the historic Potters Hut.  Filled with history, the track goes through several alluvial gold diggings worked in this area between 1860 and 1900s, connecting a series of historic gold mining huts.

As we make it over the top of the 4WD track we see the first hut in all its glory. Constructed of basic local stone in the 1920s, the hut fits perfectly into the surrounding landscape. Beside it, a newer hut stands – clearly being used by a few of the local 4WD on their missions through the hills. 

Curious as ever, we put down our bikes to explore the structures. As we step into the hut the aroma of past fires and half-drunk bottles of whiskey hits us immediately. Soph pulls out an old bottle of Rum from the corner dusty bookshelf – a treat left for the next hut dwellers to enjoy. The huts’ walls are dotted with old black and white photos, enmeshed with the stories of the people who have visited here. We soon came to realise every hut has its own history, a collection of memories gathered and remembered by all those whose adventures had taken them there. 

As we hit the road again, our minds refocused on the mission to find Boundary hut. We cycle up the Old Man Range, with Soph pointing out all the local Ski Touring areas, recalling many nights spent in huts dotted across the Kopuwai Conservation Area, after a long day on the snow. She even let us in on a locals-only secret – a small “hut” tucked beneath a large rock, with just a few bunks, used for skiers in the winter months. Legend tells us it’s loaded with copious amounts of wood and whiskey in the summer season, ready for its very few guests in the winter. Its exact location won’t be on any map or marked on any navigation app, you’ll have to accompany a local to know where to spot it. 

We finally get high enough to see the clouds roll across the track, a sure sign that we’re getting closer to the hut. The icy cold afternoon wind sets in, and our determination to find our home for the night gets stronger.  We turn a corner and to our surprise we see the ever trusting green and yellow doc sign – Boundary hut 1km. We were not expecting such an easy direct sign to show us the way, but we were grateful and followed on, throwing our bikes down the steep hill and seeing the small speck that was Boundary Hut in the distance.

Boundary Hut sits romantically on the hills, a simple rustic corrugated-iron shelter framed by rolling hills and billowing tussocks of the central Otago backcountry. Sitting directly on the Otago and Canterbury border, Boundary Hut isn’t the only one of its kind. The history of these huts goes back to the early 1860’s when boundary keepers were required to patrol the large amounts of merino sheep that roamed the high country. Many of these huts have survived and are used today for kiwis to enjoy the backcountry.

Tonight this boundary hut offered us a rare chance to experience the isolated existence of the early boundary keepers. Its hut logbook spans back decades, holding a record of visitors detailing their past trips, adventures and experiences. In true NZ fashion, Sophie knew a few people named in the logbook, showing Boundary Hut was regularly visited by locals in the area. 

The familiar hut rituals begin – sweeping floors, fetching water, dusting off mattresses and getting out food panniers. Sam decides it’s time for an afternoon snack, pulling out corn kernels and making us some freshly popped, piping hot sea-salt popcorn. We find old national geographics from the 70s, flicking through some incredible film photographs from adventures all over the world, enjoying our toasty popcorn and soaking up the last bit of sunshine for the day.

We sit on the deck, watching the sunset and the sky turn candyfloss pink. Soph wraps me in her sleeping bag, keeping us both snug as the warmth from the afternoon sun starts to fade. With Sam lighting all the candles we can find, we sip on our hot tea and watch the stars come out, wrapping up a pretty perfect backcountry day. 


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