Nelson Lakes National Park – March 2021
Occupying a fine basin on the Travers Range, Cupola Hut is arguably the best situated hut in Nelson Lakes National Park. The hut offers a spectacular view of Mt Hopeless to the north, while a short distance above the hut, the dominant dome of Mt Cupola fills the horizon. The hut is reached on a good track from the Travers Valley, and has bunk space for 8. Mountaineers often use it as a base to climb the surrounding peaks, while trampers most often visit as side-trip from the Travers Valley. Recently, the hut got a makeover in a combined effort by the Ultimate Descents team and DOC, funded by Kaimahi for Nature.
The team comprised Tim Marshall and Hamish Webb of Ultimate Descents, with DOC rangers Dave Seelye, Pete Hope and Brent Cameron. They flew in and worked 16–19 March. Tim and Hamish pulled off the old roof and replaced it, along with installing new flashing.
Meanwhile, the rangers built a tank stand, installed the new watertank, made repairs to the outer cladding, and gave the hut a fresh paint, inside and out.
Anyone who visits the hut will notice that it is not a standard design, with several features offering clues as to its unconventional origins. First, it has a larger-than-normal boot-room, and secondly, inside there is a narrow sliding window. This is because the hut was built as a science research base during 1962, a joint project between the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, and the New Zealand Forest Service. Scientists worked there for five years, studying deer, alpine grasshoppers and other features of the sub-alpine ecology.
-The bootroom served as a place to store the equipment and food needed for research, and the sliding windows offered a ready means of making binocular observations. Useful as it was, the sliding window did cause problems once when some crafty kea worked out how to use it as entry into the hut, and had a great party tearing up sacks of flour, and making a mess on the floor that ended up inches deep.
There was no woodburner in the hut, as smoke would have put off the animals that the scientists wanted to study. And there was a smaller hide, located south of the hut, which was destroyed by an avalanche in the early 1980s. Only the piles now remain.
During the late 1970s, Bruce Postill was a ranger at Nelson Lakes when the scientific project had been completed, so he and fellow ranger Peter Lowen went in to convert Cupola into a tramper’s hut. They arrived to find heavy snow above the eaves, and had to dig their way in. That meant work was confined to what they could complete inside.
The rangers lined the walls, built new bunks, and installed a coal-burner. Bruce’s pictures here show Cupola’s conversation from science hut to a trampers and mountaineer’s haven.
Now with Cupola Hut spruced up once again, it will continue to serve as welcome shelter, while still retaining those telltale features of its origins.