CLOSE TO HOME
Getting to and from Macaulay Hut is one of Close to Home contributor Richard Soult’s favourite overland trips and has recently been added to the Expeditions section of his website
Strangely, the idea for this route took shape in my dining room in Burgundy, France several years ago. I had been living in France for 18 years and had returned to New Zealand for an extended holiday. I was on a trip around the South Island and was spending a night at Tekapo village. I had been told that the walk up to the observatory on Mount John was worth it, so off I went. Getting to the top, the view was amazing. Being a keen 4x4 Explorer, I was drawn to the road going up the side of Lake Tekapo and wondered how far it went into the mountains.
Several months later and back in France, I was looking on Google Earth and following the track that I had seen from the top of Mount John. Crossing the Macaulay River, I continued my “virtual” trip up the valley until my curser crossed over an image titled “bath time”. Intrigued, I opened the image and found an old iron bath, set in the most amazing scenery with a tin of Speight's sitting on the edge. I promised myself that if I returned to New Zealand, I would buy a slab of Speight's and test the bath for myself! I did return to New Zealand, and on my first visit to the Macaulay hut, I found a happy mix of hunters, adventure motor bikers and fellow 4x4 Explorers. The bath was there, quickly filled and a fire lit beneath. I then proceeded to drink my can of Speight's while enjoying the view of the immense valley and surrounding mountains. Sadly the bath was removed some time ago, probably seen as a fire risk, but the hut remains and is one of the best that I have visited.
Up the Godley
This Expedition takes you up the stunning Godley Valley to the base of the Maud Glacier and then up the Macaulay Valley to the Macaulay Hut. It can easily be driven in a weekend and you can choose between staying in the Red Stag Hut up the Godley Valley or the Macaulay Hut, or both. To get there leave Tekapo Village with enough fuel and supplies for a few days, and head up the North Eastern side of the lake. If the weather is nice, there are numerous places to stop for a picnic and a swim. The gravel road continues and within an hour of leaving Tekapo, you come to the crossing of the Macaulay River. This is the only serious obstacle on this Expedition and should be treated with care, as the road sign informs you. At times of average flow, the crossing does not present any serious difficulty or require a snorkel.
It should be noted that the weather in this area can change quickly and any heavy rainfall may see you stuck on the other side waiting for the water to subside, so take some extra provisions and check the weather forecast before crossing. Once across the river, you pass through Lilybank Station and start up the Godley Valley. There are a couple of signs directing you to the river bed marked “Public Road”. Public yes, but road, not sure... As you head up the valley, the views get better and better. On the route, you will pass a sign telling you that you have entered Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. A quick glance at the map will show you just how remote this valley is as you are now closer to Franz Joseph, on the West Coast, than Tekapo Village. The route takes you up the riverbed and at times route finding can be a challenge. There are sporadic cairns and orange posts but the route is constantly changing and there will be places where the “track” is washed out.
Easy to miss
Red Stag Hut is easy to miss and is located off to your right as you approach the head of the valley. The going becomes more and more difficult as the boulders become larger and track more difficult to identify. I have been told that it has been possible to reach the terminus lake of the Maud Glacier in a vehicle, but this is something that I have yet to achieve. I usually get to within a kilometre or so and the walk up to the lake is really worth it. The beauty and feeling of remoteness are truly special! From the lake, retrace your path and head either to Red Stag Hut or back down to Lilybank Station and up to the Macaulay Hut.
If you’re doing this Expedition over a weekend, you will normally find friendly, like minded, people in the hut with the log burner going and plenty of room to stay. The bath may have gone, but this a magical spot and still worth the effort. After a comfortable night in the hut, a couple of hours will see you out and back to the civilisation of Tekapo Village. A really great Expedition that is easily done in a weekend if you’re based in Christchurch or down that way. For more information, including GPX files, on this Expedition and many more throughout New Zealand, join 4x4explorer.co.nz
Bath time at Macaulay Hut.
Macaulay River crossing.
Red Stag Hut.
Maud Glacier and terminus lake.