by Greta Yeoman
Only one of the five most popular huts in the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park is a tramping hut.
Mueller Hut, at the top of the Sealy Range, had about 3100 visitors between June 2016-July 2017, Mountain Safety Council figures estimated.
Department of Conservation Aoraki operations manager Brent Swanson said the four other most popular huts in the park were used by climbers or mountaineers.
These were Plateau Hut on the eastern side of Mt Cook, the Tasman Saddle Hut and nearby Kelman Hut between Tasman and Murchison glaciers, and the privately-owned Caroline Hut on the Mt Cook Range.
There are 16 back-country huts in the national park, although some are not in use.
Several park huts have been closed and removed over the past decade due to damage or risk.
These included the Department of Conservation’s Haast Hut, on the western side of the Tasman Glacier (officially closed last year but still on-site), the historic Hooker Hut (removed from the Hooker Valley in 2015), the New Zealand Alpine Club-owned Murchison Hut on the Murchison Glacier (closed until further notice), De La Beche Hut on the Tasman Glacier (removed in 2012 after deterioration), and Gardiner Hut (removed from the south face of Aoraki in 2015 after a rockfall).
Due to the increasing difficulty climbers had accessing huts and mountains because of geological and glacial changes, many were using helicopters, decreasing the need for huts, Mr Swanson said.
“Factors contributing to the difficulty in maintaining Aoraki’s hut network include changing visitor trends, increased awareness regarding impacts to visitor safety and the impacts of climate change on this already unstable environment.”