Mount Brown Hut
A walk to Mount Brown hut (1125m) and Mt Brown summit (1270m) makes a great overnight or day walk. It’s a very stiff 1000m climb from the car park, and the track is tree-rooty and very steep in places. If you’re staying overnight take your tent, as Mount Brown hut is only a 4-bedder and it’s a popular walk, so there is every chance you’ll need to camp. Before you go, be sure to check the mountain forecast (as well as e.g. the Hokitika forecast) just in case. Over the few days we spent on the coast the weather was stunning, but just into the mountains was a completely different story. If you get a great weather weekend you’ll hopefully be rewarded with a spectacular west coast sunset!!
It took us 2 hours 50 minutes from the car park to the hut, and the same to return (the return journey included a short break). We also walked to Mt Brown summit at 1270m, in just under an hour one way.
Mt Brown is at the western end of the Newton Range at the southern end of Lake Kaniere, about thirty minutes out of Hokitika. Head out of Hokitika on the Lake Kaniere Road. At the lake, it’s worth popping to the Sunny Bight car park for great views of the lake, the mountains and for a short walk. For Mt Brown, continue on the eastern side of the lake past the excellent Hans Bay DOC campsite onto the unsealed Dorothy Falls Road.
The car park just after the bridge at Geologist Creek wasn’t signposted as I remember (Dec ’22). As you drive south there is a car park area under the trees on the left, but it was full when we walked, so we parked on the grass opposite.
From the Car Park
We walked the track the week before Christmas, and there were five cars in the car park when we arrived at 3.30 pm. Mt Brown hut and track aren’t maintained by DOC, but by the Permolat Trust so look out for a variety of markers. The Permolat Trust is a volunteer collective that maintains and brings remote huts and tracks back to life. Check out their website for more details and if you stay in one of their huts, please make a donation.
From the car park, the track leads into the bush then immediately pops out onto a grassy flat at Geologist Creek briefly, before heading into a beautiful lush forest of ferns and vines. It was easy-going and pleasant, and after twenty minutes we came to the creek crossing.
The Climb Mount Brown Hut
The track climbed gently on the true left of the creek for a while before turning and heading across the face. We walked on a hot day, and it was humid in the forest. Be sure to bring plenty of water (the creek is the last time you can fill up before the hut).
The map contours say it all, and the mid-section of the walk was pretty steep! The kind of fun steep where you’re scrambling up the tree roots, under giant old trees, squeezing through gaps. It was one of those walks where you get stuck in and get on with it. We really enjoyed it. Although it’s hard work, there’s something different in every step, and always something interesting to look at. Plus you’re gaining elevation fast.
When we walked there was a beautifully scented flower out in the canopy which floated down to us, along with a carpet of petals underfoot. Also, keep an eye out for the ongaonga nettle, we found a large patch mid-way up.
A couple of hours into the walk we got our first glimpse of the view south to the Styx river, a great indicator of the elevation gain. Mossy trees became subalpine bush and the track became flatter and quite boggy in a couple of places. At around 5.45 pm, 2 hrs 15 mins into the walk, we got our first proper views of the mountains to the south and shortly afterward views up to the tussocky upper slopes towards the hut.
We came out into the open 20 minutes later and met a lovely family. Mum of the year Nadia (10/10 for getting the kids up here!) and her family Oceane, Amber and Zaine (10/10 for effort!) were all in great spirits having enjoyed their walk up. We had a chat as we passed and headed for the hut. The track to the hut was poled and easy to follow and just a little scoured out in places.
Mount Brown Hut
We reached the gorgeous 4-bed Mt Brown hut at 6.20 pm. We popped our heads around the door and said hello to a couple of parties of ladies who’d already settled in. With the number of cars in the car park we knew we’d be tenting. We left the largest spot close to the hut for the family’s bigger tent and walked around to scope out a good alternative. We found one just off the track to the right, before the hut.
It was a fine day when we climbed, but we were glad to get a little shelter from the stiff breeze amongst the tussocks. When you visit, be sure your tent is sturdy enough to withstand strong winds.
Mount Brown hut sits at 1125m. People come here for the spectacular views, and we weren’t disappointed! A peek over the ridge from the hut gives you Lake Kaniere and the west coast, and behind the hut are uninterrupted mountain views. From the hut, the best view is a short walk away, up and to the right of the deck. It’s a great place to catch the sunset.
Permolat Trust Mt Brown Hut
Take a look at the Remote Huts website for the story of Mt Brown Hut. It used to be the Lower Arahura hut, situated in the valley of the same name. In 2010 DOC built a new hut at that site and volunteers suggested that DOC bring the dismantled hut up to this location to be reassembled. As it turned out the hut was almost entirely rebuilt. It now finds itself to be one of the ‘poster huts’ for the NZ backcountry.
Don’t forget to make a donation to the Permolat Trust for your stay. Their website mentions that due to the large number of visitors to the hut and lack of donations, the group struggle to cover the level of servicing/maintenance that the hut, long-drop and track require.
The hut has a water tank and a fireplace but as it is on the tops, there is no firewood (coal used to be flown in). Don’t come expecting a cosy fire, and do not attempt to cut down and burn live foliage. Finally, please don’t use the fireplace as a rubbish dump.
A Beautiful Evening
Having set up the tent we took our cooking setup to the sun-drenched deck for dinner. We spent the evening chatting to our hut buddies. It was such a pleasure to hear stories about the kids’ other tramping trips.
Towards Mount Brown Summit
We woke at 7 am to the call of a distant kea. It wasn’t far away, on the Camp Creek /Mt Alexander tramp to the north of here, that we had the pleasure of a large flock for company, for the evening and overnight. With the call of a kea, I now have a heightened sense of nervousness regarding the tent!
Having said goodbye to our new friends, we left the hut at 9.30 am in our warm clothes and hats, to walk the undulating ridge to Mt Brown summit at pt 1270. From the hut, we took the worn, unmarked track up and along the occasionally narrow ridge. The track wasn’t too difficult, but care needs to be taken as the bushes sometimes hide the track (or a hole/drop) so make sure you know where you’re putting your feet.
As we climbed up the ridge the views got better and better. Small alpine tarns glistened to our right and the views of Lake Kaniere opened up. It was very cool to look all the way back to the hut and it added to the wilderness feel of the hut location.
Mount Brown Summit
We reached the summit in about 50 minutes, enjoying the great new views of the Arahura River to the northeast and the coast to the north. We spent half an hour taking it all in.
Rich had forgotten his sun hat, so fashioned one out of a hanky, English-seaside style, tying each corner into a knot, which worked a treat. Classic.
The hut was empty when we got back. We did a quick re-sweep, tidied the vestibule and took some rubbish. In the hut, we found some hut games (dominoes, Old Maid, a pack of cards) and a lovely message from intrepid mum and (7 y/o) son tramping duo @bustsaw_adventures. What lovely gifts for other trampers and families to use! Looking back at their Instagram post for Mt Brown hut, if you’re thinking of taking your mini adventurers, it took them 5 hours up and 5 hours down.
You won’t want to leave the deck of Mount Brown hut. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch and watched the pipits dust-bathing before dragging ourselves up for the walk back. Leaving the hut at 12.20 pm we were back at the car at 3.10 pm with a quick 10-minute break on the way down.
At the car park, several cars had left and a couple remained. If you’d like to try something a little different, there is an alternative route up to Mount Brown from the Styx River – do your research before going in.
We drove back to Lake Kaniere and immediately went for a swim in the lake. The Christmas rush hadn’t quite started yet, and we spent a lovely quiet night at Hans Bay campsite. Bring your sandfly repellent!
Click the links below for some other walks on the west coast.