Hende’s Hut and Gallery, Waiho River, Franz Joseph
In late June Peggy and I decided to head off to the West Coast of the South Island for an extended trip, visiting points of interest from Punakaiki to Fox Glacier, as a reward for our recent Covid Time in home detention.
There was no itinerary other than Peggy’s Special Notebook, loaded with countless places of interest to visit. (By visit, I mean tramp, ride, kayak or climb to points of interest identified over the last two or three years of quiet planning …).
One such place was the Roberts Point Track at Franz Joseph, which leads to the closest vantage point to view the glacier. A fairly straightforward and simple five-hour return trip, on a pretty good track, so it would seem.
The area was deserted by normal standards; a huge carpark all but empty and virtually no-one about on the tracks either. We enjoyed perfect tramping conditions, under clear blue skies, while the rest of New Zealand endured seemingly endless rain, clouds and tornadoes.
This track, like many on the West Coast, is loaded with points of historical interest. One such feature is an old hut (Hende’s), about 90 minutes into the trip. It is situated on a prominent point, in the sun, with pretty good views down the valley.
After a very pleasant morning tea by the hut, we set off, to find, just around the corner, the most amazing suspended walkway that spanned some distance across a sheer rock face. What a surprise!
Subsequent research on the hut and gallery revealed that the hut was built to accommodate a forge for manufacturing all of the steelwork needed to suspend the access system for a new walkway off the face of the bluff.
Photographing the suspended track structure (gallery) in its entirety is difficult as it weaves along and down the rock face.
The structure was built (circa 1907) by men suspended from cages and by ropes. Not a job for the faint-of-heart, or OSH inspectors. The track was constructed to provide easy access to the glacier and a path to the other side of the valley, as part of track development to encourage the early tourism industry.
Does this have a familiar ring to it?
The complex web of steelwork and bracing wire (similar to wire bracing on a biplane wing of the time?) is in amazing condition given its age (over 110 years and counting), testimony to the skills at the time in producing long-lasting and durable steelwork.
Access, from Roberts Point, was directly on to the glacier about two metres below the pathway. Subsequent rapid advancement of the glacier took out the lower section of the gallery but the upper section remains to this day.
The structure was restored by DOC in the mid 1990’s and given a Historic Places Category 1 listing.
An interesting feature is the way that the structure hugs the face of the bluff, with several changes in direction as it traverses the face. Today, a much more direct approach is preferred, as evidenced by the long swing bridge, positioned to avoid another challenging rock bluff closer to the road-end. This is an impressive structure in its own right.
Trip stats: Length km (return): 12.2 km red trace on the map); time: 5 hours; total ascent (max): 872 m; elevation: 618 m. Note that the DOC description for this track says that it is for fit and experienced trampers only, probably to discourage inexperienced overseas visitors from wandering too far away from the well-developed carpark area.
- Party members
- Peggy and Chris Munn (scribe).