Big Tops Hut & the CTC

Frank King, from the December 1996/January 1997 newsletter

Christchurch Tramping Club's connection with the Big Tops Hut in the Koropuku valley goes back a long way.

At one time there was only a tiny Big Tops Biv at the head of the Koropuku Stream. When that great tramping benefactor, the New Zealand Forest Service, decided a hut was needed it fell to Ray Forsyth to select a suitable site for it. The condition of Big Tops today is proof that Ray was good at his job. Ray is now a member of the club and spends his time in the hills for pleasure.

The new hut became a Mecca for the more adventurous CTC members. There was even a suggestion at one time that it be renamed "McSweeney Manor" in honour of the frequent visits by then keen young CTC tramper Jerry McSweeney.

Official trips didn't go there though. There was even a deliberate move to keep people out. A note in the hut book in 1973 advised people to "...keep it unknown by not talking too much about its position."

Over the next few years the hut book was dominated by the names of CTC notables: McSweeney, Jones, Visser, Lassche, Rainsbury, Sheppard, Lewis, Hay, Cox, Dephoff, Caldwell, Saggers.

It seems that they obeyed their instructions and kept quiet about the place. As the hardy CTC trampers of that era began to concentrate on other life interests, the appearance of club names in the hut book came to an end. The trampers who moved to the forefront of CTC activities had a blind spot for Big Tops, rather than a fond spot. For ten years not a single name associated with the club was written in the hut book.

Even visits by non CTC adventurers dwindled. There was one year when not a single name appeared in the hut book. The ribbonwood and harakeke grew taller, kiwis shrieked at night unheard and the deer rubbed their velvet off against the corner of the hut undisturbed.

Rumours circulated among trampers that the track had grown over and couldn't be found and a mythology developed that Big Tops was lost to the world. This was helped by reports that even DoC didn't know where it was.

A story did the rounds that DoC, eager to claim any revenue due from their great NZ Forest Service inheritance, sent in two parties of workers to put a sign in the hut advising of the fees that were now payable. Neither party could find the place and eventually a helicopter was used to do the job. The signs duly arrived by air and were affixed to the wall but I'm not sure what return DoC hoped for to cover their costs.

Whatever, this incident increased the rumour that Big Tops had been reclaimed by the wilderness and that a journey to it involved major difficulty.

So what was the truth?

Well, a lot of people in the CTC know it now. Since my first trip in there in 1993 thirty-five people have been to Big Tops with me, on five different trips. Seven have been more than once. This club once again has the expertise on the area.

Routefinding can be a real difficulty. The descent down the gully would intimidate some. The alternative bush route is fine but requires good bush navigation skills. Then when you get to within 50 metres of the hut, if you're not confident using your map, you could still spend a night out (like many others) and come out with a story that you'd rather not tell.