Welcome Flat Hut
Welcome Flat Hut is located in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park, half way down the South Island on the West Coast. A seven hour walk up the Copland Track gets you to one of New Zealand’s little sections of Heaven in the back-county. A 31 person hut with hot pools, a crystal clear river, and 360 degree mountain views.
Alice and I were lucky enough to be selected to look after the hut for a couple of weeks as DOC Wardens at the end of January.
Following on from our trip to Mueller Hut last year, Welcome Flat is essentially up and over on the other side of the Southern Alps mountain range.
It is a 17.7 km walk that will take around 7 hours, although some people were doing it in 5 hours and others boasted about doing it in 4 hours. The walk remains relatively flat most of the way, you start at sea level and eventually climb to an elevation of around 430 metres, all the while you are weaving through native bush and over rough boulders, along river edges. The uphill climb starts after Architect Creek and while there is a bit of up and down towards the end, it’s nothing major. The track is extremely well maintained and marked; so while you need to have good fitness to do this walk, it won’t crush your soul.
The track starts with a river crossing within the first 5 minutes, it is the only crossing where the water will go over your boots. If you hate wet boots and don’t want to spend the next 7 hours walking with wet socks then save yourself some time and just take off your boots for the first crossing. The track eventually crosses over several more creeks and streams but all of these have bridges, including several large swing bridges. These bridges offer some spectacular views – and we even spotted a couple of Chamois1 on the way back.
The walk to Welcome Flat crosses over a few active landslides and during periods of heavy rain the track may be closed for safety reasons. Make sure you contact the local DOC Office in Fox Glacier (or Haast on the weekends) to check the weather forecast.
Make sure you book in advance!
Welcome Flat Hut sleeps 31 people, it is one of the larger huts out there and certainly one of the most popular. In the 2 weeks we were there, we had over 200 people pass through, staying in the hut, camping, and also some day walkers who would hike up just for a soak in the hot pools before hiking back again.
It is really important that you book. So important that I will say it again. You need to book. There have been cases where more than 40 people have turned up wanting to stay the night but legally, the hut can only sleep 31 people. So if you turn up and you haven’t booked, then you might find you will have to sleep outside, under Bivvy Rock, which is a massive overhanging rock. Bivvy Rock will certainly provide you with shelter for the night and, in itself, this isn’t a bad thing. Except that you will only have the sand flies to keep you company.
Who will suck you dry until you are nothing but a husk, or require a blood transfusion.
Well, maybe not that bad, but take repellent.
Also, you will have to pay a penalty fee (double the normal price) for not booking in advance.
In exchange for your hut fee you will be provided with a mattress (or campsite), toilets (cleaned daily), water (that is safe to drink), a coal fire and space to cook and hang out. You will need to bring your own gas cooker. It amazed us the amount of people who turned up without a means to cook their food (boil their water) – despite it saying on the website, on the booking slip and on the signs at the start of the track, that no cooking equipment is provided. Actually, it surprised us how much some people were unprepared full stop. Remember, it is easily accessible but it is still 7 hours into the back-country. Understand what that means and ensure you are adequately prepared.
At the Hut
Once you are at the hut, you have a couple of options. A surprisingly large number of people will arrive at the hut and collapse on a mattress straight away for a nap. If you are not used to walking that kind of distance then that is fair enough. The other option is to head straight to the hot pools for a soak.
The natural springs at Welcome Flat are the result of tectonic activity with moving rocks, deep below the earth, forcing the water to the Earth’s surface at a toasty temperature of around 57 degrees Celsius. This spring is then channelled into a number of hot pools, ranging in depth and temperature. These are incredible to soak in. Especially with sore muscles and you have a 360 view of the mountains around you.
A word of warning, there are a lot of sand flies at the hut and around the hot pools (bring insect repellent). They seem to be more active during the middle of the day and they can be very annoying. Generally, there are less sand flies late at night and first thing in the morning when the air is cooler. So the other option, is to enjoy a night time soak when you can watch the stars overhead, or, get up before sunrise and soak in the pools while you listen to the dawn chorus and watch the sun paint the mountain peaks all kinds of incredible colours as it slowly rises.
Flora & Fauna
Unsurprisingly, there is a lot to see in the way of nature. From the small birds like the Miromiro, Korimako and the Pihoihoi, through to the bigger ones, like the Weka, Whio and Kea. No mater where you turn there is something to check out. The place is just so alive!
Plan to stay for at least 2 nights!
I strongly suggest if you do head up, book in to stay 2 nights. It was common for people to arrive then have a nap after walking 7 hours. After that they would wake up and eat then have a quick soak in the hot pools before falling asleep again for the night. The next morning they would be up early again in order to make it back to the car park in time to catch the bus back to Fox Glacier. Can I suggest, a better plan would be to come up, eat, crash, then soak in the morning, chill and explore all day, then head back the following day when you are more rested and after you have had a chance to enjoy your stay. This way, it is much more relaxed and in turn with the environment.
Meet the Wardens!
Alice and myself were there to make sure all the visitors that arrived at the hut felt welcome and were made aware where everything was, and generally, we tried to ensure that they had a good time.
It was our responsibility to clean the hut and surrounding area, and also help in general maintenance of the tracks, coal shovelling, fee collecting (you did book though, right?) and many other bits and pieces.
If you head up, do make sure you say hello to the wardens up there. They are also looking out for you guys, making sure you get up, and back in one piece. Who knows, you might even run into us!
Enough reading. Hit the slideshow… click on an image, then that little ‘play’ button on the bottom right.
Oh, and thanks Chris!