Restoring the Sign of the Packhorse Hut

Department of Conservation —  11/12/2014

By Paul Mahoney, Technical Advisor (Historic)

A conservation makeover is being planned for the historic Sign of the Packhorse Hut 100 years after building first began.

Packhorse Hut. Photo: Jon Sullivan | CC BY-SA 2.0.

The Sign of the Packhorse Hut

In 1914, Christchurch conservationist Henry Ell had the Sign of the Packhorse Hut built on the spectacular Kaituna Saddle as a stopover on an 85 kilometre three-day scenic ridge walk he developed.

A century later, this spot is as popular as ever, but the hut is starting to look tired.

Over half the visitors to the Kaituna Saddle rated heritage as their top draw card to the area, so conserving this beautiful hut is especially important.

DOC’s Heritage Technical Advisor Richard Nester helped us determine our approach to preserving the hut and its heritage.

Sign of the Packhorse Hut in 1916. Photo: Christchurch City Libraries.

The open porch with arched lintel, reflect the California Bungalow style coming into vogue in 1916

Historic images can play a key role in inspiring heritage preservation so Richard delved into a wide range of archival records.

One delightful discovery was a great image of the hut interior, taken shortly after it opened and demonstrating Ell’s vision.

Reinstating some of these missing interior elements would help revive its appeal.

Interior of Packhorse Hut in 1920. Photo: Christchurch City Libraries.

Interior of Packhorse Hut in 1920

The open porch is particularly forlorn with its dilapidated uneven cobble stone floor. One option would be to fill in the porch and smooth concrete over the cobbles to create a kitchen area. However advice from modern architects was that the open porch is a key architectural feature. So we will retain the porch, and restore the cobbles.

Similarly, the natural volcanic stone walls give the interior a distinctive heritage character that is valued for its contrast to the smooth painted surfaces in modern homes.

For heritage conservation Richard is guided especially by two principles; minimise change to fabric that holds heritage character and use reversible methods for any upgrade work. That way future generations can strip out our changes if they need to.

Family visit to the Sign of the Packhorse hut. Photo:

Family visit to the Sign of the Packhorse hut

Visit the Sign of the Packhorse Hut

The walk to the Sign of the Packhorse Hut is less than two hours from the nearest car park making it easy for a day trip or overnight visit. More information is available on the DOC website.