Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

27 June 2010

Derelict Refuge: Burkes Pass

In 1950, when I was a late teenager, I lost a friend. He was serving in the British Intelligence Corps stationed in Austria. The story was that he went for a walk on the Schneealpe, was caught in a blizzard and died of exposure. The headline in my local paper read: 'British soldier dies 150 yards from safety'.

What tragedy! He had been within walking distance of a refuge hut but was obviously so disorientated that he never found it. Stewart was 18.

The hut in my photograph was taken in early autumn near Burkes Pass in South Canterbury, New Zealand. You can see the hut from the modern highway but when it was built Burkes Pass was extremely remote and, in winter, was (and still is, of course) subject to heavy snow storms and sudden blizzards. This hut served the same purpose as that one in Austria that my friend missed and then died.

Interestingly another friend grew up on a sheep station near Burkes Pass. Two of his ancestors died here. One in an avalanche while searching for sheep; the other was gored to death by a prize bull. Vita brevis!


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By Don Donovan