Defiance Hut

13 State Highway 6, Franz Josef

  • Defiance Hut, Franz Josef.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Mike Vincent. Date: 14/09/2013.
  • Defiance Hut, Franz Josef. Interior.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Melanie Lovell-Smith.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 5046 Date Entered 21st September 1989


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as RS 4690 (CT WS5A/379, NZ Gazette 1970, p. 1014), Westland Land District and the building known as Defiance Hut thereon.

City/District Council

Westland District


West Coast Region

Legal description

RS 4690 (CT WS5A/379, NZ Gazette 1970, p. 1014), Westland Land District


Defiance Hut, now located at the Franz Josef Visitor Centre, was originally constructed in 1912-3 to enable greater tourist and mountaineer excursions to Franz Josef Glacier and is the earliest high-level mountain hut remaining in New Zealand. It plays an important role in telling New Zealand's mountaineering history.

Adventurers and visitors had admired the beauties of the glacier country since the nineteenth century, and in the early twentieth century active steps were taken to promote Westland and its Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers as the scenic wonderland of New Zealand. In 1911, the well-known guiding and mountaineering brothers, Jim and Alec Graham, purchased the Waiho Hotel at Franz Josef, and this became a base for their mountain guiding business and led to growth of tourism and mountaineering in the area. In response to the Graham brothers’ offer to build a hut, the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts made available a sum of £160 for the project and provided plans and specifications. Built on a moraine terrace above Harpers Creek on the west side of the Franz Josef Glacier Valley, at 2,657 feet (809 metres) the alpine hut commanded excellent views of the main icefall.

Defiance Hut is rectangular in plan, measuring 7.4 metres by 3.9 metres. The roof form is gabled, with the ridge running east-west. The height to the eaves is approximately two metres and approximately 3.5 metres to the ridge. The exterior cladding is vertical corrugated steel, lapped on the gable ends at the level of the eaves, and corrugated steel to the roof. At the verge, the roofing is wrapped down onto the face of the walls. The front or north elevation has three timber-framed windows and two doors, one to each of its two rooms. The plan arrangement of the interior includes a large room (originally for cooking and sleeping for men) and a smaller room (for women). The hut was designed in what became the standard design for mountain huts for approximately 50 years.

The Defiance Hut extended the available tourist excursion to the glacier. The hut offered night shelter to visitors and mountaineers, enabling them to make ascents of some of the peaks on the western side of the glacier, including Mount Moltke, which became very popular. As the glacier receded and the ice pressure diminished the terrace, Defiance Ridge began to crumble and erode. In December 1936 it was decided to move the hut to the safety of the crest of the Defiance Ridge. The hut was pulled apart and the two tons of material, which had originally been carried to the site by hand, was moved. The hut was re-assembled and remained in constant use until the 1950s when the site was again threatened by erosion and access became a problem. A replacement hut was built at Castle Rocks, 650 metres high up the ridge, in 1974. In 1978 the Defiance Hut was rescued from its precarious position, flown out in sections, and reassembled and restored behind the Westland National Park Visitors Centre at Franz Josef township to serve as an example of an old-style mountain hut. The interior contains a stove, a table and forms, cupboards containing old supplies, bunks and assorted mountaineering artefacts such as skis and packs.

The hut is associated with notable guides and climbers, such as the Graham Brothers who stocked and maintained the hut as part of their guiding business, and many other well-known mountaineers used the hut and signed the visitors’ book. The hut was originally a three-hour climb from the Franz Josef township, but in its relocated position in the township it is accessible to all visitors to the town. The building today matches closely the original construction drawings of 1913, though the original stone fireplace would not have been moved during the first relocation of the hut, in 1936.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Jim & Alex Graham

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

1936 -
Relocation to crest of ridge

1978 -
Relocation of hut to Franz Josef township

Original Construction
In original position, Cape Defiance

Completion Date

31st March 2015

Report Written By

Robyn Burgess

Other Information

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.

A fully referenced upgrade report is available on request from the Southern Regional Office of Heritage New Zealand