Our adventure in New Zealand started at the Brisbane International Airport where I met up with Bjorn, Angie, Jonno, Nathan, Andre and Steve. Zoe, Ben and Jen were already in NZ and Sally was flying from Newcastle so we would meet her in Christchurch as well.
We landed in Christchurch just after midnight, picked up the 3 rental cars and started driving to Wanaka – arriving there early morning just in time for coffees and breakfast in a gorgeous cafe. After the overdose of caffeine for some we went shopping for our first hike. Angie and me were food buddies so we hit the supermarket for heaps of goodies – and there were many!!
Our menu for the coming week:
- flavoured couscous with salmon and cashew nuts
- quinoa with dried vegetables and a coconut based curry sauce
- pasta with pesto and olives (in a little bag – awesome!)
- lentils with spices and soup (twice)
Lunches were wraps with cheese and sundried tomoatoes for the first days and then with peanut butter and our breakfasts were oats with dried bananas, extra bran and a nut mixture with milk powder and honey. Can really recommend them!
We didn’t have many snacks for the first week, but what we had was great: some dried fruit (orange flavoured cranberries, strawberries), Dutch lollies, soy crisps, salty biscuits, almond fingers, digestive biscuits and some beef jerkey for Angie. We were all very impressed with the options in the kiwi supermarkets and loved Alison’s Pantry wall.
We packed our bags on the foreshore of Lake Wanaka and drove to Ella’s place (a friend of Jen) to leave some of our gear behind whilst the boys did the car drop.
Our first hike was a day hike to Brewster Hut, I’m sure the people at the hut weren’t happy to see 9 people arrive quite late in the day, but we loved it there. It was a steep hike up from the creek at Fantails carpark at 450m through a dry beech forest with lots of tree roots until we reached the tree line at 1160m. Amazingly you are all of a sudden in a grassy plain with nothing but low scrubs and grass tussocks, still going up and up for another 290m until you see the toilet and then, seconds later, the hut popped into view – and what a view!
Some stretching (quite necessary after a vertical of just under 1000m), some cooking and relaxing (we didn’t know then we wouldn’t get much of this in the next few days…) before we turned in around 10pm – still light!!
I didn’t get much rest that night as a cheeky Kea (huge alpine parrot) terrorised the hut that night and chewed on everything it could get its inquisitive beak on, including Nath’s crocs and Angie’s camelback mouth piece… I woke up several times with the Kea only a few centimeters away from my face as I had decided to sleep under the stars that night – quite daunting when a 46cm tall parrot with a seriously sharp beak is staring you in the face only cm away!
The next morning we woke to beautiful sunshine and we started our descent back to the creek. We were a bit late for our rendez-vous with Jen and Sal, but luckily found them at the carpark for the start of our next hike.
A few hours later we were crossing the cold Makarora River, on our way to Young Hut via the swing bridge over the North Branch of the Young River. It’s about a 20km hike and this should take around 6-7 hours. We had a fantastic swim in the Young River, playing amongst the pale grey boulders in the turqoise water, floating downstream. After about 1hr we continued the hike to the swing bridge which divides the track in half (time-wise).
We were all extremely happy to see the hut as we all felt it was further away than it should be… Luckily Zoe and Nathan turned up just before dark as we were about to send a rescue crew. As it was New Year’s Eve tonight we all had dinner followed by some drinks until we counted down to the new year at 11pm – too tired to stay awake for another hour 🙂
The next day we hiked from Young Hut to Siberia Hut over Gillespie Pass (1600m). The first group made good time to the pass and had a lovely lunch in the sunshine. In fact, the sun was so bright and hot we decided to move to the shade after an hour to wait for the next group to arrive. Jen, Sal and Andre arrived for their lunch just as some of us were starting the descent through some fun snow patches. Andre and Jonno were going to wait for Zoe and Ben and lighten Zoe’s load as she was hiking in crocs due to horrible blisters from her boots on the first day.
After the compulsory snow angels were made we continued down all the way to Siberia Stream where we had a very, very short dip into a beautiful pool so cold we couldn’t stay in for very long! We were doing some yoga stretching and hiding from the sand flies when Jen and Sal reached us and we all hiked together to Siberia Hut where we were welcomed by the assistant warden barking orders to us before we could even take our packs off… Most of us enjoyed the lovely waterfall shower only a few meters away from the hut – what an amazing location!
The next day the group was split up with Zoe, Ben, Sal and Jen hiking to Crucible Lake and Jonno, Angie, Steve, Andre, Nathan, Bjorn and me going on to Top Forks hut, following the Wilkin River from Kerin Forks Hut – an easy 2 hour walk from Siberia Hut. From there it is still 15km (6-8 hours) to Top Forks – again we felt the trail went on and on forever and we were all very happy to finally reach the hut. On our way there we cut off a section of the trail by crossing the river at Jumboland Flats to walk across the airstrip – a great little shortcut bypassing one of the hills along the river. The first hut was full, but the second hut was completely empty and we decided to sleep there as it was a cozy old hut and out of reach of the sand flies!
Another quick wash in the river as it was late and getting quite cold and then we cooked our dinners which we ate outside – enjoying the views, before we turned in for an early night as we had another big day coming up: we were going to Ruth Flat via Rabbit Pass (1430m).
The next day we made great progress on the first section climbing up until we reached the waterfall at the end of the valley. Here we went horribly wrong and luckily we all ended up where we started quite a few anxious moments later after some very steep and dangerous clambering over grassy slopes with very brittle rocks and not much to hold on to apart from some grass and scrub roots… After Angie was caught by Jonno on her way down we hauled the rest of the packs down before we all made it back to safety an hour later. Going up the right way after this was a breeze! We then continued east towards Mt Lois before we climbed down some more brittle rock on the other side.
After that the track was a lot easier and we slid down over the scree and boulder hopped our way along the Matukituki River until we reached Ruth Flat. We found a beautiful spot close to the river with a fire place already built so Bjorn set to getting the fire going immediately, creating a nice place to shelter from the sand flies and a lovely bed for us next to the fire after dinner. Mario had joined us on the ascent after helping us with the pack hauling and shared the campfire with us.
The next morning we had to walk all the way out to the car drop area. The hiking was quite easy now, just following the valley floor for most of the time with an unexpected steep climb (400m) and down (480m) to avoid a canyon section of the river. Around 5pm we emerged near the car and found the best surprise ever waiting for us: the rest of the crew were all there with an amazing meal for us all and a plan for a fun day hike the next morning!
We chopped, cooked, swam and spent a few hours relaxing around the campfire enjoying each others stories from the past days adventures. It turned out the others enjoyed a great camp near Crucible Lake (with icebergs!) and had flown out of Siberia Hut. They picked up the cars and spent a night at another lake before meeting us with beautiful food.
After hiking up to the Rob Roy Glacier (well, the viewpoint for the glacier) from the Raspberry Creek carpark we had a quick snack stop in the rain at the view point before we ran the 11km back down. A quick swim in the river before we started the drive back to Wanaka where we found a great lodge to stay with an owner who was rather strict with the ‘be quiet’ time after 9pm.
The next day we rented bikes for a trip to the Luggate Pub and to explore some of the single track around Wanaka. I wasn’t very impressed with the Specialized 29-er I had rented, and Sal’s impression wasn’t great either – maybe it was the setup of the bike… will have to try another one before making any decision. The ride was great fun, as usual group decisions remain difficult and we lost some people on the way, only to find them again at various points. Most important thing was that we all made it to the wonderful Luggate Pub where we ate an outstanding lunch and drank quite a few beers. Bjorn, Jonno, Steve and I stayed back for one more jug and caught up with the others just before the single track. They had waited for us so we could give back the ‘good’ bikes so they could go home before 6pm (saving us paying rent for another day). Sal and Andre went for the high trails and we went for some lower trails and met up again somewhere in the middle of it all just before Steve broke his chain. We decided to go down to the river trail and push / pull him home, but somehow just the two of us ended up down there so it was a slow ride back with me pulling him on the flats (plenty of them luckily). The others searched for us and went back so we ended up making it home just before they got back.
Most of the crew went to Ella’s birthday party that night, but a few of us stayed back in the lodge and enjoyed a few quite beers with an Indian meal.
The next day we split the group again as Jonno had to be dropped off for his mountaineering course at Mt Cook. Steve and I joined Angie and we picked up Sandra as well in Wanaka. We were going to meet the others later that night in Queenstown. It was a beautiful day so I finally saw Mt Cook – a very impressive sight! We also briefly caught up with Sarah who had flown in a little earlier and was already at the Unwin(d) hut.
The next day everybody went their own way: Ben, Zoe, Andre and Bjorn went river surfing and rafting (Bjorn only) and Sal, Jen, Andre and Angie rented bikes for some trail riding at 7 mile creek. Angie, Steve and I also did our shopping for the next hike and Nathan, Steve and I drove to Glenorchy for some relaxing and beers in the pub. That night we celebrated Sal’s divorce with a great meal and champers, followed by dessert and another beer around the campfire at Qbox – the campground we stayed at that night.
Robin arrived the next morning and joined Steve, Angie and me for the hike on the Rees-Dart track. Sal, Jen, Ben and Zoe had hired a guide for a lesson in the afternoon and they went riding from the gondola in the morning. After a car shuffle we started late for our first section on the Rees River and decided to stop a few km short of Shelter Rock Hut on a beautiful patch next to the river. We had a visit from Thomas (or was it Jonathan?) – he had pitched his tent close to ours, but we hadn’t seen him. I slept outside next to the fire again until it started to rain around 5AM when I joined Robin for a short time.
The next day we hiked past Rock Shelter Hut and left messages for the others in case they decided to start today… We crossed over Rees Saddle and cut the corner near Dart Hut to go straight up to Cascade Saddle (1524m) where we camped for the night. A kea decided to pester us that night and it even managed to eat a hole in Robin’s tent, stealing the Cascade Saddle map out of a plastic bag from inside the tent before flying of with the map and shredding it to bits on a rocky outcrop above our tents whilst Robin and I were hiking to the toilet (about 1km away).
The next day we continued the hike to the top of the ridge (1835m) before descending all the way back to Dart hut for a well-deserved hot meal and hot chocolate. But first a quick dip under the freezing cold waterfall in the Dart River – being fed directly from the glacier a few km’s upstream!
From Dart Hut we walked out all the way with a lunch stop at Daleys Flat hut where we had lunch inside as we were wet after our first rain on the holiday and there were lots and lots of sand flies. The last few km’s to Chinamans Bluff felt really long again and we were happy to see the car and the beers at the end of a long day. We picked up the other car at the start and drove to Lake Sylvan Rd near the start of the Routeburn track so we could start our day hike the next morning without too much driving.
We woke up late and it was raining so I had to escape to the car from Robin’s wet tent to keep my sleeping bag dry. Due to this late start we decided to only hike up to Sugarloaf Pass and back again. When we were organising ourselves, drying things, having lunch Nathan all of a sudden showed up… He had also been woken early because of sleeping in a wet tent and had decided to pick up their other car and pick up the rest of the group as they finished the last few km’s of the Routeburn track! Not much later the rest all walked in too!
We all moved to the pub in Glenorchy for some beers and pub nibbles where Bjorn also joined us after seeing the sign we had left him in the carpark at the Routeburn shelter…
As we didn’t have to be in Queenstown anymore we all drove to Lake Tekapo where we stayed at the backpackers next to the lake and the hot springs. Jonno also joined us there as he had finished his mountaineering course.
The sun was shining again the last day of our trip and we spent a few hours enjoying breakfast, slurping coffee and drying and organising various bits of our gear. One last hike to the top of the hill where a cafe was waiting for us with great views and lovely (but expensive) food. On our last day we finally relaxed a bit and went to the hot springs for a few rounds in the pools and the sauna – great!
A quick meal at the hot springs before starting the drive back to Christchurch… arriving just after midnight for a few hours sleep in the arrivals hall before checking in for the flight back to Brisbane (Bjorn, Angie, Jonno, Sal, Steve and me). Ben was on a flight to Sydney at the same time, Andre was staying in the backpackers in Christchurch so he could go mountain biking the next morning with Robin who had left before the hot springs. Nathan was catching a flight directly to Thailand to do more work there, Zoe was on a later flight to the Gold Coast and Jen took one of the rental cars to drive down to Dunedin to visit some friends.
The end …
… to be continued at another location in the future for some more adventures hopefully…!