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Autumn to winter 2018 and goodbye New Zealand

Well our updating has been very slack over the last few months. Partly because of inclement autumn weather delaying us from doing anything worth writing about, and partly because I forgot the log in details for the blog, Twitter profile and associated email addresses.

So here we are with what will be our last update from New Zealand.

I write this sat by the log fire in the front room of our house, looking our at the mountains on what is a chilly, overcast winter morning.

A day of mixed emotions lies ahead of us. Sadness as we say goodbye to our friends and housemates, and the reality of possibly never being back in Wanaka finally sinks in. Excitement as we look forward to our trip home, a journey that will take in China, Vietnam, Cambodia and a little bit of Indonesia.

We have had the best experience of our lives out here in New Zealand. We’ve been lucky enough to share that with some great friends, colleagues, housemates and the odd visiting friend and family member.

Whether it’s hiking the iconic Milford Track in perfect conditions, being at the Westpac Stadium to watch the British Lions defeat the All Blacks, or learning to snowboard for a winter, we’ve got memories that we’ll always hold dear.

Speaking of which, here’s a few things we’ve been up to since February. We have:

  • Hiked Ben Lomond
  • Re-walked the route to Lake Marian
  • Tramped to Liverpool Hut in Mount Aspiring National Park
  • Camped in The Catlins and Mavora Lakes
  • Taken an uncle on a road trip around the South Island
  • Enjoyed a couple of wine tastings
  • Taken a scene if flight from Wanaka to Milford Sound
  • Signed up for a Masters degree (Steph only)
  • Quit our jobs
  • Arranged our trip home
  • Sold our campervan and almost everything else we own

There were a couple of things we didn’t get to do due to the winter snow arriving much earlier than expected. Hiking up to Meuller Hut being the main one we missed out on, which was a big disappointment. To say that is the only thing we really didn’t get to do in our ever expanding list is pretty good though. We leave with no regrets, just many, many happy memories.

Thank you to everyone who helped make it such an enjoyable time. Hopefully we’ll see you again.

Here are the photos from the aforementioned jaunts, days trips, weekends away and holidays with visiting family. We hope you enjoy them.

To New Zealand, we’ll miss you. To our friends and family in the UK, we’ll see you in August.

Lots of love from Steve and Steph.

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Spring and Summer round-up

It’s been quite some time since we last posted anything and we’re long overdue an update, so here’s what we’ve been up to since December 2017.

Road tripping once more

Towards the end of November we took a week off work to explore some parts of the South Island that we missed on our original trip.

We travelled up the West Coast from Wanaka towards our final destination of Nelson Lakes National Park.

Our first stop brought us to Franz Josef where we were going to walk the Robert’s Point Track the next day.

At 5 hours return, it’s a fairly moderate day hike, however in some parts the path has fallen away and it’s a bit of a scramble to get through the bush for short distances. Once you get to the top, the views of the glacier are fantastic. With glacial ice receding at an alarming rate, most of the ground level hikes don’t manage to give walkers a sense of the size, scale or beauty of these rivers of ice gauging out the landscape. From ground level they tend to look like muddy-fronted cliffs, which is a bit of an anti-climax. It’s best to get a bit of elevation and look down on them.

Steve on a swing bridge on the Robert's Track hike
Steve on a swing bridge on the Robert’s Track hike
Steve takes a break at the viewpoint
Steve takes a break at the Franz Josef glacier viewpoint
Steph enjoys the view of Franz Josef glacier
Steph enjoys the view of Franz Josef glacier

After a night in Franz Josef, we moved on up the coast stopping for a night at the campground run by The Empire Hotel in the sleepy town of Ross – a great old pub with a friendly welcome and huge portions of food – before moving on to our campsite at Lake Rotoiti in Nelson Lakes.

We spent a two days there, hiking the St Arnaud Range Track and enjoying the scenery (although Nelson Lakes really just a slightly less impressive version of where we live so we weren’t bowled over by it) before a combination of knee injuries, rain and sandflies persuaded us to move over to Christchurch for a day of shopping.

However, that was not before we had stopped off for a night in Hanmer Springs. Here we treated ourselves to an evening in Hanmer’s hot springs and an absolutely incredible dinner of dumplings at MK Restaurant.

Looking out on the lake and mountains from the jetty at Lake Rotoiti
Looking out on the lake and mountains from the jetty at Lake Rotoiti
Steve looks out over Lake Rotoiti close to the summit of the St Arnaud Range
Steve looks out over Lake Rotoiti close to the summit of the St Arnaud Range

From Christchurch we headed back through Arthur’s Pass for a couple of short walks.

We’d been to Arthur’s Pass before, on our original roadtrip, back in November 2016. Then it was the first place in New Zealand that really took my breath away. As we moved south and explored more dramatic scenery in the intervening period I was hoping it wouldn’t be a disappointment this time.

Unsurprisingly, Arthur’s Pass was as beautiful as I remembered it. Despite rain on the first night, the weather cleared and we got to enjoy our walks in glorious sunshine.

Steph on our walk up one of the valleys in Arthur's Pass
Steph on our walk up one of the valleys in Arthur’s Pass
Flowers in the valley - Arthur's Pass
Flowers in the valley – Arthur’s Pass
Steve crossing a bridge over a stream in Arthur's Pass
Steve crossing a bridge over a stream in Arthur’s Pass

Rather than cutting right through Arthur’s Pass towards the West Coast and a familiar route home, we went back East and took a backcountry road towards Lake Coleridge and a night at the quaint Rakaia Gorge Campsite in the shadow of Mount Hutt, where we got a front row spot over looking the river. Later that evening we popped over to the bar at Mount Hutt Lodge for a couple of drinks. We were the only punters there so got chatting to the owners and discovered that the landlady had – many years before – set up the ski school at Cardrona, the resort we’d been learning to snowboard in the winter.

With just a couple of days of our break left, our next stop was at Lake Pukaki where we were mesmerised by the views of Mount Cook up ahead of the milky blue of the lake, edged by lush lupins. We also had a quick nosey around the Mount John Observatory which was quite interesting, but would obviously be a lot more fascinating at night time. Sadly both time and money were against us so we’ll have to save the stargazing for another trip.

Lupins in bloom at Lake Tekapo
Lupins in bloom at Lake Tekapo
Steph points to the view of Mount Cook at the head of Lake Pukaki
Steph points to the view of Mount Cook at the head of Lake Pukaki

After Lake Pukaki it was back home to Wanaka through the Lindis Pass, another trip around part of this stunning country behind us. There will be plenty more to come between now and when we head home to the UK later in 2018.

Purple lupins in a field in front of a grassy green hill on the Lindis pass
Lupins on the Lindis pass between Wanaka and Lake Pukaki

Other things we have done recently

Without going into too much detail and boring you all to tears, here is a quick list of other things we have recently done.

Photos of other things we have done recently

Here are some photos from the Invincible Gold Mine Track, Rippon Vineyard and Mou Waho island.

Steph stands on the Invincible Gold Mine Track with the Rees Valley behind her
Steph stands on the Invincible Gold Mine Track with the Rees Valley behind her
Lavender and vines in the foreground, overlooking Lake Wanaka from Ripon vineyard
The view from Ripon vineyard in Wanaka
The two of us on Mou Waho island
The two of us on Mou Waho island
Steve looks out at Lake Wanaka from Mou Waho island
Steve looks out at Lake Wanaka from Mou Waho island

Fun fact: Mou Waho is the only place in the world where you will find a lake on an island, on a lake on an island in the sea.

Weekend wanderings: Manapouri

A couple of weeks ago we took the van down to Fiordland.

In the south west part of the South Island, it’s one of the country’s most spectacular national parks and a place we’ve been to many times.

On this trip, rather than heading to areas we’ve visited already, such as Te Anau and Milford Sound, we made our way to Manapouri.

Manapouri is New Zealand’s second deepest lake and its shores are home to a charming little village by the same name.

It’s a sleepy sort of place. Very little seems to have changed here in a long time. When we asked our campsite owner about recent growth in the area, he pointed out the one house that had been built in the village since he arrived from California in the early 1970s.

Coming from Wanaka, a millionaires holiday retreat that is expanding at a rate almost unparalleled in New Zealand, it was refreshing to be somewhere that moved at a pace more in tune with the glaciers that have carved out so much of this land. Manapouri feels like a historical exhibit, a model showing what places like Wanaka and Queenstown were just 10-20 years ago.

We’d actually been to Manapouri previously, when we took the boat across the lake to begin our cruise on Doubtful Sound.

On that journey the weather was awful and we saw and enjoyed very little of Manapouri.

This time however the sun was shining, the lake was calm and we were set for good weather for the weekend’s hikes.

First up was the Mount Burns Tarns Track off the Borland Road. Access is via a beautiful and seemingly little known drive down a gravel road that ends up at a power station.

The Borland Road winds through a mountain pass
The Borland Road

The Borland Road also connects hikers to many routes in the area that offer a different vision of Fiordland beauty. Gone are the dark, sheer cliffs and waterfalls, replaced by lush green slopes, beech trees and tussock.

It’s only a short 45 minute return, but the track skirts the site of the biggest landslide on the planet.

The Green Lake Landslide occurred about 13,000 years ago, when part of the Hunter Mountains slipped into the Grebe River Valley. The slip covered 45km2, in which 27 cubic kilometres of earth filled the valley to a depth of 800 metres.

Reaching the tarns after just 20 minutes, the views across the valley were great reward for what was very little effort.

However we did curse our lack of preparation as once we had soaked in the view, the temptation to scale Mount Burns was strong. It would only have taken a few hours. Had we brought our lunch and more water we would have done it. We’ll have to return later in the summer to bag that one.

The next day we took the 3.5 hour round trip along the Manapouri Circle Track.

A steep climb up thick beech forest, the path doesn’t break the bush line, but you are treated to a stunning view of the lake at the top of the hill – although as is often the case in New Zealand much of the flora has become overgrown and made the view harder to enjoy.

The view from the top of the Lake Manapouri Circle Track
The view from the top of the Lake Manapouri Circle Track
Looking out to the Fiordland mountains from the sandy shores on the Lake Manapouri circle Track
Looking out to the Fiordland mountains from the sandy shores on the Lake Manapouri circle Track
View from the pebbled beach at Manapouri village
View from the pebbled beach at Manapouri village

However, said trees are barely clinging on to the cliff edges. They look just about ready to cascade down the hillside in an arboreal avalanche, so future walkers may get the chance to enjoy uninterrupted vistas of Lake Manapouri.

With its tranquil setting, a quaint village and hidden golden sandy beaches, it’s surely a matter of time before the developers and real estate prospectors move in, just as they have done in Central Otago.

Such growth is great for the country’s economy and will provide opportunities for more people to enjoy beautiful places, but it’s usually the rich who benefit from palatial holiday homes and weekends messing about in boats when places like this are developed, while locals and low income workers are pushed out to cheaper locations.

Hopefully some little secrets, like Manapouri, can remain.

Steph’s photos from our trip to Manapouri

View from the Mount Burns Tarns Tracks
View from the Mount Burns Tarns Tracks
The Mount Burns Tarns
The Mount Burns Tarns
Steph enjoys the views from the Mount Burns Tarns Tracks
Steph enjoys the views from the Mount Burns Tarns Tracks
Steph on the Mount Burns Tarns Tracks
Steph on the Mount Burns Tarns Track
Looking down on Lake Manapouri from the circle walk viewpoint
Looking down on Lake Manapouri from the circle walk viewpoint
Dinner and beer on a table overlooking Lake Manapouri as the sun sets
Dinner and beer by Lake Manapouri
The sun sets over the fiordland mountains at Lake Manapouri
The sun sets over the fiordland mountains at Lake Manapouri

Winter is over. Summer is coming.

Well, winter has been and gone. We had a great time learning to snowboard – even if both of us did have brief and intense moments of rage and frustration on the slopes – and got swept up in the euphoria in Wellington as we were in the Westpac Stadium to witness the British and Irish Lions defeat New Zealand.

However, now our attention turns again to the road. The hills are getting greener, the days longer and we’re looking forward to heading out on adventures in our new campervan.

Back in September we traveled up the west coast to Franz Josef where Steph had found a Nissan Serena that was being sold by a German guy who lived there. A pretty standard people carrier or MPV, the two rows of rear seats had been removed and in their place, a wooden bed frame had been built from 20mm chipboard and some pine posts.

With plenty of room to make it our own, we bought it and drove it back to Wanaka the next day.

For the next three weekends, Steph and I used our combined carpentry and textile knowledge to create curtains, mattress covers, modify the bed frame and add shelving.

After much hard work, some glaring errors and a lot of swearing, we had kitted out the van for some very comfortable camping.

We (by which I mean I – Steve) had also managed to cleverly convert the electric slide door into a manual slide door using an ingenious power drill method to completely destroy the door’s regulator. Finally, I was putting my G-grade GCSE in Resistant Materials to good use.

Starting from scratch with and empty van
Starting from scratch with an empty van
Fitting the shelves and bed frame
Fitting the shelves and bed frame
Foam mattress fibres send Steph insane as she cuts us comfortable bed
Foam mattress fibres send Steph insane as she cuts us a comfortable bed
The van nears completion
The van nears completion
The bed, complete with hinge technology for sofa conversion
The bed, complete with hinge technology for sofa conversion
The bed, hinged back to create a sofa
OBSERVE THE POWER OF THE HINGE!
Painting the shelving unit
Painting the shelving unit
The completed van
The completed van
The completed sofa-bed
The completed sofa-bed

Thoroughly pleased with ourselves, through October and November we have taken the van on her first few trips.

Kinloch and Lake Rere

Firstly, we made the short journey over the Crown Range to Kinloch, home to one of our favourite campsites, to celebrate my 31st birthday. Set at the head of Lake Wakatipu, we parked up to watch the sun set on the mountains.

The next morning we took a short hike around Lake Rere, easing ourselves back into hiking season on the four hour loop.

Camping at Kinloch
Camping at Kinloch
Mount Earnslaw, viewed from the Lake Rere Loop Track
Mount Earnslaw, viewed from the Lake Rere Loop Track
Lake Rere
Lake Rere

Akaroa

The next weekend we ventured further afield, travelling the breadth of the South Island from Wanaka to Akaroa and the Banks Peninsula on the east coast, near Christchurch.

It was a place recommended to us by a friend back in the UK and had been on our list since we arrived in New Zealand over a year ago.

Here, lush green mountains that constitute the caldera of an extinct volcano surround a natural harbour, formed when the coastal volcano erupted and collapsed, allowing sea water to flood in and fill the crater.

A total change of scene from Wanaka and what was still then a very dusty, yellow Central Otago, Akaroa is a charming little town, enveloped by stunning countryside. Some of the landscape was, at times, reminiscent of Wales, Yorkshire and Cornwall with narrow roads navigating rolling hills that tumble down towards the golden sand beaches and coves. While the rural setting was distinctly Kiwi, it was nice to be reminded of home as we marked the anniversary of our arrival in New Zealand.

Taking a boat trip out on the harbour – a gift from Steph for my birthday – we saw Little Blue Penguins and Hector’s Dolphins (the planet’s rarest and smallest oceanic dolphins), which was a real treat for an armchair wildlife fan like me.

That evening was spent drinking wine in the hot tub at our AirBnB rental, watching the sun setting on the mountains around us.

The rolling green hills of Banks Peninsula
The rolling green hills of Banks Peninsula
Steph takes in the view as we look down onto Akaroa during a scenic drive
Steph takes in the view as we look down onto Akaroa during a scenic drive
Boats moored in Akaroa harbour
Boats moored in Akaroa
A boat ride around the harbour of Akaroa
A boat ride around the harbour of Akaroa
The two of us as we approached Akaroa
The two of us as we approached Akaroa
Akaroa, Maori for Long Harbour
Akaroa, Maori for Long Harbour

Routeburn Track

Most recently we retraced some of those initial steps we took on our travels this time last year.

On our days off last week, we re-walked part of the Routeburn Track with a couple of friends. When Steph and I attempted the hike in November 2016 the Fiordland weather was its usual soggy, grey self as we trudged our way through 32km of rain and the occasional view.

Since then we had promised ourselves we would do it again in better weather, and with the huts booked up from mid-November until March 2018, the weather window that presented itself on 30 October to 1 November this year was realistically our last chance to enjoy the views on the country’s second most popular Great Walk.

The sun shone down on us for most of the two days of our trip this time and we were treated to some incredible views from Harris Saddle, both down the Hollyford Valley towards Lake Gunn and back over our shoulder along the Routeburn River.

Steve and Steph pose as they walk the Routeburn Track again
Walking the Routeburn again
Harris Lake on the Routeburn Track
Harris Lake on the Routeburn Track
Views down towards the Routeburn River
Views down towards the Routeburn River
Walking the Routeburn Track with Fin and Steph
Walking the Routeburn Track with Fin and Steph
The view from Paddy's Point
The view from Paddy’s Point
The view from Paddy's Point
The view from Paddy’s Point
Valley of the Trolls
Valley of the Trolls
Looking down the Hollyford Valley from the Harris Saddle
Looking down the Hollyford Valley from the Harris Saddle
Views from the Harris Saddle
Views from the Harris Saddle
Fin and Steph, our friends and hiking buddies on the Routeburn Track
Fin and Steph, our friends and hiking buddies on the Routeburn Track

This week we’ve had a bit of downtime to get on with some boring life admin and such, but we’ve booked some time off work for the end of November and will be heading out in the van for ten days very soon, so we’ll let you know how we get on.

In the meantime, enjoy the photos Steph took of our aforementioned adventuring and we’ll see you again soon.

Podcast

Some of you who have been following our blog from the beginning may have noticed that we still haven’t got round to recording the podcast we said was going to accompany our writing. Well, quite frankly, we thought it was just a bit too narcissistic, embarrassing and needless a thing to do. Plus we’d also much rather be out enjoying the things we’re doing instead of providing audio commentary and wimbling on like absolute toolbags. So we’re not doing it. The world doesn’t need another podcast.

Weekend Wanderings: Aoraki/Mount Cook

This weekend we went on our first little adventure away from Wanaka in a couple of months.

Our last outing was to Brewster Hut back in March. The intervening weeks were spent showcasing the best of the South Island to my visiting parents and enjoying short walks along the Clutha River and day hikes down the East Matukituki Valley.

With winter closing in, we wanted to get a final weekend of hiking in before the snow arrives.

We’ve spent a lot of time in the Central Otago area recently and we were suffering from a bit of local beauty fatigue (tough life isn’t it?), so we took the trip to Mount Cook for a change of scene.

Last time we were at Aoraki/Mount Cook we were travelling to Christchurch to return our rental van. It was a quick, cloudy visit then and we’d always intended to make another trip to have a proper explore.

The sun was shining on a glorious, crisp winter morning as we set off on the two and a half hour drive from Wanaka.

Travelling through the modest mountains surrounding the Lindis Pass, towards the fluorescent blue Lake Pukaki, the 3,724m Aoraki/Mount Cook manages to remain hidden among the high peaks of the Southern Alps, only revealing itself as we near the top of the lake.

The tallest peak in New Zealand, it really is an impressive sight. Dominating the valley, Aoraki demands attention and respect. It’s a beautiful and imposing mountain, where the great Sir Edmund Hillary honed his alpine skills prior to his successful summit of Everest.

We wouldn’t be attempting anything quite as demanding as Hillary’s expeditions, but we’d be getting as close to the mountain as the paths would allow us.

We had planned two short hikes, both around three hour returns. Firstly, we wanted to walk the complete Hooker Valley Track. We’d walked a short portion of it on our last visit and were keen to complete the trail this time.

A fresh chill in the air, we set off along the gently meandering path that follows winding Hooker River, the frozen Mueller Lake on our left, separating us from the snow covered Mount Sefton.

As small avalanches were audible from Sefton’s slopes, our feet crunched through the snow and ice patches on the path. The low winter sun failing to reach some parts of the valley floor meant that there were some dicey patches of ground with frost in place from dawn to dusk. The frost forming delicate flower like structures on the rocks and plants around us added to the feeling that we were walking in a winter wonderland.

Mount Sefton stands tall and snow capped at Aoraki/Mount Cook
Mount Sefton

As we crossed the three bridges that zigzag the river, we turned a corner and there in front of us in all its majesty was Aoraki/Mount Cook with the largely frozen Hooker Lake at its base, dotted with icebergs.

A bridge over the Hooker River, with Mount Sefton in the background
A bridge over the Hooker River, with Mount Sefton in the background
Cairns on the shore of Hooker Lake
Cairns on the shore of Hooker Lake
Aoraki/Mount Cook
Aoraki/Mount Cook
Reaching the end point of the path, we sat and ate our lunch, watching the sunlight reflect off the south face of the mountain and skimming stones along the ice covered lake, the swirling rocks and ice chips creating alien whistles that echoed around the valley.

With the sun dipping below Mount Sefton not much later than 2pm, we headed back to the village to check in to our hostel before heading to the pub. Here we bumped into some fellow travellers we met the previous Saturday evening in a Wanaka bar and shared a few drinks again.

The sun sets at Mount Cook Village
The sun sets at Mount Cook Village

The next day we were up early in -6 degrees centigrade temperatures to wend our way up the 2200 steps of the Sealy Tarns Track.

The Sealy Tarns Track makes up half of the route to the Mueller Hut, somewhere that has been on our list for a while and where we will be staying in the Spring or Summer to come.

Expecting something as arduous as our Brewster Hut trek, the Sealy Tarns steps were a pleasantly simple surprise, providing ever improving views back towards Aoraki/Mount Cook.

Reaching the Sealy Tarns plateau, we had the hills to ourselves for about half an hour, joyously basking in the peace and stillness around us.

We’re extremely lucky to live in a beautiful part of the world and we’ll miss being able to hike during the winter. The snow will make the majority of tracks impassable.

However, with the snow comes the opportunity to enjoy the mountains in another way.

Soon we will begin learning to snowboard at Cardrona. We’ll be pioneering a new style of snowboarding where the participant spends the majority of their time falling on their arse. We’ll let you know how we get on.

And if that wasn’t enough excitement for one winter, we’ve got the small matter of a British Lions tour to enjoy. 

Weekend wanderings: Brewster Hut and Mount Armstrong

After a few weeks off, this weekend we thought we’d get back on the trail and hike to Brewster Hut – somewhere between Haast and Makarora in Westland.

What the hike lacks in distance, it makes up for in elevation. The 2.5km walk from the car park, through a river, dense woodland and along narrow ridges to the hut involves a steep ascent to an altitude of 1400 metres.

We set off from the car park at the bottom of the valley and were immediately confronted by a shallow, gentler river. After my previous attempt at wading across a river, we take extra care crossing this one. 


Relieved not to have embarrassed myself or terrified Steph this time, we reach the other side, where our relief instantly turns to dread as we see the vertical bank that faces us and extends up in front of us into the vague distance above our heads.

This is our route up the mountain to Brewster Hut, which has been on our to do list for months.

Its should take us three hours. Not much really. Easy even. We’ve done much longer walks in terms of both time and distance. It’s steep, yeah, but we’ll manage it alright.

Minutes pass. Minutes that feel like hours as the incline takes its toll on our legs. An audience of trees draped in cloaks of lichen and moss listen to our sporadic conversation, snatched between exhausted, heavy breaths. “How much further?” “I’m knackered” “Whose bloody idea was this?!”

Tangled roots provide steps and handrails that are equal parts help and hindrance as we traipse along the path, through the heart of this typically magical New Zealand beech forest.


As we trudge on, higher and higher, the magic morphs into mundanity. After an hour in the woods, the hut feels increasingly like a mirage.

We meet two walkers coming back down who tell us “There are a couple of flat bits coming up. Savour then”. Oh great. 

We continue, encouraged by the promise of more level ground. Flat is a bit of a stretch, but the lessening strain is welcomed. Eventually we make it to the top of the bush line, out onto the open moorland and the ridgeway to the hut.

Steph is delighted by the change of scene, escaping from the tedious repetition of the woodland scenery as stunning views of the valleys below open up on either side of us. I however curse the narrow path, the lack of shade and the sabre toothed undulation of the ridge. I wish it was over. I’m getting hot and angry and tired. 


Then, just as I am reaching the end of my tether, we see the beige corrugated iron of the hut toilet and all was well in the world. Rarely has a toilet brought such joy to our lives.

We get to the hut, claim a bunk, and then unwind on the deck, soaking up the sun, the view and chat to our fellow trampers.




We look up to Mount Armstrong ahead. Cloud has blown in and it’s not worth the two hour hike to the summit this evening. We’ll do that in the morning.

Hours, conversations, food and drink pass and before long we’re all out watching the sunset over the mountains behind us and gazing at the stars and Milky Way above.

The next morning the sky is cloudless and we make the trip to the summit of Mount Armstrong (2174 metres) in two short hours. We do our best to follow the litany of cairns to the top, improvising our own path where necessary, climbing over up gullies and over skree on the way. This stage of the hike is beautiful. Great weather, wonderful views of mountains, glaciers and rivers, and a perfectly manageable gradient. Bliss.

From the summit we can see out to the ocean to the west – or at least where we know the ocean is, it’s covered in cloud – and into the heart of the country, towards Mount Cook to the east. The is no wind, no noise, just glorious peace and unbridled natural beauty.



It’s the first time we’ve reached a summit and not been cloaked in cloud. It’s easy to see why people get to the top of Everest and other big mountains and spend too long up there. The tranquillity is mesmerising, the rest after the effort of getting there is addictive and the sense of self satisfaction is warming. Not that our two hour trip is anything akin to conquering Everest! But it’s easy to extrapolate.
Soon we head down, knowing we have at least another five hours ahead of us, most of which will be back down the nerve wracking ridge and through the forsaken forest. 



This time it’s even worse, trying not to fall to certain injury over the roots as we try if fight our bodies’ urges to succumb to gravity and the slippery earth beneath our feet. We take tentative steps, slide on our arses, us trees to break us, roots as ropes to abseil larger drops in the level of the path over the longest three hours of our lives. 

It’s a good job the weather was so good and the views so special because if this weekend had been little more than walking up and down this rancid heap of a hill I’d have forever rued the day we ever heard about the Brewster Hut.

This is not a hike for fair weather walkers. It’s hardly a hike for regular tampers. If you can, get a helicopter to the hut, you’ll enjoy it a lot more and won’t hate the fact you exist for 50% of the trip.

Thanks to the physical and mental hardship we at least felt like we had earned the beer and burger we got from Red Star when we got home. One large, delicious crumb of comfort after an exhausting, but mostly enjoyable, weekend.

Weekend wanderings: Gertrude Saddle

Another weekend, another hike. This time we ventured a bit further afield, back into the awe-inspiring Fiordland, and took on the challenging Gertrude Saddle.

Found on the Te Anau side of the Homer Tunnel, the Gertrude Saddle is a hike that is pretty easy on the body but takes a lot of concentration and care. 

If you’re prepared to go through flooded streams and rivers, navigate skree and boulders without markers and scale a smooth rock face with steel cables, the views across Fiordland into Milford Sound are astonishingly rewarding.

It’s doable in half a day, but it’s best to take your time, especially if – like us – you’re not massively experienced routefinders. Stop regularly to spot the next marker and keep in mind that a straight line is unlikely to be the safest route from one pole to the next. 

The markers stop about two thirds of the way up and from there you have to walk across skree and boulder field, then climb up rock face with the aid of steel cables.

The Department of Conservation say the return walk should take between four and six hours. It took us five and a half, including a lengthy stop in the saddle to gawp at the view, and an earlier stop for lunch and to dry off after falling in a stream at the start of the hike.

This is by far the hardest walk we have done to date. While Roy’s Peak and Meg Hut were lung busters, Gertrude Saddles tested our judgement like never before.

Respect for mountain landscapes is crucial, knowing your limits and not being afraid to call it off if the ground or the weather is too difficult.

I was reminded of this in embarrassing fashion less than 15 minutes into the walk. After waking through flooded streams at shin height, we came to yet another, this time with what looked like a simple hop from one rock to another to clear the stream. I made it, but hadn’t taken into account the slippery rocks, my sodden boots and the weight of the bag on my back. In an instant I fell backwards into the stream, landing on my back, up to my chest in fast flowing water. My clothes were soaked, I was shocked and embarrassed, and my fellow walkers more than a little worried. 

I was very lucky not to hit my head on a rock or injure a limb, because I’d have missed out on something very special at the top. I’m just glad Steph’s camera wasn’t in the bag. She’d never have forgiven me!

Photographs from Gertrude Saddle