NZ Part 1 – Matukituki Valley (November 2018)

The main reason for our New Zealand trip was for a 5 day tramp through the Matukituki Valley in Mt Aspiring National Park. In the weeks leading up to this we had been refreshing the weather webpage hourly as there was a threat of very heavy snow. On the way in it had been freezing with high level snow, so we decided to have a rough plan but then leave it open so we could adapt to the weather.

As we drove in after a hot breakfast in Wanaka, we could already see the snow on the mountain tops.

The weather was lovely as we walked along the base of the valley, heading to our first stop at Aspiring Hut.

As we walked amongst the cows and sheep grazing in the valley it started getting cloudy and the rain set in.

Most people push on past Aspiring Hut and up the range, but we decided to take it easy and play cards by the fire in the luxurious hut.

We bought cash to pay for all of the nights in the huts, but in a pleasant surprise, the rangers had an EFTPOS machine! At first we thought they were joking, but I was able to pay for 4 nights of tramping with my credit card.

Day 2 saw the rain set in. There’s not many photos as the rain was so heavy, but we had to cross a freezing cold glacial river. With my shoes full of water we then started an incredibly steep scramble that went up about 1000 metres, most of it through rainforest. It reminded me a lot of being back in Queensland, scrambling through rainforest in the mud and rain, except this was freezing cold.

Eventually we emerged from the treeline just as the rain stopped. The sun came out, the wind kicked in and we were in amongst the snow and ice.

Eventually we got over all the ridge lines and came across the most scenic toilet I’ve ever seen.

And on the other side, nestled in amongst a lot of snow and ice, French Ridge Hut.

Apparently while we were in the rain, there was plenty of fresh snow falling at the hut. We had rough plans to try and go up and above the hut, but when we saw the depth of snow and realised we didn’t have the equipment to do it, we just relaxed in the cold. And had a snowball fight.

Nearly everyone else in the hut was going to spend the next two days climbing to the summit of Mt Aspiring, so they all went to bed early after the nightly radio check between the rangers and the huts. I tried to stay awake to take some star photos, but once I got the inches thick front door open, it was just too damn cold to stay outside for long, no matter how many layers I had on.

I did manage some star photos, but the sun took forever to set so there was still some twilight. And I was too cold to stray far from the hut.

We decided to only spend one night at the hut, then head below the snow line for a few more nights. So the next morning I packed my bag, went to the bathroom and got scared by some crazy loud scratching noises on the roof. And met the local Kea.

These guys were little scamps. They tried to steal anything left outside, they snuck into the hut a few times, and they had completely destroyed the rainwater tanks so we had to melt snow for fresh water.

As I left the toilet, the Kea flew away (and yes, before you asked, I had my camera with me as it was a long, cold walk to the toilet and I thought I may get some photos before we left). And coming over the ridge was a helicopter. The pilot waved their hands at me and told me to wait before they landed on the snow.

They dropped some rangers off to fix all the Kea damage, and then started carrying all the full tanks from the toilets. It was awesome to watch. Because of all of the bad weather during the previous week, the helicopter spent most of the day just whizzing in and out of the valley. We timed it and it took them less than 2 minutes to fly across the valley to the hut where we would spend the next night, something which took us most of the day.

Here’s some more Kea anyway, because it was so cool to be so close to them.

We climbed down over 1km of elevation (a lot of sliding and complaining on my part) and then spent about 30 minutes on flat land before heading straight up the other side to yet another scenic toilet. At least this time there was no rain or snow, but a lot more exposed and steep scramble parts.

We ended up spending 2 nights here at Liverpool hut.

We spent the whole next day resting and exploring.

Day 5 was cold and windy and miserable again, but at least it wasn’t raining too much. We got to actually enjoy parts of the valley we missed in the rain on the way in.

There were a lot of suspension bridges to cross, which, if you were wondering, are my least favourite things on earth. My knees go weak and I freak out on them, so stopping to take a photo was my idea of living on the edge.

If the weather wasn’t so bad, I’m sure I would have taken about 1000 more photos, but even from the good hours we got, it was still an amazing trip. The whole time was just laughs and jokes with new and old friends in between complaining about how much everything hurt and putting up with the occasional snorer or sleep-talker in a hut.

It wasn’t one of the traditional hikes and we sort of winged it, but goddamn I’m already itching to head back to New Zealand and explore more back country huts off the popular hiking routes.

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