It’s snowing this morning in Queenstown! I wake up at the Flaming Kiwi Hostel and a soft white blanket covers everything in sight.
It melts quick enough, but I soon learn from my friend Loic who hiked out yesterday that the mountains and trail north of Queenstown are totally plastered with the stuff. He decides to come back to town and pursue other options as this spring weather passes.
After waiting at a hostel for another two days, I have to hike out in the nice blue sky window the weather provides. I hop the bus to Arrowtown to skip a bit of road walking and then pick up the trail up and over the Big Hill Pass.
Now, there was a bit of snow on the way up to Big Hill, but it was nothing compared to what I saw on the other side of the pass!
I have a pretty fun time running down from the pass in the knee deep snow, which easily stops me in my tracks after each step.
Eventually, I follow a little stream valley all the way down to the Arrow River, which I then follow another hour or so to the historically preserved 1860s gold-rush town known as Macetown!
I enjoy the old buildings and such that they have wonderfully conserved, and pitch camp as the initial settlers must have 150 years ago, down by the Arrow River.
The sandflies were horrible! So I end up staying in the tent until sleep takes me.
The next morning, I kind of dreaded the task for the day. I would have to cross the river and make my way up to Rose’s Saddle, way above the river at 1,200m.
I get a couple of KM down the Motatapu Track, which is basically the width of my shoe, and surrounded in every direction with wet, snowy tussock grass.
After reaching about 900m, I simply have to turn back. I ask myself if this is a smart idea to continue, and the fact that I am basically risking a slip and fall with every slippery step, gives me my answer.
So, I turn around and make the sad walk back to my initial camp. It would take a couple days before I could reconcile my feelings about this decision, although I knew it was the correct one to make at that moment.
Back down in Macetown, I met a girl named Adeleine, who was planning to go the same route I had just turned back on. We had a lovely lunch together inside the town’s old restored stone storehouse. I gave her the information I had of the route’s dangers I had just encountered, and bid her the best of luck.
On the way back to Arrowtown, I took the lower route through the gorge, which turned out to be a lot easier than the pass over which I had come, and a lot more scenic, although it involved some dicey flooded stream crossings.
Back in town, I hop back on the bus that takes me back to Queenstown by 7pm, book in one more night at the hostel, and finally, book a bus ticket to Wanaka, the destination which I had sought after and failed to reach on account of the snow.
I later learned from a DOC visitor center that they had to helicopter rescue two people from the Rose’s Hut that I was trying to reach that day, which certainly made me feel more validated in my decision to turn back.
The next day, I take an early morning bus and make it to Wanaka by 8:30AM.
I meet up with my friend Taya, who is as discouraged as I am with the current state of the weather and the track conditions.
Anyways, I stay a couple nights in Wanaka, trying to do as little as possible to heal my body and spirit.
Then, the 4th day there, I hitchhike into the Aspiring National Park. It took two hitchhikes, one from a German couple in a van to the Diamond Lake trailhead, and a second from an older German couple and a baby in their sprinter van camper! It was a seriously epic road into the Mt Aspiring park, with multiple stream fords and a long gravel road to get there, with each turn opening up yet another batch of idyllic mountain scenery.
They were lucky and were going to camp right there at the trailhead, as any self contained motorhome is allowed to do. I was mad jealous, as I have wanted a camper setup exactly similar to what they were road tripping with for the longest time. Maybe when I get back home, I can realize that dream.
I bid them thanks and adieu and picked up the 10km trail up the glacial valley to the picturesque Aspiring Hut.
This trip was really just what I needed to set my mind straight and reaffirm why I’m here, as I was certainly discouraged after having to turn back because of the snow. But that was a necessary and humbling setback, and I am half glad it happened, as I did get to see a gorgeous gorge that I would have otherwise missed. And I narrowly dodged needing a helicopter rescue like those other people. That would have been seriously bad!
The next day I hike up to the Liverpool Hut in hopes of gaining some glimpse of the 3,000m high Mount Aspiring massif.
If turning around before Rose’s Pass was the low point of the journey thus far, then Mt. Aspiring National Park was certainly the high point, both literally and figuratively.
Mt. Aspiring is by far the dominant mountain of this region, with the pyramidal massif coming in at a whopping 3,033 meters. It is surrounded by a family of other mountains of such grandeur and magnificence that the New Zealand government has dubbed these lands the gold crown of national park status.
The day starts out just as dreary and overcast as it has been for the last week or so. I think it was really starting to affect my mood– seasonal affective disorder is no joke, even if it’s just a week of cloudy weather! I need that vitamin DDDDDDDD!
There’s a pleasant traverse up the central valley from Aspiring Hut, crossing multiple swing bridges and mentally batheing in the crystalline cobalt blue waters of the Matukituki River.
Then, a sign:
<— 2HRS TO LIVERPOOL HUT
Although it only registers as a kilometer or two on the map, this sign is not misprinted! The trail to Liverpool Hut is one of the steepest I’ve ever had the endearing pleasure to crawl up! It requires the use of hands among half of its length, and any one undertaking it should have basic climbing-and-not-dying skills, paired with a love of exposed heights!
Once above treeline, the views only become more and more expansive. It’s not until I make it out of the trees that I realize the fog is starting to clear up as well! Maybe I will be lucky to gain some views of the namesake mountain of this park after all!
Finally, after a long roundabout up and over a ridge (the only safe way to this alpine hut) I arrive at the Liverpool, one of the dreamiest places I’ve ever set foot on this Earth.
The skies slowly clear up and reveal nothing but snow capped mountains in every direction. A mountain lover’s paradise.
I meet my friend from Chicago who was hot on my tracks this morning, she came in about 20 minutes after I arrive. This is her first overnight backpacking trip! What a way to start a hiking career! She really picked one of the best places to start walking.
I cannot understate just how fantastic Mt. Aspiring park is, but I’ll let the photos do the justice and you be the judge.
Definitely the highlight of the trip thus far.
Finally, unfortunately, I have to leave the hut and return to my camp at the aspiring hut.
The hike down was a breeze compared to climbing up, still requiring the use of hands but basically just controlled falling all the way back down to the Matukituki River (it took me 50 minutes to go down, 120 climbing up) and an hour back to the hut.
I am content. I got my sunlight vitamins today. I made up for having to turn around at Rose’s Pass. And it’s been a helluvan adventure so far.
Back at the hut, I meet some hikers who recognize my CDT patch and we talk for a bit about it. They just hiked the South Island Te Araroa in February, same as me but in a better time of year maybe? They said it was a lot more crowded then, while I’ve only met a handful of fellow hikers myself, this time of year. Many wait til January at least to start, when the Summer weather has stabilized and there is zero chance of freak snowstorms and flooded rivers totally messing up your plans!
After a pleasant nights sleep, I have some coffee in the hut with my friend from Chicago, who just came down from Liverpool Hut that morning. It was her first time backpacking, and she said she learned a lot of tricks and ideas to make life easier on her next excursion.
I walk the 2 hours back to the Aspiring Trailhead, change clothes, and stand out next to the road waiting for a hitch.
And boom! The first car that comes out of the parking lot snags me up. Lucky day! It’s a girl about my age and her mum out doing a day hike up to the Rob Roy Glacier Lookout.
I was super happy to arrive back in Wanaka. I offered them gas money but they refused, so I promised to pay their kindness forward. I’m gonna have to pick up a lot of hitchhikers when I get home, hahah…
I book a bed back at the Holly’s Hostel, grab a nice big burger at the local haunt, and then go relax at the hostel for a bit, doing laundry, buying a weeks worth of food for the next leg, and basking in the wonderful photos of Mt. Aspiring.
Hope you enjoy them as much as I do! Catch you on the next post!