As the backcountry adventures are getting fewer and farther between, I find myself harder pressed for solitary destinations. One easily reachable area that I’d had my eyes on for a few years is only a short detour away from a popular tramping track. And so, on an unseasonally hot November day, we dipped into vat of sunscreen and set off from the northern end of Cass-Lagoon track.
Snowshoes are fun, even when the experience is hard-earned. But in the end, the excruciating climb to get to altitudes with enough snow is always worth the effort. When I finally get to unstrap my snowshoes from my pack and put them on, I always feel like walking on sunshine. No more need to concentrate on my footing, worrying about tripping, slipping or sinking in to my knees. Snowshoes are the reclining chair of backcountry locomotion.
Unfortunately, New Zealand is blessed with few areas suitable for snowshoeing. Most valleys are too warm to sustain a layer of white goodness, while alpine areas with reliable snow are steep terrain that requires mountaineering skills. Luckily, there are a few exceptions. One of these exceptions is the region between Cardrona and Cromwell. Pisa Range offers that rare mixture of gently rolling terrain at alpine elevations that make it prime snowshoeing terrain.
Sometimes, you just point at the map and go for it. And when you do that, you risk ending up knee-deep in potholes, ducks and, well, turds.
It had been years since my last proper tramping trip into the badlands between Hanmer Springs and St Arnaud. To spare ourselves a long and bumpy drive along Rainbow Road in the morning, we spent the night at the campsite by Lake Tennyson. The barren landscape had been one of my first tramping destinations after moving to NZ. Back then it had just blown me away with its otherworldliness. Fast forward eight years and it is shocking how the novelty has worn off. The area around Lake Tennyson is beautiful, but it is a far stretch from the mystical lands of my memory. It made me a little sad to think how, despite my best efforts, some of the magic just fades away.
Some trips are too good to be true. When I first came across images of the Owen Plateau, I put it right at the top of my wish list. The terrain looked like something from a fairy tale. Take the rolling limestone rockscape of Castle Hill, put it into Fiordland’s Valley of the Trolls, then blow it up tenfold. The result would look something like Kahurangi National Park’s Mount Owen and the surrounding open tops of the Marino Mountains.
When a tropical storm sneaks up on your tramping adventure, you better have a backup plan. It was just before Easter when cyclone Cook slowly bumbled along the east coast and right into our long anticipated trip. Instead of packing, our evenings were spent with weather forecasts. Plans were amended, and nails were bit. The forecasts all seemed to agree that things were not looking quite as dire in the north-west corner of the South Island. Simultaneously however, the talking heads in the news were saying the exact opposite. Thanks to the unpredictable nature of NZ weather, we took all of the above with a grain of salt.
In war as in tramping there is one rule: No man left behind! So how did we end up on top of our little pile of rubble with one person missing? Let’s start at the beginning.
My lovely Better Half (she asked me to capitalise due to her significance) and I enjoy open tops tramping. The biggest commitment to staying on tracks usually involves getting through a stretch of otherwise impenetrable New Zealand bush. Once above tree-line we tend to find our own way to a scenic location to spend the night. The extra effort of going uphill is rewarded with amazing views. Obviously we are both very appreciative of instant gratification!
Dear summer, where are you?
I’m the first to admit that performing under pressure can be hard. But then I look at the calendar and can’t help but wonder where you are and what you are doing. Are you even thinking of us lately? Sure, you teased us for a few days. But by the time I had dug out my shorts, I needed to turn on the heater once again. The heater. In January!
New Zealand is not exactly known as prime snowshoeing terrain. Our winter landscapes are mostly dominated by snowless valleys and ragged, imposing peaks. So it is either no snow or outright mountaineering terrain, right?
Luckily there are a few exceptions. Thanks to its high altitude, reliable snow cover and gentle terrain, the Two Thumbs range near Lake Tekapo is a good starting point for a snowshoe adventure.
Coming back to a favourite tramping destination can be like watching the nth re-run of a favourite movie. There is comfort in knowing what you get. At the same time the story lacks suspense and you soon find yourself bored. Luckily winter can help put a new spin on a familiar trip.
The Lewis Tops are a quick drive from Christchurch and easily reached from Lewis Pass. After a short push through the forest of despair you find yourself cruising along a grassy ridge with stunning views in all directions. Brennan and I have visited the Tops a few times. They are a convenient antidote to civilization but the novelty had started to wear off. Luckily heavy snowfalls had helped to change the terrain almost beyond recognition on our last trip there. As soon as we stepped on solid ice we felt like on an expedition into unknown lands. Never mind that we were still on a track at a meagre 1500m in elevation.