The plan was to hike to the Liverpool Hut in Mt. Aspiring National Park. It’s a 6 hour hike: 4 hours along the Matukituki valley then 2 hours up the mountain. What was supposed to be an early departure from town turned into a 2pm start time. We packed some booze, the board game Risk, and a delicious dinner. When we crossed paths with the warden of the Mt. Aspiring Hut around 4pm and told him that it was our intention to go for the Liverpool Hut that night, he suggested we reconsider our plan. We still had 5 hours of walking ahead of us and the last two were quite steep. It would be dark when we arrived at the hut.
Our initial reaction was, this guy is like 80 years old and is underestimating our ability. Side note: In the states, the park rangers often overestimate the time and skill level required to complete a hike. On the east coast, we look for descriptions that say strenuous because that is where the interesting hikes begin. In New Zealand though, the time estimates are accurate, and strenuous means you will sweat your ass off.
We continued past the warden in silence, quietly walking and mulling over the plan.
“We could do it. It would be like 9pm when we get there, but we could do it,” Someone said.
There were a bunch of yeah, mmhmm, I think we coulds from the group then a moment of silence. The woods are going to get dark a lot earlier than the valley though. I mean, we have headlamps, but do we really want to be faffing around in the woods at night when we could be playing Risk in the hut?
We called it quits after two hours of walking and started setting up the board game at a communal table in the Mt. Aspiring Hut. Throughout the evening, we ate all of the bacon, drank all of the Jameson, gobbled down massive quantities of chocolate, and played the game of world domination with two Israeli guys who discussed their strategy in Hebrew before moving pieces. By midnight, we were too drunk to care about the pitch black night’s sky, positively littered with stars.
Oh my god, look at the stars!
Mmhmm, I’m going to bed. Where’s the water?
We woke the next day at 10 and set out around 11 for the Liverpool Hut. We left our packs where we had stayed the night before and brought only our lunch and water bottles, which we refilled in the streams that ran off the glaciers above us. The beginning part of the hike was all photo ops and river crossings until we got to the base of the mountain, which seemed to form a 60 degree angle with the valley floor. Hand over foot we climbed, assisted by roots that served as ropes, up the thousand meter ascent. Two steps forward, one step up, stopping frequently to enjoy the views and catch our breath. Boob sweat, back sweat, sunscreen in your eyes, we climbed. No one could be bothered with pictures. An hour and a half later, we spotted the little red Liverpool Hut that we had seen in pictures at the car park. Hut! the first person called, Hut Hut! the second in line shouted back. But still, it wasn’t close. We stopped for lunch on the trail with a great view, but not at the hut where we intended to be. Fuckit, let’s eat.
After lunch we split up. A few of us went on and some started the descent. The hut was on a ridge, 30 minutes from where we first spotted it. It was there for a reason. That ridge had the best view of Mt. Aspiring of anywhere in the valley. It was stunning and only confirmed my suspicion: we will be doing this hike again. I need to stay in that hut and sit on the porch, with a cup of coffee in hand, watching the sun come up over Mt. Aspiring. It was 3pm when we arrived at Liverpool Hut. We stayed for 10 minutes, knowing that we had a 5 hour trek back to the car, an hour drive back to town, and no more food. The walk out was gorgeous, but I had shaky legs and kept thinking about how far we had to go.
As soon as we got cell service, we phoned in an order for burgers for pick up. We took them home, sat on the floor and unwrapped their beautiful, greasy paper before attacking them like a pack of wild dogs. Twas a phenomenal hike, executed in entirely the wrong way.
View Bring a Snack.com in a larger map
Check out the new map feature that Zach whipped up! Its permanent home is up top next to the the About Us tab and should help to keep track of where we are when we start moving around again. We plan to stay in Wanaka through the end of the season, but will be on the road again toward the end of March.
One of the main reasons we decided to stick around Wanaka is because it is so close to epic hiking and climbing. None of our adventures have taken more than an hour to get to, some of them being only 10 minutes away. I can’t wait to share it with some of our friends and family. My parents are coming in January, our friend Matt is coming in February and Zach’s dad and his girlfriend are visiting in April. As we are out and about, we often talk about “Your dad would love this…” or “This reminds me of a hike I did when I was little…” Being here is amazing, but sharing in person it is going to be even better. The pictures in the gallery below are from our days climbing at the Mt. Iron and Riverside crags with our friends Zach and Courtney from Denver, the Diamond Lake track, a short hike overlooking Lake Wanaka, and the Rob Roy track in Mt. Aspiring National Park.
Today’s challenge: One pot, one burner, no fridge. The meal must be tasty, nutritious, and cheap. You will have the duration of the days hike to plan your meal and you must use as little fuel and water to prepare the meal as possible. Bonus points will be awarded to the meal that holds heat the longest.
That’s kind of what cooking dinner is like these days. Except that Zach is my only judge and meals usually earn a thumbs up, even if it is just bean stew. The trick there is to get tired and eat late; then anything that is hot tastes good.
Growing up, my parents would pack the red Suburban full of tents, sleeping bags, food boxes, coolers, kayaks and bikes. They would leave a little nook for me and my sister, Clare, to climb in and sit with our knees about six inches from our faces on our respective sides of the Car Food Bag. The Car Food Bag was separate from the camping food bags, which were more for meals rather than in transit consumption. Example: Pringles, carrot sticks, and cheese and crackers in the car food bag, whole tomatoes, loaves of bread, and smores supplies in the camping food bag.
I don’t remember ever hearing Mom and Dad hash out the meal plans before we left for a family vacation, probably because I was in the basement watching Roseanne or cutting up socks to make outfits for my troll dolls, but there was a plan. I know there was a plan because there were always enough cheese slices to last two days, which is about how long cheese can last (according to Dad, who was the only one to eat the last three, squished together, greasy pieces of cheese from the bottom of the ziploc bag). We always ate meals and had exactly what we needed to make those meals, be it olive oil, or salt and pepper, or salad greens. There was stuff in the cooler that we couldn’t eat because it was being used for dinner in three days.
“Nope, nope, nope. We are eating that with the shrimp.” Mom would say.
“Uhhh! But there isn’t any shrimp in here!” I would counter as I surveyed my options of things to snack on in the cooler.
“Ha! Course there isn’t. Hasn’t been caught yet! We’ll pick some up from a truck on the way back from the beach.”
There was the plan. Before we even left for the trip, Mom and Dad were thinking about fresh shrimp and made sure we brought everything else. Now Zach and I are camping and we have our own food box. Some people are making babies, but we are taking it slow and making a food box.
If we are camping for a week, we usually go shopping on Sunday and Thursday for fruits and veggies. Breakfast is usually oatmeal and lunch is usually a pb&j, an apple, and some chocolate. A week of dinners may look something like this:
Fresh off the grocery run, in a park with running water, on a warm evening. Spaghetti with leeks, garlic, mushrooms, broccoli and blue cheese.
In a park with running water on a warm evening. Canned four bean mix, broccoli, potatoes, carrots, silver beet (swiss chard’s cousin), garlic, leeks, s&p
Free camping in a park without running water. Stir fried veggies, ramen noodles, garlic, hot chili sauce.
Free camping in a park without running water. Garlic and leek mashed potatoes and carrots, s&p, fried egg on top
We don’t eat much meat while camping because it is expensive, needs to be refrigerated, and adds another element to clean up. We can get away with a rinse after dinner and using the pan again the next night. Our meals are simple, but always satisfying and make things like hamburgers that much more glorious when we do eat them. Speaking thereof, I think it might be time for a treat….
If the Mt. Somers hiking trail isn’t one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks,” I’m excited to see what’s made the cut.
We began our hike, or “tramp” in the local lingo, at the Sharplin Falls parking area, near Staveley, about an hour from Christchurch. Our route was Sharplin Falls to the Woolshed Creek Hut (bypassing the Pinnacles Hut), where we’d spend the night, and then to Woolshed Creed parking lot the following day. We met an affable Czech named Jan overnight in the hut, and he graciously provided us a ride back to our car.
Our first day was the longer of the two, with five hours on the trail broken up by a leisurely lunch at the Pinnacles Hut. The morning featured a steep climb up to 800 meters followed by a wonderful jaunt along Boyers Creek. Due to spring runoff, the creek was more like a raging river, taking parts of the track down with it and slowing our progress, but the challenge of hopping from rock to rock along the riverbed with our packs did nothing but add to our enjoyment. We climbed out of the river valley and into the sub-alpine bush above and arrived at Pinnacles Hut for lunch around one o’clock. At our stop there, I learned that the rock formations directly behind the hut (the “Pinnacles”) are home to some excellent sport climbing routes. As I salivated over the lines, I concocted a plan to return with ropes and gear for an extended stay at Pinnacles Hut.
The weather turned worse as we departed the hut, with rain changing to sleet and eventually, snow. We felt two worlds away from our humid morning jumping from around in the creek bed, but again, the journey, and its attendant challenges, are the point. As the weather continued to decline, the terrain eased and we hurried our pace, eager to dry off in front of a fire at our day’s destination. A few hours and several frigid river crossings later, we had arrived, hanging our soggy socks behind a crackling fire.
I’ll reiterate Bill Bryson’s point from A Walk in the Woods: besides the beautiful scenery and physical rewards, hiking’s appeal comes largely from deprivation and then return of basic comforts. As I sit in front of that fire, warming my frozen toes, I felt tremendously fortunate to have simple warmth.
As we patted ourselves on the back for our decision to bring our camping stove, we enjoyed a simple vegetable soup and chatted over tea with our new Czech friend. I discovered that he was also a rock climber in need of a belay partner, so we exchanged contact information and discussed the lines at the crags we’d gawked at on the way in. Tired from our long day fighting the wind on the trail, we turned in early to read a few pages of our book before nodding off to a restful sleep.
We awoke to find our fire burnt out and a strong chill in the air. The hut sat down in a deep valley, so while the sun was shining on the hilltops, it hadn’t yet reached the few inches of snow that accumulated overnight lower down. The cold motivated an early start, so we were on the trail again before eight o’clock. While the signs outside the hut indicated it was a three hour trip to the end of the track, we hustled through it in half that and were back at our car and relaxing in the Staveley Village Store, drinking hot coffee and snacking before 10am. This was backpacking at its most luxurious.
New Zealand’s backcountry huts provide an unprecedented and unequaled level of comfort, especially compared to those I’ve visited in the northeastern United States. They’re equipped with wood stoves and firewood, sleeping mats, sinks with clean running water, and, most importantly, four walls and a roof. The shelters in the United States are simple platforms with leaky roofs, open on one side to the elements and, if you’re lucky, near a running stream or fire pit. New Zealand’s backcountry huts are the Ritz-Carlton to the United States’ Motel 6.
Tickets to stay in one of the country’s extensive system of huts ($15 per person or $120 for an annual pass) are available at Department of Conservation offices, many visitor’s centers, in the general stores at each end of the Mt. Somers Track. The Staveley Village Store is worth a stop anyway for a delicious savory brioche and a cup of coffee after a few snowy and windy days on the trail.
This hike came recommended by a few different guide books (Fodor’s, Lonely Planet), so I had high expectations. Despite (or possibly even because of) the weather, it exceeded all my hopes. The terrain was challenging but not difficult while changing from lush forest to rocky alpine terrain. There were exciting river crossings and comfortable huts spaced relatively close together. At the beginning of December we’re scheduled to hike the Heaphy Track, which is part of the “Great Walks” system. These are the most popular tramps in the country, and come with special (higher) rates and an online booking system. If Mt. Somers didn’t qualify as a “Great Walk,” I’m excited to see what has.