New Zealand wilderness is a winter wonderland

By Shepparton News

News photographer Rodney Braithwaite recently headed across the ditch, travelling to New Zealand and returning with plenty of stories and incredible photos.

Visiting the Launceston town library as a photography student in the mid-1990s, I remember being captivated by a book of stunning images from the New Zealand wilderness by Nic Bishop, called Untouched Horizons.

More than 20 years later, and I have just returned from my fifth trip to this majestic country.

While photographic technology has progressed significantly since this book was produced, I am still deeply inspired by the simplicity of taking a camera and a backpack into the wilderness.

Further motivation for me is having both a physical and mental challenge away from the routine of everyday life. Through June to July in my 13-day trip, I completed five multi-day hikes for a distance of 70km in a range of diverse landscapes — from high country farmlands to frozen mountain peaks.

My first hike — or tramp, as it is called in New Zealand — was a few hours out of Christchurch on the Banks Peninsula to Packhorse Hut.

Although it’s close to Christchurch, it feels far more remote.

There are fine views over to Lyttleton Harbour and its crater rim, fascinatingly unique New Zealand scenery.

At sunrise, the snow-clad tops of the Southern Alps are within sight.

Sunrise across Lyttelton harbour, near Christchurch.

This was a gentle introduction to more arduous walks to come on my trip.

My second hike took me to Arthurs Pass National Park, where I experienced the coldest night on my adventure, at -8°C with my tent pitched outside Crow Hut.

I love this area.

Stunning mountain peaks, crisp mountain air and glacier-fed waters.

The start of this walk led me through kilometres of large ice crystals covering river stones into damp beech forests.

Potentially dangerous river crossings with water levels up to thigh deep are abundant on this walk and you must be prepared.

My third hike was to Spurs Hut in the mid-Canterbury area.

This is a unique walk covering about 18km through high country farmland.

The inside of Spurs Hut. It is mostly used by hunters.

It’s a basic hut from the late 19th century and I arrived just on nightfall.

Four bunks are in a small enclosed space with sheep wool used to block the gaps in the roof that is only a few centimetres from your face.

I hit my head on more than a few occasions during the night.

I then continued driving south the next day to my fourth hike in Mt Cook National Park.

I hiked alongside the Tasman Glacier into the tiny Ball Hut that is situated at the glacier's edge.

This is an area where rock falls and avalanches occur frequently, particularly in winter.

My home for the night in the Ball Hut can be seen on the right hand side in this isolated landscape.

I remember while crossing a fresh rock fall area with my heavy pack, I took the precaution to strap my emergency locator beacon to my waist in case the ground gave way.

I had complete isolation with the hut to myself, apart from the Department of Conservation making a radio call to check on me and to provide weather information.

It started snowing as I jumped into my sleeping bag around 6pm and I called it a night.

My last hike was the most physically challenging and one of my most anticipated hikes for this trip.

I snowshoed the Two Thumb Range five years earlier and I have been planning to go back ever since.

After crossing farmland looking across to the stunning turquoise waters of Lake Tekapo and the magnificent Southern Alps, it is a long slog straight up steep slopes for hours.

I made camp in the dark on an ice sheet with the brilliant sky illuminating the frigid environment.

The next morning after a warming breakfast I snowshoed along Snake Ridge, gaining elevation with my camp hundreds of metres below me.

It was brilliant to be back at one of my favourite spots in the world before starting the journey home.

One of the joys of travelling on your own is meeting people.

On some of these trips I did not encounter people for days; on others I met both hikers and hunters exploring New Zealand's backcountry and always ready for a chat.

Rest days are also important on a physically demanding trip like this.

One of my highlights was finding a farm to stay at near Geraldine in the Peel Forest.

The Deans family have opened their farm to allow travellers to enjoy the serenity of farm life, complete with working dogs and breakfast produce from the farm.

I love New Zealand for its mountain peaks, unspoilt wilderness, backcountry roads and endless opportunities for adventures.

The spectacular Tasman Glacier with stunning frozen peaks of the Mt Cook National Park.

In winter the days are short, with the sun rising after 8am.

Whether you prefer the challenge of winter or prefer to visit in the warmer months, I have included some of the resources I find valuable in planning a hiking trip.

A Bunk for the Night: A Guide to New Zealand’s Best Backcountry Huts by Barnett, Brown and Spearpoint, is a beautiful guide just to read, with stories and photographs of a selection of huts from the North and South Island.

The New Zealand Department of Conservation makes a range of pamphlets available on hikes in different regions with basic maps. These are best supplemented with topographical maps available in paper version or digital via an app by LINZ.

I also find the South Island Road Atlas by Kiwimaps an invaluable resource, along with a GPS when exploring the country.

The DOC offices throughout the country provide up-to-date information on track conditions, weather and local knowledge. In addition, the DOC website provides comprehensive information on where 950 huts are located, the facilities available and if they require payment via the backcountry ticket system:

Wilderness Magazine provides a wealth of information online about tracks and tips on walking in New Zealand, go to:

To have a taste of New Zealand farm life with the Deans family, see:

Explore the full gallery of Rodney's photos.

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