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Winter tramping is the best

Image of the June 2022 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
June 2022 Issue

Wilderness asked trampers what they love most about winter. Transformed landscapes, fewer sandflies and cosy huts topped the list.

When the nights start to draw in, most people are happy to lock the door, turn up the heat pump and settle down. For others, getting outside in crisp winter air with the sound of snow and ice crunching beneath their boots is when they’re happiest. 

There’s just something about walking in snow that transforms an ordinary tramp into something magical. “Walking in fresh snow feels like a new beginning, and there’s huge pleasure in being the first person to place a footprint onto virgin snow,” says Nelson tramper Dave Barton. 

Often, there are fewer people on the trails and there’s the feeling of having the backcountry all to yourself. The cooler temperatures mean hiking’s much more pleasant, too. 

“It’s much less sweaty, smells better and there’s less chafing,” says Graeme Forman from Wellington. Gael Price from Upper Hutt, adds: “There’s no heat rash, and I love that pack straps are cushioned by the extra layers of clothing.”

Let’s not forget the dunny smells better, and everyone loves that mosquitoes and sandflies seem to hibernate.

Who can’t resist a snowclad vista or seeing the morning mist gleaming over a tarn or lake? Wellingtonian Lynsey Sutton loved the scenes from Deadman’s Track when she hiked it with her 11-year-old son. “We stayed the night at Rangiwahia Hut on a winter family tramp, and the views were just stunning,” she says.

A bonus in winter is the early sunsets and late sunrises. Photo: www.lynseysuttonphotography.com

Low temperatures change the landscape into a winter wonderland with ice crystals and snow covering flora like a blanket. Frost makes patterns an artist would be proud of. Waterfalls suspend in mid-air, frozen, like time suddenly stopped. Reflections blur as tarns freeze.

There’s no need to stay up late or rise at the crack of dawn to see colourful sunrises and sunsets because they’re later and earlier, giving even the hardiest of trampers some extra time wrapped in their sleeping bags. Warm and snugly, it’s the ideal time to justify that expensive, many say necessary, sleeping bag purchase.

The best time to see the Milky Way is during the coldest months and the chance of catching a glimpse of Aurora Australis is higher. Sarah Mighton from Christchurch loves winter stargazing. “It’s spectacular on those crystal clear winter nights. I love getting all bundled up and heading out with a flask of something warm with the hope of seeing the southern lights,” she says.

Walking in snow transforms an ordinary tramp into something magical. Photo: Dave Barton

Winter tramping also gives a chance for simple joys, which for Hamiltonian Jane Spenceley is cracking ice puddles with her feet or walking poles. “It makes you forget that you’re slugging your way up what feels like a million stairs on Taranaki Maunga in July,” she says.

But without a doubt, one of the best things about winter tramping is a cosy hut fire on a frosty night after a hike through the snow. As every tramper will know, there’s no better sight than rounding that corner at the end of a day to see a wisp of smoke rising from the chimney; someone’s already there and the fire is raging.

Cam Mans from Otorohanga was hiking to Leitchs Hut in Whareorino Conservation Area when he found a family had arrived before him. “Nothing felt better than ripping my boots off, dropping my pack at the door and rolling onto the floor right in front of the fire for a bit of good dry heat,” he says.