Base yourself at a hut for some seriously cool winter exploration. By Paul Hersey
From countless options, here are five trips worthy of consideration. Make sure you check with DOC for an updated avalanche and weather forecast. In optimal conditions these are great trips, but be aware that snow safety can vary greatly. Crampons and ice axes should be carried on all of these routes.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing, Tongariro National Park
If you want to avoid the hordes of tourists traipsing over this route, then give it a go in winter. Stay at either Mangatepopo or Ketetahi Huts and get an early start. If the snow is soft, be prepared for a long day to cross between the summits of Tongariro and Ngauruhoe. And, if you’re feeling particularly fit, make the side trip up to the summit of Ngauruhoe. I love the contrast between the snowy peaks and the dry barren surrounds. This trip was one of my first alpine experiences. And, if staying at Ketetahi, don’t forget the natural hot springs nearby.
Brewster Hut, Mt Aspiring National Park
Park near Haast Pass, and be prepared for a cold shock crossing the river (take sandshoes and leave them on the other side) followed by a steep climb up through open beech forest. Once above the bush line, follow marker poles along a broad ridge, eventually reaching the cosy Brewster Hut. Mt Armstrong is an easy climb behind the hut or, for something more adventurous, have a go at Mt Brewster.
Mueller Hut, Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park
This track and hut are over-populated with tourists in summer, but rarely used in winter. From Mueller Hut there are amazing views north towards Aoraki and west towards Sefton. There are also some easy peaks to climb behind the hut, but the plum is Mt Sealy, which may require a rope and knowledge of glacial travel techniques to climb. Check with DOC and the local guiding companies for an update on snow conditions as the track up to the hut crosses known avalanche paths.
French Ridge Hut, Mt Aspiring National Park
An arduous day from the Raspberry Flat car park – especially in winter – be prepared for a pleasant valley amble past the historic Aspiring Hut and then a steep three hour or more grind up the wooded French Ridge. The last hour follows a vague terrace above the bush line, before reaching French Ridge Hut. Be aware that, if visibility is poor, the hut can be difficult to locate. From here, either kick back and enjoy the views across Gloomy Gorge towards Rob Roy and Avalanche, or aim for a climb of Mt French near the top of the Quarterdeck (may require a rope for glacial travel). Legend has it a group of local kea locked some climbers in the old French Ridge Hut, but the new hut door has been kea-proofed!
Barker Hut, Arthur’s Pass National Park
This is one of my favourite huts in the world. It might pay to take shoes or a second pair of boots for the long valley approach, following the Waimakariri and White Rivers (a number of river crossings needed). The hut is a solid seven hours from Klondyke Corner, with the last one or two hours requiring a steep climb to the hut. From the hut, popular climbs include the nearby Mts Harper and Murchison.