The Journal Vol.8
Hello all. Once again, thank you for stopping by and reading the monthly Journals. We've now really settled into life here in Queenstown, we've found a new house, and everything has worked out better than expected. We're now in the smack-bang middle of summer. Days are hot and there's only one thing on our minds: staying outside, making the most of the daylight and exploring new terrain. This month is jam-packed with epic overnight hikes, exploring new alpine huts and even a scenic flight. Hope you enjoy this edition!
Sugarloaf Track, Routeburn
The smell of fresh mountain air is hard to beat, and easy to find down in Mount Aspiring National Park. This was my second time on this fairly unknown track, having done it last year in April. It's one of my favourites in New Zealand because of the diversity throughout the track, and most importantly the views at the end. Starting at the Routeburn car park, you cross a beautiful swing bridge, ascend through temperate rainforest, and finally break the tree line into gorgeous alpine snow grass (and plenty of mud). Once at the top, the views are phenomenal. Weather can drastically change in these areas, especially above the tree line. It's important to have a windproof jacket at all times, even in the peak of summer. Wind chill can be deadly, so knowing you have the right gear to block it gives great peace of mind. For us, our Cumulus GORE-TEX® jackets are our go-to lightweight windbreaker rain jacket. They fold into the size of a water bottle, and give us critical protection.
The view at the end of the Sugarloaf Track hike, with alpine snow grass crunching beneath your feet, is simply stunning.
Our day hike gear for the Sugarloaf Track was our trusted Escape Hike 30L day pack, plus our Cumulus GORE-TEX® jackets to block the raging wind.
Head Above The Clouds
It was my second time up here in 14 days. Yes, it's rare for me to redo a hike, especially in such a short timeframe, however being up here at Sefton Bivouac has quickly become one of my favourite backcountry missions. This time around, we gathered a solid crew including @kylekotajarvi, @ashleylukewalton, @hamishporter__ and @hannahkoughan. The day was hot in the valley, but bearable. We headed off and before we knew it we diverted off the Hooker Valley track and started our backcountry ascent to the Bivouac. Once the sun dipped behind Mount Sefton, the trail was freezing cold, enough to pull out the Pro-Elite Climber fleece. We were in for a cold night (-4°C) so I brought my Travelite 700 sleeping bag for maximum warmth, rated down to comfort at -3°C. I love this bag for its compactness, warmth and water repellency, especially on those nights with a lot of moisture.
Sefton Biv was especially busy that night, so tenting was our only option. It's important to always bring a tent even if you think you have a guaranteed hut spot, because chances are there's already people up there. I use the Geo 2P for missions like this because of its lightweight form factor and easy freestanding structure (ideal when camping on rocks and pegs aren't an option). We pitched our tent directly under the Te Waewae Glacier and listened to the cracks of falling and shifting ice all night long. The air was incredibly moist even by 7pm, so we knew we'd be in for an inversion in the morning (where the cloud sits in the valley). We woke up to a sea of cloud, with distant peaks rising out of the fog. One of the best nights in the mountains, spent with good friends.
Camp set-up for the night with the Geo 2P.
It's easy to see why Sefton Bivouac has become a favourite location of mine to frequent, this sea of cloud making for a magical morning.
Good friends, great locations.
In Between Moments
The beauty of New Zealand is incomparable. Each region has its own feel and the Mackenzie region of Canterbury has a special place in my heart. From my first time here two years ago to now, I've made countless memories on these lake shores, mountain tops, road sides and swing bridges. I urge everyone to spend time in the Mackenzie region, the home of Aoraki/Mount Cook and so much more.
The beauty of the Mackenzie region of Canterbury, including (from left to right): Lake Pukaki at Sunrise, the Hooker Valley Track, and Hopkins Valley, Ruataniwha Conservation Area.
A Night On The Routeburn
Location: Routeburn Shelter
Distance: 11km One Way
Elevation Gain: 740m
There aren't many places on earth where you can find solitude like this. We're lucky to have this wilderness area so close to Queenstown and it's a reason I love New Zealand so much. It was mid-March and we had a few spare days to head out into the mountains. I had my eye on heading up to Lake Wilson, but after researching into it, it was going to be a 2-night mission. Instead we found these small tarns perched above the Routeburn Valley, overlooking Routeburn Flats. It was well off the track, so it could be considered backcountry camping. The hike in took us only three hours, which was expected. Once we set up camp and wandered around it was clear that this spot was even more beautiful than I could have imagined. We felt so high above the valley floor; definitely one of the finest places I've pitched my tent.
The path we chose to explore the tracks into Routeburn Valley.
We took with us the Expedition 2P tent because of the forecasted cold night ahead. This tent does the best job at keeping the warm in. Our Explorer 75L and Pioneer 70L hiking packs fit more than enough stuff for an overnight expedition. I always opt for a larger bag in case I need to bring more camera equipment or food. Both of these bags have huge expandable roll tops and compartments for additional gear, which we love. Madison and I both make sure to pack our Merino shirts and pants to combat the quickly changing weather NZ is known for. Being prepared is key when out here.
An overnighter at this elevation requires warmth and protection, which we take from our Expedition 2P tent.
Touchdown In Milford Sound
Ask anyone who has had the chance to do a scenic flight through New Zealand, and they'll tell you it was the highlight of their trip. Seeing this place from the air is like nothing you can see from ground level. Flying over places I've wanted to hike to for years only makes me hungrier to tick them off.
A few frames of a spectacular morning flying through Fiordland and into Milford Sound.
Getting Off The Trail At Roys Peak
Everyone has heard of Roys Peak in Wanaka. It's a globally recognised viewpoint that overlooks Lake Wanaka, Mount Aspiring and the Southern Alps. Most people, however, aren't aware that there's a secondary peak with an even better view. Our job as photographers is to find new vantage points and shoot something different. My mate Kyle and I set off for this one, knowing it would be a damn hard climb. We were prepared though and in pretty good physical shape. The gear I brought included the Geo 2P tent, Travelite 500 sleeping bag, Airlite 5.5 sleeping mat, Airlite pillow, Peak 700 down jacket, and the Explorer 75L hiking pack.
I don't want to name the peak (to prevent an influx) but if you do enough research into the area you might find it! I'll warn you, it was one of the steepest climbs I've ever done and I probably wouldn't do it again because of the lack of distinct trail. It's essentially a bush bash requiring navigational skills and a whole lot of determination. Do you have what it takes? We experienced one of the most beautiful sunsets and sunrises, with gorgeous golden light and soft pink clouds. This made the climb worth it.
An off track adventure can be challenging, sometimes even dangerous, but this one near Roys Peak rewarded us with some epic views.
The beautiful sunsets and sunrises made this climb worth every step.
Wild West Coast
I'd never camped right under the face of a glacier, until this night. The glacier pictured is the Franz Josef Glacier, and our mission was to camp on a high ridgeline adjacent to it called Alex Knob. Listening to distant cracks and slips all night was something I'll always remember. It's just something we aren't used to back home in Australia. This hike was meant to be a slog, but it ended up being easier than we imagined. Gaining over 1,000 metres in 5km, it's unforgivingly steep in parts and gets the blood pumping, but once you make it to the top, there's not many views in NZ that are better. My mate Hamish and I set up the Geo 2P tent right out on a distant ridgeline for the best photo framing.
How good is that view!
As the sun was setting to the west, a cloud inversion started forming, from the warm air of the day mixing with the cold valley air from the glacier. This was one of the most magical moments I've ever had in the mountains. Complete beauty surrounded us in every direction and it's not that often that conditions this perfect all come together at once. We were on cloud nine and couldn't put our cameras down. As the temperature plummeted enough to finally put a jacket on, the Peak 700 down jacket was enough to keep me warm without having to layer.
A cloud inversion, from the warm air of the day mixing with the cold valley air from the glacier, creating one of the most magical moments I've ever captured.
Location: Hokitika, West Coast, New Zealand
Distance: 8km Return
Elevation Gain: 979m
Our expedition to the picturesque Mount Brown Hut was a highlight of the summer season. After leaving Queenstown in the early morning, we drove out to Gillespies Beach for sunset and ended up camping the night. The next day we drove the additional three hours to Hokitika and to the Mount Brown Trailhead. It was a pretty hot March day, so I opted to wear my zip-off hiking pants and Merino tee. The climb was gruelling to say the least, in the humid air and with an unpleasant gradient nearly the entire way to the hut. We managed to get the 4-bed hut all to ourselves, so we spent three hours relaxing on the deck out the front, brewing coffee and re-living the insane climb. My mind often brings me back to that day, hanging out on the deck in the sun, enjoying the mountains and loving the presence of my friends. It's a beautiful memory to relive. If you are wanting to do Mount Brown, let me warn you of how muddy and slippery the track is. I wouldn't recommend it after heaving rain. It took us 2h30min up and 1h30min down.
A drone shot of the wild coastline with the southern alps in the background, Mount Tasman and Mount Cook taking centre frame (left), and our Mount Brown hut (centre and right).
I often tend to overlook my backyard as a place to explore, and instead look interstate or for the bigger mountain range. It's obviously easier when you live this close to beautiful mountains like these, but you get the point. Jumping on Google Earth, I quickly learnt there's a whole landscape ready to be explored in the high parts of the Remarkables mountain range, called the Wye Creek Basin. It's an alpine basin scattered with gorgeous tarns and vistas looking in each direction, this was what I had dreamt of, and the best part, it was only a 20-minute drive from home and we essentially look up to this spot from our window at home every day. To get here, it's a bit of a process requiring a couple of scrambles on scree fields, which is relatively easy when there's no snow present. Add snow into the mix, then I wouldn't recommend it. However if you have hiking poles, it's much easier to balance yourself to help minimise slips. My go-to poles are the Tread Carbon trekking poles. Down in the basin there are countless alpine tarns to explore underneath the sawtooth shadow of Single Cone.
Wye Creek Basin.
Madison putting the Tread Carbon trekking poles to work.