Elevation, no crowds, sweet views. These were essential details of two tramps (hikes) we planned in Mount Aspiring National Park over the busiest Kiwi holiday week of the year. While crowds poured into Wanaka, Queenstown and the surrounding region, we managed to escape the refugee-camp-like feel of holiday parks and campgrounds by heading to the hills once again.
Our first hike began at 350 meters elevation and followed the Matukituki River East Branch through framers fields, past many cows and finally into beech forest all the way to Junction Flats where we made camp for the night (395 m). The next day, we veered off trail as we made our way through tussock towards the Albert Burn Saddle where chamois, a goat-antelope species, roamed the hillside. Along the way, we met three recent uni-graduates hunting for “shammy”, which we may have inadvertently spooked towards cliffs where they cannot be shot. Sorry Tom, Andy and Jimmy.
Once on the Albert Burn Saddle (1681 m), we stopped for a break and were joined by a pair of beautiful kea, alpine parrots endemic to New Zealand. We admired the birds as they boldly approached us, with Mount Aspiring in the background to make this a truly memorable experience. From the saddle, we summited Dragonfly Peak (2165 m) which was awesome! We filled our water bottles with melt water near the summit (no filtering required) before starting our way down. Another kea greeted us at the saddle which we nicknamed “Kea Flats” and followed us down to the tussock below. Upon returning to our campsite at Junction Flats, exhausted from the 1,770 meter climb and descent, we went for a quick dip in the frigid waterfalls nearby and crawled into our tent to escape the sand flies (black flies).
We returned to Wanaka, expecting to pull into the Top 10 Holiday Park for a nice shower, spa bath, internet access, and a good night sleep, only to find hundreds of drunken high school party goers. The town had exploded while we were gone and now resembled spring break in Mexico. We fled to nearby Cormwell, where the crowds were smaller and calmer to regroup before tackling Queenstown, where we resupplied for our next trip.
Our second hike in Mount Aspiring National Park began on the Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. Knowing that Great Walks = Great Crowds, we turned off the main track onto Sugarloaf and headed towards the Sugarloaf Pass where we made camp on the tussock on New Years Eve. With great views, minimal crowds and bugs (we were completely alone and could leave our tent open), this was an ideal place to welcome the new year. Unfortunately, we have yet to stay up past midnight this trip and fell asleep shortly after eleven. Thankfully Curniss set an alarm for 11:59 and we watched a 5 second countdown to the New Year on indiglo. We spent January first of 2012 hiking around to some peaks near our camp site and enjoying the mountainous landscapes.