After leaving our rubbish in the Lake Ohau place, we drove the hour and forty-five minutes to Fairlie where we were going to do a 3-day/2-night hut-to-hut trip on a gigantic private station in the Four Peaks range. We, as usual, were way early so we tried to come up with some stuff to do along the way.
We stopped at the vista point looking out at Lake Pukaki. Always an amazing view….despite the 4000 camper vans there. It is a bit jarring when you find yourself in the middle of touristville after so much time in fairly isolated places. Still worth a selfie.
Next we tried to go to the observatory in Tekapo. Closed. Bummer. So I got a coffee instead.
We arrived at the station house not too early and the other people that we were doing the hike with were already there. This hike was organized such that Cathy, the station owner, would shuttle your packs from hut to hut and you could just go with a day pack. Easy hut-to-hut hiking.
There was a super friendly and curious donkey there as well that kept coming over to see what I was doing. We gathered up our stuff and loaded it in the trailer for transport to the start of the hike. At the last minute I decided to strap on our folding chairs to take with us. I figured if we weren’t carrying it, then why not. And the chilly bin.
We drove the 17kms on dirt roads to the start of the hike. Cathy is clearly comfortable driving the gravel roads as she was bombing along at 100 kph hauling a trailer chatting the whole time.
The start of the hike was in a little valley that was all paddocks. Not super interesting. It was a bit warm, but we only had to walk 4 kms into the first hut. We got our instructions and a UHF radio from Cathy and headed to the hut.
We got to the hut around 4:30 pm or so, sorted ourselves out (yes, our packs and chilly bin were already there) and then relaxed in our comfy chairs. We chatted with the other folks on the trip. Richard who is a nurse from Rotterdam, had decided it was time for a life change, had sold his house and had been traveling around New Zealand for the last 3 months. Hanna and Simon were from Australia. Hanna lives in Melbourne and runs an academic research institute and Simon lives in Tasmania and is a computer scientist working on climate models…and makes a lot of honey. They all were very nice.
The hut was built for the ranch hands and probably dated back to the 1800’s. There were also two more modern tiny houses which each slept two. We slept in the bigger hut. It was a typical bunk set up and was generally pretty comfortable…as far as bunks and huts go.
The biggest bummer was that there were sand flies. Ugh. I hate sand flies. Everyone hates sand flies. New Zealand would be perfect if it weren’t for sand flies.
We had pre-made our food so we had a lovely Chicken Korma with our nice Pinot for dinner. Easy and yummy!
Susanne and I got going early the next day to make sure we got to enjoy the cool weather. The brochure claimed the day to be 11 kms if you did the side hike up to Devil’s Peak. It was a 1500′ climb up to the saddle and then another 1500′ up to the peak. That seemed short based on my review of Gaia.
We got some nice views of the Four Peaks range as the clouds slowly burned off and revealed them. It was pretty easy going for most of the way, although there are a lot of scratchy spiny bushes to be avoided in this part of New Zealand. The sheer size of the station is pretty impressive. We made the saddle at about 10:45 am and assessed the climb up to Devil’s Peak. Susanne decided it was not for her as it was a steep class 2 scramble that she wasn’t in the mood for.
Susanne headed out toward the second hut and I headed up the peak on my own. It was a pretty steep grade and climbed 1500′ in about 2 km. There was a cloud lingering around that would come and go and created a very eerie feeling to the views. You definitely need to be careful as it can get quite foggy and the exposure is enough that you wouldn’t want to get lost.
It took me about 45 minutes to reach the top. The views were pretty good, but looking out toward Geraldine was looking into a wall of clouds. There was a solar-powered UHF repeater at the top the ranch used to get radio reception across the immense expanse of their land. There was also a funny wood statue of a dude. I guess there was candy in the box under his arm, but I didn’t notice it. The lichen on the rocks was really cool—definitely worth a few photos.
It was a bit chilly so I took some pics and headed back down. I passed Richard, Hanna, and Simon on my way down. They all told me there was a present waiting for me at the saddle. It turned out to be a muffin (which sadly, I can’t really eat as it’s too much gluten for me). Yes, most of the hike is also accessible by 4WD roads, and Cathy drove up to the saddle with muffins and tea!
My knees were not happy with the long descent again. Up, no worries. Down…ugh. The road down from the saddle was a big series of switchbacks they called “the staircase.” Now and again they had put a sign up by a plant telling you what it was. They are clearly trying to develop the trail to be a tourist draw.
The trail was a lot longer than quoted in the brochure and I was ready to quit descending (it was about 1000 meters of descent). I started to think I had missed the hut at one point. I saw a big animal bound across the trail in front of me…it turned out to be a wallaby. I guess they are a huge problem in New Zealand now. They were brought over in 1870 and have been a problem ever since. We humans just can’t seem to figure it out.
I made it to the hut and was glad to sit down and relax for a bit. Susanne informed me that there were heaps of sand flies. Bummer. This camp consisted of a hut and an old caravan. It was not nearly as nice as the first camp and the caravan was pretty musty-smelling. The bathroom required a short climb up a very steep trail (though both camps had hot water showers, which is a luxury); no way anyone was doing that toilet trek in the middle of the night. Sigh. Thankfully, the wind picked up and knocked down the sand flies, so the 5 of us sat around enjoying the evening with some beer, wine, and dinner (though we did bring some wine, both camps had little “shops” stocked with beer, wine, and snacks). Sleeping in the musty trailer was, at best, ok.
Hanna and Simon wanted to get going early in the morning so they could drive up to Mt. Cook National Park and do the Hooker Valley trail. We were the last out of camp, so we radioed the station headquarters that we were all on our way. The last day was some up and down and mostly through the cow paddocks with lots of thistle. In places the cow pooie was a bit annoying. The views were pretty good, but both us agreed that there was no way this hike was up to the caliber of a “Great Walk.” Nice, but in the grand scheme of New Zealand, it was not special.
We got to the station headquarters, said hi to Cathy, paid for our beers and headed out to our hotel in Lake Tekapo. Overall, we had fun, but would not do it again. Having Simon, Hanna, and Richard along improved the experience, but I was hoping for something more than cow fields. There you have it.
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