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Selwyn Times: June 28, 2016

16 Tuesday

16 Tuesday June 28 2016 Travel SELWYN TIMES Alpine high up Two Thumb Range • By Mike Yardley KITTED OUT: Stella Sweney guides Mike Yardley up Two Thumb Range in the Mackenzie district. Right: Beuzenberg Peak. VIEWS: The tranquil Mackenzie Basin. WITH WINTER’S grip taking hold, embrace the season with the eagerness of a house-bound husky. The Mackenzie district’s outdoorsy credentials enjoy yearround pulling power, but they hit their zenith in winter. With the mountains calling, my chief mission was to try my hand at snowshoeing on a taster expedition up Two Thumb Range, which rises gracefully on the eastern side of Lake Tekapo. Warmly greeted by Anne Braun-Elwert at Alpine Recreation’s office, and my alpine guide extraordinaire, Stella Sweney, I was promptly kitted out with the rudimentary alpine hiking gear. I can’t recall the last time I had two women dressing me. But if you arrive somewhat ill-equipped like me, Alpine Recreation will soon get you sorted with all the accoutrements, including snowshoes, ski poles and waterproof gaiters. Snowshoes no longer resemble tennis rackets. The newer versions are lightweight aluminium and plastic, which your boots are strapped into. Anne and her late husband, Gottlieb, are quite simply New Zealand alpine royalty, lauded for their leadership in mountain guiding and eco-tourism. Thirtyfive years ago they founded Alpine Recreation Canterbury, the first outdoor adventure company in New Zealand to offer ski touring using cross-country and telemark skis. In 1985, they built Rex Simpson Hut in the Two Thumb Range, followed by the Caroline Hut in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. Alongside training many of our country’s mountain guides, Gottlieb was quite the trail-blazer, developing our ultimate ski-touring route, Symphony on Skis. Tragically, in 2008, you may recall that Gottlieb died from a ruptured aorta, at the Rex Simpson Hut, while guiding a group including his good friend, Prime Minister Helen Clark. His legacy lives on, and is in great hands, with Anne remaining at the helm of Alpine Recreation. My assignment was to sample the award-winning company’s most popular touring option, the two-night snowshoeing hike on Two Thumb Range. Situated in Te Kahui Kaupeka Conservation Park, in the foothills of the Southern Alps, the first day’s hike is a three-hour, 500m climb up the old glacial terrace at the northern end of Lake Tekapo, to the Rex Simpson Hut, at 1300m. I felt like I was climbing into a postcard. Winter’s magical transformation had turned the high country’s tawny tussock lands into a snow-coated playground. From Rex Simpson Hut, a variety of enticing trails, ripe for guided exploration, take you around Mt Gerald, Camp Valley and the Southern Terraces. Given my limited time, Stella and I set our sights on Beuzenberg Peak, at 2070m. The descent from here down to Rex Simpson Hut, is considered by many intrepid hikers of the Te Araroa Trail, as the photogenic highlight of the epic 3000km long national walk. In the shadow of Beuzenberg Peak, I gazed in jaw-dropped awe at this hallowed landscape of wide-angled views. The Southern Alps, the luminous lakes and the golden halo of the Mackenzie Basin stretch out endlessly before you. Winter’s clear, crisp air heightens the spectacle, rendering the wrap-around scenery razor-sharp, in a palette of white, green, gold and turquoise. The silence up here is so profound, it fairly echoes. Savouring the magic of the moment, it was the unfamiliar perspective of mighty Aoraki Mt Cook that transfixed my attention. The unforgiving east and south faces of the mountain strutted the horizon, spectacularly flaunting Aoraki’s prestige, beauty and treachery. With hundreds of snowcapped peaks competing for your attention, it’s the tidily sculpted peaks, shaped like soft serve ice creams that melt the heart. Suitably lulled into a dreamy winter trance – or was it the thinner air – our three-hour, 5km hike down to Rex Simpson Hut traversed the moderately angled Snake Ridge. The endorphin-rush was turbocharged by the unwavering scenic grandeur. To the left, sprawling Stag Saddle was crisscrossed by the footprints of hares – the only flicker of local life. The overnight snowfall was surprisingly deep in places – up to 60cm – turning the relative ease of snowshoeing into an alpine adventure more akin to wading through snow, which rose above my knees in some spots. But as long as you’ve got a reasonable level of fitness, it’s not a formidable work out. Rex Simpson Hut is an absolute charmer, fully equipped with firewood, gas, solar lighting, sleeping bags, bunks and wood-fired potbelly stove provides fantastic heat. It’s fully stocked with food, minimising the need to carry many provisions in, other than some fresh items of food and your personal clothing. In the heart of the Mackenzie, I was on an alpine high. FAST FACTS •Adventure need not be the preserve of hardcore explorers only. Beyond the main tourist trail, relish some offbeat adventuring in the Mackenzie with Alpine Recreation. It’s what travel memories are made of. www. alpinerecreation.com For more information on exploring nature’s wondrous spoil in the Mackenzie, head to www. mackenzienz.com

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