2/27 – 3/1/2017
McKayla had found a few hikes she wanted to do in Arthur’s Pass National Park (New Zealand) so we broke off from the coast and headed inland. We only had a few days before our reservation at Mueller Hut in Mount Cook National Park for McKayla’s birthday so we did our best to make the most of this picturesque park bearing a treasured family name (my grandfather’s name as well as my father’s middle name). The first thing we did when we got to Arthur’s Pass – visited the Devil’s Punch Bowl. What else? The Devil’s Punch Bowl consisted of a fairly large river pool being fed by a pretty tall and impressive waterfall. I’m not sure why it’s called what it is; it’s really misty as the base of the waterfall but other than that it didn’t seem very menacing. The sign gave no info about the name but it was still a cool waterfall.
Next on the hit list for Arthur’s Pass was the Beally Spur. The Devil’s Punch Bowl was short so we were able to cram in hike number 2 and loosen our tired legs in preparation for an attempt to summit Avalanche Peak the following day. Beally Spur turned out to be much better than just a warm-up. It gave us great views of two massive river valleys cutting through an otherwise unending expanse of rolling mountains in all directions. The 2 huge valleys made up wide tracks of flat river beds covered in rocks with only a small bright blue trickle braiding through what looked like a giant floodzone (We assumed ((not confirmed)) this big dry riverbed might be the result of damming upstream, New Zealand does get a good portion of its electricity from hydro).
We camped at the edge of a small forest overlooking a barren valley with mountains beyond. Unfortunately the place was. Overrun with sandflies (the NZ version of gnats that seem to be everywhere) but it’s hard to complain when the campground is free. There seem to be a lot more free tent camping sites here on the South Island; it’s a good thing because I was beginning to think kiwis are prejudiced against tents with their love of campervans and all. We woke up early by our standards. I went to check the weather report while McKayla made us some delicious blueberry pancakes (with cooking oil this time). Great hiking fuel in our bellies, a promising weather report, time for a summit.
The Mount Avalanche trail started almost directly behind the information center. Unlike most summit hikes, this one could be done in a loop and we always enjoy a change of scenery, especially when views of multiple mountain ranges are involved. As per usual here in New Zealand, (why waste time with switchbacks?) Up you go. Thankfully we were feeling good and this trail had seen enough use that deep foot holds had been established. Even tree roots on the side of the trail used for support had been worn smooth by touch. As soon as we cleared the tree line, you could see why this is such a popular hike – along with its easy access, the views were stunning. In total, I think this was a 7 mile hike but I’m not sure there was a single flat step.
At the summit we had a great view of 2 glaciers and were completely surrounded by mountains… except for the 2 river valleys that we saw on the Beally Spur track. The summit was a little crowded but we took time to enjoy our PBBNnJs (Peanut butter, blueberries, Nutella and jelly sandwiches) and hog the side of the summit with the view of the glaciers. On our descent we saw the bird that the park is seemingly famous for, the kea. It’s a mountain parrot that is cute, loud, destructive and pretty dam funny (more on Keas when we get to the Mount Cook post).
After our 3 hikes, we decided to say goodbye to Arthur’s pass and start making our way towards Mount Cook/Aoriki Natioal Park. After an hour or so of driving, we stopped at a random campground located on the banks of a beautiful river gorge (Rakaia Gorge campground). The quirky campground host got us lined up on the bank and told us about a 4 hour hike across the street that sounded like the perfect way to start the following day (March 1). A lot of the trail wound its way along the edge of the river gorge offering continuously new and grand views of this gleaming blue river and the gorge that encased it. There were 2 lookout spots, both with equally stunning views of blue waters, green pastures and the mountains beyond. On the home stretch of our hike, McKayla was kind enough to take the pack and most of my clothes while I jumped into the fast flowing river in my undies and keens and floated back to the car. I got the chance to take a little cliff jump and got some cheers from some cyclists on the bridge spanning that section of river. It might have been the best way I’ve ever ended a hike.
So far, there has not been a bad hike in New Zealand. In fact, some of the best ones aren’t even planned. We’ve just had good luck pointing them out on maps or getting local recommendations. The best way I can describe New Zealand in one word is colorful and I suppose the more you give yourself the opportunity to see it, the better.