Our Private (Public) Little Cabin

While there are 900 public huts in New Zealand, only a small handful are accessible without putting a few miles on your hiking boots. So imagine my delight when we drove up the moonlit, snow-covered lane to Ahuriri Base Hut and found it empty!

super sharp sheep shears save split-ends

We’d begun the day with a long “work” session at the Twizel library. Then we made our way back through Omarama where we’d spent the evening prior with a bunch of rough-and-ready types. We desperately needed to launder our outdoor garb before heading back out into the woods. All towns between outdoor haven A and B were devoid of facilities, so I attempted to charm the bar tender/bar owner pouring behind the “horniest” bar in New Zealand. (The bar is filled with taxidermy, but also posters of a woman’s backside clothed only in chaps.)

He was a lean version of Sly Stallone and talked in rapid-fire half-sentences. He also owned the entire and only hospitality complex in town — bar, hotel, restaurant, etc. After being snubbed by the Mobil attendant across the road, I wasn’t confident in our prospects. However, not only did he personally escort me to the cinder-block room with the hotel’s blessed washer and dryer, he and his buddies in the barroom spent the entire evening regaling us with sheep shearing tales. I even got to try out his “sharp as” hand shears on a few split ends, AND he offered to let us park up instead of having to drive to a campground. Sweet!

just out of the bushline above camp

Once through Omarama (oh-MAR-uh-ma), it was a short highway stretch, a long snow-covered gravel road, and finally an hour of grueling 4WD to arrive at the hut. Although we were in a race against the setting sun, the snow-capped peaks glowing pink at the head of the valley demanded several photo stops. (Which I would later, in an ongoing failure to understand the ‘protect’ feature of my camera, delete entirely).

We were exhausted and freezing. Prepared wood was scarce, so we declared the following day a “stay-in-bed-Saturday.” We filled the cast-iron stove with anything we could find that wasn’t wet or snow-covered and managed to get the hut to a comfortable temperature for dinner making and

I wanna get me some possums!

bed time. Stay-in-bed-Saturday dawned clear and beautiful. After a few hours of reading, we spent the remainder of the day dragging huge logs to the hut, chopping them up, and exploring the woods in and around the area. That night a pair of headlights wandered up the lonely valley and turned up the drive. It was Jakob and Ivan from Denmark, in NZ on a hunting trip and keen to share lots of stories, beer, wine, and whiskey. In true red-neck style, we even went on a possum hunting mission after dinner!

We stayed at the hut for two more nights, and spent our days hiking in the area. The first was a mission up to the Dingle Burn ridge line with an absolutely STUNNING summit. It’s impossible to capture, with words, how stunning, exciting, joyous, and maybe even terrifying it feels to stand among hard, black peaks rocketing skyward and covered in fierce, blowing snow. WOOOOOOO!!! We also got to witness nature in action as a hawk ruthlessly hunted a hare in the gusty breeze. First they were above us, and then the hare blasted out of the tussocks RIGHT in front of me in its escape attempt!

taken from half way up the ridgeline!

Our second excursion was up Canyon Creek. New Zealand mountains are SO young compared to the Rockies. As a result, they are (comparatively) un-eroded massive wedges driven straight up out of the earth’s crust. And so hiking in the country is always straight up, straight down, or deep at the bottom of a river valley. We started the day with straight up, and were rewarded grandly for our efforts. Then it was along the river to it’s headwaters in a gorgeous alpine basin crossing glacial till the whole way. The hanging glaciers are one of my favorite parts of New Zealand hiking, and the lack of giardia a second. It’s so nice to be able to drink straight from streams!

Our final night in paradise found us restless with the onset of cabin fever. Too much R&R does exist, apparently. In the morning, in preparation for the Wanaka social scene, we boiled a giant bucket of water on the fire and took hobo-showers on the hut’s front porch. Finally we were off for “home!”

See the Sly Stallone look alike, front porch antics, the Danes, etc. by clicking here.

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