Last week of 2016 in New Zealand

Some rain today so a chance to catch up on sleep at last – it’s been a pretty hectic first week of my summer holiday in New Zealand.

Shadows in the Shotover

Shadows in the Shotover

Christmas in the Shotover

Main Shotover flight

Mt Coronet

Mt Coronet

Arriving in Queenstown on Christmas Eve, our hopeful spirits were dampened when we saw the grey skies on Christmas morning. Abandoning the Mt Crichton hike and fly, we went for the easy Coronet option. I suggested we wait on top of the hill to be ready, and indeed it cleared a little earlier than we were prepared for. I spent far too long in dribbles of lift around the skifield, before joining Louis down the ridge.



I then made a mistake and slope landed while he flew to Wanaka. After some mucking around (ground handling up the slope, accidentally taking off, then landing to take off in a more orderly fashion before realising my solar panel had dropped off, etc), I just dove into the valley really low and was unduly rewarded with a great climb back up to hill height (of which I was barely able to exceed all day). From there I drifted over a col into the Shotover. The southwest winds aloft made it difficult to get up but it was easy enough soaring up the Shiel burn and then, after a kea showed me how to do it, dive into the lee from just ten metres or so above the col. I landed in the Polnoon with my eye on a snow gully that would take me into the Matukituki.

Just one small set of bluffs to bypass – the Shotover and its tricks. Hanging onto to crumbly rock and insecure snow grass as I swung my backpack and frontpack out over the void to avoid the overhanging outcrops – it was a great relief to get on the right side of the sloping sedimentary layers. I reached the col west of Shark’s Tooth just before sunset and enjoyed a final glide to a campsite high above the Matukituki valley.

Boxing day in the Matukituki

Main flight past Rob Roy, sled launch video

Morning sled with Rob Roy views

Morning sled with Rob Roy views

The next day I enjoyed a morning sled ride towards Shotover saddle, soaring the southwest before landing in the lee. I later had to throw a small rock at a sock stealing kea as I prepared to launch in thermic gusts, which were soon replaced by wind over the back. Finally I got off and went to soar the spurs beside the Rob Roy glacier. Things got tiring in the East Matukituki and when it clagged up I landed, walking up to relaunch beneath Whare Kea lodge as the sun re-emerged with a boost from the invading norwester. A brief flight took me to a short distance from Treble Cone. Within minutes a pick up was arranged over the radio and after a beer in Wanaka I returned with Abe to Queenstown. We picked up Louis car and Kinga and Chris and had homemade burgers for dinner – more fun than waiting in a line at Fergburger and dare I say it just as tasty.

Sock stealing kea

Sock stealing kea

Front day

When the morning rain had passed we went for a hike part way up Mt Crichton. Kinga and Chris were not able to find the track on their own, and despite being there last year I myself walked straight past it. There’s an old burr on the rise between the bridge and Sam Summers hut…

Rendezvous with Mum, Louis, and Rick and Leanne the Canadian expats xalpers living in Japan, then my brother David and Sophie, not to mention a paragliding barbecue, before a late pack in Glenorchy with an early start in mind.

28th Dec, false stop


Earnslaw from NW spur of Temple

Earnslaw from NW spur of Temple

Slept through the alarm and Mum woke me, so I only had time to get to the NW spur of Temple peak by 9am (2:10′ no stopping). Luckily enough it was working anyway and I thermalled up to the summit of Stair peak. Going on glide I reconsidered things with a 30knot RASP forecast and 88km/h ground speed on trim. Not wanting to see that mix down, and struggling to stay ahead of the next spur, I spiralled down and landed and went for a walk. Then it didn’t seem so windy after all, and I wondered how the others had fared (they had a big day). In any case I positioned myself for the next day.

29th Dec, Stair peak to the Jollie (182km)

The plan worked brilliantly. An early start just as soon as the shade from adjacent snow showers moved away. There were some small flurries on launch too and at times in the first hour flying I copped it in the eyes. A most enjoyable run down the Shotover and down the East Matuk, getting a bit stuck when I made the crossing, with clouds still only at mountain height.

Based on the clouds I decided to push a bit further north into the Siberia valley, getting 7m/s sink for my troubles and again being a little delayed (and almost forced to land) before finding the good place, right by the Gillespie pass track.

The next hurdle was a climb on the windy spur above Cameron creek, after which I resumed my favoured practice of diving over cols at close range and when in doubt jumping into the lee. From Huxley I opted to stay south for a very long crossing onto the spur beside the Jollie at around 6pm. Seeing the cloud backed up against the Mackenzie I was in two minds, whether to maximise distance or to position myself at Jamieson’s pass for a triangle the following day. In the end I tried to extend the flight but was unable to connect, landing in the Jollie.

30th Dec, stable day, flight back to Hawea (almost)

Track (main flight)

I’d seen the inversion the previous night over Pukaki and small clouds at launch height of 5000′ in the morning. It did not break so I landed for a picnic with views of Mt Sefton. Across the valley Bryan and Glen were circling around Sealy Tarns, gradually getting up and away into the Dobson. I followed when I thought I had a good chance of making the crossing. At the end of the Ben Ohau’s I had to decide between the security of the Omarama / Lindis pass road (as Bryan and Glen did), and flying off into the sunset. I could not have been happier about leaving the hitchhiking behind. The Barrier range experience gave me an appetite for more and I followed the Dingle burn and Timaru creek, mostly at ridge height. It was most enjoyable flying and it was amazing to see Aspiring (and Tutoko) in the distance, with Mt Cook getting smaller and smaller, and to think I’d just been there. As the evening light faded the last spur I had to quickly hike over, finally packing up at 8:56pm.

New years eve, norwester

The norwester rustled my biv at 4:10am and prompted me to walk along the ridge for a 5:30am flight over Lake Hawea. A visit to Bryan and Kat’s, and Joel’s, then I went over the Crown range with Rick and Leanne. They were keen to get out and go for a walk so I suggested Crichton, arriving at the carpark at 3pm after the Queenstown traffic experience. Not discouraged by the ascent, after a quick dip in Lake Isobel we continued a really enjoyable traverse towards Mt Henley, knowing we’d be back late. It was a good thing Louis didn’t wait for us (we rang at around 9pm), as the scrub bashing descent dragged on for hours and midnight ticked over before we reached the car – a multi-year day walk! We arrived to Swanny’s party a little late and it was a good 24 hours out of the bivvy sack for me…


About sharemyjoys

Nick Neynens
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