It’s something I’ve been saying for a year and a half now: one of the best parts of living in Wanaka is also one of the biggest downfalls. It has provided me abundant opportunity to see and meet new faces from all over the world, creating invaluable global friendships but on the flip side, I’m constantly finding new best friends who are often quick to leave the place I call home.
I found myself in this familiar situation once again this February as I was getting ready for the disbandment of my most recent friend group, Tanguy, Pierre, Levi, and Hannah.
As a celebratory finale, we decided to spend one of our last weekends hiking to Brewster Hut in the Makarora region of Mt. Aspiring National Park. I had been to this hut once before a year ago but ran into inclement weather so I was excited to get back to the hut with a clear forecast.
We left Wanaka around 10 am and had an easy drive up past Haast Pass. The track starts at the popular Fantail Falls car park and after a mellow river crossing, the path climbs up through the bush. The path is well marked but steep and after an hour and a half, we popped out of the bush and got our first view of the highway below us. We spent another 30 minutes climbing one of my favorite ridges to the picturesque Brewster Hut, sitting precariously on a flat ledge overlooking the valley below.
We were the first to arrive at the 12 bunk hut and after claiming our beds, we spent the afternoon sunbathing and exploring. After a quick running-centered photo shoot for Mons Royale, we were treated to a perfect sunset with no wind. Tanguy and Pierre were headed for Mount Brewster the next morning and the non-mountaineers of the group (Levi, Hannah and I) were aiming to see the sunrise from Mount Armstrong, a fairly easy peak directly above the hut. The Brewster boys were up well before dawn and we followed shortly behind leaving the hut around 5:25 am.
After talking to some of the other hikers, we estimated it would take no longer than an hour and a half to reach the summit but we failed to account for completely losing the trail and taking the wrong path to the top. The path from the hut to the summit is marked with cairns which are visible in the daylight but not so much before sunrise. We headed straight up the mountain and opted for the southwest ridge which led us across some sketchy scrambling to the summit. I missed the summit sunrise by about 10 minutes but was still able to see some excellent morning light from the ridge. We all reached the summit and enjoyed the views for about 10 minutes before the cold set in. We vaguely looked over to Brewster to see if we could spot the boys, assuming they must be getting close to the summit by now. Little did we know they had also taken a wrong turn and had to backtrack significantly after a few hours of sketchy climbing. At sunrise, they were way below the ridge and sadly missed out on the morning light.
Levi, who is much more of a morning person than I am, took some extra time on the summit to scope out the other face of the peak while Hannah and I got a head start back to the hut.
After a few hours of walking with no sign of Levi, we reached the hut and saw Levi sitting outside with his camera. Baffled and frankly a little pissed that he had somehow beaten us down the mountain, we shouted down demands at him to put the water on for coffee, which he kindly obliged. When we got to the hut, he explained the other side of the mountain not only had visible cairns but a well-trodden path leading directly to the hut. He had been waiting for us for at least 20 minutes.
We spotted the Brewster team descending the mountain around 1 pm. Sadly, conditions were not good enough to summit and they had to turn around 50 meters from the top but they seemed mostly pleased with an epic day on the mountain. For more on their adventure, click here.
After refueling with food, we packed up and headed back towards Wanaka where we indulged in burgers and beers and reminisced on our last mission together for a while. It was a bittersweet trip but it made me so grateful to live in a place that allows me to meet such kindred spirits in the first place.
You can check out the video footage from our trip shot and edited by the very talented Tanguy Locqueneux.
Photo contributions by Levi Harrell at www.ofallnationsphotography and Tanguy Locqueneux.=