I’ve been eager to get back to the Earnslaw Burn Glacier for some time now. I solo camped there last year despite a late departure and extreme difficulty locating the trailhead. In my last trip, I intended to locate the rock bivvy found on the topo map but I was running out of daylight and decided to pitch my tent in the tussock valley instead.
This trip, with Hannah and Tanguy by my side, I was determined to find and enjoy the bivvy. The trail head starts behind a locked gate on Lover’s Leap Road on the way to Paradise. The actual tread head sign is not highly visible from the road but once you’re on the right path, the trail is well marked and fairly easy. The trail follows the beech forest for about 7kms before popping out into the Earnslaw Burn. DOC estimates 4-6 hours each way for the track and with our overnight packs, we reached the trail end in about 3.5 hours.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect with the bivvy. This would be my first actual bivvy experience in New Zealand and I found out while on the trail that the photos I sent to the group before we departed were actually of the wrong bivvy. I was second guessing my planning and was worried the bivvy wouldn’t even be big enough for all three of us to sleep under. Hannah was already formulating Plan B and Plan C for when the bivvy turned out to be terrible.
At the end of the track, we were able to easily identify the bivvy just across the river from us. We crossed the river and I led the way to the rock, completely ready to accept defeat and disappointment but when I reached the bivvy, I was totally surprised.
The bivvy was not only large enough for 10 + people, but it was completely decked out to maximize comfort. Some gritty, ambitious person had actually built a table and bed platform and had even dragged six mattresses up there. We had a well-protected fire pit, a clothes line, a handful of pots and pans hanging from the roof and some pet mice who made themselves known right away. We set out immediately to gather firewood and enjoyed a perfectly clear night telling stories around the campfire. We woke up just after sunrise completely warm in the bivvy despite finding some ice in the river.
The goal for the day was to make it to the Earnslaw glacier. The glacier is mostly hanging and not accessible from the south but there is a small piece of the glacier that can be accessed near the Gilkison falls. The walk to the glacier is flat, following the river bed, but ended up being longer than I anticipated. After an hour and a half, we reached the bottom of the glacier. Tanguy and I opted to stay high on the track while Hannah dropped down into the valley. Tanguy and I were greeted by a flock of 13 alpine keas but we eventually got stuck and had to backtrack down to the bottom to access the glacier the same way Hannah had. We made a quick lunch and enjoyed the company of returned keas before starting the long walk back to the car.