Searching For Snow (Part One) – Manuka Hut

“On a Mish” #81 Searching For Snow (Part One). Manuka Hut. Hakatere Conservation Park. 2.7.2018. When you break down snow sports they don’t sound like much fun. Thanks to New Zealand’s low altitudes the snow (normally) isn’t the white light fluffy power found in other parts of the world. Everything is either wet or working on it. There’s a reason why nothing grows where snow constantly goes. But for some reason its appeal is so compelling that the odd person will fight to survive in the frozen frigid environment…

Going heli-skiing really changed my view of ski fields. Most ski fields in Aotearoa can be covered in a matter of minutes (depending on your abilities). But with the help of a helicopter your legs will begin to tire before the run has been completed. But along with the big runs comes a big cost and a job in New Zealand tourism probably won’t have you heli-skiing every second weekend. Due to the high cost of a helicopter I go searching for snow using the two helicopters attached to my hips!

We don’t see too many storms with heavy snowfalls down to low levels these days, so you must be ready to go on the rare occasions that it does. This does mean putting yourself in the place the snow will fall before it begins its journey from cloud to ground.

2018 remained snowless until well into July. Unfortunately this is a regular occurrence we all have to get used to these days. Skiing late May like my parents used to do is a past well behind us now.

I saw a potential for a break in the snow drought with a southerly front forecast to hit the Canterbury High Country. This is my normal winter adventure playground so I was looking forward to combining my love for hiking with my love for snowboarding. It would be like a heli-skiing trip without the cost, or so I thought.

With my excitement building for a mish into the snow-covered mountains I loaded all my gear in the car and headed west across the Canterbury Plains.

My plan was to climb and play in the Mt Somers Range, so I headed for Castle Ridge Station and the Lake Emily / Manuka Hut Track. This is also part of the Te Araroa Trail and at times can see many footsteps.

As I hiked along the very muddy track near the station I could see that above me the storm clouds were brewing and it looked dark, dramatic and almost intimidating enough to turn me around. Luckily this is the sort of stuff I live for so I pushed on. The pre-storm atmosphere was an incredible thing to be amongst, and as cool as it was I did hope I could get to the hut before the impending rain.

It didn’t take long to cover the short distance to Manuka Hut and as I rounded a corner and got my first view of my temporary home it began to rain. Then, as I crossed the Stour River the rain increased… a lot.

I had to put up with about three minutes of very heavy rain before arriving at the empty hut. Soaked and ready for a sit down, I was happy to see that the hut’s firewood had not only been topped up, but there was also a fire ready to go with dry wood and paper set up ready to light. Within a matter of moments I was feeling the warmth of a roaring fire.

Manuka Hut was an excellent place to be ‘trapped’ during a storm and having the place to myself meant I could spread out my wet gear so it would dry. While the evening rolled on I enjoyed the warmth of the fire while the pitter-patter of rain tapped a beat on the hut’s tin roof….

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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