Featured Activities

If you’ve been curious about exploring what the backcountry has to offer in winter, then this blog is your first foot in the proverbial hut door. Local photographer, writer and keen mountain-goer Leon Butler delivers the lowdown.

New Zealand is the home of adventure. It’s a place that encourages you to get outside your comfort zone and explore the wild, none more so than here in Wānaka, a place known worldwide for its raucous mountains and epic routes.

Wānaka is synonymous around the globe with the backcountry community. A relaxed town with a formidable set of mountains combine to make this place a backcountry skier’s idea of paradise. It’s not only the hardiest backcountry fiend that the Wānaka region caters for though, this is a fantastic place to begin your ski touring/hut exploration journey with plenty of rookie and intermediate routes on offer.  

For those who are just starting out, a backcountry hut can be anything from an old tin shed to a lavish building perched on a ridgeline. They offer refuge to weary ski tourers by means of a place to stay, cook up a feed and spin yarns with your friends whilst getting back to basics of life, often in the most beautiful of surroundings.

Collage of 3 photos of skiers in the backcountry

Know before you go

The first port of call for anyone looking to go backcountry is to have the correct safety equipment and knowledge, the mountains are a beautifully grounding place but they are also alive and incredibly dangerous. A transceiver, shovel and probe are the bare minimum to carry with you should the worst happen, with a locator beacon and airbag being next on the list. Just as important as carrying this equipment with you is knowing how to use them if an avalanche were to occur, so book yourself onto an avalanche safety course of which there are many on offer in Wānaka.

The Mountain Safety Council and New Zealand Avalanche Advisory are two websites that are full of up to date information and learning tools. On top of this, don’t forget to pack warm clothes, fluids and food and a good pack of cards!

Man hiking in the snow

First foray into hut life

Beginner ski tourers have a good selection of relatively easy access routes and huts in the Wānaka area.  There’s a mix of DOC owned huts, that require a hut ticket bought through their website, and privately owned huts that need to be booked well in advance and usually cost a little more.

The Pisa range is a great place to start exploring with gentler terrain to ease in the ski legs. Follow the orange markers from the Snow Farm car park for a few hours and you’ll arrive at Kirtle Burn Hut. A small DOC hut, set in the heart of the Pisa range and acts as a great base to explore the area, bring your camping stove and food and soak in the glorious sunset from the deck. A moonlit tour is a must.

The Robrosa Hut is situated in the Northern part of the Pisa Range and offers steeper terrain and a shorter skin from Snow Farm. Owned by Aspiring guides, you can book onto their guided tours and learn from the very best.

For a unique experience then try one of NZ’s Turk Huts. These are upturned water tanks that have been converted into comfy sleeping quarters. Currently there are five around the Crown Range with the Crown Basin Turk being the most easily accessible with many 2-3 hour routes on offer.

Snow Farm at nighttime

Looking to step up your hut adventures?

Intermediate skiers and split borders are unlimited when it comes to overnight missions, it just depends on the level of risk/reward you’re seeking. Black Peak involves a 5 minute helicopter ride from the bottom of Treble Cone, whisking you into some unbelievable terrain. This has to be booked through Aspiring Guides and will include a guide, food and access to their hut, not to mention the incredible skiing that Black Peak has to offer.

For those with more lofty ambitions then the Brewster Hut is one to tick off. Involving a steep bushwhack, a river crossing and 1000m elevation gain to the hut means it’s not for the faint hearted. Usually the hut is a rest stop for reaching Mt Armstrong (below) or the Brewster glacier but equally it can be used as a base for exploring the area and taking in the other worldly sunsets. There is a lot of exposure in this area, however, so be prepared.

The Mahu Whenua Traverse is part of the Mountain Turk Club and has taken inspiration from the famous ski traverse routes of Europe.  This multi-hut trip stretches from Treble Cone to Coronet Peak, taking in some of the region’s stunning backcountry along the way.

Mount Armstrong on with snow topped mountains

Why do it?

Wānaka is a region rich in mountain adventure culture with a myriad of places to explore and people to learn from. And great things happen when humans positively interact with nature, whether that’s physical fitness, achieving goals, promoting positive mental health and wellbeing or simply just a desire to reconnect with the grandeur of mother nature. Wānaka delivers this by the bucketload.  

The backcountry here is raw and unapologetically challenging, leaving you with an enormous sense of achievement and appreciation at the end of a day.  All that’s asked in return is to be respectful and humble towards the mountains and the huts that people have gone to great lengths to build for your enjoyment.

Most importantly, get out there with friends, away from the hassle of modern life and enjoy being a small fish in a very inspiring, mountainous, pond!