Edmund Hillary New Zealand Merino
CLARE HALL-TAYLOR

HAUNTED HUTS & OFF-ROAD CYCLING

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One of New Zealand’s best kept secrets, certainly outside of Aotearoa, are the Great Rides – 22 off-road cycle trails through some of the world’s most stunning scenery.  They all connect via road routes so it’s possible to cycle from Cape Reina, the northern tip of the country, to Bluff, the most southerly point.  What makes the rides so special is the fact that, despite varied and rugged terrain, they are accessible to all ages and abilities particularly with the growing popularity of e-bikes.

As winter descends and the avalanche risk rises, late autumn is the last chance to experience trails in the Southern Alps. With this is mind, our co-founder (and husband) Mike Hall-Taylor and I set off in May to conquer the Alps 2 Ocean trail, a majestic 306km journey that runs from our highest mountain, past glaciers, great lakes and rivers to the Pacific Ocean. This also gave us the opportunity to put our 100% New Zealand merino base-layers to the test.

 

We begin at the famous Hermitage Hotel at Aoraki (Mt Cook) – also the beginning of Edmund Hillary’s climbing career.  On Ed’s first visit he reached the summit of Mt Olliver, a small peak on the Sealy Range above the Hermitage, where he exclaimed that it was the ‘happiest day I have ever spent’.  So it was with some emotion that we explored his famous haunting ground, the Hooker Valley, Tasman Glacier and the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre.

At Mt Cook we were encouraged to visit the reputedly haunted Hooker Hut, a mountain hut that has recently been restored and returned to the National Park after being washed away by storms in the 1990s.  The hut is hidden away and we were advised to follow an unmarked trail through the tussock and snowgrass and that “if you have a sense of adventure and a wildly poetic imagination you will find it”.  Thankfully, as we were in broad daylight, we didn’t experience the sounds of the ghostly mountaineer reported by many a visitor to the original hut.

New Zealand’s South Island enjoys some of the most extreme weather in the country, so when our helicopter trip to the start over the River Jollie was cancelled we were disappointed but not surprised.  During that first day we were introduced to glacier-carved valleys, turquoise rivers and stunning autumn colours accompanied by some drizzle but mild conditions.

Over the next six days, conditions ranged from early morning frosts at minus 3°C, driving rain through to warm autumn afternoons at 12 degrees.  So what do you bring to get through NZ’s ‘four seasons in one day’?  Layering up baselayers, midlayers, an insulator vest and windproof jacket is ideal.  Our Edmund Hillary NZ merino Kiwi-made crew neck tops and leggings enabled us to maintain a comfortable body temperature through varying levels of activity.  The beauty of merino is it is both breathable and insulating.  The Drury knit down the spine of the Routeburn, Empress and Plateau Hut tops absorbs sweat down the back and then allows it to evaporate so you stay relatively dry.  As soon as you stop for a break you cool down but the merino keeps you warm.

 

The locals along the trail have been amazingly hospitable, despite the fact that they’ve clearly had a very difficult 12 months. The good news is that, now Covid restrictions are lifted, Kiwis are getting out and supporting local tourism  - and after this trail you have to wonder why you’d actually leave to find anything better. Seeing only four other cyclists on a 68 km leg around lakes, rivers, dams with clear blue skies then local pinot noir and a warm meal at the end of the day is a wonderful way to see the country.

The South island is one of the most beautiful places on earth and experiencing it by bike means you can reach areas almost untouched.  Hopefully New Zealand will be open to more overseas visitors soon, so we can share this majestic landscape with people from around the world who are searching for adventure, tranquillity and a warm welcome

For more information on the Alp2Ocean Cycle Trail go to:

https://www.alps2ocean.com/

https://cyclejourneys.co.nz

https://www.hermitage.co.nz/

 

 

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