Simple Snow Hikes in the Southern Alps

One of the things I miss most about home is the snow.  While we get a handful of days that we see dustings in the Rimutakas from our house, the snow rarely falls here in Welly.

Te Whanganui a Tara and Rimutakas

The last snow to fall in Welly was in 2011 and you can tell from the reaction of the people in this video, it was a very rare event.

While we can find snow a few hours north in the Central Plateau, we like to head south to the Kā Tiritiri-o-te-Moana Southern Alps of Te Wai Pounamu South Island.  This range covers nearly the entire length of the island, separating the Canterbury Region to the East and the West Coast Region (obviously to the west).  These mountains are steep, rugged, glaciated and have significant avalanche hazards in the winter.  Although we have been developing our mountaineering skills since we moved here, when the avy risk is high, we look for some simpler, non mountaineering style hikes.   Two of my favorites are the Bealey Spur in Arthur’s Pass and Kea Point – Sealy Tarns Track to the Mueller Hut in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park.

Bealey Spur – Arthur’s Pass

The Bealey Spur is a 4-6 hour return (depending on snow) located south of Arthur’s Pass Village at the end of Cloudesley Road.  This track is often a dry alternative to the rain soaked hikes near Arthur’s Pass Village.  In the winter, this is a beautiful trek through snow covered beech trees, gently climbing above bush-line through snowfields and views of the Waimakariri River and Bealey River Valleys. In the summer look for red flowering mistletoe near the start of the track.

I can’t remember precisely, but I would say about 1/2 of the hike is within the beech forest.  Although the canopy coverage is thick, there are few sneak peeks of the valley within this forested section.

Once above bush-line, the snow covers the alpine tussocks in a way that makes me feel as if I am walking through a mogul field.

IMG_4487 2.JPG

As you climb higher these snow lumps are windswept, looking more whipped cream.

Here you are treated with panoramic views of the Waimakariri River and Bealey River Valleys.


The track technically ends at the historic Bealey Hut built in 1935 by musterers grazing sheep in the area.  Oddly enough, it was built by one of my coworker’s grandfather, Harry Faulker….small world NZ. The hut is a great place to spend the night.  Although there are no windows, this corrugated iron-clad hut has six mesh bunks on beech pole framing and an open fire with a tin chimney that is essential for keeping warm on the cold mesh bunks in the winter.

While there is technically no track past the hut, the winter snow allows further access without harming any of the alpine vegetation.

The views of the valley really open up here.  Check out the only hiker below…he is just a tiny speck in the expansive landscape.


When a short, wet, mossy filled hike is in order, check out the Devil’s Punchbowl track in Arthur’s Pass Village. This hike crosses the Bealey River and Punchbowl Creek through beech forest.


Warm up with an Irish Coffee in the Village, before heading back down to the Canterbury Plains.  Make sure to make a stop in the town of Springfield for a picture in the pink donut….mmmm donuts!

Kea Point & Sealy Tarns Track – Aoraki Mt Cook NP

I have professed my love for Aoraki Mount Cook several times on this blog…here I go again. This place is magic to me. If you are interested in exploring this park in the winter months without the stress of a mountaineering route, one of the easiest tracks to follow is through the Hooker Valley, see my blog post Campervanning Te Wai Pounamu South Island for more detail.  If you want something a bit more challenging, head up the Kea Point & Sealy Tarns Track to the Mueller Hut.  This route is listed as advanced, but there are no ropes needed for this hike, just crampons and an ice ax.  It has a bit of exposure and some avy risk, so you will need to be familiar with alpine trekking to attempt this in the winter months.


This track begins from either the White Horse Hill car park or the Aoraki Mount Cook Visitor Center.


I personally find the later a nicer hike, as the White Horse Hill requires some road walking. These trails merge not far before Kea Point. It takes between 1-2 hours to reach Kea Point depending on your pace. Kea Point offers a stunning view of Mount Sefton, the Footstool, Hooker Valley, Mueller Glacier Lake, and Aoraki Mount Cook.


There is a bit of back tracking to return to the Sealy Tarns Track leading to Mueller Hut. It takes about 2 hours to reach the hut from here. Plan on a longer trip if the snow is deep.  This section of the track is a real bun burner, zigzagging and climbing steeply up to Sealy Tarns. A series of steps are climbed at lower elevations.  Looking back at Kea Point below provides some perspective of just how quickly this climb gains elevation.

Eventually these steps disappear in the deep snow and it is time to strap on those crampons. Mount Sefton and Mueller Glacier grow closer.


Don’t forget to look back at Hooker Valley as the viewshed grows wider with each step.


At some point, skins would have been a better option because the snow was nearly waist deep.  We follow the skins trail with envy at a snails pace, post holing with every step. Climbs like this make me wonder what drives us to go further, but we always do.


At the tarns, the track turns sharply to the Mueller Hut.  This 28 bunk is considered to offer some of the best views in Aotearoa New Zealand.  With a perfectly framed view of Aoraki Mount Cook, there are no arguments from me on this statement!

Mueller Aoraki.jpg

After six hours of playing in the snow we returned to the Aoraki Mount Cook Village for a quick bite before heading east to Tekapo.  Tekapo is tiny tourist town at the base of Lake Tekapo (of course).  People visit here for views of the turquoise lake, skiing, soaking in the hot springs, and star gazing.  Tekapo is a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve, recognized and protected for possessing an exceptional quality of starry nights.  The stars that evening were brilliant.

Our morning snow hike was equally as beautiful, filled with pink skies and textured snow shining in the sun.

No trip to Tekapo is complete without a stop at The Church of the Good Shepherd, a beautiful stone church situated on the shores of the lake. The light didn’t allow me to capture the craftsmanship of the church’s stonework, but it is indeed impressive.


A little snow hut fun completed our weekend in the big white fluffy stuff.  Until next winter snow, we miss you already!




Categories: New Zealand, Travel

angie campbell

I am an immigrant from the United States living in Wellington, New Zealand. My love affair with landscape, culture, and learning has led to a life filled with travel and academic institutions. Endowed with endless curiosity, I spend a great deal of time philosophizing about anything and everything, but very often pertaining to environmental issues. I should note that I am not formally trained in environmental philosophy, nor do I have the vocabulary competency to pass for someone who has. My writing is a somewhat tongue and cheek.

I am using this blog as a means to work through some of this thinking and to follow my own pathway of inquiry, while providing (hopefully) some meaningful insight of what it is like to live as an American in Aotearoa New Zealand. I am sure at some point there will be some interesting travel photos once I make the leap from iphone to fancy camera.

There is a secondary tab to the this blog spot. Reflections of the Watering Hole is an old blog I started during one of my academic stints studying the social and environmental impacts of oil and natural gas development in the Denver Julesburg Basin in the United States. While some of the information is a bit 'dated' (I started it in 2013), many of the conundrums remain relevant today.

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