Heading up towards Crown Basin Turk 4 days before the lock-down. The big snow fall is yet to arrive (which then melted during lock-down)

What has been happening

This newsletter has been a long time in the making. The recent lockdown has put me in procrastination mode where it is difficult to make plans and set direction when you don’t know when you can adventure into the wild.

Before lock down a couple of groups made it along the traverse starting at Treble Cone and exiting at Vanguard Peak. Both parties were absolutely fizzing and as I explain below in “adventurer or skier” the joy comes more from being in the mountains and pushing into the unknown than the perfect ski conditions.

I also had a small adventure where I biked up the Arrow from home with skis on my back, unfortunately (or maybe stupidly) I left at 3pm so it got dark a bit past Macetown and I spent the next 5 hours navigating by torch light to Saint Just Turk (difficult to find in the dark). The next day I skied to Mt Hyde Turk for breakfast then returned to Saint Just for lunch having scoped the ideal route. On the way home it got dark again and I discovered that a mountain bike, dim torch, flooded river and skis on your back make for a difficult and exciting experience.

I did also venture to the top of Sale peak at level 3 as an “extended walk”. The snow level is at 1300 metres with spring corn conditions.

Booking process / Refunds / Next year’s booking process

How to manage the booking process on the Mahu Whenua Traverse was always going to be an experiment and a work in progress. There are some things that have worked well such as making bookings span a week so people can choose the best weather window. One of the things I didn’t foresee is that about 50% of the bookings were by people who booked and joined at the same time. Having new members isn’t entirely bad but when their booking displaces existing members who have put in a lot of money and effort getting the project off the ground it is a problem. Next year the booking process will be much more structured, and you will need to be a member at the time of booking.

The price for these new members was $300 (minimum) to join the club and $100 for the Turk nights for the traverse. As one person pointed out the total price is cheaper than a flight to Tasman Saddle, which brings me to refunds of which there are three causes: lack of snow, the weather and Covid.

Covid is simple, yes a refund applies. The other two are not so simple and before winter the committee discussed framing it that if the ski areas were open and the avalanche risk was below ‘considerable’ there was no refund.

Prior to Covid, one party cancelled because of lack of snow but if you look at the video linked below there was plenty for a good time – not the perfect winter but when is anything perfect. Weather is similar, it is a combination of skill and judgement. When Covid lockdown started, the weather looked terrible on Metvuw.com and both parties cancelled but as it turns out 4 of the 7 days were good for travel (as per photo above), and the new snow was quite stable. If you started on Sunday then endured a two day storm you would have been skiing powder while the rest of the country was in lockdown!

My concern with this is that people who do not have the judgement to do the traverse are displacing people who do. When they cancel, turks are empty and people have missed out. In addition, some of the new members mentioned above have asked whether they can get their full $400 back – the answer is no, you can’t un-join the club.

The club would rather people re-book next year. We will refund the $100 but we ask that such people give others first go next year. Also, please remember this is a club and not a business, it is about what you contribute.

Also, several people have donated the $100 to the club. This is much appreciated and will go to a good cause.

New bookings

Over the winter we’ve had weekly booking slots – these revert to normal nightly bookings per turk as of 15th September. We’re contemplating making more use of weekly booking slots over the summer as well, as it provides flexibility to work around weather for those who want to complete the whole traverse. However it also then makes it difficult to plan shorter overnight/weekend trips. We may end up alternating these two models – there’s further discussion to be had and we’ll keep you informed.

For those that were booked in over lockdown and missed their slot, I’ll be organising a meeting to discuss rescheduling for anyone that is keen to try and fit their trip in this winter/spring.


Steve Hewland’s great little video of the traverse (3 minutes). Worth watching. Evidence you don’t need a lot of snow to have a good time!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZzgWalt_10

Club equipment

The club owns a SpotX locator beacon and is shortly going to purchase another. We also own 2 lightweight ‘bothy bag’ emergency shelters. There is an expectation from the club that each party will carry a SpotX and bothy bag so that we know where groups are at any point in time, and you have backup shelter in case of emergencies. These can be picked up and dropped off at my place in Arrowtown (92 Centennial Ave), or I can courier them.

Quite a few people have Spot/Inreach trackers but we want groups to also take the club’s SpotX because:
•    It’s part of our health and safety plan
•    The club can track where groups are and open up bookings for un-used Turks
•    Messages can be sent between groups to check whether the group in front/behind are moving and the expected Turk is empty
•    People can organise self-evacuation without the need for a faux SAR callout

Land status

There are some questions that typically don’t come to me directly, I guess because people don’t want to embarrass themselves by asking. One such question is “why do I need to be a member of the club when I could just walk in and use the Turks”. There are a couple of dimensions to this question but the foundation issue is that the Turks are not on public land like DOC huts. Instead they are on a Crown Pastoral Lease – a high country station in other words. This title gives the property manager full legal control over who accesses the land in the same way that you have on your private property.

Mahu Whenua covenants which accommodates the 6 Turks is made up of 4 high country stations (Coronet, Soho, Glencoe and Motatapu) and is managed by Soho Properties. Their primary motivation is the ecological restoration of the land in the Mahu Whenua Covenants, their secondary goal is to encourage public access so people appreciate and value the land.

The key thing to grasp is that having the Turks there is a privilege and not a right and as a club we need to recognise and embrace the goals of the Mahu Whenua Covenants. As a club member you can help to ensure others understand these underlying principles.

The Turks are unlocked. We (the Club and Soho Properties) would like it to stay that way but if access and usage is not being respected they can be locked.

SpotX locator beacon and a Bothy Bag

Projects – toilets, trapping

Now I have got the stern stuff out the way I can report from a recent meeting with Soho Properties that they think the Turks are great and are very supportive. A few important points came up in the meeting:

  • They are supportive of setting up more Turks and/or doubling up on a few (more on this below)
  • I offered for the club to build and install 3-4 long-drop toilets in high use areas in the Mahu Whenua such as at Green Gates Hut (historic), Stoles Flat up the Shotover and the junction of Coronet Creek and the Arrow. Such projects are good opportunities for people to get together and do something of value. I’ll organise this as a summer project.
  • We discussed running a trapping line between Mt Hyde and Vanguard to reduce predation on native species such as kea, lizards, weta and other cool creatures.
  • They want to keep mountain bike access to the designated trails. Mountain bikes can do a lot of damage to fragile alpine environments. I know some adventurous souls have tried biking from Treble Cone to Advance Peak and also along to Vanguard. The general conclusion is that walking is just as fast – so do the right thing and don’t bother trying!


More Turks ?

This winter the Turks booked out within a couple of weeks (some concerns about this below) and I am confident that many more would have booked if it were possible. To increase capacity we could double up some of the Turks, especially the northern Polnoon Saddle and Mt Hyde Turks which act as “pinch points” because of the more difficult terrain.

From a club perspective we have enough money to build two more and a good supply of willing and prospective members keen. Soho Properties is supportive and I think extending the Resource/LINZ/QEII consents would not be too onerous.

My concern is that the summer of 2021/22 might be too soon. We have had a dysfunctional winter and I’m not sure how much summer traffic the traverse will receive. I am planning to have “end of winter” meetings in Queenstown, Wanaka and on Zoom sessions for those out of town to discuss this.

Looking south from above the Mt Hyde Turk on a stormy day in mid July. It’s complex country that requires an understanding of how wind, snow and terrain interact.

Skier or Adventurer

I recently helped lead the back country ski workshop at the Remarkables Rock and Ice festival. On the Friday the weather and snow was perfect, everybody was happy. On Saturday the weather was terrible; a frigid blizzard, the snow was good when you could see it in the flat light, everybody was happy. For the Sunday I proposed to the group: either we can go touring over the back of Cardrona and spend all day on our skis or we can walk for a couple of hours, visit a Turk, do a bit of skiing then walk all the way back down again – 70% walking, 30% skiing but it will be an adventure. My proposal reminded me of Shackleton’s “MEN WANTED for hazardous journey, small wages, bitterly cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful…”

To my surprise everybody chose the adventure with carrying skis. We left the road on the Crown Terrace at 8am, got to the Turk at 11:15 where 15 of us squeezed in, had lunch, drank hot chocolate and told stories. Like any good group, friendships were made and renewed. We then climbed and skied off Mt Sale and got back to the cars at 3pm.

It made me reflect on the difference between adventurers and skiers. The former is about going somewhere new, trying the unknown, finding the good bits in what others might consider hard work. The people who would jump at the opportunity to join Shackleton. For skiers it is about the snow, and all the other stuff like carrying skis up through tussock is a negative and a shortcoming.

Unknown payment

We have a family membership from a “F M Turner” in the bank but we don’t have any of your details. Please email treasurer@mountainturk.nz so we can get your details.

That is all for now!

Erik Bradshaw
7 September 2021