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The freshly installed Turk at Motatapu/Polnoon Saddle. Looking north with the Polnoon Burn reaching to the peaks of Craigroyston and Sharks Tooth Peak in the distance. The high peak to the left of the Turk is Centaur Peaks.

Final 2 Turks installed

This is a bit of a long story – but it was a long and significant day… Thursday the 3rd September was another important milestone in the Mahu Whenua traverse project. Two teams flew from Wanaka, collected some lifting gear from Motatapu/Polnoon saddle and continued down into the Polnoon with the plan of bagging the gravel required to anchor the saddle Turk.

When I jumped out the helicopter I found the riverbed to be frozen like concrete. We continued up stream and found the next gravel beach to be no better so flew further to where the sun was shining. The gravel was still frozen but fortunately some hacking with a mattock revealed a situation more like a marshmallow with loose gravel under a frozen crust. Eleven of us spent a jovial hour bagging gravel into 40kg sacks that were then loaded into four one ton fadges and prepared for lifting.

While this was happening a third helicopter flew a group from Coronet Station to Deep Creek/Coronet Creek Saddle site to complete the foundation (left there in August, newsletter #25). This helicopter (a B3) then picked up a Turk and flew it 35km to the Motatapu/Polnoon Saddle site where myself and team were waiting. This being installation number 5 the team has been getting quite slick and less then a minute of hovering was required to get the Turk within 10mm of its desired position.

Bagging 4 tons of gravel in the Polnoon Burn. The Motatapu/Polnoon Saddle is in the centre of the photo.

The B3 then proceeded to lift 3 one-ton loads of gravel to the site and also an additional ton of gravel to the Mt Hyde site. My reason for the additional load was the Turk base didn’t appear to be as full as the engineer required even though the weight recorded when we flew in the gravel indicated otherwise. I was unsure whether there were still gravel bags hidden under the snow so thought it prudent while we had a suitable helicopter onsite to fly in more.

After an hour fitting the floor, water tank and other accessories at the Motatapu/Polnoon Turk, it was complete. The team then split, with one group going to the Mount Hyde site and fitting the floor while the other team joined the third team at Deep Creek/Coronet Saddle. While all this was happening the B3 picked up a group of ski tourers from the Mt Saint Just Turk who found they were running out of time to complete the traverse (more on that later).

At 1pm the B3 returned with the final Turk of the traverse. The team was getting sharper as the day progressed and this time we got the Turk positioned within 3mm of ideal – basically the thickness of the marker line. Another load of gravel was flown in but because we were lacking a few tools (they were at the Mt Hyde site) we couldn’t get the floor fitted – hence this Turk is not ready for use.

Deep Creek/Coronet Saddle Turk in place. Vanguard Peak to the left with its Turk out of sight on the other side of the ridge.

The third team flew out in the B3 while my team and the second team met up at the Mt Saint Just site where we fitted the floor, water tank stands and art
work. Feeling that we still had some energy left we flew to Vanguard and moved in the rest of the gravel. Unfortunately it was still frozen in lumps so we couldn’t fit the floor.If reading all that makes you feel exhausted imagine what it is like trying to organise it all! Overall the day went very well and we hit 95% of my goals. There were some tools I should have duplicated but the day evolved slightly differently to my plan, which in retrospect was probably better.

Vanguard Peak site. The club is very lucky to have several helicopter owning members who are happy to donate their skills and machines.

What next

  • Another visit to finalise the Turk installations. Hopefully this will be done in the next week or so.
  • Zane and I are trying to finalise membership lists so we can formalise things.
  • The booking system is almost ready to go.
  • Get an AGM organised for late October (required because we formed the club in the 2019/20 tax year).

With the exception of the last one all these are dependent on me. Hopefully by the end of next week we will have these things complete.


Until we get the booking system organised, if you want to reserve some dates please email

About the Mahu Whenua Traverse in winter

Don’t underestimate it! The terrain is not extreme but it is still serious and remote so simple problems can turn into a big headache. The good news is there is cell phone reception from many of the high points along the ridge.

The team I mentioned above were quite capable and the traverse was within their abilities, however one of them encountered gear problems which combined with a storm and limited fuel resulted in an inability to complete the traverse. They called from Mt Hyde to discuss exiting down to the the Skippers Road which could work in summer but is a real problem in winter when the road is passable only by serious 4WD vehicles. Because we were flying about the next day I offered them a back flight for an additional donation to the club.

It does raise a concern for me since I don’t want to be the cause of any SAR headaches! The cost of a helicopter recovery is around $1000 so discuss with your team before planning your adventure.

Erik Bradshaw  (President)
7 September 2020

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