Alpine climbing in New Zealand is likely completely different to other mountain areas that you may have visited. Without the easy logistics of European mountains, NZ offers an authentic mountaineering experience.
Our ‘mountain resort’ towns are situated away from the high alpine areas as seen in Europe, and we lack the access infrastructure, such as gondolas and cable cars. Travelling into the high mountains usually requires long days walking or the use of helicopters. Our huts are relatively basic compared to the European options, so teams also need to carry sleeping bags, cooking equipment, fuel and food. This makes every trip a mini expedition!
The Southern Alps of New Zealand are renowned for heavy glaciation. Surrounded by large expanses of ocean in all directions, NZ experiences a maritime climate. This glaciation is the result of high levels of precipitation, especially on the West Coast of the South Island, where the mountains rise up from sea level to over 3000m in less than 30km and form a formidable impediment to any onshore, moisture laden winds.
The climate is categorised by fast moving processions of weather systems. During times of the year we do experience long settled periods of fine weather, but at other times it it is very variable. The upshot of this is that when the weather is bad, it will likely change for the better soon, or visa versa. Being able to work around fast moving weather systems or being in position to make the most of short clearances can be crucial. Sitting out the bad weather in a NZ mountain hut, an experience in itself, makes the summit that much more satisfying and earnt.
Although many people arrive with their sights on a particular mountain, in New Zealand, flexibility is key and it is important to have plans for a number of objectives to be able to work around the weather and conditions. There are the classic accents such as Mt Aspiring and Aoraki / Mount Cook, but there are endless other not as well known peaks offering fantastic alpine experiences. The good news is, regardless of the weather, there is always some part of the South Island where something is possible.