Hiking Mount Holdsworth: My First (but not last!) Overnight Hike

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When I was a kid, I went camping with my Girl Scout troop. We spent a weekend in cabins, making crafts and reading Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (that drawing of a woman with a half-skeletal face still haunts me). I remember it rained most of the weekend and the food was bad; it didn’t do much to encourage anyone’s love for the Great Outdoors. My only other camping experience until recently was a few nights my sister and I spent in a tent in the backyard–or, when the weather was bad, in a tent in the living room. Camping was never something I was specifically not interested in, but it wasn’t something I went out of my way to do until recently either. Why sleep in a sleeping bag if you could sleep in a bed?

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Living in the Pacific Northwest, I came to enjoy and look forward to camping. We camped in Tofino on Vancouver Island, in Olympic National Park, in Levenworth, WA, and in Banff. Camping was a chance to enjoy the beauty of nature close-up, as well as saving heaps of money on accomodations. Naturally, when Steve and I took our road trip camping became second nature, although we usually slept in our van rather than in a tent.
Still, as much camping and hiking as I’ve done the past few years, there was still one experience I’d yet to have until this past weekend: an overnight hike. In the USA and Canada, overnight hikes almost always mean backcountry camping, and the idea of bringing pack, tent, food, and everything standing between me and a bad time was daunting to me.

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However, in New Zealand, the popular hiking trails often have huts along the way, making an overnight hike a little less intimidating. The huts are designed to keep out the wind and rain (to an extent), provide toilets and potable water for your journey, and some even have cooking facilities in the form of gas burners so you don’t have to bring your camp stove and canisters.
A few friends are spending a number of days on the Milford Track in a few weeks, so in preparation for them and in anticipation for us of wanting to do an extended hike in the future, we spend the Wellington Anniversary weekend at Mount Holdsworth in the Tararua range. Twelve of us set off in total, with only a few having done an overnight hike before (although one member of our group had walked the entirety of the South Island, so she was well-experienced in this sort of excursion).

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I packed up my trusty North Face backpack with two extra pairs of yoga pants, two spare shirts, clean underwear and socks, pajamas, a sleeping bag, a raincoat, a warm jacket, two water bottles, cutlery and a cool collapsing bowl, food (including plenty of snacks), wipes, paper towels, and plenty of sunscreen.
We aimed for an early start, leaving Wellington just after 9am and beginning the hike around noon. The hike up to Powell hut took about four and a half hours including breaks, ascending some 1200 metres through the bush and up the mountain.

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When we reached the hut, we joined 15+ others (the 28-person hut was completely booked due to it being a holiday weekend, and there were even a few people who had to kip on the kitchen floor) in stashing our bags next to the bunks, which were outfitted with “mattresses” resembling gymnastics tumbling mats.
Fearing that the weather would be bad and the visibility low on our return hike the next day, a few of us decided to head to the summit a few kilometres further beyond the hut. High winds pushed against us and tried to knock us off course, but we made it to the top… and then almost immediately turned back because seriously, those winds were no joke.

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Sleeping in the hut was pretty much like sleeping in a hostel: folks bumbling around, turning on lights, generally being inconsiderate. Luckily, after eight kilometres of hiking with 10-15kg packs weighing us down, we were all pretty exhausted and ready to sleep anyway.
The next morning our group woke at various times between 5:30am and 7am, and we were packed up and ready to go by 9. This was important because our second day of hiking was much longer than the first; around 18 kilometres, so at least twice as long as Day One. However, the views made up for it with the first few hours of the day a trek back up to the summit and then along the ridgeline, above the trees and nearly level with the clouds.

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Unfortunately, one member of our party hurt her ankle, and she and her partner took a shorter route down the mountain, leaving us as a group of ten to follow the Jumbo route. After following the ridges, this path took us back into the bush and into a forest that was straight out of Lord of the Rings.

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Unlike the trail up to the Powell hut, which featured a number of overly large stairs but which was otherwise fairly easy to traverse, the Jumbo path was much more wild and we had to make our way carefully over a mess of tree roots and uneven ground, descending a steep slope for several hours until we finally reached the riverbed. Soaking our feet in the icy cold water at the bottom was a welcome relief.

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We reached the parking lot at 6pm, nine hours after we left the Powell hut. We had hiked some 24km, changed 3000m worth of elevation, and had completed our first (for most of us) overnight hike!

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Finishing the Mount Holdsworth trail definitely makes me want to do more overnight treks while I’m here in New Zealand and in the future. However, here are a few things that I learned for next time:
– I’ll need a bigger backpack if I want to go for longer hikes in the future. My North Face bag is only sized as a daypack, so I had to attach my sleeping bag to the outside and I couldn’t carry much more than a weekend’s worth of food. If I plan to go for longer, I’ll probably invest in a bigger Osprey bag.

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– Speaking of food, I brought a can of Mexican-style beans and some rice for dinner, and next time I’d probably pack food that doesn’t come in a tin. It saves space and it’s easier to carry the rubbish afterward if it’s a bag or packet that can be crumpled up. I’d also bring a few sweet snacks like M&Ms or other candies; they’re a great treat after a long day.
– Bring a tripod. Steve gave me a nice tripod for my camera for my birthday last week, and I haven’t got a chance to learn how to use it yet, but next time I go hiking I think it’ll definitely be worth the extra weight to lug along. The landscapes up on Mount Holdsworth were amazing and moments like the sunset could’ve been captured better with a steadier camera. Plus, a tripod is great for group photos (although friendly hikers and selfie skills did the trick this weekend).

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– Make a checklist. I’ve never been the sort of person to worry too much about packing. I have a pretty good idea of what I need, and if I forget something it’s not the end of the world. Of course, when you’re camping you can’t exactly just pop out to the shop to pick something up. Most of us forgot something that would’ve made our trip easier or better; having a list will help prevent that next time.
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Upside-Down Living

It’s been about a month and a half since Steve and I arrived in New Zealand on our 12-month working holiday visas and moved down to Wellington for the year. We’ve experienced a lot of cool things already—first time in Asia on our way over, first time in the Southern Hemisphere, first summer Christmas—and there are more to come—next week is my first summer birthday, and we’ll be spending it on our first overnight hike. This week our adventures are mostly stymied by rain and job-hunting, but I thought I’d take a break from firing off CVs and share a few of my thoughts on New Zealand so far.

  • Wellington has great local hikes

We’ve been lucky enough to make friends with cars who have been kind enough to take us along to a few trails, and we’re going to look into purchasing a vehicle of our own, but even if you have no access to a car here in Welly, there are still a lot of great hiking options. The closest is Mount Victoria, only a few minutes’ walk from the CBD (and where the hobbits hid from the ringwraiths under a log in The Fellowship of the Ring), but there are numerous other hikes of varying lengths and difficulties only a bus ride away. The photos in this post are from a few of my favourite hikes we’ve been on around Wellington so far.

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The view from up on Mount Vic
  • Flat whites and hokey pokey are amazing

I always thought that flat whites were an Aussie invention, but according to Wikipedia New Zealand claims it as well, so I’m counting it. I’d heard of flat whites before coming to the southern hemisphere, but I’d never tried one and now I’m hooked. It’s like a latte but less milky, a cappuccino but less foamy, the perfect combination to create a delicious coffee. I only had one for the first time about two weeks ago, and I’ve probably had five since. Similarly, hokey pokey is basically honeycomb ice cream, but somehow it’s so much better. There are these little crunch pebbles of honeycomb that sort of pop in your mouth and create a delicious sweet tweet.

  • Getting a response is nice

It’s inevitable: when you’re job hunting, you will get rejected. Not every position is the right fit. Still, even if a job is a reach, there’s nothing more annoying than getting the professional equivalent of being left on “read”. Now, I don’t know if it’s actually a positive of kiwi culture or a negative of other places I’ve gone job-searching, but I’ve already gotten a number of responses—positive and negative—to applications I’ve sent in. Obviously, getting rejected is never fun, but it’s so much nicer to know one way or another rather than wondering whether maybe you’re the ideal candidate but your application accidentally ended up in the spam folder.

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Hiking up to the Brooklyn turbine
  • Summer holidays are actually great

I arrived in Ireland in the middle of October and the Christmas holidays were already in full force. I personally hate hearing holiday tunes or seeing decorations before December, so that was far too early for me, but it was equally weird at first to get to Wellington in December and see almost nothing festive. However, I came to appreciate the holidays happening in the middle of summer—the weather is warm so you’re not stuck at home, students are in the midst of a much larger break from school, and there’s definitely something to be said for a Christmas BBQ. It’s especially nice when you have great friends whose family takes you in for the day.

  • For a small city, there’s so much to do

Wellington has 200,000 fewer people than Seattle and Vancouver—and when you include the metro populations both cities’ populations are closer to the entire population of New Zealand than they are to its capitol. I grew up in a small town and have lived in small cities, but I’ve gotten used to living in bustling metropolises so I was curious what it would be like to move back to a smaller city. If I had any worry that there wouldn’t be enough to do, my fears were immediately allayed when we checked into our hostel and found a summer night market going on outside. There are countless meetups, events, and other activities happening throughout the city. I can’t wait to explore even more!

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We actually cycled to Red Rocks, but I’m going to come back and walk it because biking over the soft sand and rocks was hard af
  • Sometimes you just have to commit

Ever since I ran a half-marathon in 2016 I’ve been talking about running another. The truth is, I’ve barely gone running at all since that race. Vancouver weather isn’t conducive to runs (super hot summers, super slushy winters) and unsurprisingly, neither is living in a van. I realised when I came over here that I probably wouldn’t start running again unless I actually signed up for a race, so when a friend mentioned Round the Bays I immediately registered. I’m definitely nervous because I had 13 weeks of training from registration to race date for the Vancouver half, and only half that for Round the Bays, but I’m feeling confident and ready to run.

Overall, I’m having an amazing time in Wellington and New Zealand so far, and I can’t wait to see what the next year brings (hopefully a job). I’ll keep you all up to date!