Western Rise in the Wild with Jamie Gallant
When it comes to protecting wild places for future generations, New Zealand is pretty damn impressive. It was one of the earliest adopters of the modern conservation movement, thanks largely to the foresight of people like Horonuku Te Heuheu Tūkino. Respect for natural spaces has a long history in New Zealand culture. The Maori called it Tapu, and its concept of denoting sanctity and respect for people, natural resources, and the environment is central to traditional society. Today New Zealand has 13 national parks, and nearly 30% of the country is conserved.
We caught up with Jamie Gallant, a filmmaker, and photographer based in NewZealand. Jamie and his wife, Nat, put Western Rise performance apparel to the test on their recent trip to Mount Aspiring National Park on the South Island Island of New Zealand. Mount Aspiring National Park is one of the largest National Parks on the South Island. Ranging over 3,562 km it is a complex of impressively glaciated mountain scenery and is preserved as a place of Tapu.
New Zealand has an amazing range of breathtaking land conserved and available for public access. Each of these places of Tapu is different. For those seeking to immerse themselves into New Zealand's vast wildernesses often, the biggest challenge is deciding how in the name of Maui to fit it all in? My answer, is simple, keeping an open mind, and an open schedule. Being willing to go own the road less traveled may just lead you on an even greater adventure.
If Mount Aspiring National Park is on your bucket list, and I strongly suggest that it should be, there are a few basics to not miss.
Jamie: In the StrongCore Merino T
Where To Stay:
A great jumping off point, into the region is Wanaka. It’s the sort of place that oozes a unique adventure travel attitude and becomes the focus of a lot of “If I won the lottery I’d…” discussions. In peak season between October and February, it's a good idea to book accommodation well in advance. Air BnB’s are scattered throughout town and there is excellent lakeside camping available at Glendhu Bay.
Even in the summer months, it is a good idea to carry some warmer layers for a cool evening especially if you are camping. Wool is a staple in Ne Zealand and the DryWeight Merino Henley is a perfect layer that transitions through the cooler hours keeping you warm and smelling good even on extended trips like ours.
Nat playing around at Lake Wakatipu in the Women's DryWeight Merino Henley
Where To Eat:
The town of Wanaka is also your best chance you fuel up on something that doesn’t require being re-hydrated before your foray into the back-country.
- Big Fig- is not to be missed while you are there. They specialize in “slow cooked food served fast”, and you essentially have three choices when you walk in – small plate, medium plate, or big plate. They prepare offerings like Moroccan lamb, citrus grilled chicken, spiced sweet potato, sautéed green beans and fresh salads. The menu changes nightly, encouraging repeat visits (we pulled three in a row). Herbivores, don’t worry, they have you covered here as well.
- Burrito Craft- If you’re in a hurry to hit the trails, pop by this food truck for cheap and cheerful tacos and burritos worth standing around in the cold for.
- Urban Grind- Morning coffee options are plentiful; I like the flat white from Urban Grind, but just follow your nose.
Jamie skipping rocks along the Shotover River in the At Slim Pants and Quilted Jacket
From Wanaka, it’s about an hour drive into Mount Aspiring National Park. Rural roads in New Zealand are notoriously fickle but, trust me, getting there is half the fun! Watch out for local cattle traffic!
The scenic drive continues along the banks of the Matukituki River before you hit your first of 10 or so river ford crossings. Understandably, this makes some people a little nervous, but a few early 90s Corollas were parked up at the trail-head and if they can make it, you can make it. The road ends at Raspberry Creek Car Park and your journey into the park officially begins.
On the road to Aspiring National Park, local traffic was heavy
What Not to Miss:
Mount Aspiring is one of those places that makes you feel really, really small and insignificant. It’s a place where, around each corner and each rise, there is a view that softly kisses you, generating butterflies, and then punches you square in the gut, knocking you breathless.
Jamie heading to Rob Roy Glacier, Aspiring National Park.
Rob Roy Track- This is one of the best hikes in the area! Leaving from the car park, this 10km trek weaves through stunning native bush, past cascading waterfalls, and ends at the base of a glacier flanked by the mighty Southern Alps. This is what you came for, so pop a squat and take it all in (While we were there we witnessed an avalanche in the distance… spooky).
Gillespie Pass - For those with an appetite for something longer and more technical, this 3-4 day advanced hut-to-hut circuit, is considered by many to be one of the best treks in New Zealand. It should only be attempted by those with experience in alpine environments, especially outside of summer.
Crucible Lake- This side hike off Gillespie Pass is a hidden gem, which many forgo in favor of the warm fire promised at the next hut.
Merino wool in its natural habitat, Aspiring National Park
We arrived in early spring and the Gillespie Pass was still out of the cards for us due to the risk of avalanche. We were keen to spend a night in one of the remote huts regardless. As fate would have it, we befriended a local bush pilot who, in typical Kiwi style, happily flew us, our sleeping bags and a few bottles of wine, out to Siberia Hut for the night.
Landing strip and another breathtaking view in Mt. Aspiring
It was a breathtaking flight and the highlight of our journey into this sacred place. As we strafed Mount Aspiring in the plane, I thought to myself that it must be moments like these that give this park its name, because it’s the imprints it leaves on us that keeps us aspiring for more.
Bio: Jamie Gallant is an American filmmaker, photographer and writer based in New Zealand. He is the Co-founder of the Bureau of Explorers, once sailed a wooden boat through the Norwegian Arctic and has an affinity for breakfast burritos.
Intoduction by Western Rise. Jamie's blog has been edited for clarity.