Saturday, June 27, 2015

Snow-shoeing Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo never ceases to take my breath away.  Driving up the last rise before dropping into the township always has me anticipating what the lake looks like "this time" - every day is so incredibly different as the lake throws her array of luscious aquamarine blues through to tranquil turquoise's.

The area is a play ground for outdoor enthusiasts with hiking, mountain-biking, climbing, and a wide range of winter pursuits such as skiing, ice skating, ice hockey and curling all on Tekapo's door step; along with all the usual water sports during summer.  It was always a favourite place to walk my dog Lulu in summer and tops my list of "most preferred way to spend a day" - in Tekapo just lapping up the area. I love it.

Today - knowing there had been monumental amounts of snow recently - I decided to put my snow shoes to good use.  I got mine in USA where snow-shoeing is an incredibly popular winter pursuit, particularly for women.  In winter it is not uncommon to see groups of women heading out into the snow with their snow shoes on (a little like the walking groups we see here in new Zealand).
They even have snow-shoeing races which are a big deal; people actually run in these things! 

Snow-shoeing offers a fantastic workout when coupled with trekking poles - definitely a must have if hitting hilly terrain.  Anywhere that is able to be hiked  can be covered in snow shoes, in fact
snow-showing is more versatile in some ways as it allows you to cover uneven terrain particularly when there is a decent cover of snow.

Today in Tekapo snow certainly was not lacking.  I thought I had died and gone to heaven and furthermore, I did not see another person the entire time I was out snow-showing my usual hiking circuit! Bliss!
The snow was virgin powder and the area looked  A M A Z I N G !!

It would have been perfect today also for skinning in touring ski's or fat-biking; I have never seen it so stunning.

The circuit I hike begins in Tekapo village by the stone church and heads south along the lake front before heading along the track towards the ski area direction.  Crossing the road soon after the carpark (about 200-300m along this road) brings you into a forest chock-full of tracks and trails. 
This is a multi-use area, predominantly for hiking and mountain-biking, but I think it is a potential snow-shoeing, skinning and fat-biking Mecca. The area is well marked with information panels dotted throughout but I still managed to get a little lost due to dramatic changes the snow brought to the usually familiar environment.  The tracks here are contained within the forest, but there is a continuation available across the main road south into the area known as Cowan's Hill.   It is marked and sign-posted quite clearly.  From here there are many options to bring you back into Tekapo.

With the area caked in snow, it was heavy going and a little slower to complete the circuit than usual and by the time I had completed it, I had painful blisters on my heels - my feet not used to the shoes I had bought in USA specifically to snow shoe in.  Snow shoe specific footwear tends to be very stiff with a solid almost rigid flat sole, a covered toe area to keep these essential phalanges warm and usually nowhere for snow to sneak in over the top of the shoe. They are certainly not comfortable for hiking! There is a technique to snow-shoeing and it pays to keep ones wits dialled in as it is easy to trip over the front of the shoes if they dig into the snow; I was reminded of this today at a point where I had drifted into a dreamy rhythm, listening to the "thwack thwack thwack" of the rear of the shoes as they connected with the snow ... suddenly I was nose over toes and swallowing snow.
All in all snow-shoeing allows access to all your favourite hiking spots that are susceptible to snow cover in winter.  They are a fantastic investment  in your fitness and a wonderful way to enjoy the beauty of changing landscape created by snow cover.

 Snow shoes are slowly making their presence known in New Zealand but it may be difficult to track a pair down. I am not sure if they are a regular feature of mountain equipment stores in NZ yet so it may be necessary to order online.  I found this company who are distributing snow-shoes in New Zealand, MSR Snow Equipment:

It is important to get the right snow shoe for your weight and also for what you intend to do on them (short hikes, long hikes .. running).  I have
old-school snow shoes (they are several seasons old), but they do the trick. The difference between these though and the later technology, is newer snow shoes are narrower and lighter (considering it's not likely they will get a hammering in NZ from use, I am not in a rush to replace them yet). Trekking poles I feel are essential as they not only help establish a rhythm but they also help maintain stability on uneven terrain.  A good stiffer style of hiking shoe (rather than boots) is recommended for footwear (although the snow depth may determine whether or not shoes over boots are used and gaiters may even be required).  Clothing that can be layered such as icebreaker merino wear is ideal and I like to wear pants that allow plenty of movement, warmth and a bit of waterproofing.

So if you think that winter means your hikes are on hold when the snow comes, consider snow shoeing; it's fun, it's a little more mindful than going for a hike (I find), and it's an excellent work-out.

Alpine Recreation in Tekapo offer snow-shoeing treks for people who are keen to have a go before investing in the gear.
Check out their website here:

And in Queenstown (another Mecca for this type of activity) winter sport company Independent Mountain Guides also run snow-shoeing trips.
Check out their website here:

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