Here’s a weekend trip that holds a candle (albeit flickering) to the beauty of the views and serenity of Mueller Hut. Brewster Hut is in Mount Aspiring National Park, and rather than staring across to Mt Cook you wake up in the shadow of Mt Brewster. From Brewster Hut, it is possible (and pretty straightforward with the right gear, knowledge, and experience) to climb to the top of Mt Armstrong on which the hut lies. Even without, the trek to Brewster Hut is rewarding and wonderful – the South Island in all its youthful mountain glory!
Where: Mount Aspiring National Park, South Island, New Zealand
Closest City: Queenstown (2h), Wanaka (1h), Haast (1h), nearest major airport is Christchurch, NZ (6h drive) or Dunedin (4h drive)
When: Summer through Autumn (December through beginning of April)
Length: 5km each way (6-8hr return)
Hiking Trip Base Cost: $15/night at Brewster Hut + ~$10/day for food = ~$40 for two days and one night
Additional Variable Costs: any new hiking gear, a flight, accommodation off the trail, gas/a rental car to get to the trail, etc.
Mt Armstrong Itinerary and Route
Day 1: Wanaka to Brewster Hut via Brewster Track (5km)
A quick drive from Wanaka (1hr) or any campground in the area will get you started earlier than you’ll need to make the 5km trek on the Brewster Track. Though it may seem short, be warned that every step of that 5km goes UP. Take your time as you weave through mossy forest and then reach the treeline. The last kilometre of walking is exciting and incredible as you follow a ridge on Mt Armstrong to the hut.
The hut has just 12 bunks, but sits across from Mt Brewster (which is the snow-covered peak on the right in the above photo). Although it looks to be the same height, Mt Brewster stands over 500m higher than the summit on the left.
With just 12 bunks, Brewster Hut is cozy and fun with a group of friends! Its porch is also the perfect spot to enjoy a beer as the sun goes down.
Brewster Hut to Mt Armstrong Summit to Wanaka (2h+ climb to summit, 5km back)
In the morning, with the proper gear and knowledge (if going in the winter or shoulder season: avalanche training, ice picks, crampons, shovel, etc.) it is pretty straightforward to make it to the top of Mt Armstrong. There are numerous cairns along the way to guide you – just make sure you keep your line and view of the hut below in check.
Of course, when you make it to the top, the 360° views are unparalleled. It is a quick and easy route back down from the summit all the way to the parking lot after a weekend of awesomeness and climbing.
Roses n Thorns
Rose (the best part)
New skills! Before summiting Mt Armstrong, I had never used an ice pick or crampons before. Let me tell you how FUN it is. After trudging through the ice and snow in boots, putting the crampons on made hiking and climbing a game. A fun and interesting game. Where would you put your pick in? Now where would your feet go? How fast can you climb? How deep is the snow?
Thorn (the worst or most hilarious part)
Another pseudo-thorn. I guess since I’d never really been to the absolute top of any notable summit, I didn’t really know what to expect. Maybe it was a particularly cold or blustery day, but I think the most disappointing thing was not being able to stay at the top to enjoy the unbelievable views in every direction for longer. Is this a common problem? Likely. In any case, my only regret is not enduring the cold and wind long enough to relish in the moment at the summit and stay a while to drink it up.
Bud (the new friend)
I joined this trip on a whim by myself as well. It was a group of students from the University Tramping Club, with two trip leaders who had HEAPS more knowledge and experience than I. The two leaders, locals of course, took it upon themselves to teach all of us unwitting but seriously keen North American and European students a thing or two about avalanche safety and mountaineering. This free knowledge and valuable wisdom is something I’ll carry for the rest of my life, and am eternally grateful for the Kiwis who were so happy to share. Thanks heaps, Jeremy and Chris – you are the real MVPs.
Gear and Food List
Mt Armstrong is another easy trip to pack for, since it’s just one night and you will stay in a hut. Thus, no need to bring a tent or sleeping mat – nice! Just bring your sleeping bag and some camp clothes along with food and your cookset. As noted, however, if you are planning on making the extra trek up to the summit of Mt Armstrong, you will need ice climbing gear and training: a shovel, crampons, ice pick, helmet, etc.
Again, New Zealand grocery stores are great for all things camping and backpacking. You will have no issue whatsoever finding good eats for this trip. As a weekend trip, you can bring whatever you want without worrying about weight or anything going bad.
Breakfast: Oats, granola and powdered milk, and/or granola bars
Lunch: Snacks throughout the day including canned tuna, more granola bars, and peanut butter on bread. You could even do perishables such as deli meats and cheeses – yum!
Dinner: Cook up a big pot of chilli to share with everyone! Load it up with perishables, enjoying the fact that you can bring them on those rare occasions you can afford it.
Make it Happen
- Understand the Brewster Track and pick a time of year you want to go.
- Choose your itinerary. You may choose to stay in any of the nearby towns, so just figure out where they are and how to get there! Of course, as another short trip, this is ideally part of a grand New Zealand adventure.
- Once that is locked in, book your flights
- If flying, fly into Christchurch and rent a car. It’s nearly impossible to get a bus without hitchiking, which you can do using your own judgement.
- Book your spot in the Brewster Hut ($15)
- The fun begins! Get your (minimal) gear in order, and get ready to experience the rugged and untouched Westland of the South Island
- Get outside and do the thing
What’s the last trip you did that pushed your limits and taught you new skills? It’s so hard to just get out there and try it, but it is incredibly rewarding once you do. That said, if you’re looking for less of a challenge but incredible views, hike to Mueller Hut!