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Em xx

Overnight Hike to Fern Burn Hut - Wanaka

Overnight Hike to Fern Burn Hut - Wanaka

Fern Burn Hut - Sunrise

Fern Burn Hut - Sunrise

New Zealand is full of amazing overnight hikes and the winter snow certainly makes some of the higher mountain huts very attractive. However, hiking in winter without adequate mountain safety skills or winter equipment can be risky. You have to be realistic about which overnight hikes you choose because many mountain huts are often steeped in snow or prone to avalanches, making it difficult and dangerous to access. Reason why I say this, is that we had actually planned on hiking up to Brewster Hut (roughly 1400m altitude) but decided against it in the end because we didn’t feel fully prepared to be hiking hours in possibly hip-deep snow and neither of us were experts in winter mountain safety. 

After a little chat, we decided to settle for the Fern Burn Hut, since the trail would only take us 3-4 hours and it was already midday. With the hut located at an altitude of 700m, we were pretty confident the views would also be quite nice. Verdict? We thought it was beautiful, the hut was cozy and we can highly recommend this track. In this article, you’ll find detailed information about the trail and hut facilities, plus some extra safety info - especially useful for those who might be considering this hike in winter.    


CONTENT:

1. The Hike: Info about the Trail
2. About the Hut: Facilities, Costs, Comfort
3. Extra Info: Safety and What to Bring


1. The Hike: Info about the Trail 

How long is the hike? 

The length of the track is only 7km and on the DOC website, it says 3-4 hours. We actually took our sweet time, had a quite few photo stops and still managed to reach the hut bang on 3hrs. So I would prefer to break it down like this:

  • Fast people: 2.5hrs one way (maybe even 4.5hrs for the return journey)

  • Moderate pace with a few breaks: 3hrs one way

  • Slower pace (families/large groups): 3.5-4hrs one way


Who is it suitable for? 

In short: everyone - from beginners to families with children. 

Long Version: Beginners and non-hikers might find some parts of this track mildly challenging - by this I’m referring to the forest section where you often have to be careful with your footing on the tree roots. It’s not physically challenging or exhausting, just requires a bit of conscious thinking about where to step sometimes. 

As someone who considers myself rather fit and has a lot of hiking experience, I found this track really fun. I enjoyed the varied terrain, having to think about where to put my feet, the constant sound of water flowing nearby and being in the cool shade of the forest. 

If you’re an advanced hiker and prefer something more challenging, the next section from Fern Burn Hut to Highland Creek Hut is much more demanding. You also have the option of completing the entire Motatapu Track (34km over 3-4 days) with the last night at Roses Saddle Hut, before finishing in Macetown

You can find more information about the whole track here: Motatapu Track

What is the terrain like? 

Part 1: Open Farmland
Starts out super flat, this section is the shortest. Be prepared for lots of poop!

Part 2: Forest Conservation Area 
The trail takes you through a beautiful lush green forest all the way up the river stream, with a few (super mini) waterfalls. Probably also the trickiest section as you really have to watch your footing at times - tree branches, stream crossings, muddy sections. 

Part 3: Open Mountain Valley
Once past the tree line, you are exposed on the tussock covered mountain valley, where you weave around, up and down, until you reach the hut. Saw a mama goat and her baby. Got some fantastic views of the neighbouring mountains. There was no snow the entire way to the hut (this was in the last week of August 2019). 


Extra Info about the Terrain:

  • Hut Altitude is at 700m. It’s not just a simple steady climb up to 700m but rather a series of mild ups and downs, so you actually cover much more altitude. 

  • The track is very well marked with orange triangles and poles always visible. The trail path itself is also pretty visible, although sometimes fainter in the forests due to the piles of leaves.

  • Good, sturdy hiking boots are a must! The forest section can get be particularly slippery at times, especially during and after periods of rain.  

2. About the Hut: Facilities, Costs, Comfort


What facilities can I find at the hut? 

  • Beds: 12 mattresses in bunk bed style

  • Water Supply: big tank supplying clean-ish rain water… best to boil before drinking

  • Toilet: outdoor, long-drop style with a view

  • Dining table: large wooden table with adequate seating

  • Double glazed windows(!!): am I dreaming??!


What does the hut not have?

  • No fireplace/firewood: so bring extra layers to keep warm

  • No cooking facilities of any kind: bring your own gas, cookers, utensils, bowls, food, cups etc.

  • No lights or candles: bring your own headlamp

  • No bedding, just mattress: bring your own sleeping bags, thermal liners and pillows

  • No toilet paper: always bring toilet paper! Imagine if we hadn’t! No, wait - don’t imagine that…


How much does the hut cost?

  • Cost: $5 per night / per adult. (Free - if you have a Backcountry Hut Pass from DOC)

  • Payment: Buy hut tickets/passes at many Info or DOC Visitor Centres. There is an honesty box for you drop it in when you get there.

  • DOC Warden: There was no warden present and assume that’s the case for winter - unsure about the summer months, but most likely they will check in on the hut more frequently during peak season.

  • Bookings: Not Required - first come, first served.

  • You can find more info on the official DOC website here: Fern Burn Hut

Our experience staying at the Fern Burn Hut in Winter:

  • Warmth: As a group of three females, we expected to be really cold, even if we planned on huddling up and spooning each other. But on the contrary, we were all so toasty warm that I even had to take layers off - no jokes, I was actually sweating! I definitely attribute that to the double glazed windows, but also to Tessa for putting her emergency blanket over us like an extra sheet! Best tip I could give you is to bring an emergency blanket (which are super cheap) because that really helped keep our insulation in - so much so, that the top of our sleeping bags even got damp from all the humidity!

  • Possums: If you’ve never seen a possum but would really like to see one… you are guaranteed to see their bushy butts here. Totally unafraid, jumping about the hut, leaving trails of poop and creeping you out with those massive red eyes.

  • Water supply: the water definitely looks clean but to stay on the safe side, we would still recommend you to boil your water before drinking or cooking with it. You never know where those possums may have been…

  • Overall: we found the hut to be super cozy and really nicely constructed. So thoughtful with the double glazing, really, I still can’t get over that (if you have ever lived in a NZ house, you will know why it’s such a big deal hah).

3. Extra Info: Safety and What to Bring

What to watch out for? 

Keep an eye out for the weather forecast and try avoid doing this track during or after periods of heavy rain as it can be susceptible to flooding and landslides. Some of the steep sections can become extremely muddy, slippery and dangerous - both in the forest and out on the exposed mountain valley.

Safety Essentials to pack:

  • first aid kit

  • blister bandaids

  • emergency blanket

  • head torch + Extra batteries

  • external battery for your phones

  • matches and lighters

  • extra layers of warm clothes

  • warm sleeping bag with a minimum of 0 deg average

  • rubbish bags - preferably compostable

  • toilet paper!!

How to get to the Trail? 

Firstly, you will need a car because it’s about a 20min drive from Wanaka. Just past Glendhu Bay, you will take a left along Motatapu Road and you follow the long gravel/dirt road all the way to the end, where you will reach the car park and trail signs.

Here is a map of where the carpark is:

 

Here is a terrain map of where the hut is located:

 

Have you done the track to the Fern Burn Hut before? What did you think of it? Are there some other great overnight hikes you can recommend in the Wanaka/Mt Aspiring area? Let me know in the comments below! :)


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