A Great Bunch of Folk and the Inaugural High Country Helihike

1 November 2020

It’s been a while since we have been anywhere to write about, having being locked up in NZ since March.

Sylvia headed off to Singapore in early October to spend some time with her team there. I have taken the opportunity to head down and visit our good friends, Ross and Helen, at Glentanner Station, near Mount Cook in the Mackenzie Country in the South Island. Having being born not far from here it is a special place and I believe has the best scenery in the world.

Glentanner Station has been, for many years, running, in conjunction with The Helicopter Line, scenic flights, heliskiing and flying hunters into the hills to sustain the farm and preserve this beautiful place. It also operates a campground with cabins, and tent and caravan sites.

Today is the first of, what I am sure will be many, Heli-walks. Ross has invited me along for the ride as there was a spare seat on the Helo.

We meet the boat people, as they call themselves after taking a trip up the Murray River in Australia a couple of years ago. All from Timaru, they had read about this venture in the local newspaper.

Surrounded by mountains on the edge of the river flats, with blue skies  and clouds around Aoraki Mt Cook, the setting for this little adventure is stunning.

After a safety briefing from Diago, the load master, the first group climbs aboard and the helo lifts off. After watching them land on the hill and a 15-minute wait, the helo is back and we climb aboard, heading east out over the braided Tasman River, which feeds the ground-powdered water from the glaciers into lake Pukaki, giving it its beautiful turquoise blue colour. We head over Mt Cook station towards the Jolly River Valley before turning south and over-looking the vast Tekapo Military Training area with Lake Tekapo in the distance, Heading back west past the top of the lake we circle around and land in the tussock where the first group meets us.

The helo departs and Ross gathers us together and tells us a little about the the land we are standing on. At 1000m above sea level we are on a moraine wall created by a glacier that was here around 14 thousand years ago. Just below us is one of many tarns that exist up here, which is fed by a spring and drains off down into the Glentanner stream below. He also explained that at this altitude english grasses don’t grow and that this area and to the west is not running sheep although hares and thar (a Himalayan mountain goat) do feed around here. When the fence was built up here in the early 1960s they strapped the posts in bundles onto a piper cub and flew them up dropping them into the tarns.

As we strolled south along the track Ross told us a little about the farm and the privilege his family feels being the guardians of  the beautiful land and the efforts they go to to keep it free of wilding pines. His father came here in 1957 as a farm manager and when the lake level was raised in 1974 and some 7000 acres was lost from the farm the opportunity came up to buy the station, which they did. Ross’s father realised pretty quickly that it was going to be very had to survive on just farming and saw an opportunity to develop a tourist business which they have built over the past 45 years.

We crossed a little stream, where Ross said he had sat with a Japanese man and drank whisky added to the pure mountain water. A number of the boat people emptied their water bottles and filled then with this sacred liquid.

Ross explained that the many predator traps we saw along the way are part of an effort to make some 300,000 hectares predator free. This includes some 14 high country stations and crown land and is all being privately funded by some very generous benefactors.

The walk is easy, following a farm track along the mostly flat moraine wall with stunning views of Mount Cook and the surrounding mountains to the north, and with sweeping views to the east across the tussock  plains and to the south over the stunning blue lake Pukaki.

The group, mainly from a farming background, is really keen to hear from Ross how they farm the 6000 Merino sheep. The Station originally some 45,000 acres of pastoral lease land running back into the mountains to the west, recently went through the tenure review process where the high country went back to the crown and the lowland became freehold to Ross and his family, who now has his two sons Mark and George running the farms.

The track starts to head down hill as we look over the farm buildings and the camp ground and tourist hub. There is also a small airport with a runway long enough to land small jets. This was built in the 80s by an airline that no longer exists and is now part of Glentanner.

After enjoying great views of the steep hills up and on the south side of the twin streams we reached a couple of huts built by the government in the 1960’s. We stopped and had a cup of tea and some very nice cake baked by Helen. Ross explained how the huts had been built to research the grasses and flora in the area. There is another hut up at about 1500m that was also used for this purpose –  we caught a glimpse of the roof as we walked by. Over the years I have stayed in both these huts while hunting thar in the surrounding hills.

The next leg was all gently down hill back to the tourist centre. As we crossed over a sty Ross pointed out a large rock where he is going to resurrect a plaque to George Thompson, who was the second owner of the station and disappeared when crossing the lake in a whaling boat in 1885. The plaque was originally erected by the lake and removed before the lake was raised for the first time in 1950. It disappeared for many years and was recently returned to the station. Ross has had it restored.

Arriving back at the tourist centre after a comfortable four hour stroll the captain of the boat people thanked Ross for his excellent guidance along the way. It had indeed been an excellent afternoon out taking in some interesting history while enjoying some of the worlds best scenery.



13 thoughts on “A Great Bunch of Folk and the Inaugural High Country Helihike

  1. Roger James says:

    Thanks Angela. We really enjoyed the company of you all. Goos luck with your future travels

  2. Angela McIlraith says:

    Roger, as a member of the Boat people crew, I enjoyed your story of our day in the mountains. It was great meeting you and hearing of your connection to the area and family. The heli- hike was great fun, the scenery spectacular and the organisation of the trip by Ross and Helen was spot on. Ross’s commentary as we hiked out was very interesting and informative and the yummy afternoon tea most welcome. Thanks to everyone involved.

  3. Roger James says:

    Will do sorry I missed you last time

  4. Jenny Smith says:

    Hi Roger,
    Great to hear from you again. Looks like beautiful country. we are looking to do some big walks next year. If your ever up this way, give us a yell

  5. Roger James says:

    Bugger does not sound good. Hope the digger is ok!!!!

  6. Alister says:

    great blog once again – I have been planning another high country trek – but had a set back – two ruptured cruciate ligaments etc but survived being hit by a 9m power pole that was being moved along the ground by a 20 tonne digger

  7. Molly says:

    Rog, this makes us remember the first time Dilys drove us up Mt Cook…still looks most majestic in such magnificent country.

  8. Travis Rolph says:

    We loved our stay at Glen Tanner! I’m glad to see you’re out and about Roger! Hopefully we can catch up soon.

  9. Roger James says:

    Hey Mate thanks. yes its great to be back in real NZ

  10. tk says:

    Welcome back, I was wondering when the next adventures of Roger and Sylvia were coming out. Beautiful country

  11. Rosie says:

    Great to see you back in print again Roger. Wonderful photos as usual, and lovely to see our own beautiful country featuring in your travels.

  12. Roger James says:

    One day when you checking out the crib in Wanaka you can bring the tribe and take a drive up.
    Details on the Glentanner web site.

  13. Jo-Anne Hitchcock says:

    stunning scenery, like a postcard! Looks like a lot of fun, I’d like to do that one day

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