Steep White – More kiwi than a flat white.
Steep White Hut is higher, more toasty and has a better 360-degree view than your average alpine log cabin. In Mid-October 2014 we ventured to this epic part of New Zealand which stands 1800 metres above sea level and is situated deep in hobbit country near Glenorchy, in the deep south of New Zealand’s southern alps.
Steep White Hut came to fruition through pure passion by self-confessed true ‘snow people’, custodians Dan and Christine Kelly.
En route to Steep White Hut, Dan shared some wise words that were once passed down to him from a friend in regards to him building his utopia miles away from civilisation. He said, “If you have a business plan, you will fail. Instead, do what excites you”. His words rung true through the passion evident in Steep White.
Dan is not one to conform to any normality. I was quick to realise this when we met at a local Queenstown cafe for lunch. As I ordered, I asked Dan if he was also eating. He replied, “The short answer is no”.
Dan, sick and tired of over-consumption by the western world, has spent the past two years living off only one meal per day. Yep! Only dinner for “dinner-time” Dan is at dinner time. He was clearly the best person on earth for this job.
Access to Steep White is via helicopter. The lodge is 5.4 metres wide and fits eight bunk beds, although no groups bigger than five people can book the hut out. It even has a log burner fire that keeps the place cosy enough to sleep in your undies (Dan did just that). The only problem is it is a little nippy if you need to go to the toilet in the middle of the night as there is a precarious icy path that needs to be navigated to reach relief.
Minutes after arrival at the dome-shaped hut, we made our way to the peak of Mount Larkins (2200 metres above sea level). Even Gandalf would be impressed with a horizon of this scale and splendour. The view that graced our vision, as we poked our heads up over the back of the ridge towards Lake Wakatipu, is something that any word in the English language struggles to give justice to. It was Incredible.
We spotted a jump location that kept us amused for the golden hour, which (being October) was around 8 pm. Being able to ride until sunset is one of the many perks that come with sleeping on-site. All part of the Steep White experience.
The area surrounding Steep White has more than its fair share of vertical terrain. On the final day, we decided to scare the hell out of ourselves and make our way to the summit of ‘Mount Alaska’. It’s hard to describe the feeling of being at the top of a narrow chute, especially one that you can’t see the exit of properly. I was first to drop down the vertical cliff face and I seriously had no idea where the chute turned. It looked like I was going to fly off the middle section of the mountain and into the middle of nowhere. I got on the radio and relentlessly hounded the camera crew for help with the route down. They did a mighty fine job too. The feeling of terror and uncertainty I experienced on my way down the mountain was juxtaposed by what I felt at the bottom, as I came screaming out of the chute at 80kph. There is no better way to feel like you have conquered the mountains by scaring yourself a little and living to tell the tale.
It was an experience that was authentically kiwi, truly breathtaking, unique and can only really be explained by experience. If a helicopter ride to a hidden hut atop New Zealand’s Southern Alps is on your bucket list, then tick this one off!
Words: Nick Hyne