Where: Kaikoura, New Zealand
What’s involved: This is a 15km hike return from the Mt Fyffe car park to the Mt Fyffe summit (1600 meters). New Zealand Department of Conservations recommends taking 8 hours to complete the entire round trip (5 hours to the summit from the car park and 3 hours to return back). The hike follows a clear well-worn 4WD gravel road until the hut (3.5 hours). From the Hut the final 1.5 hour climb is clearly marked and easy to follow.
Two-thirds of the way up (1100 meters) there is an 8 person hut where hikers are welcome to stay overnight. There are 8 bunk beds, a drop toilet and a stove. The hut is served on a first come first serve basis and hikers are requested to purchase one Standard Hut Ticket for each person staying ($5 for an adult, $2.50 for 11-17 year olds, free for 0-10 year olds) which can be deposited in the honesty box within the hut.
Alternatively you can purchase a 6 or 12 month Backcountry Hut pass which provides accommodation on a number of trails throughout New Zealand. You can purchase these passes in Kathmandu and Macpac stores as well as YHA Hostels, I-Sites and DOC visitor centres nationwide. During the summer the hut is very popular so consider bringing a tent if you are relying on staying the night.
The Hike: The climb involves a relentless 4.5 hour hike up a continuous steep gradient – and I do mean continuous. There are maybe 4 level parts in these 4.5 hours consisting of about 50 meters each. It is an unforgiving uphill hike and around each corner it seemed like there was no end.
By the time I reached the hut everything hurt and I could clearly see the appeal of breaking the climb into a 2 day hike. The hut was basic but well maintained and clean, although the drop toilet wasn’t the nicest I’ve used and also bizarrely has a glass pane on the door meaning anyone can look in at you while you go! There is some chopped wood and an axe in the storage shed next door to use for a fire to keep warm. I can imagine in the winter on a cold night it is extremely cold up and snowy up here so if you’re going to stay overnight be sure to bring enough warm clothing.
From the hut the summit is a further 1.5 hour steep climb upwards. The final 100 meters (or the 100 meters from hell as I fondly remember them) are steep, rocky and unforgiving. From the top you will get views of the North Island, Banks Peninsula, Kowhai Hut and Kaikoura valley. But was it worth it?
The Verdict: We got to the summit in 4.5 hours, had an hour break at the top and then spent a further 3 hours descending. This hike firmly divided me and Richie. He enjoyed it, thought it was challenging but worth the views at the top, would happily recommend it to others and has even said he would complete it again. Me on the other hand? If my only child was at the top of that mountain and I needed to hike up to rescue them – well I hope they can pitch a tent and light a fire because mama ain’t ever going back up this mountain again.
Seriously though I could barely walk by the time I got down. By the time I reached the summit my legs were exhausted so to have to turn around and go down a continuous steep descent for 3 hours made me (literally) cry with pain in my hips, calves and knees by the end. Overall I found this hike completely unenjoyable both on the way up and the way down because it simply exceeded my fitness level. In comparison Richie found it challenging but ultimately rewarding and enjoyable. If we had camped overnight in the hut on the way up I may be giving this a different review but alas we did not and my legs still hurt.
Grunt Factor: 9/10 – I may have gotten to the summit and back but I grunted, moaned and cried in the process (Richie on the other hand thinks this is a firm 7.5/10 but he didn’t cry so what does he know….)