Symphony on Skis

Symphony on

Elke on West Hoe Pass
Elke on West Hoe Pass

This is a ski traverse of the Southern Alps from east to west via the following route: Lake Tekapo – Godley Valley – Liebig Range – Murchison Glacier – Tasman Saddle – Tasman Glacier – Rudolph Glacier – Graham Saddle (crossing the Main Divide) – Franz Josef Glacier – Fox Glacier.

It takes about 4 days including travelling time, but you should allow for weather contingency days.

It’s a bit like “New Zealand’s Haute Route” and was pioneered by company founder Gottlieb Braun-Elwert together with Franz Waibl and Daniel Frey in a single day in 1985. Their Symphony on Skis 1985 record, 18.5 hours from Rankin Hut in the Godley Valley to Chancellor Hut, was broken by Grant Guise, Javi (Spain) and Lorenzo (Italy) in just under 13 hours on 5 September 2009. The modern party travelled with ultra-lite ski touring gear and just day packs, whereas the original party carried full packs with sleeping bags, cookers, food for Chancellor Hut etc.

Day 1: From Lake Tekapo use 4WD to access the Godley River Valley at the top of Lake Tekapo. The owner of Tailor-Made Backpackers in Tekapo, Michael Midgely (phone 03 6806700) might be willing to drive you up the Godley River. It’s probably easiest to drive up the eastern side, where there’s public access, rather than through Godley Peaks Station. Rankin Hut on Godley Peaks Station was destroyed by tree fall in 2011, so it’s best to plan to camp on the western side of the Godley River and start from there, but you’ll need to ask permission from Godley Peaks if you’re going to camp on their land.

You need an early start so that you are skinning up Rutherford Stream by first daylight. The first pass is Armadillo Saddle. It’s a long ascent before you can ski down to the Murchison Glacier then up around the corner to Murchison Hut.

Day 2: Head up the Murchison Headwall to Tasman Saddle. You can now look forward to one of New Zealand’s longest ski runs – the Tasman Glacier. Turn right at De La Beche corner and begin the slog up the Rudolf Glacier to Graham Saddle, the highest point of the Symphony. A downhill run then a traverse across the Chamberlin Snowfield to Centennial Hut.

Day 3: Cross the Davis Snowfield to West Hoe Pass and then take a long run down Fox Glacier to Chancellor Hut. Fly or walk out from Chancellor Hut to Fox Glacier township. It is recommended to fly from Chancellor Hut, as the route is often exposed to rock fall.

You could opt to stay at Tasman Saddle Hut to split the longest day.

Day 4: Return to Lake Tekapo from Fox Glacier or Franz Josef, using Air Safaris.