Multiple rescues from area pitched online as ‘nice walk'

Wānaka Land Search and Rescue chairman Bill Day sets up a radio repeater in the Mt Brewster area...
Wānaka Land Search and Rescue chairman Bill Day sets up a radio repeater in the Mt Brewster area after multiple callouts for rescues in the area. Photo: Wānaka LandSAR
A hard-to-access glacier with no route in Mount Aspiring National Park has become a hotbed of tourism, causing headaches for rescue teams in the area.

Wānaka Land Search and Rescue chairman Bill Day said he and his team were finding they were heading up Mt Brewster near the Haast Pass multiple times a year to conduct rescues in the area beyond the hut.

"We are getting multiple calls to the same spot because it is promoted online as a ‘nice walk’, when it is so much more than that.

"There have been multiple rescues there where people would have died if we had not been able to get them out."

The Brewster Track in Mount Aspiring National Park is roughly seven hours return and is listed as an advanced tramping track by the Department of Conservation.

However, it was the area beyond Brewster hut that was running Wānaka LandSAR volunteers off their feet, Mr Day said.

The area after the hut was mountainous country that people would need route-finding skills to navigate.

"Social media and online travel blogs are encouraging tourism to the area and do portray it as ‘go have a swim in a glacial lake’."

Searching the Brewster Glacier on social media brought up hundreds of posts advertising the "walk" as a fun hike to a glacier where people could have a swim in a glacial pool and sleep in the mountains.

Not advertised were the hazardous conditions, lack of route markers and the skills required to safely walk the track.

"Getting to the hut is relatively straightforward but beyond that you need some route-finding ability.

"We’ve had multiple rescues up there — the hut’s always full, there’s tents everywhere and people tend to underestimate the trek."

Mr Day said about two weeks ago, a group left for a "day walk" to the glacier at 7am, but by the middle of the night the walkers were "in the process of dying in a riverbed in the mountains".

"We had to winch them out at night, which puts our people in harm’s way.

Mr Day said numerous people had been getting lost or stuck, and there had also been some deaths in the area in past years.

"People up Mt Brewster getting lost and getting stuck has proved fatal.

"People should understand the area beyond the hut requires a high mountaineering skill level, as it is exposed and not a marked route. They need both the skills and the proper gear, including carrying a beacon.

"Often it is on the way back when people tend to track back lower and end up in the wrong valley, and it is often one where they can’t get out."