A Band of Thieves

Alexander E. Hillary
4 min readSep 15, 2019


Being able to call the rugged antipodean island of New Zealand home is endlessly rewarding. Between the country’s rugged coastlines and dramatic mountain ranges lies an abundance of impressive landscapes. In early March we escaped for a quick weekend to the sub-alpine tundra of the steep pass between the Rockburn and Routeburn rivers.

Little did we know a band of thieves lay in wait.

The trail started by winding up through the dense Beech forests of the Routeburn. The cacophony of birds and rapids is absorbed into the heavy weight of the forest.

As the beech thinned and tundra replaced trees, we wound up toward the pass, leaving behind the moss-laden beech forest and its natural orchestra. The pleasant sounds of the trail always set the mind at rest. As we approached the 1200 metre pass the landscape turned Alpine and our ears were only met with the sound of tussock and distant wind. My father and I revelled in the natural place we found ourselves in and the solitude that welcomed us.

The way was dense with tussock interspersed with frozen marsh.
With winter on its way the cold was really biting on Sugarloaf pass and without the weight of our packs, we explored the infrequently visited pass.
Peter Hillary looking down at the Routeburn below; a peaceful beginning to sleepless night.

Although not yet buried in the winters snow, the pass was still cold, and Dad was rugged up in his edmundhillary jacket as we walked off in search of water and an outlook of the hill we had just climbed.

My trusty tent sat in the shelter of the tussock as we prepared an early dinner.

Our Lowa boots and other equipment was tucked away under the fly but outside the tent before we retreated to the warmth of our sleeping bags. We’d later realise that this was one of the many mistakes we made that evening — including camping on the pass itself. But for the moment we were enjoying a hot meal and the company of the mountains.

As the sun sank below the western ridges of the alps, we were delighted by the arrival of a small troupe of kea who arrived like a mischievous gang of shrieking cackling cronies. They pranced around the front of our tent, endlessly interested in our intrusion to their territory.

Our delight was quickly tempered as throughout the night they attacked us in their jovial but viciously deliberate way; cutting through guy-ropes of the tent, chewing up a pack, carrying off a mug and a shoe and ripping holes in them. Throughout the night we would crawl out of the tent and shout at them but they’d only jump back to move forward again and cock their heads. They were relentless.

Throughout the walk I recorded the journey in A Band of Thieves, the film highlights the exquisite beauty of the pass and (a fraction) of the torment we received from the Keas.

Keas are the world’s only Alpine Parrot. They live exclusively in the Southern Alps of New Zealand, where they are well known for causing mayhem with trekkers, climbers and hunters. Armed with powerful claws, a large curved beak, and a cunning mind, they roam the rugged mountains in search of food and entertainment.

Keas are a wonderful brown-green colour when prowling the alpine landscape, but when in flight the striking red and orange feathers of the inside of their wings is visible.
When the troupe of Kea arrived we were delighted by their inquisitiveness and intelligence but made a mistake in not scaring them off immediately.

In the morning we traversed the ridge wising up toward . As we did a flock of squaking Kea — ten or more strong — soared past us. I was really excited to see such strong numbers of Kea in New Zealand as their numbers had dropped significantly due to hunting as one of their favourite meals are kiwi sheep.

A farmer’s helicopter transports a quad bike to a remote station on the west coast.
Standing over us as we ascended the ridge was Upper Peak of the Humboldt mountains.
The rocky pinacles of the ridge above Sugaloaf pass provided splendid views of the Routeburn and Rockburn.

“Live, Don’t know how long, And die, don’t know when; Must go, don’t know where; I am astonished I am so cheerful.”

Rising above the forest in the distance is Mt Aspiring and the Southern Alps of New Zealand

A tribute to; a sea to summit mug, two pairs of Lowa boots, a 70L Mountain Hardwear pack and the guy-ropes of a Mont tent.

Alexander Hillary.

for Lowa Boots

2019 Eindhoven



Alexander E. Hillary

Adventurer, Photographer, Designer.