Monday, April 2, 2018

Four Days up a River

One of my first priorities on returning to NZ was to procure a followup appointment with my eye specialist. That done, and a new backpack purchased, I had 9 days up my sleeve to go tramping before the appointed day back in Wanaka. So I decided to not go too far afield.

For my first trip I chose a four day walk up the Ahuriri River Valley, staying in DOC Huts or camping, and visiting some of the tributary valleys as well. The geology of the South Island is predominantly glacial, with U-shaped river valleys, numerous perched valleys, and lots of towering peaks. The southern Alps consists of a backbone of several parallel mountain ranges, each with a river running through it, often in a north south orientation. The Ahuriri is one such valley, situated halfway between Lakes Hawea and Ohau. Whilst the lower valley is home to pastoral leases and freehold, the upper valley and high country is part of the Ahuriri Conservation Park.

Since my car isn't 4WD I had to park at the Birchwood shelter and walk the 12km along the track to the final car park. It being midweek there was no traffic, and it was a pleasant day. I was somewhat amused by the Spade-line boundary (see pictures below), and had a leisurely stroll for a mere hour before deciding to stop the night at Ahuriri Base Hut, which is near the path that heads up to Top Dingle Hut and on to Lake Hawea.

After a quiet night on my own in the hut I continued along the 4WD track to the final car park where I met a german tourist heading out hunting. It is currently peak hunting season as the red deer (feral to NZ) are rutting. This is known as "The Roar" due to the noise the stags make marking their territory and harems. As a result, I have brought along a high viz vest so I am not mistaken for a target, but expect to be fairly safe in the valleys.

The Ahururi is also popular with mountain bikers, but it's not quite Easter so the trails are empty. I make my way further up the river to Hagen's Hut. The day was clear and sunny, and a joy to walk along an easy path with peaks on both sides, and a few glaciers glistening in the distance. Nearing Hagen's Hut the track required a bit more navigation, as it sidled along the true right of the braided river, rather than the official route which crosses the river. Even so, I got wet feet!

Just as darkness descends I am joined by a hunter who has been further up the valley looking for deer. We stoke up the fire to hopefully dry our socks and boots a bit, even though they will only get wet again crossing rivers tomorrow.

My hunter friend headed back down the valley the next morning, whereas I headed upriver. I wanted to get closer to the snow and ice topped peaks at the head of the river, but because I planned to walk back down the valley that day as well, I only got as far as some waterfalls opposite Top Hut before retracing my steps.

After lunch back at Hagen's I retraced my steps to Canyon Creek, where I camped the night. Though next time I might choose to site my tent in a little more protected area, as the wind howled all night and bent my tent pegs!!

The next morning I packed my bag but left the tent erected as it was raining lightly but forecast to clear. I then headed up Canyon Creek, which is in the background of the photo above. This was by far the most stunning scenery of the four days, as the track wound up through a beech forest to view points above a narrow gorge through which the creek runs on its path down from the perched valley above.

I met a group of four climbers who had camped just before the bushline in the upper valley, at a pretty wicked campsite where a huge boulder made for an awesome fireplace. They had passed me the evening before and had spent a much more sheltered night amongst the trees.

I continued my way across scree slopes to the head of the valley. Here a number of waterfalls crash down from the lofty heights and it is possible to climb up beside one of the waterfalls to a rock bivy. This was where the climbers were heading, but I had seen enough without climbing higher.

The weather began to clear as I retraced my path back down to the valley floor. The view from the lookout was quite special. My tent is somewhere down there....

I packed up the now dry tent, and walked the 12 km back to my car. It was Easter Saturday and there was no accommodation to be had, so I found myself camping by Lake Ohau and watching the full moon rising over the lake.

A day of relaxation by the lake in the sun seemed in order, since there is no point turning tramping into a chore.

And then I headed up above the lake for my next adventure. That's next...

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