Thursday, May 24, 2018

Chasing the sun in Marlborough

From Maruia Hot Springs I continued northward bound, having been invited to stay with my new friends from The Humpridge Track. Rick and Barb live next door to Marg in Renwick, in the middle of the wine growing Marlborough Region, and they hosted me in a little self contained cottage for a few days whilst I explored the area.

On my way to Renwick I popped in to the DOC visitor centre in St Arnaud to discuss tramping options in Nelson Lakes National Park, and the lady at the desk was very helpful. I had already mapped out an itinerary for a nine day tramp and she helped me with logistical advice regarding the various route options to Angelus Hut, which is best walked when the weather is fine and not blowing a veritable gale.

I continued on to Renwick, and my friends, and spent a pleasant couple of days going to the opera and having lunch at one of the nearby wineries.

Unfortunately, the weather window for walking my preferred route in Nelson Lakes closed, as cold fronts began to threaten significant snowfall to all the alpine regions of the Southern Alps. The only area that appeared to be in a rain shadow was the Mt Richmond Forest Park to the north of us. So I cobbled together a five day itinerary walking the Pelorus Track, and set off.

Part of the track is shared with the Te Araroa, the long distance pathway from Cape Reinga to Bluff. It is now very late in the walking season for TA walkers, so I was hopeful that none of the huts would be full, as I elected not to bring a tent. Most of the huts would only be 6-8 bunk occupancy, so there was always the risk of meeting a large party, particularly on Friday or Saturday night. The huts are on a first come basis, but usually people will squeeze up and share mattresses if need be, though I am yet to be in that situation. Many of the very popular huts now require bookings, and have resident wardens during the busy season, because overuse is becoming a big issue. But get away from the super popular walks, and huts are often empty.

I drove to Pelorus Bridge, turned left and followed the river road to the road end, where I parked my car, shouldered my backpack, and set off, around 10:45am. My walk was only to the first hut at Captains Creek, said to take 4 hours, so I took my time enjoying the walk high above the river, which was in flood following the previous two days of heavy rain. Numerous waterfalls were plunging into the river, and the track was a little slippery in places, but otherwise, was not a bad track at all. I met a school group walking out and chatted to their teacher, but met no other trampers.

At Captain's Creek Hut the river flowed in a huge crescent, and would make a lovely swimming spot in warmer weather. I got the fire going in the hut and spent a pleasant night reading my book, The Hidden Life of Trees, which was perfect subject matter for appreciating the beech forests I was walking through.

Day 2 dawned sunny again, so I continued upriver 2 hours to Middy Hut, then a further four hours to Roebuck Hut. The track deteriorated after the intersection with the track to Rocks Hut, as the route through to Roebuck Hut along the Pelorus is no longer part of Te Araroa, so gets considerably less foot traffic. It was mossy and very slippery, and an inevitable fall or two saw me sporting a few bruises by the end of the day. Roebuck Hut is situated on the other side of the river, necessitating a crossing by swing bridge, and careful sidling along a rock ledge to get to it. But an awesome location.

Overnight it rained heavily, but I was snug in my hut, and it dawned to another sunny day. The temperature was only around 6-10 degrees, which is perfect walking weather, especially in the beech forest which maintains its own humid microclimate. Back across the rock ledge and swing bridge, then the track leaves the river and climbs a ridge all day to meet back up with the Te Araroa track at Totara Saddle. With the rain overnight the track is again slippery, but not nearly as bad as yesterday's track.

At Totara Saddle I head downhill to Browning Hut. I was worried that the 8 bunk hut might be full, as it's Saturday night, and only a 2-3 hour walk in from a road end near Nelson. The track is steep and washed out, so it's quite a muddy scramble down to the Hut, which was empty! Yet another night by myself in a backcountry hut.

The next morning I met a young hunter on his way up the hill, and later a group of five on their way back from Rocks Hut, my destination for the day. From Totara Saddle the track heads up a ridge line and above the treeline for a while, allowing for expansive views in all directions. There are some impressive peaks within the Park, but I'm climbing none of them.

The track re-enters forest, there's a considerable amount of fallen trees to skirt around, and then a bit more tramping till I reach Rocks Hut. This is a big 16 bunk Hut and even has flush toilets, but again, I have it to myself. I drop my pack and head up to the nearby lookout above the treeline to survey the view and plan my next day's route.

My initial plan was to continue along the ridgeline, climbing Dun Mountain and then a further two peaks to arrive at Maungatapu Saddle, where a four wheel drive track returns to the road where I'd left my car. Some of the route is above the treeline, meaning it's exposed to the weather, but a considerable portion is back within beech forest, which may or may not have more fallen trees obscuring the route. This route is also not frequently used, so I have no notion of how hard the walk is, but the whole day's walk would be over 20km. I scope the route from the lookout, and begin to doubt my ability to complete it within daylight hours.

The Pelorus Track has been a harder track than those I've done recently, and I'm tired after 4 days of difficult tramping. I took longer than the advertised time to walk from Totara Saddle to Rocks Hut, along a well used route, so my feeling is that the Bryant Range walk will take at least 6 hours, and then the walk down the 4x4 track could take many hours more. I decide to get up early the next morning and make my decision then.

As it darkens I hear the piercingly shrill sound of something out there. Being of stern stuff I go outside to take a look and the noise gets even louder.

It's just a Weka, a harmless flightless bird that has a bit of a reputation for being an annoying scavenger. It turns out not to be an axe murderer after all, so I return inside the hut for a cosy night by the fire.

The wind is gusty, and it's overcast at first light, but that soon clears to a sunny day. I am still apprehensive about my ability to complete the ridge walk, so decide to err on the side of caution and return to my car via Middy Hut and Captain's Creek Hut. This means repeating a small section of track I walked in on, but will be considerably quicker, even though it too is close to 20km long.

The walk down from Rocks to Middy only takes 2 hours, and another 2 hours to Captain's Creek Hut, where I stop for lunch. I feel fatigued, particularly on the uphill sections, of which there aren't that many as I am heading downstream this time. I realise I made the right decision, as the ridge walk involved a fair amount of ascending. I take my time walking the final 3 hours out to my car, then drive back to my friends' place in Renwick to a hot shower, dinner and bed.

And check out that bruise!!

After a couple of days resting, and preparation for my next tramp, it's onwards to Nelson, and Abel Tasman National Park.

That's next...

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