Monday, June 11, 2018

Gold mining and winter tramping

Reefton, inland from Greymouth on the west coast of New Zealand's South Island, is an area with a long history of gold mining. There are a bunch of old mining ghost towns in the area, many with relics still intact due to the remoteness of the region making retrieving equipment too costly.

I headed off on a 3 day loop tramp along the Kirwan's Track, combining a walk through history and a visit to a Hut with a spectacular view. As usual, I timed my tramp to coincide with spectacular sunny weather.

New Zealand is renowned for it's changeable weather due to being a long narrow country with a central spine of mountains surrounded by ocean. Warm ocean fronts hitting these high mountains cause high precipitation, but also rain shadows. I'm no meteorologist, but I have found a weather app that seems to get the algorithm right more often than not. Apparently New Zealand farmers use this one too, and so far it has done an excellent job of steering me to parts of the country where I don't have to tramp in torrential rain for days on end. Whilst I have been tramping in the sun other parts of New Zealand have been closed down with huge weather fronts causing massive flooding, high snowfall, and numerous road closures. The Southern Lakes have had huge dumps of snow, and the ski fields are opening early this year. But meanwhile, I'm enjoying the sunshine....

The Kirwan's Track commences at Caplestone, once a goldfields town and now just a cow paddock and DOC carpark beside a river. The track follows an old route made by the goldminers to get to their mines, so it's benched and pretty easy going. There's a tunnel through rock to a swing bridge, which is pretty cool, but it's otherwise like many walks in New Zealand, through mossy beech and mixed podocarp forest, past pristine streams and mini waterfalls, as it climbs higher and higher to the treeline.

The final half a kilometre is the steepest of the day, through gnarly mountain beeches, to the snow covered tussocks and Kirwan's Hut. The Hut is insulated and double glazed, with a stove and a good supply of coal, so there's no chance of getting cold. I have now learnt how to get a coal fire going, with a little bit of advice from a fellow tramper...

The views from the Hut are spectacular. I can see the snow covered Alps all the way down the coast. Can you see Mounts Tasman and Cook side by side?

The sunset is also spectacular, the colour enhanced by an advancing cloud bank, which is forecast for the following day. I take the opportunity to take some photos of the Milky Way whilst the sky is clear.

The next morning I am woken early by John, the other tramper in the hut overnight, getting up extra early to head off before sunrise to finish the loop that day, before the rain. My weather app had not predicted rain, only cloud, and I only intended to walk 4 hours to Montgomerie Hut, so I declined John's offer of a cup of tea, and went back to sleep. By the time I do arise, the sun is up and the view is entirely clogged in by cloud. But it isn't actually raining...

The tramp heads down into the next river valley, and there are a few stops enroute to view old mining mementoes. There are old diggings, the remains of an aerial cableway, and an ore crushing stamper battery which was restored by DOC staff in 2009.

Montgomerie Hut is situated beside the river of the same name, at the end of a very muddy 4WD track. Complaints in the hut book of the muddiness of the track, and the conversation I had with a tramper I met yesterday, have me prepared for it being arduous and monotonous. Unlike John, who is completing the entire 30km in one day, I had planned to do this next section tomorrow, so I have a very leisurely afternoon, chopping wood for the wood stove, and listening to podcasts.

The next morning the promised rain arrives, in the guise of a gentle downpour and no wind. Just enough to put on the raincoat, but after an hour the weather has cleared and the coat goes back in the bag. The walk along the muddy 4WD track is easy, with all the puddles easy to avoid or navigate without too much trouble.

I contemplate the nature of people's experiences when tramping, and how these are tempered by the weather, individual expectations, and on how much country they need to cover in a day. Splitting up the tramp into two sections allows me to take my own sweet time (5 hours including a lunch break and a couple of detours) completing the 20.5km back to Caplestone carpark. I can enjoy the journey as I know I can make it back with lots of available daylight.

The track leaves the river at Gannons Bridge to climb back over to the river valley where I began the tramp. It's a steep swampy climb to what is the most ugly part of the walk, as the track follows old forestry roads through denuded pine forest plantations. Not all of New Zealand is drop dead gorgeous....

Then it's back down to the carpark, where I meet some fellow trampers just back from a return trip up to Kirwan's Hut. They, unfortunately, missed out on the epic views due to cloud cover, but they have little choice over timing when they can only get away on weekends. I'm so lucky to be able to schedule my tramps regardless of the weekday.

Now it's on down the west coast, to Hokitika for a few days before getting back into ski goddess mode for the winter....

Friday, June 8, 2018

An overnighter in Kahurangi National Park

I have my eye on a number of long walks in Kahurangi National Park, including a 2 week loop involving The Heaphy and Wangapeka/Leslie-Karamea Tracks, but I have run out of time as I will soon be hanging up the hiking boots in favour of the ski boots and re-emerging the ski goddess. So southwards I head....

First tramp on my way south is a 3 hour drive from Golden Bay to north of the township of Murchison, where I head up the Matiri River to a small hut overlooking Lake Matiri.

This region is known for its interesting geology, formed by numerous ancient and more recent earthquakes. Murchison was the site of a major earthquake in 1929, which caused huge damage from landslides and the formation of many new lakes.

The walk from the 2WD carpark is pretty easy. It begins with a walk along a farm 4WD track following the river to the West Matiri River Branch, which must be crossed. The river is well down so it's an easy boulder hop to the other side and a rejoin of the track continuing upriver. A shelter on the northern side has been provided just in case the river is up and becomes impassable. No rain forecast on my walk, so no concern for me.

The rest of the walk continues through bramble and weed infested private land until at last entering the National Park an hour from the Hut. Here a recent slide has obliterated the track, so a boulder hop over slippery stones beside the river is required. There's a pretty waterfall to admire on the way.

Then the track leaves the river to climb up a ridge to reach the lake. This is the nicest part of the walk as it passes through beech forest, and soon the track sidles high above the lake with glimpses of water through the trees. About halfway along the Lake is the Hut, situated with a glorious view north to some snow covered peaks.

The walk in only took 2 hours, so I spent the rest of the afternoon cutting firewood, enjoying the views and watching the waterfowl on the lake. The late afternoon light was glorious, as was the night sky.

The next morning I returned back the same way, and drove to Reefton, where I packed for my next tramp.

That's next....

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A few golden days at the top end of the South Island

From the Abel Tasman I headed north over Takaka Hill to Golden Bay for a few days. I headed up to the very north of the South Island, visiting Cape Farewell and the weathered coastline of Wharariki Beach.

The week of sunny weather came to an end, which I didn't mind too much as it's nice to have an excuse to bunker down inside and try and edit all my photos and write a few blog posts.

The Golden Bay area has lots of limestone karst and caves, so a few excursions in the area were in order to enjoy these strange structures. Two places near Takaka are to be recommended: The Grove and Labyrinth Rocks. Both are like huge adventure playgrounds for kids of all ages, the latter upping the ante somewhat by the addition of hundreds of little toys for the kids to find whilst exploring the numerous passages.

I also went for a walk up the Aorere Goldfields Track, to visit two caves and Druggans Dam, with some old gold mining relics and views down to the bay. And a short trip to Te Pupu Springs and nearby water race and local hydro scheme.

And then I began the trip back to Wanaka, slowly, involving some more tramps enroute.

That's next...