Wednesday, October 10, 2018

An old cattle track on the west coast

With September running out I was ready to hang up the skis and go tramping again. High on my list was a 3-4 day hike along the old Haast to Paringa Cattle Track, originally the route farmers drove their cattle to get to market. It's really hard to get your head around just how rugged and difficult farming in New Zealand must have been for the early colonists. Thick forests, high rainfall, steep mountains, unbridged treacherous waterways and all that mud….

I had actually planned to do this trek a year ago, but when I developed yet another retinal detachment in November last year and had to have more surgery, I was grounded again for a few months and all mountain trekking had to go on hold. But here I was now, all recovered and ready to give it a go.

I drove from Wanaka to the west coast, parked at the southern end of the walk, and hitched up the highway to the northern end. It's a short walk in to the first hut so I had plenty of time on my hands. It didn't take too long to get a lift, from a friendly refrigerated truck driver doing his rounds.

The walk in is short, taking only one and a half hours. The bush is lush and pretty, and follows the Blue River before crossing it on a swing bridge then its a short walk to the Hut.

I get there just before it starts raining, which it does on and off for a few hours before clearing late afternoon. I get the fire going and settle in for a night alone. I'm in bed reading when two chaps from Queenstown turn up, who are heading up the Moeraki Valley tomorrow for a spot of fly fishing. They are glad to have a warm hut to walk into, having walked in in the dark and wet.

The next morning the boys leave early, whilst I am a little more leisurely in my departure. I retrace my route to where the track heads up the ridgeline on the western slopes of the Mataketake Range. The track is benched, and fairly wide, though it's not a heavily used track these days so there are slides and treefalls to negotiate. It's not steep however, and stays within the bushline the entire time. Unfortunately there are no views.

There are a few small streams to cross, and it only takes me four and a half hours to get to Maori Saddle Hut. From here it's possible to climb up to the top of the Mataketakes, where there are alpine tarns. I'm not exactly sure where the trail goes, so instead I sit in the sun and collect and cut firewood. According to the hut book, I am the first tramper through here for 4 months.

That night I am woken by shaking. It's not until the next day, when I am walking through the Alpine Fault, that I realise it was an earthquake. I find out later the quake was centred somewhere south of Milford Sound. NZ has lots of earthquakes….

Day 3 is the longest day, as I head down from the saddle towards Coppermine Creek. The track sidles along the western slopes, with a few tricky stream crossings that would be very dangerous in high flow, and through the aforementioned Alpine Fault. Here I stop for lunch, before negotiating the steep scree slope back to the track. This slip has been there for some time, but previous trampers have found a route around it to rejoin the track.

The birdlife on this walk is prolific, and makes up for the lack of views. I see Kaka, I hear Kea, and every tree seems to be full of Tuis. The birdsong is glorious. There must have been some good pest management happening around here.

I even come face to face with a young buck. Red Deer are everywhere in New Zealand, having been introduced for hunting and have now reached levels that cause vegetation destruction. Because they selectively eat broadleaf plants the undergrowth tends to be devoid of them, and overtaken by crown ferns. It's still pretty though.

7 hours after leaving Maori Saddle I arrive at Coppermine Creek Hut. This is now pastoral land, but the hut is cute and a welcome sight at the end of a long day.

My final day requires walking down the quagmired Waita River Valley to a swing bridge over Maori River, then continuing down river back to my car. Tussock hopping to prevent sinking into deep mud is quite draining, especially with the full sun pouring down. Not that I'm complaining, it's always preferable to rain!!

I stop in at Curly Tree for a whitebait pattie, then drive back to Wanaka.

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