Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Glacial Basins and a slow float down a river

I've been meaning to walk the Rees Dart Track, and with good weather forecast it was top of my list. Since I had done my wee packrafting trip down the Dart last year from Daley Flat, I thought I'd just do an in and out up the Rees, visit the Dart Glacier as a day trip, then come back the same way. But a phone call to DOC in Queenstown to enquire if the Snowy Creek bridge had been reinstated turned the tables. Yes the bridge was in, but the lower bridge across to Dart Hut was damaged and too dangerous to cross. I could camp at Dart campsite, but not stay at the hut, unless I walked up the Dart valley to it. As I wanted to explore below the hut in the Dart Valley as well, I decided to go somewhere else instead. Hence the Whakaari trip, and now a shorter trip up the Rees with a return via packraft to the car.

Kea Basin is a hanging valley above the Rees Valley, just under Mount Earnslaw, which has a couple of glaciers on its flanks. The glaciers are receding rapidly, but they are still a wonder to behold. The track is reached by walking up the Rees valley from Muddy Creek, then crossing the river after the Twelve Mile Bridge to a grassy terrace just north of Lennox Falls. The river valley is pretty boggy, so it's surprisingly slow going.

Once at the start of the climb I had lunch and stowed the packrafting gear out of sight. Not that I expected hoards to come looking for my gear, but it's always better to be cautious.

The climb is a zigzag, on a track that is pretty mellow, as it climbs steadily, through beech forest with occasional breaks into swampy meadows. The views get better the higher you climb.

Not far before the bush line is Earnslaw Hut, a real classic old cullers hut. I popped in to have a look and sign the book, but planned to spend the night higher up in the basin.

There is a rock bivy just above the tree line. It's a great example of NZ ingenuity, complete with rock walls between "bedrooms". I dumped my pack and continued further up into the basin, both for views and to collect some water.

The basin is spectacular. Waterfalls, rocky cliffs created by receding glaciers, ice walls even higher up, just spellbinding. Wow! I took my fill, sitting by the stream, having also replenished my water supplies.

After a while I wandered back to the rock shelter and made myself at home for the evening. It's the first time I had used my new bivy so I pottered around working out how best to set it up as it has a pole over the entry, allowing better airflow to reduce condensation issues. It's much more roomy than my emergency bivy, which I've used fairly extensively for four years now, and it has insect mesh as well as a weather proof zip. It weighs 600g, twice as heavy as the emergency bivy, but 800g lighter than my tent. Given the quality of the rock shelter, I would have been fine with the emergency bivy, but I definitely enjoyed having more room. My new sleeping mat has a larger volume, making it almost impossible to fit inside the emergency bivy, along with me as well!

I heard Kea that evening, and in the morning, along with quite a few other bird calls, but didn't actually see any birds. After breakfast I headed back downhill, back to the start of the climb, where I retrieved my packrafting gear, repacked my pack and wandered south to Lennox Falls, which is where the streams above enter the Rees Valley. Super spectacular.

I noticed some trampers heading up valley, but by the time I walked across to the river on the other side they were well gone. I inflated the raft, stowing all my gear, donned my dry suit, and launched just below where the Twelve Mile joins the Rees. The going was rather slow. It's got lots of braids and the river was fairly shallow, with only a few small wave trains to negotiate. It definitely wasn't an adrenaline rush, more a leisurely float, with quite a bit of paddling through the calm stretches as there was a bit of a headwind,  all the way back to Muddy Creek. The river gets more technical below Muddy Creek, but I wasn't venturing there by myself. Besides, I needed to get back to my car.

I had planned to go packrafting the next day as well, but I found myself with a half flat tyre in the morning so decided to go back to civilisation and get it sorted. So I headed back to Wanaka to catch up with an old university friend and plan further adventures.

Always more adventures.....

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Scheelite? What's that?

Before I went to visit Glenorchy I'd never heard of scheelite, but this little town at the top of Lake Wakatipu used to NZ's biggest exporter of scheelite. What is it, and why so important?

Places like Glenorchy are like little time capsules. It's at the end of a road from Queenstown, which was only  completed in 1962, before that the only way in and out was by lake steamer! Originally settled by the Rees family, who ran sheep and cattle, Glenorchy locals were early promoters of tourism, taking people up to Paradise and to the Route burn. Then gold and scheelite were discovered, which brought many more people to dig for riches in the hills. The Invincible Mine, further up the Rees Valley I visited last year, this time I was off to see the scheelite diggings.

Scheelite is a tungsten ore, used for hardening steel, and particularly valuable in armaments production. It's no surprise that after production waned in the 1920s there was a huge resurgence in the 1940s. By the 1950s most mining had ceased altogether.

There's a loop track that visits the mines and a bunch of old huts up the Buckler Burn. It follows old mining roads, but the gradient isn't all that gentle. There's almost 1000m ascent from the carpark to Heather Jock Hut, where the setting is just too beautiful to not spend the night there.

There are a bunch of old huts to visit, mostly restored to give an idea of life up in the hills. They are similarly rustic, but not meant for overnight stays. Heather Jock has the best views anyway.

Glenorchy Battery and Wyuna Mine Manager's Hut:

Boozers Hut:

Bonnie Jean Hut:

Jean Hut:

The walk back down was just as spectacular as the walk up. It's totally doable as a day trip, but staying a night in a cute hut with drop dead gorgeous views, for free, is priceless!!