Saturday, April 3, 2021

Hiding away behind the moraine

From Four Peaks Station I drove down to Tekapo and stayed the night at the swanky modern YHA right in the middle of town. I've stayed there a few times now, it's rather posh for a backpackers!

The next morning, after restocking at the supermarket I headed south. I needed to be in Wanaka on the Friday for a routine checkup with my eye surgeon, and Thursday afternoon I had booked a much needed massage! Before then, I was fitting in one more tramp.

This trip had been on my list for some time, but required the Ahuriri River levels to be low enough to cross safely. It's a big catchment, so the river can rise quickly after rain. Fortunately, it had been fairly dry this summer, and the river gauge indicated it would be fine.

I had lunch at Omarama, and realised I was exhausted. I had planned to walk in to a hut only a couple of hours' walk, but I just wasn't feeling it. So I booked a bed at Dunstan Downs, a no frills cabin once used by shearing teams, now budget accommodation. It was a bit early in the day to check in, so I drove up Birchwood Road to the start of the track and spent a little bit of time scoping out the best place to cross the river. Best done by removing one's jeans and doing a bit of wading in underwear!  Job done, I drove back down the road, checked in, and slept for a bit, then packed for my trip.

Day 1 Ahuriri Carpark to Stony Gorge Hut

Once across the Ahuriri, I wandered over the flats to the old Ahuriri Hut. It's roofless and missing one and a half walls, and unlikely to ever get some TLC. There I put my socks and boots on (it's surprising how far you can walk in crocs!) and headed off up to Snowy Gorge Creek, following the terraces to keep out of the swamp below. I passed a tramper on her way back out, having stayed at Hideaway Biv. the previous night. She would have been my company if I had gone as planned. 

Once around the corner, the deal was to stay high on the true left for as far as possible. There was a good track, likely made by horse traffic, so I followed that, until it petered out at a scree slope and I had to cross the river. Then it was a tussock hop, avoiding the Spaniards, until it was possible, and preferable, to cross back over again. 

Having picked up the horse trail again, which also had the occasional pole or cairn marker, I continued up river. Then the track seemed to head uphill, but it was indistinct. Ahead was a moraine field, with multiple hills of boulders. I began to climb up the tussock to avoid the moraine, but then that looked to be far too high a climb, so instead I began to climb over the rocks, taking a route to cut off the turn in the river. This went well for a while, until I got bluffed out and had to descend a very unstable scree slope, which I ended up sliding down on my backside because that way I could control my speed. Once down near the river it was a very dodgy scramble amongst rocks and boulders, another river crossing, and another scary sidle across boulders and then tussock and Spaniards. 

Suddenly, the river bed was dry, the water presumably going underground, so I was able to walk the final section through the gorge in a dry river bed. Then the entire valley opened up, with at least two glacial cirques and Mt St Mary at the head of the valley. 

The hut is hidden behind a hill of moraine. You have to know it's there or you could easily just walk on up the river valley and miss it altogether. After my rather dodgy scramble through the gorge I walked around the hill to the very welcome sight of a cute little hut. It's a six bed hut, with no fire, but then there's no firewood up there to collect! 

I had a refreshing wash in a nearby stream and enjoyed a lovely warm evening with hardly any wind. The resident mouse was rather gregarious, so I made sure to pack everything away where it couldn't get to it.

Day 2 Snowy Gorge Hut to Hideaway Bivy

My original plan was to go over the saddle to Maitland Hut and then return back the same way. But the previous day's scramble hadn't been that pleasant and the hut notes described the walk over the saddle as Little Madrid, perhaps a reference to all the Spaniards!! 

I was also a little worried I would be running a bit fine with timing, as the return trip could take two days, and I needed to be in Wanaka mid afternoon on Thursday. The trip to Maitland canned, I had a leisurely day walking back to Hideaway Bivy instead. 

I left about 10, after cleaning the hut and carefully replacing the turf over my toilet hole (the hut has a mattock which makes digging a loo considerably easier than my trowel)!

This time I decided to climb the spur near the hut. The first section was on tussock but then it was a rock hop, again avoiding Spaniards but aiming to get as high as possible to avoid the entire moraine field. Imagine my surprise when I encountered a large and very obvious cairn! 

From the cairn there was a track which sidled across scree and then followed a tussock ridge all the way back down to the track I had been on yesterday. What took almost 2 hours yesterday took less than one today! And yes, if I had continued to follow that indistinct track of yesterday, I would have avoided that entire dodgy sidle through the gorge. Off track tramping is never as simple as when following a well marked trail....

Once on the track it was fairly easy going, as paths through the matagouri had been pruned by the horse folk. Just before my first river crossing I stopped to have a leisurely lunch and enjoy the sun and views.
I crossed and recrossed the river at the same spots as yesterday, and then up ahead was a group of horse folk riding up the valley on a day trip. They had popped in to Hideaway Bivy on their way, and said it was empty. 

I followed the horse trail, with occasional fresh dung to reassure me I was on the right track, all the way back down river and then up past a very pretty lake to Hideaway Bivy. Which was indeed empty. It's an old musterers hut with writing on the tin walls, but it's had a very nice restoration and has quite a lot of character. 

There's a nearby stream for a wash, and this hut has a toilet, so no digging needed!

Day 3 Hideaway Bivy to Ahuriri carpark

The next morning I crossed the stream and headed back, past the lake, and then followed an old 4WD track over to the Ahuriri. This track sidled higher than the route I had taken on day one, and avoided much of the boggy land as well. It took a lot less time to get back to the old hut, and from there back to the river.

I stopped for lunch before taking my boots and socks off for the river crossing. Cold water is such a great balm for footsore trampers....

Then a short drive over Lindis Pass to Wanaka, for a massage and a check up appointment with my eye surgeon. After a few days of rest, it was off again on some more adventures. But first I spent a few days housesitting in Timaru looking after a couple of awesome dogs. I miss having pets so it was nice to get some doggy cuddles and go for long walks along the nearby beaches.

But not for long. The mountains were calling...

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