Friday, December 31, 2021

Up in the clouds

After a wonderful few days up the Cobb Valley, and a yummy cooked breakfast in Motueka I continued driving south, not really sure where to go. I had thought about heading in to walk a circuit around and over Mt Arthur in the east of Kahurangi National Park, but with the crazy silly season traffic I knew that would be pretty popular with the holiday trampers too. Plus the nearby commercial campsites were all full, and after six nights out bush I was keen to have a shower, and wash my hair...

I ended up in Murchison, staying at the Riverside Holiday Park, a place I've stayed at a few times now, as it's cheap and has great facilities and the owners are awesome. It wasn't that busy, so I booked a cabin for a few nights, and waited out a rainy spell. A chance for some life admin, laundry, and catching up on a few blog posts.

There was some great weather forecast for the New Year, so I planned to walk in to the southern end of Kahurangi and explore the 1000 Acre plateau, a trip I had planned to do on a previous stay at Murchison, but that time the weather didn't play ball. This time it was looking perfect for some tops travel, so I packed all my gear, including tent, for a four day mission. It's a full day in to Larrikin Creek, and from there there are lots of options for exploration. I wanted to give myself time to explore, given the weather forecast was so favourable.

I headed out to the trailhead up the Matiri river. The road was good until the last couple of kilometres when it got a bit pothole ridden, but nothing a normal car couldn't deal with. The carpark is in a different spot to where it was when I went to Matiri Hut a few years ago, as in the interim there has been a hydro scheme installed on the river, so the track is apparently quite good all the way now. But I can't confirm that, because the carpark was full, with 10 cars already parked up. I did the math on potential numbers that might be camped up at Larrikin Creek and decided I wasn't feeling that social, so drove back down the gravel road to Murchison, and had a late breakfast in one of the cafes.

I had a plan B, another trip I'd had on my radar but again had been thwarted by fickle west coast weather. Again the weather forecast was grand, so back in the car for another hour or two down the Buller towards Westport.

The turnoff to the Buckland Peaks track is just before you merge with the main north-south west coast highway. It's about a kilometre off the highway with a nice grassy carpark, with only two cars parked there. Big sigh of relief. I dump the extra days' worth of food rations and set off.

The first hour of the walk is through private property, following roads between grazed meadows before dropping into swampy ground which only supports Manuka. There are quite a few beehives around to take advantage of the abundance of flowering shrubs.

Once the farmland is done, the track enters conservation land and begins climbing. It's grand to at last be out of the sun and under a tree canopy, but it's a ridge climb the whole way, and fairly grunty.

Initially it's more Manuka and quite open, and I spy a few sun orchids alongside the track. This time they are open so I get some photos.

As I ascend further the humidity of the coastal swamps recedes and it's much more pleasant for tramping, but it's a ridge climb, and there are no water sources at all along the entire track. I had brought a bit over a litre with me, behaving like a Kiwi rather than an Ozzie! The latter would have filled her water bladder with a full 2.5 litres before setting off, the former knows there's always a stream or waterfall around the next corner!  I am getting slack, particularly as I knew from my research that there was no water, and I'd had a chance to fill up at the base of the climb.

The forest was beautiful, though there are few views until you at last reach the treeline, which takes about 3 hours.

Up ahead the clouds were coming and going over the peaks, so when I got to the basin where the hut was nestled I decided to descend to it and stay the night there. Since I'd left at lunchtime I hadn't given myself enough time to get up higher to a campsite before the notorious west coast fog came in. I also wasn't sure how much water would be up there in the tarns, as I was out of water by the time I reached the hut.

Inside the hut were a couple from Hanmer Springs staying a second night, recovering from a full on family Christmas. I'd met two of their kids walking out after spending one night at the hut, they had New Year revelling to attend! Neither kids nor parents had been up onto the tops to explore.

It was a pleasant night in the hut but next morning I set off early back up to the ridge where I dropped my main pack and just took a small daypack with me to spend a couple of hours on the tops. There's a fairly narrow ridge that you need to get across to get up onto the peaks, which is well marked and cairned, but still I missed the track at one spot and did a little unnecessary rock scrambling. And that was in fine weather!!

Once up on the tops I was surrounded by polished marble rocks and tors, with a few tarns between. Very surreal and barren, yet beautiful. Also extremely disorienting should the cloud come in. Which it didn't whilst I was up there, just an icy wind that made me rue leaving the overtrousers below and only taking my jacket.

I wished I'd brought an extra day's food, as I would have happily found a camp site up there and explored further, but instead I returned to my bag and made the long descent back to the farm road.  I met a lovely Westport couple on their way up to spend a couple of days on the tops and I experienced a tinge of jealousy, but had a really good chat to them about routes in the area as they had lots of local knowledge to share. More food for thought...

This time I had brought a bit more water, but the walk back through the swampy Manuka was hot and exhausting. I was glad to sit in the shade at the carpark for a while and shed my shoes and relax, before heading off south towards Punakaiki. I found a cheap campsite for the night, and was in bed by 7pm. No New Year's revelling for me!!

Happy 2022 to you all!

Monday, December 27, 2021

A Kahurangi Christmas

 When I was up in Golden Bay earlier this year I had hoped to get out to the Cobb Valley. But the weather didn't play ball so I didn't hang around for it to clear. This time the weather was looking much more promising.

The drive into the Cobb is long, windy and narrow. It's sealed until the power station at the confluence of the Cobb and Takaka Rivers, and then it's a gravel road. I was lucky not to encounter any traffic coming the other way because there are limited places for two cars to pass.

It's a steep winding climb up and over into the upper Cobb, where a huge reservoir built in the 1950s for a hydroelectricity scheme floods the valley. My destination is Trilobite Hut, at the head of the reservoir, and the start of the walk up into the upper valley.

The Cobb Valley is in flower. There are mauve striped native gentians, yellow Maori onion, exotic buttercups, alpine daisies, Manuka, and even some orchids.

The valley is also well endowed with huts, the quaintly built and restored Chaffey Hut being my lunch stop.

Further up is the historic tent camp, the only original one left. When DOC realised it was the last remaining tent camp they did an authentic reconstruction. These tent camps were used by forestry workers and deer cullers for many years before more "modern" huts were built.

Another half an hour and Cobb Hut comes into sight, probably the most drab looking of the lot, but still perfectly functional. There's a track off to the left to Cobb Lake, site of an earlier hydro scheme, but I'm heading further up, climbing up glacial terracing to Fenella Hut, a larger, grander affair that even has a gas cooker.

Another 400m up to the top of the watershed is a tarn that makes for a very pleasant post tramp dip. I'm alone in the hut overnight.

The next morning I head off early for the climb up to Waingaro Saddle. There I follow a well established ground trail with plentiful rock cairns that either sidles under or follows along ridge lines to Kakapo Peak. 

Waingaro Saddle

Waingaro Peak

Although the weather is clear it's a bit windy, so I forgo the climb to the peak and sidle across the scree to the next ridgeline for the walk to Lonely Lake.

Ridgeline trail to Lonely lake

All up it takes about 7 hours to reach Lonely Lake Hut, a lovingly restored bright yellow and blue four bunker just above the picturesque lake. Yes, another quick dip after that sweaty day on the trail.

The next morning I retrace my steps, but there's minimal wind, which makes it warmer, but also less treacherous when walking along the ridge. 

This time I drop the pack and do the climb up to the peak, where I have lunch and am gob smacked to discover I can see Mt Taranaki!

Looking up towards Kakapo Peak

Scree sidle under Kakapo Peak

Scree on climb to Kakapo Peak

Looking back at ridge walk to Lonely lake

Dragons Teeth

Southern Alps

Taranaki peaking up in background

Back at Fenella Hut I am joined by two couples, nice to have some company after a few days of solitude. Plus it's Christmas Eve. I go for another swim in the waterhole.

Christmas Day and it's overcast. One couple are staying a second night and head off to do the Mt Gibbs circuit. I just head back down the valley, and manage to get back to the car before the rain begins. I even head down to the nearby track up to Lake Peel, and visit another historic hut, Myttons Hut.

With a rainy night expected I stay at Trilobite Hut overnight and the next morning drive up to the other end of the reservoir and walk up to Sylvester Hut. I've brought Lola with me, so I wander down to the lake and paddle around the shoreline, then walk over to the smaller lake just above it. It's a bit windy and chilly, even with my drysuit on, so I don't bother walking up further to Iron Lake, instead drying Lola before packing her away and heading back down to the car. 

I see a whole bunch of riflemen in the forest on my way back. They are so cute.

I have one more hut to visit in the Cobb. This one is back down the road and overlooking the Takaka River. It has the most interesting history of all the huts, because Asbestos Cottage was home to a reclusive couple for almost 40 years. Annie Fox escaped an abusive husband and went to live with Henry Chaffey in a primitive wood cottage literally in the middle of nowhere. The hut has again been lovingly restored, and it's an absolute honour to be able to stay there.

I saw Kaka on the way in, and a Kea on my way back out. I also got some video of a cute little South Island Robin.

Driving out of the Cobb I encountered a lot more traffic, having to reverse a few times to make way for cars to pass. I was glad to be back on the highway, but the post Christmas traffic driving into Golden Bay was astounding. In Motueka, where I stopped for lunch, the traffic just kept coming and the only available campsites were over $80 a night, so I just kept driving. After my isolated Kahurangi Christmas it felt weird to be back in the chaos of the busy holiday season.

Where to next?