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?

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