Tuesday, January 24, 2023

West Coast Hidden Gem - Mataketake Range and Moeraki Valley

A few years ago I walked the much underrated Haast Paringa Cattle Track and was blown away by the healthy birdlife, the slight terror of walking through the Alpine Fault, and a close encounter with a young buck. The track is now impassable south of Maori Saddle Hut after a slip at what was already a gnarly crossing of Chasm Creek, but the northern section is now seeing more traffic after a new hut was built up on the Matakitake Range.

This was the crossing at Chasm Creek 5 years ago, a slip has made it no longer passable. It was scary enough then!

Since I hadn't visited this hut, or the Range, I booked a couple of nights and headed off along the track from the highway to the swing bridge over the river, then along the cattle track. The advertised track times on the DOC signs were incredibly inaccurate, it taking me well less than 3 hours to the Mica Mine track. I also note my walking times were considerably less than when I walked it 5 years ago. Maybe my fitness isn't too bad at all...

Really low river levels

Mica Mine turnoff. It took me 2 hrs 20 minutes to this sign, not the 4.5 hours advertised

With the weather looking good I opted to climb the Mica Mine track, which zigzags steadily up until it breaks out above the treeline and takes a much more direct line up a ridge to the tops. The track is well maintained and easy to follow, and once on the tops the marker poles are fairly closely spaced. There's also a well worn footpad that you could probably follow even in a whiteout. Though why would you bother if there's no view...

The hut and track is so new it is yet to be marked on topomaps. I took this photo from some trampers' map that I met on their descent of the track.

Looking up to the ridgeline from the edge of the forest

Luckily for me the views were stupendous. Many of the tarns were dry or much reduced, and the going was pretty straightforward in good visibility. Not a cloud in the sky!!

Looking north: Lake Paringa peaking out, Bruce Bay in far background

Wild West coast

Looking inland up the Moeraki Valley

Looking east across the Thomas Range

some tarns had dried up completely

Alpine daisies

can you see the marker pole?

I spy.... a hut!

Mataketake Hut sits facing the west coast, but nestled behind Pt 1292 such that the sun drops behind the hill before sunset. There's a nearby tarn for a swim, but the temperature had dropped so I wasn't tempted. Late in the day a couple arrived, having also walked along the tops.

Aoraki peaking up in the last of the sun's rays

Sunset behind this hill, swimming tarns in foreground

The next morning two young Kea were checking me out whilst I visited the loo. They were curious yet hesitant, not yet displaying the cheeky mischievousness they are renowned for.

You can tell it's juvenile because the beak and nostrils are yet to darken to black. These individuals are probably 18 months to 2 years old

Curious, cute, and very healthy looking

approaching storm

The couple left in the approaching bad weather, heading down off the tops to Maori Saddle and the more sheltered cattle track. I settled in to read a book. The hut was built using a bequest from a chap named Andy Dennis, and contains a library of his books. I would have happily spent the day exploring the tops, but the wind was howling and it was raining cats and dogs! Best stick with the book....

During the day a couple of chaps turned up looking very wet and bedraggled, but surprisingly chirpy. The hut being a new build was well insulated and double glazed, so despite the miserable weather outside it was warm inside and there was no need to light the fire. I drank more cups of tea, chatted, and kept reading. I had to finish the book before I left!

The next morning the bad weather had cleared completely. I decided to go down the track to Maori Saddle as I wanted to at least see the views south over Lake Dime that I hadn't been able to explore due to the bad weather.

Sunrise. Another clear day ahead

View south over Lake Dime

The track down was steep and in much worse condition than the Mica Mine track. After climbing over a tree fall I lost the track completely, and since the route is not yet marked on any Topo maps I had no way of knowing whether it was to my left or right. So I made my way down through the bush, following whatever animal tracks I could find, to intersect with the benched cattle track. Turns out the track was to my right!!

Down this ridge to the tree line

Just into the forest (looking up the way I've come)

that bit was clearly marked...

Back on the cattle track it was fairly easy going, though the benched track has suffered from a few slips in places. The streams were up after the rain, but not enough to make crossings at all hazardous. 

I arrived at Blowfly Hut early afternoon and decided to call it a day. I stripped off and went for a lovely swim in the river, and later that afternoon a couple of other parties turned up at the hut. It was almost a full house!

Blowfly Hut

Day 4 and another pearler. After crossing the swing bridge I turned right and headed up the Moeraki River towards Horseshoe Flats. The first section was very up and down and took me a lot longer than I expected, but the lush west coast greenery made up for the slow going. I even surprised a couple of Whio when crossing a stream.

turn right to head up the valley

so many different lichens and ferns

With the dry weather the normally swampy flats were really easy walking and I got to Horseshoe Flats Hut for an early lunch. A nicely appointed hut near the river, but I didn't linger long..

Horseshoe Flats Hut

After crossing the river the track climbed higher up the valley, before crossing the river again to arrive at Middle Head Hut. This hut was rather musty and not quite as inviting as Horseshoe Flats Hut, but it was better than a tent. I claimed a bunk and then set off up the track to view the glacial cirque at the head of the valley.

sometimes the track is the river...

side stream entering Moeraki River

the track crosses this spectacular cascade

crossing the Moeraki, view up the southern branch

same spot, long exposure

zoomed view of the head of the valley up the south branch

Middle Head Hut, could do with a bit of scrub clearing....

There's a substantial rock bivy on the track, but the main drawcard is the sheer cliffs of this glacial cirque. Well worth the effort.

This is actually a pretty good bivy, but I'll take the hut thanks...

plenty of room, and a fireplace!

Back at the hut I went down to the river to fill up my water bladders and returned to see two old blokes stumble out of the bush looking pretty spent. Another hut I don't get to myself!

Doug and Ray (from Karitane and Waikouaiti respectively) had just walked a very tough 10 day route up the Paringa River, over into the Clarke and then back over to the Moeraki. There had originally been 3 in the party, but one had bailed and called up a chopper to exit the wilderness. Ray was buggered, and Doug wasn't much better. I offered to give them a lift back to their car the next day. Doug knew it would be up to him to ride the mountain bike they had stashed in the bushes back up the highway to the Paringa and he wasn't looking forward to it.  

The next morning the three of us walked back down the valley to my car, ambling along and spying the many huge trout, and an even bigger eel, in the larger pools. I was also impressed by the healthy birdlife, with lots of kereru higher up the valley, and another set of Whio flushed from a hidey hole next to the track as we passed. Those ones actually whistled, the first time I'd heard that!!

We left Ray at the carpark to fish out the mountain bike from it's hiding place and I drove Doug north to pick up his car parked at the salmon farm before continuing on to Franz Josef. 

Next stop Reefton, and some packrafting. That's next..

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