Monday, May 8, 2023

Silver Peaks Circuit

A few months ago I heard about a new weather app called MeteoBlue that was getting some traction amongst farmers, pilots and trampers alike. Of particular interest is a little option called "Where2Go" which shows you where the weather is going to be sunniest over the next day or so. You can customise the distance from where you are to give you more, or less, options. I like using 500km as I'm not fussed about a little travel for some fair weather tramping.

Imagine my surprise to discover that the area around Dunedin was due for some stellar weather. Given that the city and hills surrounding it seem to attract their own cloudy wet weather most months of the year, finding a dry spell to knock off the Silver Peaks circuit was an opportunity not to be missed. I asked Jude if she wanted to join me, and the two of us headed down to stay at Waikouiti on Thursday night for an early start on Friday.

Day 1
Semple Road to Philip J Cox Hut via River Track 4 hours
PJC Hut to ABC Cave 2 hours

Local tramping clubs and volunteers have cleared a number of extra tracks in Silver Peaks, so it's well worth checking out the map on the OTMC website for a few more options than those listed in the DOC brochure. As a result I had devised a loop route utilising the lesser known River Track to avoid any road walking. We decided to walk in an anti clockwise direction as Day 2 promised to be sunny and clear for the more exposed section of the walk.

I had a few issues getting my Inreach to work, and for my gaiters to fit my new tramping shoes, so we didn't get going until 9:20. It was rather cold up at the carpark but once we got moving we soon warmed up.

We took the "old miners track" from the carpark down to Waikouiti River where we detoured up to visit Possum Hut. We were walking through Kanuka stands on well benched tracks. Possum Hut is derelict but someone had put a ground sheet down and covered the windows and door to make it usable in an emergency. We walked back down to the river, crossing it to follow the really well looked after "River Track" all the way to where we had to cross a branch of the river again to climb up to Philip J Cox Hut. That part of the track was steep and in need of maintenance with a bit of tree fall but nothing too hard. We were pretty sweaty by the time we got to the hut at 1:18pm.

We had lunch at the hut and a hot cuppa (I'm tramping with Jude remember!) and then headed off at 1:53. I can't quite believe I wrote down the times so accurately but forgot to take a picture of the very tidy hut.

It was misty and foggy, with some gorse on the track but not bad at all. Some of the comments in the hut book complaining about the gorse were perhaps a bit precious. The wind wasn't too bad, but not for hanging around in. We definitely stayed rugged up all day. We got a few clearances to get some views but it was mostly clagged in. 

We arrived at ABC Cave at 4pm. It's an awesome dry spot with a wooden platform to sleep on and seating and a bench, and there's even a little fireplace in one corner. Jude discovered that she had not brought her bivy bag, but in fact had brought her Helinox chair instead. I had brought my bivy bag, so lent her my poncho tarp to use for a little bit more protection, though she had a much warmer sleeping bag than me. Despite being foggy outside, we were completely protected from the weather and wind and it was quite cosy in there. Overnight the clouds cleared and the night sky was stupendous.

Day 2
ABC Cave to Jubilee Hut 1.5 hours
Jubilee Hut to Semple Road 4 hours

We set off about 9 am, with me deciding not to have a morning coffee so that I didn't need to do a poo as the conditions, or rather, the topography, was rather dodgy for doing a squat. The trail went up and along the ridge before descending on a very steep and extremely muddy track to Cave Creek. This was the site of the old Jubilee Hut, in perpetual shade, unlike the new hut on a sunny terrace across from us. Crossing the creek the track climbed up to an intersection where we continued to climb to Jubilee Hut. There was a lot of damage from pig rooting but we saw no actual beasts.

Jude had second breakfast whilst I had my long anticipated coffee, and visited the loo, and then we headed off on the main track back to the car park. We met a local couple out for the day. They had a rifle and were looking for deer, unsuccessfully it transpired. 

After recrossing Cave Creek the track began the brutal climb up the Devils Staircase. The weather was amazing, bluebird and hardly any wind. We stopped for lunch somewhere near the top and continued the climb up to Pt 777 which was the highest point on the trip. The views were spectacular, right down to the coast both north and south. From Pt 777 the track descended onto a lower ridge, passing above the painted forest. I'm not sure why it is called that because there was nothing colourful about it. 

The track continued across to Pulpit Rock and then to Green Hill before descending into the forest for the rest of the trail. Even though we were still following ridgelines, the track remains within kanuka forest with glimpses across to Swampy Summit (perhaps called that because of the perpetual clouds usually shrouding it). We met a track volunteer doing a hard cut with a chainsaw, and we also passed a few other trampers on their way to Jubilee Hut. 

The final kilometre to the car park seemed to take forever, but at last we arrived back at the car around 3:30pm. The hunters we'd met earlier near Jubilee Hut passed us on the way back down, and when Jude found their wallet dropped in the carpark we recognised them from a picture. We knew they were going to a local pub for a beer, so we managed to reunite them with their wallet at the local brewery after contacting them on Facebook.

Jude and I didn't stop at the brewery (though I suspect we may have got a free drink from our very grateful fellow trampers), preferring to continue driving, stopping instead at Wederburn Tavern for a meal and low alcohol beer before continuing our journey back to our Central Otago homes.

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