Saturday, 20 January 2007

Stage 2 is in the bag!

Well, I've just rocked in Arthur's Pass in the rain, and have shacked up at Mountainhouse Backpackers for the rest of the day and tomorrow. Stage two of my trip has just flown past. It doesn't seem like 12 days has past since I left Lake Rotoroa!

A quick rundown on what I 've been up to since my last blog.

9 January - After a good nights sleep and a shower at the East Gowan Holiday Camp, I headed around the side of Lake Rotoroa in the first of the bad weather that started to come through on this leg. I had lunch at Sabine hut, at the head of the lake and trudged up to West Sabine hut, arriving at about 6pm. A long day with a freshly stocked pack. I was thinking I'd be needing a rest day some time soon, as I didn't take one at Rotoroa like I'd initially planned. Some good company in the form of Jost from Rotorua, Patrick a wayward Aussie in search of trout, and a German couple from Nelson who's names escape me.

10 January - A short day swelching up to Blue Lake Hut in the rain. There was no point in going any further that day, as the weather was foul. Blue Lake itself is stunning - definitely one of the highlights so far! Had some nice company that day in the form of John and Hanne, and a French dude, Benjamin, who arrived later in the day.

11 January - I got my rest day! It was raining cats and dogs, then eased back to showers, but lots of fog and general clag. There was no way I was going over the Pass today! Got invaded by Paul and Rebecca later in the day, a father and daughter who HAD come across the pass in the filth and rain. They didn't recommend it though, so I was glad to be sitting around in a nice cosy hut!

12 January - The day dawned brilliantly clear, and i was off out the door with a grin on my face : ) What a great day to be doing Waiau Pass! I rocked up to Lake Constance, which was magically clear and still, charged around the side and huffed and puffed up the tussock lead that comes down from the bench just below the pass. I had a snack and a photo shoot on the bench, which I followed until I came to the last scree slope leading to the pass. I was on the pass by 11.30 - exactly 3 hours after I had left the hut. Pretty good going I thought.

The route down from the Pass proved more straight forward than I originally thought, and i followed old bent over warratahs down though the slabby section at the top to the steeper tussock slopes below. Again, the views over to Lake Thompson and Thompson Pass were stunning. I bashed down through the scrub (actually there is a pretty good foot trail through it) to the campsite in the first lot of trees and had lunch, then spent the afternoon following the Waiau down through boulder fields and regenerating beech forest. I reached Caroline Biv about 3.30, and after a snack and a quick look at the map, decided to head on downstream a bit further to shorten my day the next day. I walked on until about 5.30, moving through open grassy flats and a bit of bush until I found a good flat spot with a good water supply close by and set up camp. The rest of the evening was spent fending off the sandflies, who were swarming due to the fact it was probably going to rain the following day.

13 January - The day was drizzly and heavily overcast. I spent most of my time wandering down open flats, avoiding cow pats. I must admit, I didn't really enjoy this bit - not a big fan of cattle country. The place feels spoiled somehow. I skirted Ada Homestead, crossed over the Ada River and got on to the St James Walkway. More of the same cattle country passed by as I headed up to Anne Hut, which I reached mid-afternoon. I decided to stop and dry stuff out, as the day had turned for the better. Anne Hut is is quite a nice forested spot just on the edge of the more open farmland I had just crossed. I met two Americans, John and Annemarie Brittan, who were over here on a tramping holiday, and loving it. They had coming over here without much experience, but have been quick to learn the ins and outs of tramping Kiwi style. They plan to come back soon, and do more in the southern part of the Island, now the kids have all moved out and gone to collage.

14 January - After it raining steadily overnight, it cleared rapidly as I got underway in the morning. I followed the track up more pleasant cow country than the day before. The Anne Valley is a pretty valley rimmed with forest, and the River quickly turns to an enchanting mountain stream. I got to Anne Saddle about 10.30, and quickly descended into the Boyle River, then followed the series of open, tussocky river flats until I reached Boyle Flats Hut, where I had lunch. After lunch the river became more gorged, and I was in the bush much more. The weather had turned again, and it became drizzly again. I crossed the swingbridge and trudged the last three hours down to Boyle settlement with blinkers on, thinking only of the food box i was going to pick up.

I got to Boyle settlement, and went to see Bill, the caretaker of the Outdoor Pursuits Centre there. He made me feel right at home when I knocked on his door, and sat me down in front of the fire and gave me a cuppa. He also runs a backpackers at his place, so I managed to sort out a bed for the night too. We went down and got my food box, and spent some time restocking the pack, before sitting down to a hearty feed of steak, spud, peas and fried onion - Mmm, good stuff! The beer I was handed went down a treat too. After that we sat around and yarned before a knock on the door summoned Bill away. Apparently there had been an accident up the road, and as Bill is the last house before the Pass, he often has to help out in dealing with the tidy up. I had a hot shower and went to bed, as the hot meal and beer had made me sleepy.

15 January - I hit the road (literally) at about 8.30 and walked from Boyle settlement through to Windy Point in about two hours. I was glad to get off the road and into the forest, as the day had shaped up to be another stunner. I followed the forest terraces above the hope river through to the shelter, stopping for lunch on the way. I ran into a mother and son team who were planning on going over Harper Pass as well along the way. The forest eventually abated and I came out on large flats, littered with matagouri. I crossed the swingbridge, and half an later arrived at Hope Kiwi Lodge, which is a pretty flash establishment. My feet were killing me, so I was glad to get the boots off. It had been a long hard day with a full pack.

16 January - I head over Kiwi Saddle and around the head of Lake Sumner into the Hurunui River. It was another clear hot day, and the travel was again both in forest, and open cattle flats littered with cows and matagouri. I had lunch at Hurunui Hut and then pushed on up to the hot pool for a soak (God, that was good!). The problem was it was hard to get going again once I got out, and I was a bit sluggish for the rest of the walk up to No. 3 Hut, which I reached at about 6.30. Another longish day distance wise, but worth it in the fine weather.

17 January - It started out all rainy and cloudy, so the walk up the rest of the Hurunui was a bit wet. The river wasn't a problem though, and as I reached Harper Pass things cleared. The descent into the Taramakau is a lot steeper than the gentle approach on the Hurunui side, and the track a lot rougher. I dropped down through Dracophyllum scrub and sidled a stream through scrubby forest before crossing the swingbridge at the head of the valley to the true left where I had lunch, then I followed the track down washed out river banks and scrubby bush until I reached Locke Stream Hut. I spent the rest of the day basking in the sun and drying all my wet kit out and giving my feet a rest.

18 January - Again, the day dawned cloudy and damp. I put my rain jacket on to get through the wet forest, and kept it on for most of the morning as it was a bit drizzly and colder than it had been for a while. I crossed the Taramakau quite early on and walked down grassy flats for some time before reaching the Kiwi Hut turnoff, where I had a snack. After Kiwi Hut I started crossing a series of gravel flats. I quickly passed the Otehake, where i ran into a couple of DOC guys bouncing up the riverbed in a 4WD, and headed down valley, passing a chopper full of fishermen before crossing back to the true left and finally reaching the shelter on the corner of the Otira where I had lunch. After lunch I crossed the Otira and trudged up the road to the Deception brigde. I headed about 20 minutes up valley before I found a good spot to camp, then set about lounging about until I had to cook tea and do the radio sched to let people know I was almost at Arthur's Pass. I had a couple of visitors in the form of a guy popping up from the road to see what the Deception was like, as his brother had done the Coast to Coast a few times, and he was interested to see some of the country his bro ran through. The other was a French-Canadian girl who wandered out of the Deception some time after 7pm. She had fallen over and gashed her head, but was fine and just wanted to get to the road end so she could get the gash checked to see whether she needed stitches. She told me to be careful in there!

19 January - Deception Day! It started off with me being woken up by three runners going past the tent at 7 in the morning, They were obviously training for the Coast to Coast, which is coming up in a few weeks time. What can I say about the Deception? Well, its wet, wild and woolly, and I'd hate to get stuck in there in heavy rain. The way up the valley is definitely a route, not a track, and is reasonably hard yakka. I was lucky, I had another fine day on my hands, so the trip up was almost pleasant : ) I had lunch at Deception Hut and made Goat Pass hut by about 3pm. I spent the afternoon wandering around Goat Pass soaking up the views and taking the odd snap.

20 January - The weather had gone bad overnight, and I walked down the Mingha in the rain. I passed a few people heading up to Goat Pass to go climbing, and a couple of day trippers and Coast to Coasters out for some training on the way downstream. I made it out to the Bealy confluence in just over 3 hours, then walked up the Bealy riverbed into Arthur's Pass Village, where I got myself a bed at the Mountainhouse Backpackers, and proceeded to pig out on junk food, email a few people and call others. Roy arrived late afternoon with my next food dump and a new pack, as my trusty old purple Torre was starting to fall apart on me, then we headed down to the Wobbly Kea for a steak and a couple of beers before I headed off to bed.

Well it looks like I'm about a week ahead of schedule at the moment, though once I start heading south, I doubt that I'll be doing such good time. I'm heading into the hard part of the trip now, and things will be getting a lot more challenging. I'm taking the day off today (21 January) and plan to head out to Carrington Hut in the Waimakariri tomorrow. With a bit of luck and good weather, I'll be in the head of the Rakaia in six or seven days, then it'll probably be another ten days to Mount Cook where I'll try and update this again. Here's hoping stage three goes as well as stages 1 and 2!


Day 12: Lake Rotoroa - Sabine Hut - Sabine River - West Sabine Hut
Day 13: West Sabine Hut - Blue Lake Hut
Day 14: Pit day due to bad weather, Blue Lake Hut
Day 15: Blue Lake Hut - Lake Constance - Waiau Pass - Waiau Valley - Caroline Biv - Campsite in Waiau Valley
Day 16: Waiau Valley - Ada River - Anne Hut
Day 17: Anne Hut - Anne River - Anne Saddle - Boyle River - Boyle River Outdoor Pursuits Centre (Lewis Pass)
Day 18: Boyle River Outdoor Pursuits Centre - Windy Point - Hope River - Kiwi River - Hope Kiwi Lodge
Day 19: Hope Kiwi Lodge - Kiwi Saddle - Lake Coleridge - Hurunui River - Hurunui Hut - No. 3 Hut
Day 20: No. 3 Hut - Harper Pass - Locke Stream Hut
Day 21: Locke Stream Hut - Taramakau River - Otira River - Deception River campsite
Day 22: Deception River - Goat Pass Hut
Day 23: Goat Pass Hut - Mingha River - Bealy River - Arthur's Pass Village
Day 24: Rest Day, Arthur's Pass Village

Monday, 8 January 2007

End of First Leg

Well, I've just arrived at Lake Rotoroa after eleven days tramping through Kahurangi National Park. The first leg of the trip has been awesome, and the highlights have not been of the geographical kind, but the cool people I've met on the way.

I left Dunedin on 27 December with Neville Jopson and family and did the long haul up to Motueka that day, stopping off to drop off my food drop at Lake Rotoroa. We crashed in Neville's boat that night, and the next morning I took my leave of them and got a bus up to Collingwood. I spent the night at the motor camp and had my last steak for some time at the Collingwood Tavern.

Here's the breakdown of the first leg in more detail:

29 December
- I was away from Collingwood at eight o'clock trudging down the Aorere Valley road under the load of a 14 day pack - potentially the second largest I'll have to carry on this trip. After walking about 10km, I managed to get two short lifts, which got me to Bainham, then I walked through to the roadend, and up Brown Cow Ridge to Boulder Lake that afternoon, in the scorching heat, It was a beautiful day, but the heavy pack and lack of water and breeze made the going hard. After finally breaking the bushline and crossing the saddle at the top of Brown Cow Ridge, I finally arrived at Boulder Lake Hut exhausted, but happy to have made it this far on Day 1 around 7.45 that evening. I spent the night in the company of Chris and Lynda from Hokitika, who had arrived at the roadend just as i was starting up the track earlier in the day. They were there to do the Dragons Teeth route as well, and I was fortunate to have their company for the next few days.

30 December - It rains over night and was a bit chilly, but it cleared up the next morning. I headed off through the exceptionally long tussock behind the hut to get to Green Saddle and the long ridgetop sidle to The Needle and Adelaide Tarn. Chris and Lynda had left the hut about 10 minutes ahead of me, but I somehow managed to pass them in the tussock and came out on the spur leading up to Green Saddle ahead of them. The pack was still heavy, but I was feeling a bit stronger than the day before, and made Green Saddle in good time. To my surprise, there was snow on all the peaks I could see further South! There wasn't any lying on the ridge though, and I trundled through the alpine scrub sidle and finally made the ridgetop, which I followed over rocky outcrops and through Dracophyllum scrub until it was time to drop off it again and sidle to the Eye of the Needle - a gut that takes you up to a Saddle that leads over to Adelaide Tarn. The views into the Dragons Teeth and Anatoki Peak as you drop off this wee saddle are gobsmacking, and Adelaide Tarn is a seriously cool place to visit.

I arrived at Trident Hut at about 1.30, and proceeded to spend the rest of the afternoon sitting around on the rock outside the hut in the sun. I had originally planned to scamper up one of the surrounding hills, but wound up doing nothing, which was great! Chris and Lynda arrived shortly after, and went off exploring, then a party of four guys from Nelson arrived from Lonely Lake later in the afternoon, and I had a great time yakking with them for a while. Had an early tea, and hit the hay about 8.30 in these god awful sacking bunks that squeaked every time you moved, and were just a little to skinny to comfortably fit a person of my size!

31 December - It was a wee bit grey and cloudy when we got up, and was lightly raining on the tarn, but where we were by the hut was dry - bizarre! The cloud dropped down and visibility wasn't flash when I left Trident Hut behind Chris and Lynda. I wandered up to the shoulder by Point 1435 in the clag and was denied the awesome view of the Dragons Teeth that you get from here on a fine day this time. The cloud lifted enough to see into the valley, and I could see the others not far in front. I caught up with them at the top of the route through the bluffs down into the Anatoki and joined forces with them as we fought our way down the ledges through alpine scrub. My memory of being here before paid off a couple of times on the way down, and after a short grovelly traverse and downclimb at the bottom of the bluffs we were on the valley floor, bang on where the markers signalling the way up were placed - not bad navigation if I do say so myself!

We sidled down the true left of the Anatoki on a good foot trail and had a break at Point 744 before crossing to the true right heading downriver another 800 metres or so to the cairn that marked the start of the spur that leads up to the Drunken Sailor. The trail up here is generally pretty good, and is marked with cairns in places. It was was hard work with a big pack though, and we stopped several time for a breather on the way up. We had lunch just below the bushline, as it was drizzling a bit and not the warmest, then proceeded to sidle around the side of the Drunken Sailor once we got into the open. The cloud lifted a little now and again, but never enough to give us any real views. We soon picked up the track down to Lonely Lake, and were at the hut by about 2pm. We found Christine and David Sidwell from Kare Kare in residence. They had been half a day in front of us and had come up from Point 744 that morning.

We spent the rest of the afternoon sitting around the hut talking, before three of Chris and Lynda's friends arrived from Fenella and set up camp. I claimed the top bunk in the hut (which was only marginally better that the one I had the night before - but at least it was wide and long enough this time!), and then all eight of us crammed into the hut for the evening, as it was still raining lightly on and off before heading to bed about 9.20. Happy New Year!

1 January 2007 - It stopped raining overnight, and the morning was looking reasonable, with the exception of some high cloud lurking about. The Sidwell's got up early and were away long before the rest of us were ready. I left just as the others were packing away their tents. I wandered along the track until it came out of the bush on a bit of a ledge that gave a great view back into the Lonely Lake cirque, took some photos, then sauntered up onto the the ridge top, which you follow most of the way through to Fenella. The views from here back to Lonely Lake and the Dragons Teeth are spectacular, and really show how steep the country around here is, however the cloud level was quickly lowering and before long you couldn't see too much, and it started to rain lightly again. The route pretty much follows the top of a very narrow ridge, and to start with you have to clamber up and down rock outcrops before the ridge takes a left turn and the track drops off to the right. It was here I caught up with the Sidwell's in very low visibility. They had taken a bit of a wrong turning, and I called them back to where I knew the track dropped off and sidled. Needless to say they were very appreciative of being put back on course!

Once the sidle finished I had a snack stop then pushed on to the climb up to the point where you sidle again under Kakapo Peak. I had originally planned to pop up Kakapo Peak, but the visibility was still bad, so flagged the idea and pushed on towards Waingaro Peak and the last sidle before dropping down to Fenella Hut. Just as I got to the point where you drop down to Fenella things started clearing up, so I stopped and had lunch, taking in the fine views over the head of the Cobb Valley. From here it didn't take long to get down to the hut, and I spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out in the sun, drying things out and talking to the people at the hut. Fenella Hut is a very special place - and not just because its a memorial hut - Go visit it some time and you'll see why.

2 January - I said my farewells to Chris and Lynda and the Sidwell's when they left the hut before me. Chris and Lynda had kindly offered to take my rubbish out for me, as it was their last day and they were heading home (Thanks guys : )). I left some time after but soon passed the Sidwells. The mist that had been hanging about when we got up soon burned off and it soon turned into a lovely day.

I zoomed down the Cobb, passing the tarp camp and Chaffey's Hut along the way, and to my suprise passed Chris and Lynda about 15 minutes out from the carpark by Tribolite Hut, which is just up from the Cobb Reservoir. I had short break here, then headed down the road a short distance to pick up the track up to Lake Peel and the Mount Arthur Tablelands.

It didn't take long to reach bushline, and I was greeted with wonderful views of the Cobb Reservoir, and then once I gained the Peel Ridge, Mount Arthur and the Twins. I stopped and had lunch and soaked up the views, then headed around to Lake Peel. Just as I left the lake the cloud started to roll in again, and before long I was getting showered on again. The cloud partially obscured my views into the Leslie and Karamea, but I could still see Mount Arthur quite clearly. Balloon Hut soon came into view, and I had to make up my mind whether I would stop here or push on for another 5km and stay at Spurgeon's Rock Shelter. I decided to stay at Balloon, as it was showering, and I was keen to do some repairs on my shorts and pack. I spent the rest of the afternoon sewing up the holes in my shorts and jury rigging my pack to stop the straps slipping. The straps at the base of my harness had ripped off on one side and were barely hanging on on the other, so I ripped off the bit that was barely hanging on and tied the bits of tape together to fix them in place and stop my shoulder straps from sliding up the aluminium frame. This was a temporary measure at best, and I realised that I was going to have to get hold of Danilo and ask him to get me a new pack at some stage, but hopefully the jury rigged harness would hold out until I reached Arthur's Pass. This turned out to be the first night that I had a hut to myself. It seems the New years rush of trampers has more or less started to peter out.

3 January - It was misty again when I set out, but the mist gives the Tablelands a real ghostly feel, which is quite cool. I quickly reached the Junction that led off down to the Leslie River. From here the track quickly heads back into forest and follows a large spur down into the Leslie. The track is well benched and easy to follow. I soon reached Spurgeons Rock Shelter and was really disappointed with it. I thought it was going to be another of those cool rock shelters like the ones up on the Tablelands, but it was just a little dog box perched on a ledge in the bush. I was definitely glad I had decided to stay at Balloon Hut! From here the track kept descending down and I reached the swingbridge across the Leslie and crossed it. From here the track was pretty flat, following the river downstream. it was boggy in places, but travel was easy, following through pleasant bush. I passed three trampers heading the other way, and spotted a couple of fishermen further downstream, just before reaching Karamea Bend Hut. I had lunch, and decided to push on to Crow Hut, as this one was a big impersonal box, and I had most of the afternoon left to get there.

The Karamea is a great big green monster of a river, and I was sorely tempted to jump in a couple of times, as the day had become stinking hot. Travel up the river was a mix of forest glades, scrubby sidles and a bit of boulder hopping and bluff climbing, though the track is good the whole way through. I finally reached Crow about 5pm. Its a cool old six bunker hut that has a lot of character. Apparently its earmarked for replacement, but this hardly seems necessary, as it seems to have a lot of life left in it yet. Apparently (according to the hut book) both Venus and Thor huts further are under threat of removal, which seems absurd - particularly Venus, which is half way up the valley, and a logical place to have a hut. You've got to wonder at DOC's thinking sometimes.

4 January - The fine weather continued, and the travel up the Karamea was very similar to the previous day, with the track following the river bank the whole way, and crossing from the true right to the true left at one stage.

The lowlight of the day came when I was pushing through a bush to get to a clear section of the track about 10minutes up from Crow Hut, when suddenly i felt a sharp stabbing pain in my left thigh. I got out into the open to find a wasp busily thrusting its sting into me. I swore and brushed it off with my poll, and then swiftly dumped my pack and rummaged through it to get some antihestimine, which I quickly swallowed. it had been years since I'd been stung by anything, and I wasn't sure how I'd react, though I've never had any severe reactions in the past. Fortunately it was the case this time too, and I got on my not so merry way. Kahurangi does still have a bit of a wasp problem, but I don't think it is as bad as it once was.

I had a break at Venus hut, which is a really quirky place. It is built in 1970, and expanded to two storeys in 1987 to increase bunk space. The bottom storey is all concrete block, and a bit prison like, but would be welcome refuge in the wet, while the top storey is the more traditional Forest Service type hut. An interesting place.

About half an hour up the track I passed another tramper whose name I had seen in the hut books for the past couple of days and said gidday. He was heading for Trevor Carter too, so I said I'd see him there and headed on up the track. I soon reached a long cabled sidle along a section of limestone beside the river before heading back into the bush. I saw several parties of fisherman along the way, and heard the occasional buzz of helicopters buzzing in and out of the river valley. Something I've really noticed about Kahurangi is the birdlife. There is so much of it, its great! Its really nice to hear, but sad when you think how dead the bush is in the South in comparison.

I reached Thor hut about 12.20 and decided to push on until 1pm before stopping for lunch. I had lunch at Mars Creek, then headed up valley to Moonstone Lake, which is a section of the Karamea that was dammed by a landslide some time ago. Once past the lake the valley started to pen up, and I could soon see the head of it. I travelled through more forest before crossing Kendall Stream, then climbed around another forest clad limestone bluff and crossed back over to the true right of the Karamea as soon as Trevor Carter Hut came into view, saving 20 minutes of walking the track to the swingbridge and back. It was a lovely day, and Trevor Carter is in a great, sunny location, so I decided to call it a day and go for a swim and wash my smelly clothes. I was also keen to go over Biggs Tops the next day if it was clear, so made the most of hanging out in the sun.

I found Steven Grover, his son Spensor, and Spensor's friend Ben, all from Dunedin in residence when I arrived. They were up here making the most of the summer while they could, and were on a bit of a tramping/fishing trip, heading in the opposite direction to me. They had spent the day here and were moving downriver the next day. The tramper I had past earlier in the day arrived about 5.30. His name was Uwe, and he was a German ex-pat living in Christchurch. He was planning on doing some off trail tramping through to the Matiri, but had developed some nasty blisters, so was now going to head out via the Little Wanganui. I gave him some of my Compeed to help him on his way. We had a nice evening sitting around shooting the breeze, and had another earlish night.

5 January - The cloud had rolled in again the next morning, and although i had a pretty good feeling that it would clear off pretty quickly, I decided to flag going over Biggs Tops and headed up Hidden Valley instead. Almost right on queue, the cloud cleared, just as i reached the top of hidden Valley, and dropped back down to Helicopter Flat. I swore under my breath and crossed the Karamea back onto the Wangapeka Track. The rest of the morning was spent slowly climbing up a well benched track towards Wangapeka Saddle. The forest was pleasant and kept the worst of the heat out, and I crossed the river a couple of times as I slowly got higher. The Karamea gradually diminished in size and soon became a pleasant mountain stream, and then as I got closer to the saddle became quite gorgey. At one point I had to climb over the head of a recent slip, but other than that the going was easy.

I eventually reached Wangapeka Saddle at lunchtime, just when I was wondering if i was ever going to get there. The Saddle is in bush, so there are no grand views. I had lunch and was molested by an incredibly bold Robin, who would actually jump on me and nip my clothing. After lunch, I quickly descended down into the Wangapeka Valley itself and had a quick stop at Stone Hut where i chatted with three trampers heading the other way. They were thinking of crossing Biggs Tops that day, but as it was already 2.30, I thought that they might be making a long day for themselves - especially since they had only just come up from Kings Creek Hut that day! I left them to it and headed on down valley towards Kings Creek Hut. The track here follows above this really cool gorge, which had lichen covered trees hanging over it. Its a really pleasant walk. I eventually reached the North/South Wangapeka confluence, and arrived at the historic Kings Hut shortly after. There were two people already in residence, so I went the extra 500 metres down to the "new" Kings Creek Hut. DOC had recently repainted the interior of the hut, and the place stunk of fresh paint, so I had to open all the windows and doors for a while when I arrive, but other than that, its a nice place to stay, though there were wasps lurking about the longdrop - makes for quick toilet stops that! Again I had the hut to myself that night.

6 January - Another fine day! Kahurangi had been treating me well! Then I went and feel in the first sidestream I crossed. The lower Wangapeka was a breeze. I quickly made it down to the swingbridge by Kiwi Stream and crossed to the true right, then followed the track down through a mixture of open grassy flats and narrow windy shelves on the river corners. There were wasps everywhere on the flats, but I didn't bug them and didn't sting me, so it was all good! I made Rolling Junction by 11, then walked up the road to Courthouse Flat, where I had lunch at midday. There were three cars there, so I thought that the hut might be busy when I got there. The day was blisteringly hot by this stage, and i was not looking forward to the climb up to Granity Pass Hut.

True to form, the travel was tortureous. I had to stop, sit down and guzzle water quite frequently in the heat. I was relieved to get off the scrubby, exposed ridge and into the bush, where it was cooler, but the gradient didn't let up, and it felt like I was going really slowly. I eventually made bushline and was treated to great views back to Mount Patriach, and the other peaks around the Wangapeka area. However, the wind had started to pick up, and I could see high cloud starting to develop. When I arrived at the Saddle above the Staircase, I could see that the cloud was starting to build around Mount Owen. Looks like the end of the Golden weather I thought. I passed a couple on the way down the Staircase, catching them just after the steep tree root descent. I was a little suprised to see them, as it was getting on in the day, and I thought that anybody who was coming up here would have reached the hut by now. From the Staircase, I cruised through to the old ruined hut on the edge of the Dracophyllum bush, which had now completely collapsed since I was last here. I had a quick scroggin stop here and then headed up to the hut via a dry creekbed. I was greeted by the sole occupant of the hut (to my suprise), Duncan Ross, a Scottish dude from Wellington who was doing a road/tramping trip about the top half of the South Island. I claimed a bunk and grabbed some water to rehydrate, and we sat around outside until the couple i had passed earlier arrived at the hut. Richard and Gabrialla, also from Wellington (I was starting to feel outnumbered by now) made themselves at home, and then all of a sudden anothr guy shows up - this little place was getting busy! Uri from Israel had just come accross from the South side of Mount Owen, so naturely I started quizzing him about the route. We all made dinner and sat around and talked, then suddenly two more people appeared at the door! A full house! This German couple had come across from Branch Creek Hut, to the West of the Owen massif, and were looking a little shagged. We did some shuffling around and everybody managed to fit. it was a cosy night though!

7 January - The windy front passed in the night without any rain, but we were greeted with a think blanket of fog when we got up. Duncan left for Courthouse Flat quite early, but most of the rest of us wanted to get up Mount Owen if possible, so hung around. Uri left for Courthouse Flat around 10.30 or so after waiting around to see if things would clear enough to get any views. Around midday, I decided to pop up the Railway Embankment and see what I could see. It looked promising, and i was sure that the upper cirque was possibly in the clear, so I hurried back down to the hut, had lunch and packed up. The two Germans had decided to go out and have a look around in the mist too, and I mentioned to Gabriella that she might want to wake Richard up from his snooze and make tracks up the hill soon if they wanted to get the summit in today as I left.

The cloud started to lift as soon as I turned the corner at the top of the Railway Embankment, by Mount Belle, and just kept getting better the higher I went. I passed the Germans just below the Sentinel and powered past the tarns to the start of the Karst maze leading to the summit of Mount Owen. A good steady effort had me climbing progressively higher, but as I looked back North, I could see the cloud starting to roll back in over the cirque. I put some extra effort in and made a break for the top. Just as I was reaching the top, three figures appeared out of nowhere in front of me heading for the summit too.

I followed them to the top, and they seemed to be as suprised to see me as I was to see them. We got each other to take summit shots, and then we introduced ourselves. Kit Mandena and his sons, Thomas and Oscar were camped down at Lake Bulmer for a week and were doing a series of day trips around the SOuth side of Mount Owen exploring the area. Kit was a keen caver, and had been coming here for years, and no he was showing his boys around his old haunts as a Christmas present - what a cool thing to get as a Christmas present! I told them my planned route of descent, and Kit said I was mad to do the Sunrise Peak route, as it was a nightmare maze, and would tke at least 4 hours. "Come with us down the Bulmer Route. Its much easier - and faster!" How could I refuse?

We wandered west from the summit then dropped a way South onto the top of the Karst plateau. This is where they filmed the exit from Moria scenes in Fellowship of the Ring, and the place is gobsmacking. Its a real maze of ridges and crevasses of rock, and would be an absolute nightmare to navigate in low visibility. From here we traversed around the head of Poverty Basin, then zig zagged our way down to Castle Basin, before climbing slightly through a saddle before dropping down Karst slabs and then tussock slopes to the forested basin of Lake Bulmer. As we were doing this, Kit would be telling us about the caving history of the area, and pointing out the odd entrance to the pleatotha of cave systems that are beneath the slpopes of Mount Owen. It was really fascinating listening. The two boys were really good value, and obviously loving being out in the wilderness - it really great to see. No PlayStation for these kids!

Lake Bulmer is in a large gulch with forest on its lower rim. There is a rock biv on the true right of the lake and a couple of clearings in the trees at the base of the lake that make superb campsites campsites. There is quite a network of tracks about thanks to the cavers, but the area is really tidy, as the cavers are very concious of minimizing the enviromental impact on this area. I set up my tent close to the others and we sat about eating tea and yarning for the rest of the evening before turning in. I was really stoked to have got got off the hill so easily, and think I could have had a bit of an epic getting down via Sunrise Peak in the murk. I would just like to thank Kit, Oscar and Thomas (if you're reading this) for being such good company - I had a great time with you guys! I hope the rest of your week went well!

8 January - Cloud had rolled in overnight again, and I was glad that I'd made the decision to cross Mount Owen yesterday, as I probably would have been stuck at Granity Pass for another day, and been forsed to head out via Branch Creek. I had breakfast with Kit, Thomas, and Oscar before saying my goodbyes, and headed off down the cavers route down Bulmer Creek. The route is pretty good, and easy to follow, and I soon reached the bluffs that block access to the lower valley. There is one section of about six metres in the route through here where the cavers have rigged a fixed rope and old caving ladder down one particularly steep bit, and boy, do you need to use it! After that bit of excitement, the trail drops a bit more, then heads right along a narrow ledge, then drops steeply again (two more fixed ropes here) to an open grassy slope with great views of the crazily steep bluffs you have just made your way through, then drops once more through steep regenerated bush to the streambed.

After some poking about to find the start of the track I made my way downstream on the true right to start with. The track is pretty good, and is marked with ribbons in places. The stream is crossed several times on the way down to cut corners and make the best use of easy terrain, and almost before you know it you arrive at the Owen River. I crossed over to the True left of this to pick up the track and followed it down to the roadend, crossing sevarl times along the way. A long hot plod down the Owen Valley Road insued, which was only memorable because I could feel my forefeet getting more and more hammered. The odd car would drive past, but nobody stopped. There were a few people fishing the river, but other than that it was just a quiet farmland filled valley.

About 2km from the main highway, a farmer pulled over and offered me a lift. He was heading for Brightwater, so I asked if he could drop me off at the Gowan Valley Bridge, which he did. From here another tiresome road trog took place, this time on tarseal until about 4km from Lake Rotoroa when a campervan picked me up and dropped me off at Gowanbank Backpackers.
The guy there was suprised to see me, though he was happy to show me where my fooddrop was stashed. When I asked if they had a bed, he sadly said that they were full up, as they weren't expecting me for another three days. He did let me use their internet connection briefly though, so I could check my emails and do a quick blog. He then phoned the Motorcamp back up the road to see if they had any accommadation, which they did, then offered to give me a lift back up there, and then pick me up first thing the next day and take me back to Lake Rotoroa where I could continue on my way. This was absolutely great, and i thanked him very much for this generosity.

I got dropped off at the motorcamp and paid for a cabin, which was actually a compartment of an old train carriage, which was cool. I had my first hot shower in almost two weeks, shaved, and threw my smelly cloths into the washing machine. I had enough time to hang them out and get them dry before the sun went down, and had a pleasent evening feeding my face on what was left of my first lot of food, organising my pack with the new food drop and basking in the evening sun. Not a bad way to end the first stage of my trip. : )


Day 1: Collingwood - Bainham - Boulder Lake
Day 2: Boulder Lake - Adelaide Tarn
Day 3: Adelaide Tarn - Anatoki Valley - Lonely Lake
Day 4: Lonely Lake - Fenella Hut (Cobb Valley)
Day 5: Cobb Valley - Balloon Hut (Mount Arthur Tablelands)
Day 6: Balloon Hut - Leslie River - Crow Hut (Karamea River)
Day 7: Crow Hut - Trevor Carter Hut (Karamea River)
Day 8: Trevor Carter Hut - Hidden Valley - Wangapeka Saddle - Kings Creek Hut (Wangapeka River)
Day 9: Kings Creek Hut - Rolling River Junction - Courthouse Flat - Granity Pass Hut
Day 10: Granity Pass Hut - Mount Owen - Lake Bulmer (South side of Mount Owen)
Day 11: Lake Bulmer - Bulmer Creek - Owen River Valley - State Highway - Gowan River Valley - Lake Rotoroa.