Moa Hunters on this trip: Magnus, Richard, Adam, Chris, Paul
After three trips to the Mt Aspiring National Park, we agreed to head out west rather than south for a change. Magnus has a property in Kowhitirangi, just inland from Hokitika on the West Coast. He proposed we do a little walk up the Toaroha river in search of New Zealand’s most remote hot spring – on the curiously named Mungo river. it all sounded very enticing. After all, what could be better than a soak in natural hotsprings after a hard day slogging up hill and down dale with a heavy backpack?
Our intended itinerary was to walk into the Mungo hut and nearby hot pools via Cedar Flat hut, Poet hut and out through Frew hut to the Hokitika gorge.
However, due to weather and illness, things did not go to plan at all. This is what we ended up doing:
Day 1: Toaroha Road End to Cedar Flat Hut and Wren Creek hot pools.
Day 2: Cedar Flat hut to Yeats ridge and back to Cedar Flat hut.
Day 3: Cedar Flat to Top Toaroha hut.
Day 4: Top Toaroha hut to Cedar Flat hut.
Day 5: Cedar Flat hut to road end.
The extended forecast looked reasonable, with north-westerly winds only forecast on the day we planned to walk out. For those unfamiliar with the West Coast of New Zealand, wind from the north-west can dump colossal amounts of rain over there. Humid air moving in from the Tasman Sea rises as it meets the Southern Alps. The moisture laden air cools rapidly, the water condenses, and it hoses down. Rapid Creek holds the New Zealand 24hr rainfall record – a staggering 674mm. And yes, it is part of the route above!
Saturday 20th February – Walk to Cedar Flat hut
Everything went to plan, and by Saturday lunchtime we had picked up Richard from Hokitika airport and were at the start of the track. Having flown from Auckland that morning, Richard noted how surreal it was that just a few hours after leaving the city, he was standing at the edge of some truly spectacular west coast bush.
The walk up the Toaroha river to the Cedar Flat Huts was a fairly straightforward mix of rockhopping and trailwalking. Nothing too steep or strenuous. But plenty of mud. Sections of the track were extremely boggy and care was needed not to go knee deep in sticky gloop.
Because the huts are an easy day walk with the added attraction of hot pools, they are a popular destination for weekend walkers. And we were there on the weekend. Consequently sleeping spots were at a premium, with both huts quickly filled to capacity and an array of tents dotted about outside.
At this point we should give kudos to Richard. Not only had he just arrived at Hokitika the morning of the tramp, he had in fact only just arrived back in New Zealand from a stint in South Africa. Suffering from jetlag and general tiredness, he put in what Colin Meads would describe as a gutsy effort.
Probably the most intriguing arrivals at the huts was a trio of ill-equipped looking youngsters. A young bloke, and two young lasses. Naturally we all asked ourselves what he’s got that we don’t. Apart from youth and good looks. All three were covered in mud, from their lightweight running shoes to the top of their heads. It turns out one of the girls slipped, grabbed the bloke, and all three ended up lying in the mud. They had a few small backpacks containing bugger all, except cans of beans… for dinner. And a bottle of something strong… for later.
The hot pools were excellent, and the five Moa Hunters enjoyed a nice long soak. Perhaps though, not as much as the young fella did later, with his bikini-clad friends and the bottle of grog. We heard them stagger back from the pools well after dark, and plop down giggling onto their makeshift beds on the hut floor.
Sunday 21st February – Cedar Flat hut to Yeats ridgeline and back
On paper, day two was an ambitious one. The plan was to walk a fairly well marked track to Yeats Hut. From there we would follow a series of ridges, ultimately dropping into the fabled Mungo Valley, home of Mungo hut and the Mungo hotsprings. Getting to Yeats hut took a little longer than we expected. On arrival we had a short break, stretching out on the hut bunks. Richard promptly fell asleep – very unlike him, and a sure sign his trip to South Africa was catching up with him!
Ascending the first ridge, we quickly ran into trouble. Low cloud drifted in, visibility dropped dramatically and before we knew it we were considerably lower than we wanted to be. Bush bashing our way up to the ridge was no fun at all. Vicious Spaniard grass spikes left us all more perforated than pin cushions. Thick bush and flax made going tough and progress was slow.
Paul called a halt. We looked at each other and knew we all had the same thought. It was agreed that proceeding up was risky in the conditions. We knew the ridgelines ahead were not straightforward. Navigating in the murky conditions was going to be very difficult, and none of us fancied being stuck out on the tops overnight if we became disoriented. While we had emergency shelter with us, we didn’t have tents.
It was a long and slightly disappointing trudge back along the track we had come up earlier that day. On the bright side, the Cedar Flats hot pools would be there when we got back, and another hot soak in them would be most pleasant.
By evening Chris was feeling ambitious and intrepid. So much so that he embarked on a cooking odyssey never before seen at the Cedar Flat Huts. And the result?
A magnificent chocolate cake baked to perfection in Chris’s newly constructed camp cooker oven. And with icing too. An absolutely outstanding effort, Chris! Washed down with a generous tot of port, it was a little slice of heaven.
Monday 22nd February – Cedar Flat hut to top Toaroha hut
Next morning, refreshed after a soak in the pools and a good nights sleep, we contemplated a new day. The Yeats route had beaten us, but a route past the Top Toaroha Hut and down to Poet Hut looked easier. On the map at least.
Not so on the trail it turned out… Slippery rocks, slimy roots, difficult banks and steep ascents made for slow going. Chris was feeling far from 100% and Richard was still battling jetlag. We reached the top Toaroha Hut mid afternoon and Chris declared he was utterly buggered. He looked it too. Possibly a mild case of the bubonic plague or the black death. Not long after he had crawled into a sleeping bag to convalesce, Richard had dozed off too. It was clear we were going no further that day. That said, there are a lot worse spots on the planet to stop. The river beside the hut was crystal clear, and the views up the valley spectacular.
By day three, Moa Hunters are typically starting to smell a little pungent. Not something that usually bothers us. But when Adam discovered a cake of “girly soap” at the hut, it became a hot item. Shirts and bodies were washed with it in the river, and in no time at all the Moa Hunters smelled like bouquets of flowers. A result we weren’t entirely comfortable with. How would we explain our rather feminine fragrance if we should happen upon some gnarly Coasters on the trail?! Not an easy proposition.
We spent the evening and following morning discussing how to proceed. Two days in a row we had fallen short of our goal. We really had made bugger all progress. Pushing on was going to be difficult, and given Chris was still below par, the decision was fairly obvious. We would have to turn back and walk out the way we came in.
Tuesday 23rd February – Top Toaroha hut to Cedar Flat hut
Richard by this time had shaken off his jetlag and had the usual spring back in his step. The walk down to Cedar Flat was brisk and relatively uneventful. We did however meet a couple of Dept of Conservation blokes doing some maintenance on a swing bridge close to Cedar Flat Huts. They were decent West Coast types. Rough, practical and friendly. One talkative, one the silent type. They were staying in the larger of the two Huts, but offered us an easy cuppa on their fancy gas burner, and some real milk. Luxuries they get choppered in for their work details. We spent the evening chatting to them and amongst ourselves.
Wednesday 24th February – Cedar Flat hut to Road End
Legging it out the following morning after a third night at Cedar Flat, I think we all felt a little beaten. We hadn’t achieved even half of what we set out to do. Not that we hadn’t enjoyed the trip. Far from it. Our time in the hills had been a lot of fun. It always is. Being out in the bush with fellow Moa Hunters is quality time we all cherish and look forward to. But the West Coast had taught us a bit of a lesson.