2021 – Harman Pass – Rain, Sleet, Snow and Rain

The 2021 Moa Hunt was a short one, designed for some of our more compromised members!

The route was a conservative 4.2 days walking in Arthurs Pass National Park, with extra time thrown in for those unknown factors often encountered in the back country – and boy did we need it!

The original plan for the Moa Hunt this year was to start at Klondyke Corner, strolling in to Carrington hut for a good lunch after cooling the feet in the gentle upper reaches of the Waimakariri river, arriving relatively fresh and ready to tackle Harman Pass the following day.

Beyond there, the hot pool near Julia hut beckoned, followed by a day crisscrossing the Taipo river to Dillon Homestead hut. And on the final day, a climb to Carroll hut, just a stone’s throw from Otira.

Well, sometimes best laid plans…………are best forgotten!

Moa Hunters on this trip:  John, Magnus, Richard, Luke, Chris, Paul

The Trip:

Day 1:  Waimakariri Bridge to Carrington hut
Day 2:  Carrington Hut to… Carrington hut
Day 3: Carrington hut to Julia hut
Day 4: Julia hut to… Mid Taipo hut
Day 5: Mid Taipo hut to Road end

Topomap of our route

Google map of our route

Google Earth flyover of the approximate Harman Pass route

Day 1

WEDNESDay 12th January – WaimakAriri Bridge to Carrington hut

The first stop of the morning was a 9.45am assembly at Paul’s place. Being fairly central it was the ideal location to get gear sorted and underway.

Chris as usual had all main meals sorted and these were distributed fairly amongst the team, taking into account other essential goods being carried! Chris and Magnus hit the road ahead of the rest of the crew as they had a detour to pick up John.

The next stop for us all was the famous Springfield Pie shop. Hot pies packed with delicious gravy and meat are essential energy food for river flat walking with a full pack!

The weather forecast at this point was decidedly sketchy, with strong winds and heavy rain expected on and off for the next few days. Current conditions where we parked at the Waimakariri bridge were strong westerlies, or should that be wet-at-Bealey! It was rather damp.

There, we had a quick confab and decided to go for it on the high river route along the true right of the Waimakariri, reconvening at the Anti-crow hut. The usual 15-minute pack organising and re-organising ensued in the car park just off the Waimakariri bridge.

With the obligatory group photos taken, we hit the high-water trail – a track not many of us have done before – at about 1pm.

With rain at some stage looking certain, we all had pack covers on from the start, some regretting not waterproofing this item!

The high-water track proved to be a reasonably well sorted trail up off the river flat giving us all chance to get into our stride. The rain at this point was sparse, but looked troublesome upriver where low cloud obscured the mountains ahead. We all soon warmed up as we meandered up and down the well-cut trail.

Reaching Turkey Flat, the track pointed us straight across at a reasonably high level. About midway through this fairly exposed section we crossed a fast-flowing dirty small river. With difficult footing, this little traverse kept us on our toes and ensured our feet were fully wet!

On the far side of Turkey flat, we picked up the trail again. Beyond the flat were two options: the riverbed or a high trail to the Anti-Crow hut. At this juncture, we split into two groups as some Moa Hunters with dodgy knees are averse to climbing!

Down in the river-bed there were some fierce wind gusts which could turn the odd pack around if you were not careful. It was just a little bit nasty at times.

Arriving at the Anti-crow we quickly retreated inside for a snack and discussion on progress. The sound of rain on the roof kept us company while we ate. Those of us wearing glasses battled them constantly fogging in the hut – it’s a bugger getting old!

It was decided to continue to the Carrington Hut, which would be doable even with high water in the river.

The trail from the Anti-Crow hut heads back to the Waimakariri, skirting close to the river. This proved difficult where the river cut in close to the true right bank forcing us up into scrub.

Scrambling over or pushing through a lot of tree fall onto animal tracks was difficult going. These “tracks” were not that suitable for pack wearing humans! We bashed on zig-zagging in and out from the river through deep swampy water to eventually drop out onto the rivers edge and into walkable space.

The Waimakariri certainly wasn’t looking a river to trifle with at this point! We found a place where a faint trail was visible on the true right of the river where it moved away from the bank. From there it was relatively easy walking, made less comfortable by a stiff head wind and sleety rain.

Some of us at this point, especially those with walking poles, had very cold and numb hands. Notably Luke, who struggled to re-tie a boot lace that had come loose. Paul did them for him – I bet he hasn’t done that for a while!

As we neared the section of track that turns away from the riverbed towards Carrington Hut, wind-driven sleet got heavier, becoming rather painful on our faces. We were grateful to escape the exposed riverbed and enter the relative shelter provided by beech trees.

You can’t see the sleet in this shot, but I can still feel it!

We entered the Carrington hut at 6.30pm, three hours on the trail from the Anti-Crow hut. That’s fairly slow progress, but satisfactory in the conditions encountered.

The hut is extensive, sleeping 36 at max capacity, and we were the sole occupants. Bottom bunks for all!

The Carrington hut has two separate living spaces and we chose the left hand option, being the only side with a fire! We quickly managed to explode assorted gear from our packs, covering all surfaces in the Moa hunt tradition!

In the cold hut, it was a case of first things first: Get a billy on the burner for a cuppa, and get the fire lit! In true Aucklander style, Richard managed to surprise even himself by getting the fire going in very damp conditions! Magnus served delightfully warming hot chocolates as the hut temperature and humidity slowly rose.

The now traditional first night feed of marinated steak did not disappoint. Served with mashed spud and cheese sauce, it was delicious. Wolfing down the hot meal in the hut while hearing the drumming of a solid downpour on the roof made it even better. Without all that steak to carry, Paul will enjoy a somewhat lighter pack on day two.

It was still raining hard at 9.30pm with snow just visible on the tops. Conversation had shifted to tomorrows plans. There was general agreement the jaunt over the Harper pass may be in jeopardy. However, we were all tired, the weather can’t be changed, so we hit the sack!

Day 2

Thursday 21st JanUARY 2021 – Carrington Hut

There are some naturally early risers within the Moa Hunters group. Well, one in particular! You can set your watch by the sound of Paul lighting the stove to cook the porridge.

Despite the fact it was still raining hard, we were all up early and had bellies full of delicious warm breakfast by 7am. The fire had enough embers to kick into life with ease.

Outside there was snow fairly low on the surrounding mountains. The rain had not really abated, and outside looked generally unpleasant. Staying put for the day was clearly the best, safest and obvious option.

We spent the morning gathering fuel for the fire and generally chewing the fat!

After lunch the weather had cleared significantly. We took the opportunity to amble along the river to check out the Clough cableway and confirm it was in working order. From this point we could also look at the conditions up Harman pass and see what we might be in for the following day.

There was the odd light rain shower blowing through, providing some spectacular rainbows in the valley. The cable way seemed in fine working order, although a little in need of some oil!

Looking at the surrounding mountains, we felt sure we would encounter snow up on Harman pass tomorrow!

Firewood cutting on our “day off”

We headed back to the Carrington for a late afternoon tea. It’s hard to not nibble on scroggin all day when not walking!!

John put together a spaghetti bolognaise for dinner in a now toasty warm hut. The fire now roaring and well fueled, courtesy of Paul and Luke’s efforts with the axe.

Dessert was a new Moa Hunt innovation – the grog log!

The recipe is simple: sandwich a packet of gingernuts together with whipped cream into a log shape, soak them with whisky, then coat the whole lot with more cream and decorate with crumbled flake chocolate. Chill it all for a few hours until the gingernuts are soft and the log is “spoon-able”. Quite delightful. I blame this dessert for the deep conversation after dinner. We didn’t solve any world problems, but we hopefully improved our own states of mind!

The “Grog Log” – Rocket fuel!

For me, these evenings with no connection to the “real” world are a tramping highlight.
The conversation bounces around with meandering thoughts and ideas, not interrupted by the clamour and demands of the online world we normally live in.

Day 3

Friday 22nd Jan 2021 – Carrington to Julia Hut

Following a day of light activity, we all awoke bright and early, feeling well rested.

Paul made a fab coconut milk porridge, which brightened up the traditional porridge morning fare, reducing the need for such a large covering of brown sugar on top!

Outside the weather looked fairly calm. Fog and misty clung to the valleys, while overhead the sky was grey and cloudy. The air temperature was fairly cold, but it looked like we would be able to tackle Harman Pass.

We were packed up very early by Moa Hunter standards, and were ready to hit the track by 7.40am. A minor record we think.

A cold breeze had kicked up by this time, so it was an invigorating walk to the Clough cableway. We agreed it would be prudent to take advantage of the cableway and keep our feet dry for as long as possible up the Harmon Pass.

A cableway is a slow but spectacular method of crossing a river, made a little faster through teamwork on the pulley handles. But they are generally awkward to use, for both the winders and the passenger, whose entry and exit is made all the more more difficult by a bulky backpack. Unhooking the rope while sitting in the cable car takes a bit of work!

Once across the White river we settled into the climb up the Taipoiti river. This section starts out relatively open, but narrows quickly into a gully. This necessitates crossing and re-crossing the river numerous times. A river which on this day had significantly more water in it than any of us had seen before!

We all tried to maintain dry feet as long as possible, which lead to some sketchy jumps over fast flowing water. No one came unstuck thankfully, but eventually most of us gave in to wet feet in favour of safety!

As we neared the mid-point of the climb, we encountered small patches of snow which quickly increased in size to a solid sheet of snow. The weather was intermittent claggy cloud with patches of very light drizzle.

The sidle became steadily more difficult and slow due to the ever-increasing snow which had drifted to pole depth in places.

The expected views at the top of Harman pass were non-existent due to the cloudy cold conditions which fogged glasses severely. Chris tried without glasses but found this to be the poorer option to staring through condensation!

Plenty of snow on the pass forced us to entertain ourselves with a bit of fun, pulling handstands and falling to snow angels, as you do!

Luckily there is a signpost on the pass pointing to the various onward options. Without this in the murky conditions a map and compass might have been required to find the correct track down to Mary stream.

The descent proved to be very slow initially, with slippery underfoot conditions accounting for a number of unplanned sit-downs.

The murky clag wasn’t going away either, substantially reducing visibility. Half a minute was often spent just searching for the next marker as we slowly picked out way down the icy slope. It is amazing how hard they are to spot in the fog. We often found ourselves peering into the distance for a marker pole only to spot it much closer in the foreground! Once spotted, you can’t “unsee” it, and wonder why it was so difficult to spot in the first place!

About fifteen minutes into the descent, we spotted through the gloom what looked like a kea sitting on a rock. Or was it a kea shaped rock? It didn’t move, but as we approached the the rock it became obvious there was indeed a kea atop it. As we arrived the kea’s partner flew down to say hello also. In the murky conditions it seemed we were the only excitement of the day for them!

Following Mary stream down, we eventually dropped out of the murk and gloom. When we reached the valley floor, it was decided lunch was in order while the weather was looking better. It was 12.30pm when we found a suitable spot for a well-earned feed.

Inquisitive kea visited us here in the vain hope of an easy feed, but disappointingly, we were hungry and not sharing. They were entertaining companions, trying to sneak up on Chris and getting fairly close.

Hungry kea vs Hungry Chris? No chance, kea!

The view up the valley was spectacular, with white snow lacing the tops. Not a bad lunch spot!

We didn’t linger however, as it was fairly cool staying in one spot. At 1.00pm we hit the track again, following the poles alongside an ever-increasing river. We knew we would end up on the true left when we hit the bush, but found ourselves on the right, all the while knowing the river was not getting easier to cross.

The valley cleared and opened out and we made the crossing to the true left, one of us with long legs keeping his feet dry! The crossing made us happy, only to be immediately disappointed around the next bend to be guided back to the right side again. This time there were no dry feet!

After a few more crossings we settled on the left side, scrambling along following poles until we reached the bush line. There were signs of the trail clearing up until that point, and now we settled into the fully cleared bush trail. The track immediately proceeded to climb 100m to avoid a gorge, only to then drop 150m down a slippery nasty moss-ridden, knee-hammering descent

The rain had been slowly increasing as we descended the trail. At this point we realized we were truly over the main divide and on the West Coast!

The slippery slimy mossy track dropped us at the relatively new Mary creek 3 wire bridge. Beyond that, it was a gentle two minute walk to Julia hut, which we reached at the very civilized 4.00pm. This despite the walk taking longer than expected due to the snow and clag.

The hut is a beauty… A little six bunk setup with a very cute and efficient log burner. The resident local weka fossicked its way past and said hello. The lawns had even been mowed, leaving us nothing to do but head to the hot pools before dinner! The way is signposted at the bottom of the hut garden.

The lawns are beautifully mowed around the Julia hut garden path.

It was a rather damp ten minute walk in the rain to the hot pool. Walking mostly beside, but sometimes in the Taipo river, we came to a large rock where our noses detected a faint sulphur smell, indicating we were in the right place!

On the large rock just past the pool there was a spade and pinch bar ready for action. The river was in high flow, so it was difficult to create a pool large enough for us all. After about 20 minutes of digging, with Paul and Luke doing the bulk of the rock moving, we had a reasonable pool of warm water.

Once in, we found there to be large variations in water temperature around the pool. Some of the rocks on the bottom were extremely hot! There were a few spots which required one to “hover” lest one’s tender bottom get scorched! This was less relaxing than anticipated, but with regular rotations, we all had a great soak in the rain beside a very fast flowing Taipo river.

We all left the hot pool feeling extremely relaxed, detouring briefly to look at the very quaint old Julia hut. This lovely old place is filled with awesome old timbers, oozing character and a sense of history and uniqueness that the new huts lack.

Old Julia Hut
The old hut floor – naturally non-slip!

Tonight’s delectable dinner was the Moa Hunter curry mix, followed by cheesecake with ant sprinkles for dessert!

The tiny log burner kept the hut toasty and the rain on the roof proved soporific.

Day 4

Saturday 23rd JanUARY 2021 – Julia Hut to Dillon Hut

The day dawned damp. Very damp indeed. Outside conditions looked like they would provide a solid test of Chris’s new PVC shorty jacket! We would most definitely be heading to Dillon Hut today in a slippery clag-cloaked downpour!

Paul had the porridge bubbling and thickening by 6.35am. It was devoured soon after!

According to the photo times, we embarked onto the track at 8.40am. We exited Julia hut then backtracked slightly, passing by the Old Julia hut and then staying on the true right well above the Taipo river. It was a very well maintained track which made for easy walking.

Time to leave – a spot of weather about!

The rain wasn’t especially heavy, but it didn’t really let up. By the time we got to the Taipo river three wire bridge, we all looked very wet and bedraggled. We reached the Mid Taipo hut for an early lunch bang on 11.30am. The hut was welcome shelter at a time the ‘wet’ coast was living up to its rain-drenched reputation.

Chris – soaked, but happy.

During lunch, Paul studied the topomap and made the comment the next river (the Hura) looked like it had a large catchment and might be a difficult crossing in this weather. Noted!

We departed the hut with our bellies sated, said goodbye to the resident weka, and strode out onto a gentle grass trail that descended slowly down to the Hura, where it dropped abruptly four metres to a raging torrent.

In typical Kiwi Fashion, we searched up and down the river 100m either way for a crossing before we said “yeah, nah!”

Technically it might have been doable, but beyond the Hura there were other potentially tricky rivers to cross. Looking back, we had a nice hut ten minutes walk away, and it was still raining hard. We took the safe smart option, and turned back.

On route back to the Mid Taipo hut, the lovely grass trail passed close to a braid of the Taipo. At this point we observed a large easily seen light-coloured rock just below the water line. We took a photo as a baseline (great idea, Chris!). This proved to be an easily checked and valuable indicator of what the river levels were doing over the next nine hours…

Back at the Mid Taipo hut just after 1.00pm we had to deal with a wet floor cause by the previous occupants! We lit the fire again, then cranked it right up. Given the persistent rain, we built a lean-to tarpaulin shelter so water vessels could be filled and dishes washed in a sheltered spot beside the rainwater collection tank.

Coffee and hot chocolate were prepared. We settled in and listened again to the rain, which was particularly loud this wet afternoon. We now had no real idea how long the rain was going to continue, so we reassessed our food stocks just in case we were forced to stay in the back country for another two days.

At 3.00pm we checked our indicator rock. It had 100mm of water flowing over it. More than our previous assessment, and unsurprising given the downpour we were experiencing! By 6.00pm there was about 120mm flowing over the top and it was hard to see that a rock was even there. The Taipo river at this point was quite a spectacular torrent.

When we made our 7.00pm assessment there was no change in the river level, but the downpour had most definitely slackened. The rain continued to abate through the early evening. By last light, the rock had become a little more visible, but still had good flow over the top. Never has a rock in the Taipo been more scrutinised!

Back at the hut we discussed our next move. A night at Carroll hut had gone out the window with the extra day spent at the Carrington. We agreed our best option from here was to bypass Dillon hut and head straight to state highway 73 just west of Jacksons. From there hitch a ride back to the cars. This was of course all dependent on the rivers levels! Richard knew his 6.30pm flight on Sunday 24th was never going to be caught.

Dinner was a scaled down affair as we were now unsure if we would be able to make it out tomorrow. We went with ½ rice, 1 mince, 1 Thai curry sachet and ½ dried vegetables. This left enough for one more meal of the same. Adding in left over lunch food would make for plenty of food.

The afternoon stretched out with constant monitoring of the weather and conversation. There was even a bit of hut bench pressing to pass the time! As the day cooled into evening, John put on some track pants, but feeling they didn’t fit well, was convinced he had someone else’s. We all looked at each other. None of us were missing ours, nor were any his size! Then the penny dropped… John was wearing were his own pants, but inside out! Much mirth ensued.

The last thing we heard that night as we dropped off to sleep was yet more rain drumming on the roof…

Day 5

Sunday 24th JanUARY 2021 – Mid TaIpo hut to Road ENd

We all woke early, wondering what the day would bring. The roof was quiet and outside the rain was holding off. A quick check of our favourite rock confirmed the water level had dropped significantly overnight.

We quickly (for Moa hunters) had breakfast washed up, packed, cleaned and swept the hut. We were able to scoot out the door at 7.40am (again!).

Mid Taipo hut had been an unplanned, but great little stay. I now know why a half-day hut was placed on the track at this point. It’s easier than building bridges!

We found the Hura river much less intimidating today, but still went downstream toward the Taipo river to cross, linking arms in pairs to ensure a safe crossing.

Beyond the crossing point, the trail meandered on the true left of the Taipo river, sometimes venturing into the tranquil low-density bush and grass areas away from the main river.

When we came to the Dunn river, it was still pumping a fair bit of water, requiring extra care when crossing. Shortly after crossing we startled a well-fed looking deer, which stayed ahead of us all the way to the end of the river flats.

The walk was now easy going on the wide river flats, divided by small streams that we could wander beside following deer prints in the sand. Unfortunately the pleasant terrain never lasts. The flat area gradually narrows down and the river finally gorges through a tight rocky gap. This is the start of a tight steep track that climbs 100m. It is a mossy and damp ascent that had been relatively recently diverted to avoid a large slip.

At the top of the climb there is a brief traverse before a severe drop down to the Taipo river and an awesome three-wire bridge. The bridge is a spectacular and essential crossing, right at a point where fording the Taipo would be impossible!

Directly off the bridge there is a high-water track, which wasn’t required this day, although it was tight at times alongside the mighty Taipo. From there the track takes a short amble away from the river onto grass flats. Large puddles in this area attract some quite interesting insects which flew up as we passed and disturbed them.

We arrived at the Department of Conservation Dillon hut at 11.30am, just in time for an early lunch!

We decided to avoid the sandflies by retreating into the hut, which felt a bit sterile after the Mid Taipo, but was roomy. We cranked up the billy for fresh coffee as we were making good time!

After downing our lunch provisions we hit the trail again at 12.30pm, only to stop again five minutes later at the original Dillon Homestead hut.

Dillon Homestead hut – not short of character!

This is a larger rambling affair, with heaps of character, including ‘electric’ lights and a hot water cylinder out back with a chippie to heat it. The hut looked to be in the process of being done up with lining stacked up. There was a lot of old newspapers lining the main space, some describing the Dillon family. Armchairs surround a large open fireplace. We would have loved to stay a night here!

From the Homestead hut our original plan was to turn east over the Kelly range to stay at Carroll Hut. But as it was Sunday lunchtime already, we opted to continue down the Taipo valley to the road and hitch back to the cars at the Waimakariri river. By far the quicker walking option.

Beyond the hut the track is a 4-wheel drive trail that now, due to erosion, drops vertically between two and three metres straight into the river. Not as drivable as it had been in the past!

The river is actually Seven Mile creek which is spread very wide with a very fast flowing narrow-ish water channel. Standing on the bank it looked tricky crossing from sheer water pace! Hoping for a better alternative we wandered down toward the Taipo looking for a likely safe crossing point.

Running out of river, we decided to give the rope pendulum crossing method a go. While not really necessary, it was worth practicing in a relatively safe place with fast water. As our rope was a little short, we required a central rope catcher in a place where the flow was slower. Chris was the ideal person for this job! Paul who is strong on his feet took the rope, crossed first with Chris anchoring. Then it was a matter of each of us making our way to Chris taking the rope, pendulum off Paul downstream to the far bank. Then throw the rope end back to Chris. Paul takes most of the load in this process, but we just use the rope to steady ourselves rather than loading heavily off it.

Across Seven Mile creek there are two track options: high and low. Luke took the high track which sounded the most interesting as he reported coming across several vehicles up there. The trail at this point was drivable, so this made sense.

Further on downstream the trail vanishes into a channeled boulder strewn river, with no way passable for vehicles. Obviously any vehicles in this area are here to stay.

The vehicle trail eventually deteriorated into a narrow single track that came up against a stream, then followed that down towards the Taipo. Farther down we crossed a small stream and followed a narrow track up and down the right bank of the Taipo. A sometimes slippery and steep exercise. If the water were lower, we could and would have walked along the river flats.

Eventually we reached the farm track end with a sign here saying the four-wheel drive track leading back where we had come from was closed. Was it ever!

We had a quick snack then quick marched along the farm track past old machinery through a closed gate toward State Highway 73. Arriving at the road, Chris and Richard immediately started walking toward Arthurs Pass with thumbs out, leaving the rest to chat with the resident sandflies!

After about fifteen minutes walk they were picked up by a great couple who loved tramping and knew what it was like to try a hitch back to your car! They were heading back to Christchurch, so took us right through to our cars near Bealey. Awesome! From there it was a matter of driving back over Arthurs pass to pick up the team.

We all readily agreed that swinging into the Bealey pub for a Moa Hunt review, food and and a well earned ale was next on the agenda.

The Julia hut route was a real surprise. Although it was a “small” Moa Hunt, it packed a punch! It certainly felt we were in the wilderness. Not meeting anyone for the entire trip and dealing with very wet conditions helped with that feeling of isolation! But in a way the weather conditions made it very enjoyable, adding to the drama of the trip.

The huts were at easy spacings, nights were comfortable, and there were options to shorten up the trip when required. You don’t have to be super strong and fit to experience New Zealand’s mountains and get away from it all!

2020 – Lewis Pass to St Arnaud – Five…ish Passes

As we walked this route, we debated just how many passes we could claim to have conquered. Ada pass, Three Tarn pass, D’Urville pass, Thompson pass, Waiau pass. We all agree the last four are legitimate passes. But Ada pass barely even raises a sweat. So lets call this trip “four and a bit passes”. or “Five…ish”, for the optimists out there.

Moa Hunters on this trip:  Magnus, Adam, Paul, Lewis, Chris, Luke

The Trip:

Day 1: St James walkway carpark to Ada Pass hut
Day 2: Ada Pass hut to Bob’s hut
Day 3: Bob’s hut to East Matakitaki campsite
Day 4: East Matakitaki campsite to Lake Thompson
Day 5: Lake Thompson to Blue Lake hut
Day 6: Blue Lake hut to Sabine hut
Day 7: Sabine hut to road end

Topomap of our route

Google map of our route

Day 1

Saturday 18th January – St James walkway carpark to Ada Pass hut

Day one of this trip was technically day two for Paul and Chris. They left Christchurch together on Friday afternoon to perform some convoluted car shenanigans that are far too complicated to explain here. The summary of it all is that with the help of Magnus and his wife Vanessa, and Paul’s mother-in-law Eleanor, they conspired to leave a car at the St Arnaud end of the track and then get to the Lewis Pass end for high noon on Saturday.

And that’s where and when the rest of the Moa Hunters met them. It was a hot sunny afternoon with only a light breeze drifting in from the north. The carpark was very warm indeed. Even the local sandflies seemed listless and lacking full commitment in the afternoon heat. While we apportioned food and equipment evenly into our six backpacks, lunch-on-the-run including delicious homemade sausage rolls and scones was eagerly consumed. Thanks Eleanor!! We all knew that the next seven days meals would not include quite such yummy treats.

By 1pm we had all eaten more than we should, and with rather heavy packs on our backs we were ready to make a start. Lewis had weighed them with his little portable scale, and we all clocked in around 19-20 kg. Luke topped the scales at 22 kg.

The track away from the carpark leads past a pretty pond surrounded by grasses and low vegetation. Sweeping picturesque views of the valley open up ahead. It all looked very beautiful and inviting in the clear conditions. Occasional boardwalks across boggy sections remind us we are on the St James walkway at this point, a well walked and well maintained piece of track.

After half an hour easy walking, we are well into the beech forest and reached the first swing bridge across the river – a strongly constructed one with a solid deck and healthy bounce as we crossed it in pairs. It’s not often you find a back country bridge that takes more than one person at a time.

We did find a couple of places where the track was washed out near the river, but well-worn diversions were easily followed round these and back to the main track.

There are plenty of lovely spots to stop beside the main river or side streams along the way. We took the opportunity to drink plenty of cool fresh water from them roughly every hour. With sunset not until 9:00 PM, there was plenty of time to reach Ada Pass hut. The afternoon heat and heavy packs were certainly causing us to lose a lot of fluids to perspiration. Keeping well hydrated and enjoying the surroundings was one aim of our first days walking.

We reached Cannibal Gorge hut at 4pm. Almost exactly three hours walking the easy track, and right on the DOC time. It is a fantastic place, and quite unlike most back country huts you will come across. Built taller and grander than the average hut, it dominates the end of a flat grassy meadow that has somehow kept the beech forest pushed aside. We stopped for a short break to grab some scroggin and take a sneaky peek inside. Chris remembered the last time he walked this park of the track the hut was still being built. I will make no comment here on whether that makes the hut quite young, or Chris quite old!

Keeping cool was our main difficulty as we walked the last hour to Ada Pass hut. With no cloud to temper the blazing sun’s heat, and an almost complete lack of breeze in the beech forest, we were walking in extremely hot conditions. Fortunately this was a short day on the track. We all hoped for cooler conditions in the days to follow, but knew the forecast was for the clear sunny weather to stick around for quite some time.

We reached Ada Pass hut at 5pm. Only one person was inside, with everyone else enjoying the lovely afternoon sitting on the deck, or in a shady area under some trees below the hut. Once we got our packs and boots off, we were able to cool off a bit and do the same.

The hut has fantastic views up to Three Tarn pass, our major obstacle for the next day. We chose to cook outside and take the opportunity to enjoy the vista. There were a few keen sandflies about, but not enough to drive anyone inside. Magnus commented that they are somewhat like the New Zealand hospitality industry – bleeding the tourists for everything they can get!

The late afternoon was changing from hot to mild, and it was all extremely pleasant.

There were seven others at the hut that evening. A father and two teenage girls we guessed were his daughters, and a group of two young women and two young men. To be fair, almost everyone we see on the track seem “young” these days!

Looking up the valley towards Three Tarn pass from Ada Pass hut

We made conversation with the other trampers, and quizzed two in particular who had run up to the pass that afternoon. They had done it in two hours, but had badly scratched legs from bush bashing to show for it. They said it is was not especially hard to find a way to the top, but it is steep. Granted they only wore daypacks, but two hours was impressive – and certainly not a time we expected to get remotely close to!

After downing a well-earned meal of marinated steak (thanks Paul!!), we listened to the latest bedtime story from Richard. Unfortunately he was unable to join us this year due to a slight mishap involving a training walk, a pothole, and a broken ankle. Richard had recorded a kiddies story for us before we left, which Paul played on his phone. It was a worthy sequel to the Wonky Donkey classic he recorded for us prior to the Dusky track Moa hunt.

Day 2

Sunday 19th January – Ada Pass hut to Bob’s hut

With a long day ahead of us, we were up bright and early, with the aim of reaching Three Tarn pass by lunchtime, before the full heat of the afternoon kicked in. With others still sleeping in the hut, we did our best to be as quiet as possible. We ate breakfast outside, then packed ready for the days walking.

It was 7:55 AM when we set off back down the track we had walked up the previous day. It was a short five minutes back to a wooden bridge over the Maruia river. From here we would head off the main track up the valley to Three Tarn pass. It would be the end of following any kind of maintained track for the next few days.

Just ahead was the terrain Paul had borrowed Richard’s walking poles for… His knees had been complaining a little during his training runs, and he had decided walking poles were good insurance for a week on the trail.

Over the bridge, we turned hard right and pushed through a thin stand of Manuka and began walking up the true right of the stream that would lead us most of the way to Three Tarn pass. There is a lightly trod track of sorts to follow, but a little bush bashing is required.

Big dragonflies buzzed up and down the river, darting quickly from left to right, going about whatever their important business was. With their twin sets of wings and chunky bodies, they are amazingly prehistoric looking creatures.

After following the main stream for approximately 100 metres, a side-stream cuts in from the left. At this point the bush ahead on the main stream gets very thick and nasty. Don’t try and go through it. Follow the side stream up for 100-150 metres, keeping an eye out for where the bush opens out on the true left. There are a few cairns up this moderately steep climb, and in parts it is obvious where others have walked before. When the bush opens out on the TL, traverse across an open grassy meadow and rejoin the main stream.

Back on the main stream we entered some fairly thick and at times messy beech forest. The route through here is for the most part fairly easy to follow, but does involve a bit of scrambling under and over fallen logs and branches. We met a man and woman through this section who we had seen go past Ada Pass hut the previous day. They were tracking Kea. The woman had a large aerial on her pack which we presumed was to locate signals from collars on the birds.

As we ascended, the forest thinned out and by 9:00 AM we were well out of the bush and into low scrub, snowgrass and tussock. It was still early, but the sun was already feeling hot, so we stopped to apply a layer of sunblock.

Picking a way through this section was not hard, and we all enjoyed the surroundings which were becoming increasing pretty as the valley tightened. There was little wind, with just the occasional blowfly buzzing past. Well ahead of us we could thee the rubble-strewn peaks surrounding Three Tarn pass. They still looked a long way off.

Climbing higher, we entered a nasty section with lots of Spaniard grass. No matter how carefully we attempted to dodge these vicious plants, we all received some painful stabs on our hands, arms and legs. Ahead of us we spotted two figures making their way down the valley towards us.

Andrew and Matai

Ten minutes later, we were saying hello to Andrew and his son Matai. They had camped on the other side of Three Tarn pass that night, and were heading out today. Andrew assured us there was less Spaniard higher up, and gave us some excellent information on our route ahead. He also mentioned there was “some wind throw” on the track through to Bob’s hut.

Some?! We beg to differ, Andrew! But more on that later…

We had a great chat, and were just about to part company when Paul mentioned the Moa Hunter website… Andrew took a step backwards and said, “wait… are you guys the Moa Hunters?”. He was excited to find out that we were indeed the Moa Hunters. It turns out he had read quite a few of our trips on the website.

After getting photos of each other, we parted company. Because Andrew and Matai were so friendly and gave us such good info, we agreed they should be officially bestowed the title of “Associate Moa Hunters”.

At the top of a steepish section, we stopped for scroggin. It was now about 9:45 AM and ahead of us we could see the vegetation thinning out. Beyond that is the start of the rubble and scree that signal a much steeper and tougher ascent.

Energised by our short break, we pushed on into the messy rubble below the pass. The rocks here are amazing. Large slabs of varying colours and textures are strewn all about. Red, green, silver, brown, blue. Some glitter, others have unusual patterns and markings.

There are a number of options when ascending the steep rubble. Most of us took an “up the guts” approach, trudging up what looked like the most direct route. Chris chose to head off to the right and avoid the more unstable sections of rubble. In hindsight this is probably the best option. Going straight up the loose rock was a real grind. Chris followed up the true left of the valley to a small spur between two streams, then at a knob, traversed left.

The sun beat relentlessly down on us from a cloudless sky. Occasional breezes wafted up the valley, briefly refreshing, but not enough to properly cool us. We were all sweating profusely as we slogged up the steep and tricky terrain, weighed down by our still rather heavy packs.

After a hard climb, we reached a basin which holds two cool clear tarns. It was 11:30 AM, but we decided this was a good spot for an early lunch. We still had a significant climb ahead to Three Tarn pass, and we were in no hurry to battle up it. We dropped our packs next to the smaller of the two tarns and stretched out to enjoy some lunch. Boots came off to let hot feet recover and cool off a little.

Adam and Lewis took the opportunity for a quick dip in the tarn. The water was cold, but not freezing cold, and it was deliciously refreshing. Sunblock was again applied liberally. There was no natural shade to escape the intense sun in this terrain. At this altitude the sky seemed incredibly blue and clear. Some of us draped jackets over our arms or legs to shelter from the burning UV rays.

It was 12:45 PM when we somewhat reluctantly hefted our packs on to begin our final ascent to the pass.

Just like the climb we had battled up to the basin, this last section up to the pass was brutally steep and quickly had us grunting and dripping sweat again. It took us 45 minutes to reach Three Tarn pass from the basin. We passed some small pockets of snow on the way up. It seemed amazing the snow could persist so long in such warm temperatures.

The drop off from the pass to the three tarns below is a short steep scramble down scree into another wide rubble filled basin. We each chose different routes to slide our way down. Once in the basin we wandered over to the tarns, took a few photos and enjoyed the feeling we had knocked off our first big climb of the trip.

From Three Tarn pass, the route descends a rather steep valley beside a stream that will eventually grow into the Matakitaki river. Initially we found the best walking was not in the streambed itself, but up on grassy ridges that ran down the valley at an angle beside it.

However, as we lost altitude, the snowgrass and spaniard got bigger and nastier. The grassy ridges became less and less desirable and more and more prickly. We were forced to spend our time close to the river, which was fine. Occasional boulder hopping was all that was required.

The descent is a long one, and the skies were still brilliant blue and clear. The sun was beating down on us mercilessly. When we stopped for a scroggin break at 3:30 PM it was very warm indeed, with just an occasional light breeze wafting past to cool us.

Prior to this break, Lewis had stepped into a rut hidden by snowgrass and went over heavily on his ankle. We gathered around him, quite worried as he lay on the ground rubbing it and wincing. It didn’t look good and he didn’t look happy. After spending some time to gather himself, he was able to stand and take weight on it, albeit gingerly. He took a few paces back and forwards, and gave a little nod. It seemed he would be able to continue. A Voltaren and ibuprofen were swallowed with water as a little insurance. Adam offered Lewis the use of his walking poles, which he took up.

It was mid afternoon when we reached a sweeping right hand bend in the valley and came upon a remarkable sight. A very large area of ground on the true left of the river was churned up like a massive herd of bison had charged across it, pulverising it with their hooves.

Standing amongst the carnage, we worked out the cause of the destruction. A massive quantity of snow and ice had avalanched off the mountains above and crashed down into the valley. Much of the ground we were standing on was in fact thick ice covered in debris. The avalanche must have initially dammed the river, which had by now eroded a path through it. It was a fascinating and awe inspiring sight.

We took lots of photos before wandering on down the valley again. We still had a long walk to Bob’s hut ahead of us.

It was 4:40 PM when we reached the first scraps of forest. It felt like we had been in the grassy river valley forever, and it was nice to have a change of scenery. The bush also signaled a significant flattening out of the terrain, and we soon found ourselves in a pleasant wide valley with much easier walking ahead.

Four and a half hours walking from the top of the pass and nine hours since we left Ada Pass hut, we reached a big friendly triangular orange marker on a tree. The start of the final section of track that leads to Bob’s hut. Unfortunately this marker lead nowhere. A stream had washed out the track, and we couldn’t find where it continued beyond. We did however spot a second marker 200 metres further up the river and walked to that one instead.

From the second marker we had about two and a half kilometres of walking through beech forest to Bob’s hut. This was the section Andrew had warned us had some wind throw. Well holy hell, we reckon there were large areas where there were more trees blown over than left standing!

It was a real mess and quite hard going. Frustrating awkward stuff. Endlessly climbing over, under and around large quantities of large logs was tiring and slow going. At the start of the day it would have been easier, but our energy levels were certainly at a low ebb after nine hours walking to this point.

We had estimated two hours to Bob’s hut from the start of the track, but it was a solid three. We lost the track countless times as we grovelled through that hideous messy section.

It was just ticking past 8pm when we walked the last few hundred metres up a side stream on the true left of the Matakitaki to the hut. We were all feeling pretty buggered. A curry was hastily prepared, as was a cheesecake. Uncharacteristically, we didn’t finish the curry and nobody felt like eating the cheesecake. Fatigue had killed our appetites. More than anything, we all just wanted to go to sleep.

We climbed into our sleeping bags and were soon snoring.

Soon… but not for long! Mice, bloody mice, everywhere! Adam and Paul were woken by them noisily getting into food bags. They each wearily crawled out of their sleeping bags. Adam more than once. Food items were all stuffed randomly into packs which were closed tight. A rubbish bucket was put outside the door. The cheesecake was covered with a plate.

After a series of mouse-proofing exercises we could finally get some well earned shut eye.

Day 3

Monday 20th January – Bobs hut to East Matakitaki campsite

It was nice to have a leisurely start to day three of our Moa Hunt. We had agreed the night before that there was no rush to get out of the hut in the morning. The plan was to start walking mid morning and get to the East Matakitaki hut mid afternoon. After dinner, we would walk on and camp up the valley.

Paul was first up, making porridge, and making the most of being in “Bob’s hut”. Before the trip he had said that he liked the name of the hut, and wanted to spend a night there. Just because it has an odd name. It is definitely a quirky and unusual name for a hut. None of us know the background of it. There is a mock grave outside with a cross on it. We presumed this is perhaps in honour of “Bob”.

After our exertions the day before, and a light dinner, our appetites had returned. We were all very ready for breakfast. A large billy of porridge was gobbled up in short order, and the uneaten cheesecake was dispatched equally quickly for morning tea.

It was extremely pleasant spending time together in the hut that morning, chatting about everything and nothing. Solving the world’s biggest and smallest problems. These times are what make our trips so special. We could have spent hours there. Actually we did! But the time had come to leave. Shortly after 10:00 AM we were outside the hut with our packs on ready to hit the trail.

From Bob’s hut, we followed an easy track on grassy flats up the Matakitaki river. A large orange DOC orange triangle on the edge of the beech forest was spotted, marking the start of a well trod track through the trees. Adam and Lewis also saw what they thought was a Tui flitting about high on the branches above the triangle. The flash of a white tuft on its breast confirmed it was indeed a Tui. A somewhat rare and exciting treat.

We didn’t encounter anything especially difficult in terms of terrain that morning. There was some wind throw here and there, but not on the scale that we had encountered the day before.

Shortly before midday we came to a wire bridge that appeared to have been recently renovated. It was perhaps a little slack and had a bit more wobble and sway than was entirely comfortable. But not a problem for the mighty Moa Men.

Shaded by the forest, we were sheltered from the full power of the sun. But the warm air temperature and lack of breeze still left us overheated at times.

We stopped for lunch in the forest beside a small stream. Leaning back against a tree or mossy bank was a wonderfully relaxing. The sun was shining brightly on the beech canopy above us, illuminating it a brilliant verdant green.

This deep in the forest, sandflies were few and far between, as were the wasps. In fact, we had seen very few at wasps at all thus far, which was pleasing. We did however expect there would be more farther north.

Following lunch, we were back on the track again. There were some boggy patches along the way, which we either skirted around, or carefully picked our through, hoping not to step in any deep muddy spots. Often these sludgy sections were immediately followed by bone dry ground, literally a few steps over a rise.

Occasionally the track popped out of the forest onto grassy flats beside the river, keeping the scenery interesting and making for a very pleasant day walking.

We reached East Matakitaki hut at 3:15pm. Situated on a grassy terrace right beside the river, it was copping the full intensity of the afternoon sun. With a metal walls and roof, it was just like a great big oven. Inside the hut it felt well over 30 degrees. We pulled the bench seats outside and sheltered from the sun on the shady side of the hut.

As we had some extra time on our hands, walking tops and socks received a wash in the hut’s nice new stainless steel bucket. We even had some laundry powder and liquid with us! They were hung on a wire on the sunny side of the hut and rapidly began to dry in the afternoon heat.

A dinner of spaghetti bolognese was prepared, substituting rice for spaghetti. It was very good indeed.

As we sat together in the shade finishing our meals, a figure appeared out of the forest on the track we had walked in on. She was a German woman, walking alone. We all said a friendly hello and she introduced herself as Grit. We asked where she was heading, and she said she was planning to follow basically the same route as us – over D’Urville, Thompson and Waiau passes. She looked quite fit and judging by her tan, had spent plenty of time walking in the great outdoors. We suspected she might pass us in the next day or two!

Unfortunately we didn’t get much time to chat as our plan was to get walking again. We guessed Grit would have been a little pleased we were going as this meant she didn’t have to squeeze into a six bunk hut with six smelly Moa Hunters! But, she would also not get to talk with anyone that evening, which may have been a slight disappointment.

We slung our packs onto our backs and said goodbye and see you later to Grit. It was likely we would see her again.

Following up the river, we were able for the most part to stay on an old track up the valley. While quite overgrown, it was easiest to spot if we looked at the ground rather than the vegetation, where the once well worn track was still visible. It did require regular pushing through brush, but was surprisingly quick going all the same. Note that the track, if you happen to be following it, switches sides of the river a couple of times.

Pretty much bang on an hour and a half from the hut we came upon an open grassy spot that looked perfect for camping. A large flat-topped rock would make a perfect cooking bench, and there was plenty of flat ground for shelter and sleeping. We discovered the next day as we walked further up the valley that this was virtually the last decent camping spot aside from a marginal grassy area an hour farther on.

It didn’t take long for approximately one million sandflies to find us. We quickly applied dimp and/or covered up with long sleeved tops and long-johns to limit the damage!

With shelters pitched, Magnus set about making us his famous hot chocolate recipe while Chris made dessert. It was a creme brulee instant dessert, cooled in the river. With both those delicious treats in our bellies, and twilight descending on us, we were ready for bed and crawled into our three shelters.

Day 4

Tuesday 21st January – East Matakitaki campsite to Lake Thompson

It was sandflies buzzing about of faces that woke us in the morning. We crawled out of damp sleeping bags onto wet grass. It had been a heavy dew overnight, and the air temperature was quite cool. Beanies and polarfleeces were pulled on. After so much hot weather, it was kind of nice to wear the thermals. At least it justified carrying them this far!

After breakfast and a lovely hot cup of coffee, we took down our shelters, shaking as much water as we could off them. Quite a lot of fairly wet gear was stowed into packs, adding some unwanted additional weight.

Today promised to be a very interesting one. Ahead was another tough climb up to D’Urville pass. From there a tricky looking traverse to Thompson pass before dropping to Lake Thompson. There was an air of anticipation about our camp. Perhaps mixed with a little nervousness. We all knew the traverse in particular could be quite a challenging one…

Shortly before 8:30 AM we were on our way up the river again. Much like the evening before, the way ahead was a real mix of varied terrain. Lush grassy flats beside the river lead us into darker tracts of beech forest or scrub. Occasional river crossings were required, or sloshing through the rocky shallows along a bank.

Our first hour of walking was all in the shade, with the sun still below the high ridges to the east. When we dropped out of the forest to a sun drenched bank beside the river at 9:45am, we accepted natures invitation to take a break. Wet and damp gear was spread out to dry. Even at this early hour, the intensity of the sun was enough to visibly dry them in just a few minutes.

Twenty minutes later and with our now crisp dry gear re-packed, we struck out up the valley again. As we gained altitude, the bush was thinning, offering us unobstructed views of David Saddle, a distinctive angled gut up the mountain ahead. It looked nasty, but we had read that while steep and challenging, it isn’t as bad as first impressions are from the valley.

The valley swings round to the east under David Saddle, and from there the Matakitaki river gradually dwindles to a small stream before abruptly disappearing completely under the rocks. Initially we were a little concerned. We didn’t want to tackle the climb over D’Urville pass without a decent drink of water in our bellies. Far ahead we could see the river above ground. We took a punt that it would be accessible from where we would start our ascent of the pass, and carried on walking.

Just over three hours since we left our campsite, we dropped packs at the foot of D’Urville pass. As luck would have it, the river was still flowing above ground here. We all enjoyed the cold refreshing crystal clear mountain water.

At Bob’s hut we had seen a possible route up the pass drawn on a map. It matched what we were looking at from our spot beside the river. The drawn route zig-zagged from right, to left, and then right again. The right hand edge of the scree above us was just that shape.

After muching down some scroggin, we took the chance to wet our hats and walking tops in the river. This had become a regular activity to combat the heat. Pulling on a wet top just before grunting up a steep slope definitely helps keep the body cool. That said, it was surprising how quick the wet hat and top dried in the sun.

We struck out up the slope shortly after 11:30 AM. Again we were under clear blue skies, and the sun was relentless. We were just halfway through our walk, but worryingly, well over halfway through our sunblock! Some of us had applied almost all we had. Even with heavy use of sunscreen, we all were showing some signs of sunburn in various places.

The initial 300 vertical metre climb felt steeper than Three Tarn pass, but the rubble was generally more stable. The late morning heat was brutal. There were a few stray fluffy white clouds about, but they rarely drifted across the sun to create any welcome respite from its full force.

Above the scree/rubble face, the terrain got a little easier. A rocky ridge provided stable walking at a slightly less demanding angle of attack. This was a relief as it had been a steep grunt to that point. As we approached a basin with a tarn at its centre, the rubble was replaced by rocks that quickly grew from large to very large. We picked our way through the maze of granite to the tarn, and gratefully dropped our packs at its edge.

A few of us were feeling quite shattered. Probably all of us, to be fair… A combination of the heat and pushing too hard too fast up the hill left Adam and Chris in particular feeling a bit under the weather. Despite the clock saying it was lunchtime, neither felt particularly hungry. But knowing you can’t run an engine without fuel, they both ate as much as they could.

There were very few places to escape the sun at the tarn, which was by now almost directly overhead, meaning even the largest rocks offered little shade. Lewis again took the chance for a cool dip in the tarn, but no-one else felt motivated or energetic enough to strip down for a swim.

As we were eating our lunch, we spotted a lone figure across the tarn. It was Grit, and she gave us a friendly wave. As expected she had overtaken us. After a much shorter lunch break than ours, she started the steep climb to the pass. We watched her increasingly distant figure became smaller and smaller as she steadily picked her way up the 200 vertical metres to the top. It took her forty minutes.

The route up to Three Tarn pass

The top of the pass wasn’t getting any closer while we were sitting by the tarn… We pushed our remaining lunches and other gear back into our packs and started the final ascent. As with the climb up to the tarn, getting up to the pass was a steep grunt. Slow and steady wins the race, and this time we all paced ourselves a bit better. The route up is fairly obvious, aiming for a prominent rocky outcrop below the pass, swinging up and to right on top of it, then up the last scree to the lowest visible brow above.

A quick check of Paul’s watch at the top confirmed we had made the climb at the same pace as Grit – 40 minutes.

We spent a bit of time at the top assessing where to next… Prior to the trip we had done a fair bit of research on potential routes that traverse from D’Urville pass to Thompson pass. But hadn’t considered how to drop off D’Urville pass and begin that sidle. We had assumed it would be obvious, and it wasn’t. We could see Grit in the distance skirting round a small tarn, but didn’t know the path she had taken to get there.

Eventually we agreed that the safest descent that was least likely to end in an impassable bluff was down a chute some distance to the left as we looked down – away from Thompson Pass. Once low enough and clear of potential bluffs, we could cut back right towards the distant tarn. It turned out to be the correct choice. The slide down the chute was very manageable, and there were rocky bluffs farther to the right that would have been awkward..

Travel to the tarn was bumpy to say the least. Large boulders and rocks fallen from the peaks above fill the flatter terrain below. Where we could, we walked across grassy flats, but these were few and far between. A lot of boulder hopping was required. It was tough on the boots.

From the tarn, the route ahead was a bit clearer. We would need to traverse across a rubble slope, aiming fairly high to a grassed area just under a rocky outcrop. From there a more challenging looking scree slope would await. This would require us to gain some altitude as we picked our way across to the top of another rocky outcrop. Possibly not easy on loose material. From there we could sidle evenly over what looked like less unstable terrain to an unusual rust coloured scree slope.

Looking ahead, planning a possible route to Thompson Pass.

Our assessment again proved correct. The scree slope beyond the rock outcrop was indeed the tricky. In fact, it was the most demanding section of the whole traverse. We each kicked out flat footholds for the next Moa Hunter, hopefully making life easier for them. Again, slow and steady was the winner here. Only fools rush in.

Crossing the rust coloured rubble was easier than the fine scree, but we did need to remain conscious of altitude. Ahead was an obvious rock outcrop which we needed to go over. We each took care to push up the slope as we trudged across the interesting red-brown feature.

Above the rocky outcrop, travel got a bit easier. Despite being unable to escape the full intensity of the sun, continuing to carefully ration what sunblock we had left, we enjoyed the magnificence of the surroundings. We were in rugged, unforgiving country. Few people get here, standing in wonder as we did, at the massive scale and rugged beauty of the towering craggy mountains and the majestic sweep of the plunging valleys below. It is massive country. This is what Moa Hunting is all about…

Beyond the first small outcrop we traversed up and across to a gravel chute that lead up the right hand side of a very large rocky feature to a little pocket of snow. It’s possible some people may choose to sidle carefully below it. But the route across the top is easy and flat, and most definitely less dangerous than below. A large cairn at a high point of this outcrop confirmed we were on the right path. Lewis found some antlers nearby, and added them to the rock pile.

We dropped off the rocky bluff, across more rubble, then up and over another large outcrop of rock. From this we chose to skirt across to a very climbable looking rockface which would take us up and over a final bluff and onto Thompson pass. Lewis scampered up it like a mountain goat, with the rest of us a little farther back. From the top of the rockface it was mostly grassy, with an awkwardly steep descent down to the pass.

It was a little before 6:00 PM when we all stood atop the pass. It had taken the best part of three hours to traverse from D’Urville pass to Thompson pass. It had been a challenging section, but very rewarding both in terms of the views and the satisfaction of knocking it off.

We dropped off the pass into a narrow valley. As soon as we had cleared the end of the knob on the true right, we climbed up and out onto a grassy plateau that sloped down to the shore of Lake Thompson. It was a beautiful view, reminiscent of Lake Angelus in many ways. If it was more accessible, a big hut would certainly attract a lot of visitors, given the gorgeous aspect of the lake.

We spotted Grit’s green tent already erected some way round the lake, well beyond what was clearly a well used camping area ahead of us. There were two stone walls that had been put up for shelter from the wind, and what looked like a couple of flat spots for tents or shelters.

Chris and Magnus put up their shelter inside the stone walls. Paul and Luke grabbed a spot down the slope a little. Lewis and Adam, after much to-ing and fro-ing, finally decided on a spot that was no better or worse than anywhere else. From above the camp area looked flat, but at close quarters, it was dotted with lots of rocks and lumpy ground.

Dinner was prepared and devoured, hot chocolate fortified with whisky was downed, and we were all feeling pleased with ourselves after a very good day in the hills. It had been another long day, with a lot of ground covered. Very satisfying.

As the sun disappeared behind the surrounding peaks, the air chilled down rapidly. The thought of tackling yet another steep pass tomorrow encouraged us to grab an early night to recharge our batteries as much as possible.

As 9:00 PM ticked past, low cloud started to blow over the pass behind us, dropping steadily lower into the lake basin. We decided we would rather be tucked into our sleeping bags when the cold misty cloud finally arrived.

We said our goodnights and slid into sleeping bags, anticipating we may be waking up to damp conditions again the next day…

Day 5

Wednesday 22nd January – Lake Thompson to Blue Lake hut

We awoke to an unexpectedly dry morning. A light breeze through the night had prevented any dew from forming. The low foggy cloud was gone, but high cloud was building. Given the amount of sun we had been exposed to over the past few days, this was a welcome change.

As we ate breakfast, we debated our exit strategy. A valley right in front of us was one obvious option, although there looked to be a steep section with a waterfall to get round. Farther round the lake where Grit was camping a second valley follows the stream that drains the lake, and that could also be taken.

Just as we were thinking the second option seemed best, Grit appeared over a rocky rise and wandered down. She was using a route planner GPS for her journey, and was following option 1, the valley below us. The planner showed a route that leaves the river to follow a terrace above the true left of the river. We wished her all the best for the days walking, and watched her head down the valley as we finished packing our gear.

We decided to go with the valley below. It was 8:50 AM when we headed off down the valley. The terrace arrived a little sooner than we expected, and we had to make a short but steep climb up to it, having missed an easier walk onto it back up the valley.

Once on the terrace, walking was very pleasant. Particularly lower down as we were treated to sweeping views down the valley. To our right the river had left an impressive sculpted wall of rock. Distinct vertical grooves an indication of the massive tectonic forces that have been thrusting and distorting these rocks. There were some steep snow grass sections on the terrace that would not be fun at all in slippery wet conditions. We were thankful for another fine day.

As we dropped off the terrace into the river valley again, we could see another option for the descent would have been to follow the spur down the true right of the river. Given the steep cliffs dropping away into the river, you wouldn’t want to attempt it in low visibility, but it looked no better or worse than the terrace on a good day.

Once in the valley, it didn’t take us long to swing round the corner to the foot of Waiau Pass. It had taken us an hour to walk here from Lake Thompson. Luke’s eagle eye spotted the orange top of a snow pole high up to our left. We walked up the river little more to a good spot for a break, before heading up to the pole.

From where sat munching on scroggin, the ascent ahead looked steep, but not brutal. The track obviously headed up left, then back right onto a rocky bluff. But after that, we weren’t sure. We couldn’t see enough of the higher terrain from the riverbed.

Our sitting assessment of the initial climb was correct. It was certainly steep. But not viciously steep. And because the pass sees plenty of traffic, it has well worn steps making the climb easier. Waiau pass is part of the Te Araroa trail, an increasingly popular 3000 km walk from the top of North Island to the bottom of the south. In the summer of 2018/2019, it is estimated 1200 people walked the trail. Most of them would have crossed Waiau pass.

There is a stream that flows over the top of the bluff and it is possible to fill water bottles at this point. We took the opportunity to take a drink and replenish ours. From the bluff, the track follows a narrow grassy ridge to a steeper increasingly rocky climb. On this section, grass and soil rapidly disappear and the walking is pretty much all on rock. Very grippy and abrasive rock. Your boots certainly grip them well, but their sandpaper-like surface is hard on the hands when climbing steep sections.

It was at the bottom of one of the first steep rocky climbs that we met the first of many walkers we would see that day. Three women heading down stopped briefly to say hello. They had obviously started their day very early indeed, and were headed to Waiau hut. No doubt there would be many more heading that way, and they were keen to score a bunk each!

Climbing the steep rocky sections was straightforward in the dry conditions. Even in the rain the rocks would likely be very grippy, but we were pleased to be walking in lovely conditions again. High cloud was taking the edge off the sun’s power, but it was still fairly warm.

Bent, buckled and broken snow poles were testament to just how much snow and ice accumulates in the pass over winter.

Beyond the steep rocky section, the track levels out and the last 700 metres to the top of the pass is across an scree slope. By this time we had passed a few more Te Araroa walkers, and we could see there were three more people sitting at the pass. They were two young American women, and another who wasn’t with them as such, and didn’t say a word! They were very pleased to be atop the pass, which is possibly the hardest climb of the whole Te Araroa trail. Although Stag Saddle further south would likely be on a par…

We dropped our packs and got our lunches out. It was just a shade after 1pm and we were rather peckish. The views from the pass were spectacular, and for the first time on our journey, we were exposed to a strong breeze. Sitting in the sun with rocks at our back was lovely and hot, and standing on the pass in the path of the breeze was bracingly cool. A nice contrast.

Lake Constance was visible to the North, and to the South we had big views of the rugged towering ranges of mountains we had weaved a path through over the past days. Lake Thompson was also easily spotted, nestled in a basin among the peaks.. We were clearly at a much higher altitude here on the pass.

From the pass, the descent is quick and fairly easy. It is almost all loose scree. Sliding our way down, we were happy to be doing the pass in the direction we did. Climbing up this loose material would be a tough exercise, and down-climbing backwards down the steep rock sections we had ascended on the other side would not be especially fun with a heavy pack on.

Scampering down we passed a lone English woman heading up the pass, and at the bottom another two Te Araroa walkers just about to take on the pass. All in all we said hello to 13 people on the track that day.

While the descent was easy, it was also loooong. There were fabulous views of a brilliant blue Lake Constance as we descended, but we were certainly pleased to finally be on flat ground next to the small stream at the bottom. It had taken an hour to get down, and that’s more than enough steep descent in any old Moa Hunter’s books!

The walk to Lake Constance was lovely, meandering through grasses and flowering shrubs across flat terrain. Following the shore of the lake was just as idyllic. It is an absolutely lovely lake, surrounded by steep grassy slopes rising into rugged rocky mountain peaks.

Near the head of the lake, the track detours inland and climbs a couple of hundred metres to skirt around the back of a bluff that extends into the lake. We hoped that the low lake level would mean we could get around the bluff and avoid the climb. But no such luck.

At the end of a fairly tough day, this diversion seemed overly long and overly high. But in hindsight it wasn’t particularly nasty. It did climb steeply at times, and continued to climb higher and higher for what seemed like a fair while. But at the start of a day it would be a doddle.

We finally reached the point in the track where it descended off the bluff. Below we could see the track winding across a grassy flat that sits behind an enormous mass of rock and rubble that spans the valley. Apparently the rock dam is the result of a massive rockfall which dammed the river and created Lake Constance. Not a glacial moraine as we originally surmised.

As we started down, we spotted a group of three trampers walking across the flats. We met them just before we reached the flat. They had not long left Blue lake hut, planning on walking to Lake Constance and finding somewhere to camp. We told them there were plenty of good camping spots, particularly at the far end of the lake.

We wandered on, weaving across the grassy flat. It is dotted with large rocks, and we chose a spot beside a particularly large one just above the bushline to stop next to for a break. While the rock was indeed a nice rock, the real reason for our stop were some excellent views of Blue Lake below us. We snapped some photos and nibbled on some snacks, enjoying the beautiful late afternoon conditions, and the knowledge that we were almost at the hut.

From our snack spot, the walk down through the scrub that led us into beech forest was easy and very pleasant. This close to the hut, the track was very well worn by the many feet that walk it every day.

It was 6:30 PM when we rolled up to a busy hut. There were seven bunks free, so we claimed six of them quickly. It was very likely quite a few more people would arrive before dark, or after! Inside was a hive of activity and conversation. People of all ages and walks of life were standing, sitting, lying, enjoying discussion about their day, and the days to come. We got talking to a number of them, and made friends with the hut warden, Bruce… Always a good thing to do!

The Te Araroa walkers were almost all headed south, and at this point were approximately 2/3 of the way through their long journey. Blue Lake hut is about 2000 km from their start point, and most had been travelling for about 90 days. They tended to fit two demographics. Either young, with no responsibilities, or old with no responsibilities. So, an interesting mix of twenty-somethings and retirees. Each walking the trail independently, but also making life long friendships along the way through their shared experience. Most of them chatted familiarly with each other. But others, more introverted, sat off to one side, listening and enjoying the energy, but choosing to not actively participate.

Dinner was a big stodgy (in a good way!) curry followed by chocolate instant pudding.

We all took the opportunity to walk down to the lake and wonder at the incredible clarity of the water. It is allegedly the clearest water in the World, and that claim is not hard to believe when you stand on its shore. Every detail on the lake bottom is visible is stark detail through the crystal clear water. It would be wonderful to dive in and experience that clarity from below the surface, but the lake is tapu (sacred) to maori, and doing so would be offensive. It would also introduce unwanted impurities to the water and spoil what is an incredible natural phenomenon.

Lewis and Adam popped into the camping area and said hello to Grit. Her tent was tucked neatly into the corner of one of the flat designated camping areas. Adam asked her what other trips she had done in New Zealand. As we had guessed, she is an experienced tramper. She had recently been down to Gillespie pass and Rabbit pass. Rabbit pass is not a climb for the faint hearted!

Adam also got talking to a friendly American chap who was clearly a keen photographer, given he was carrying a large SLR camera the length of Aotearoa. He said that when he read about the Te Araroa back in the States, he decided he had to do it. So he quit his job, flew to New Zealand, and started walking! If you are interested in walking the Te Araroa trail, he has an awesome photo blog which will give you a preview of what to expect


By the time we climbed into our sleeping bags, Blue Lake hut was more than full. Two walkers were sleeping on mattresses on the floor, thanks to Bruce for digging out a couple of spares. The camping areas outside were also pretty much full.

Day 6

Thursday 23rd January – Blue Lake hut to Sabine hut

Blue Lake hut was a busy place on Thursday morning. Some Te Araroa walkers had risen and left very early, but most were hauling themselves out of sleeping bags about the same time we were. It was a hubbub of noise and activity. Breakfasts being made, bags being packed, tall tales being told.

One of the most notable and unusual features of the hut is a massively over-engineered exterior door handle. About a foot long and weighing at least a kilogram, the enormous handle wouldn’t look out of place in a nuclear submarine… We certainly found it quite amusing, and wondered what madman had decided it would be an appropriate installation on a remote back country hut.

After a quick photo outside the hut, we were on our way at 8:30 AM. Our expectations of the day were that the track would be generally good. There had been washouts due to very heavy raid in December 2019, but conversations with others in the hut reassured us the track had been re-routed around the messy areas and was now well walked and easy going.

Between Blue Lake hut and West Sabine hut the track was indeed in very good condition. It was a pleasant change to be on an easily followed track again. There had been some mention of bush bashing being required, but this didn’t eventuate. The worst it got was walking a little closer to saplings and scrub than was usual.

Along the way we passed some enormous boulders the size of small houses in the river valley. One in particular formed a fantastic natural shelter under it, which had obviously been used by many walkers in the past.

We also noted that a new orange track marker was in use by DOC. Numerous sections of the track are prone to avalanches and the start of each has a sign warning trampers not to stop along them when there is significant snow. The orange triangle markers that mark these sections of track have a large black exclamation mark on them to emphasise the risk.

There was about 1km of track that had been washed out by the Sabine river. It must have been a scary sight when the river was in flood. It had scoured out a wide path, dumping shingle and rocks well into the forest. Very large trees had been ripped out the ground and were piled up in tangles of broken branches and logs.

Along this section we did have to climb over some fallen trees and weave through generally messy terrain. But it was no where near as bad as the wind throw near Bob’s hut.

The thick cloud we had hoped would keep the day cool had evaporated as the morning wore on, and by the time e reached a swing bridge to the West Sabine hut just on 11:30 AM, the skies above were clear and hot.

We had been hearing chainsaw noise for quite a while as we walked down the valley. The source of the noise was half a dozen DOC workers at the West Sabine hut. In very hot conditions indeed, they were working hard cutting up fallen trees and logs around the hut. We waved hello and gave them a thumbs up and thanks for their fantastic work clearing the track, then ducked inside the hut for an early lunch.

West Sabine hut

There were already a few trampers inside, and quite a few more arrived while we were there eating our days lunch rations. The Te Araroa trail descends to the West Sabine hut from Travers saddle. The walkers arriving from that direction were looking hot and tired having already done a nearly 400 metre climb followed by a steep descent that morning.

Shortly before 1:00 PM we were on the track again. There were a few lovely waterfalls viewable from the track below West Sabine hut. The farther we got from the hut, the flatter and wider the valley became. Walking was very pleasant. The beech forest here seemed exceptionally lush, with a vivid green canopy almost glowing as the sun shone through the leaves.

As we got closer to the Sabine hut, we became aware of the first wasps. Unfortunately the Travers Sabine area is a bit notorious for these nasty insects. We weren’t bothered by them, but did take extra care to stay on the track and watch where we put our hands on trees.

All in all, it is an easy amble between the two Sabine huts. We did feel the last climb over a bluff which dropped us gently down onto flat land before the hut was unreasonably high. But perhaps we were getting a little lazy with such easy track before it.

We stopped to take some photos from a swing bridge that crosses the Sabine not too far from the hut. Below it the river gorges spectacularly, with inviting jumps off rocks into very deep water. None of us were keen to give it a go, but likely many people have.

Apart from the sandflies and wasps, Sabine hut is lovely. Situated on the lake edge, the windows offer beautiful views of the lake. If you can see past the million sandflies that throng outside on the glass!

Some of us did brave them to take a dip in the lake. Jumping off the jetty into pleasantly warm water was bliss. Two days sweat and toil were washed off and we felt refreshed and invigorated after our splash.

Lake Rotoroa

After dinner, we asked Grit and the other trampers at the hut if they would like to join us feeding eels out on the jetty. They looked a little puzzled, but agrees to come along. We had some leftover salami and figured it would probably attract some hungry eels. Before long we had at least twenty of them snaking around in the clear water under the jetty. It was a lovely time. Watching the eels in the fading evening twilight was hypnotic. Their effortless serpentine gliding through the clear water to catch the slowly falling salami chunks delighted us all. Some of the trampers had not seen eels before and absolutely loved the experience.

Sabine hut at dusk

We went to bed with smiles on our faces. It had been a thoroughly pleasant day on the track, capped off with a mesmerising eel feeding on the jetty.

Day 7

Friday 24th January – Sabine hut to Mt Robert carpark

Our final day of the Moa Hunt dawned sunny and clear. Lake Rotoroa was sparkling in the morning sun. Billions of sandflies thronged outside the window, awaiting our exit from the hut.

Beyond the sandfly cloud, wasps were flying back and forwards from the ventilation chimneys of both long drop toilets. Harvesting protein in the form of you-know-what from the toilets for their hives, they were a nasty blight on an otherwise magic place. None of us fancied sitting on either toilet seat with wasps with spiked bottoms just below our bare bottoms. An email was sent to DOC after the trip asking them to replenish the bait stations around the hut.

We said goodbye to Sabine hut at 8:30 AM and set out along the track, which initially meanders along a few metres from the lake edge. Black swans were gliding across the silky surface of the lake, undisturbed by any wind at this early(ish) hour. The fishermen in our group would have loved to have spent some time angling from the shore.

The track is still lovely after it leaves the lake. Weaving through sparse beech forest, gentle ferns and soft moss covered logs and rocks, it isn’t steep and presents no awkward challenges. We all enjoyed the chance to chat as we walked. Our backs and shoulders had been hardened by much heavier weights on the first days of the trip. By day seven our packs now felt light and comfortable.

We walked for an hour and a half before stopping for a break in the dappled shade of the beech forest. The air temperature was warm, but not hot… yet! We all knew it was shaping to be yet another scorcher on the trail. A South Island Robin dropped in to say hello. They are delightful friendly birds, always interested in a chance tasty insect stirred up by passing humans.

Walking on from our stop we came to a very new bridge. Built to a higher specification than DOC bridges of old, this one spanned a now much wider side stream that had removed the previous bridge during flood conditions.

Our lunch stop farther up the trail was at the site of another former bridge across a side stream. This one was yet to be replaced, but fortunately for us, the stream it once crossed was non-existent due to recent dry conditions. No doubt DOC have plans for a fancy new one at that point too. Very little evidence of the bridge remained. It must have been a mighty surge of water that swept it away.

Beyond our lunch spot, the track climbed lazily up through the thinning beech forest. We encountered more wind throw along this section. But nothing as nasty as near Bob’s hut. The sun was now high overhead and just as intense as previous days. We had mentioned more than once on this trip how lucky we had been with the weather. For seven days barely a cloud had blotted the sky and the chance of bad weather thwarting our plans had remained firmly at 0%.

There is a long section of boardwalk that takes the track up to a flat plateau at the track high point. It extends for at least a kilometre – the longest boardwalk we have seen anywhere outside Rakiura Stewart Island. It was a little awkward heading up so many evenly spaced steps, but fast going. We barreled up the hill to the impressive plateau.

The view from the plateau on a clear day was spectacular. Beyond the stunted beech trees, range after range of mountains stretched out to the horizon, each one a lighter shade than the previous. It was so vivid we felt we were looking out into a vast oil painting.

We left the plateau and walked yet another lovely section of track to Speargrass hut. Meandering through mostly flat beech forest, it was idyllic and a very enjoyable walk. Out of the sun it wasn’t scorching hot, and with no difficult obstacles to tackle, we chatted about everything and nothing. Time passed quickly and just before 2:00 PM we popped out of the forest onto a grassy flat with Speargrass hut sitting in the middle.

We stopped for a scroggin break in the shade of the huts large covered deck. The hut was familiar to the Moa Hunters who had stayed here on the final night of our Travers Sabine walk in 2015.

Speargrass hut

From Speargrass hut, we had less than two hours walking ahead of us. Much like the walking to this point, it was lovely and posed no challenges.

At 5pm we were all in the Roberts carpark, loading packs into Paul’s car. We drove the short gravel road to St Arnaud and stopped at the shop/cafe for some much needed junk food – fizzy drink and bags of chips all round! Inside the shop we bumped into Grit. After sharing the track with her for the past few days, and finally getting to chat properly at Sabine hut, we now seemed like friends. We all gave her a hug and agreed to sit outside and share an iceblock and talk about our adventures. We were going to be home late, so what difference an extra half hour!

The Moa Hunters, and Grit!

2019 – Hawdon / Edwards – A Mini Moa Hunt

Moa Hunters on this trip:  Paul, Adam, John
Mini Moa Hunters on this trip: Sian, Cole, Emma

While not an “official” Moa Hunt, this weekend wander in the hills does feature three Moa Men, and three 15 year old Moa Hunters in training.
We figured this is enough to earn a place on the website!

The trip had two goals: A training walk for the Moa men, leading up to what looks to be an ambitious January 2020 Moa Hunt. And a chance to show just how rewarding and fun tramping can be to three keen young Moa Hunter trainees.

Our itinerary:

Day 1:  Hawdon shelter to Hawdon hut
Day 2:  Hawdon hut to Edwards hut via Tarn col
Day 3:  Edwards hut to Greyney’s shelter

See our route on topomap.co.nz

See our route on Google Maps

Day 1

Friday 22nd November – Start to Hawdon hut

Due to work commitments and not wanting a late night, it was agreed that Paul and the three young trampers would head to the Hawdon hut early on Friday, aiming to get there with plenty of daylight ahead of them. Adam and John would wander in later that day and arrive mid evening, hopefully with some lingering daylight.

The Hawdon valley starts out flat and wide

The walk up the Hawdon river is straightforward. While there’s no strict right or wrong route as such, sticking mainly to the true right of the valley certainly works well. The track starts on the true left of the Hawdon river, with a crossing to the true right required fairly early to sidestep an electric fence that extends across the river.

Once across the river, progress up the valley is a mix of open riverbed walking with many pleasant opportunities to enjoy sections of grassy meadow and low bush, or taller beech tree stands. Keeping your left shoulder close to the valley edge will ensure you spot these sections and have some time off the rock strewn riverbed.

Keep an eye out for grassy flats to walk along

On occasion we needed to splash across a river braid, but there was certainly nothing worrisome in any of the crossings. With feet already wet from the first time across the Hawdon, additional wading was done without hesitation.

One of numerous crossings en-route to Hawdon hut

As the valley narrows, marker poles start to appear. While following these is certainly not a requirement, it does make for easier walking. Sticking to the poles means you get to follow a well walked trail that avoids awkward bush and rocky riverbed. However, if you choose not to, it would be extremely difficult to get lost in such a simple valley.

If you are thinking of walking to the Hawdon hut, here’s a good time guide. Paul did the trip with three 15 year old’s, not hurrying at all, in three and a half hours. The eight fellas we met there followed a track that traversed fairly high in the bush above the valley and took closer to four hours. Adam and John walked briskly and hit the hut in two and a half hours. Three hours is definitely a good benchmark in reasonable conditions if you stay down on the flat. If the river is high, you might consider the high track, but it does add quite a climb, and quite some time.

Hawdon Hut is a relatively new twenty bunk building, with lovely views up the Hawdon valley to be had out its large windows. The current structure was built in the early 2000’s after the original was destroyed by fire. We passed burnt remains of wooden piles that supported the original hut about fifteen minutes walk from the new hut.

Hawdon hut
The view from Hawdon hut

Inside the hut, Paul was tending to his bread dough, which was raising inside a billy ready for into crusty bread in the morning. John and Adam set about preparing their dinner of tuna and noodles, followed by an instant pudding dessert. Some dried fruit thrown into the dessert lifted it from nice to very nice.

With a fairly big day of walking ahead, we left the eight friendly fellas we shared the hut with playing cards, and slipped into our sleeping bags fairly early.

Day 2

Saturday 23rd November – Hawdon hut to Edwards hut

Paul, being a good keen man was up bright and early preparing breakfast. The hut was filled with the delicious nutty aroma of fresh baked bread when most of us opened an eye and rolled out of bed. Emma, Sian and Cole reported hearing quite a bit of snoring through the night, while Adam, John and Paul reported less. No surprises there!

Cole, Emma and Sian enjoying breakfast

With bellies full of bread and porridge, we had our packs on and were outside the hut and ready to hit the track a bit after 8:30am. Conditions were perfect for walking, with little wind, overcast conditions and no real threat of rain in the air. We had an exciting days walking ahead. Sian, Cole and Emma certainly looked keen and up for the challenge.

From the hut the track briefly meanders through tall beech forest alongside the river, but quickly becomes steep with the bush thinning and becoming more stunted as the 900 metre contour is approached.

It didn’t take long to get very warm, and any extra layers that had been put on at the hut were soon removed. By 9am we had gained quite a bit of altitude and were treated to some nice views behind us of the Hawdon river’s snaking course through the mountains. Fifteen minutes later we were effectively above the bushline and had a good look at the rather flatter approach to Walker pass ahead of us.

Following a short sharp descent, we took a break on the edge of Twin Fall stream at 9:30am, having made excellent progress. The steepest climb of the day was behind us and we were all enjoying the varied scenery.

Keeping the feet dry…

From our comfy spot beside the stream, we spotted some of the group of eight men from the Hawdon hut on the high point of the track before it drops to the stream some way behind us. They waved and we heard a few shouts. Not sure whether they were just saying hello, we sat and waved back.

Unexpectedly, a few minutes later one of them came clattering round the track, very hot, and carrying a bag of rattly items. It turns out silly Adam had left his gas cooker and billies back at the hut. These good fellows had come after us to return them! A huge thank you to the wonderful men from a Rolleston church for going above and beyond in getting those items back to us. They jogged/ran an hour along the track to get them back in our hands. Legends.

Apart from having to splash through Twin Fall stream a ridiculous number of times as it meandered from side to side back and forwards across the valley, the walk up to Walker Pass was beautiful. Native bush of varying textures and shades of green painted the valley floor, highlighted by occasional pretty white flowers.

We passed the tarn just below Walker Pass shortly after 10am. Even under an overcast sky, the green algae growing in it seemed to glow an almost iridescent green. We rounded the tarn and progressed up the grassy slope over Walker pass and down to the East branch of the Otehake river.

An eerily green tarn

After a leisurely scroggin break we continued up the increasingly tight valley that would lead us to a sharp left turn and the climb to Tarn col. The ascent here isn’t steep, but it is steady.

With small pockets of snow visible in shady spots far up the valley ahead of us, we called a break. A cosy grassy area between some large rocks looked perfect for lunch. It was 12:30, and the valley here was nicely sheltering us from the cool breeze. Not far beyond our lunch spot, spectacular vertical cliffs tower above the right hand side of the track.

Sian, Cole and Emma had put in an impressive morning of walking. We had battled up some fairly steep track, and covered plenty of ground. It’s great to see fit motivated young people enjoying the outdoors.

Cole found himself a comfy spot and had a little nap in the pleasant conditions. John followed suit in another natural bed nestled in amongst the snowgrass. Emma and Sian chatted, enjoying the break. We had covered quite a bit of terrain that morning, and the legs were feeling a little tired.

Lunch break below Taruahuna pass
Snowball fight!

It took us twenty minutes from our lunch spot to reach the snow and start lobbing snowballs up and down at each other. Great fun! Thirty minutes on from there, we had passed the tarn and were standing atop Tarn col.

We stopped to take some photos of the broken craggy peaks of the southern alps that surrounded us. We also took some time to assess the best route down what is a fairly steep descent from the col. Paul dropped his pack and picked his way twenty or so metres down to choose a good path to take.

With a route decided, we all started the descent. Taking our time and staying close together, we were soon all standing at the bottom. A zig-zag route proved to be the winner, with care taken to ensure we didn’t have anyone down the slope from others in our group, where they could be hit by dislodged rocks.

Taruahuna pass
The view back from Taruahuna pass
A steep descent from the pass
It’s a team effort tackling the steepest sections

Ahead of us was the remarkable almost lunar landscape created by Falling mountain. In 1929 a magnitude 7.1 earthquake caused a massive landslide, carving a huge chunk off the side of the mountain and sending it smashing down into the valley below. Ninety years on, it still looked like the slip happened yesterday. A few hardy plants have found places for their roots in the dark rubble, but for the most part it is devoid of vegetation.

Falling Mountain
The top of the mountain, now in the valley

Despite the lack of vegetation, numerous large grey grasshoppers surprised us with their powerful jumps as they sprang out of our way. We thought perhaps they might be in the area looking for things other than food…

It pays to find and follow a fairly well trodden trail that heads up and initially to the right. This skirts round some of the nastier areas filled with very large rocks, keeping you on the easiest terrain. There are cairns along the way to mark your route, but these can be hard to spot given they are just piles of rocks in amongst piles of rocks.

Picking our way across the rubble field

The tarn on the far side of Taruahuna pass is very deep and spectacularly clear. In fact, crystal clear the day we were there. If the weather had been warmer, we would certainly have been tempted to drop packs and dive in for a refreshing splash.

Fifty minutes after cresting Taruahuna pass, we had descended into the lush grasses of the Edwards valley and were taking an afternoon scroggin stop. The sun was warm and with just the distant sound of the river and a few buzzing insects nearby, we were all guilty of sneaking in a few minutes snoozing. At this point we had been on the trail for seven hours and were now all looking forward to reaching Edwards hut.

Its a long walk down to the hut when the valley opens up…

Back in the valley, red topped DOC marker poles make a reappearance and we were able to follow a well marked trail to the hut. Walking down the Edwards river is certainly pleasant enough, and not especially demanding. But we did find the last hour and a half walking a little long. We were certainly pleased to finally see the boardwalks leading to the hut at 5:20pm.

Edwards hut
Emma and Sian

Already at the hut were two young fellows from the Unites States, and their friend from Patagonia. The two Americans, originally from Chicago had quit their jobs and were spending a year enjoying all that New Zealand has to offer. While here, they bumped into the like-minded South American, and together they had been exploring the South Island in a Toyota Hiace van.

We got on well with them, and enjoyed their free-spirited attitude to life. They choose their next adventure almost randomly, taking suggestions from anyone they met on their travels. We discussed everything from electric vehicles to the relative merits of imperial vs metric units with them.

Judging by the nameplate on its door, Edwards hut has just celebrated its 50th birthday, in whatever manner huts do that! While much of the building feels unchanged since 1969, the original windows and door have all been replaced with aluminium joinery. A nice upgrade. There are two bunk rooms and a spacious communal area with a wood burner for those colder days and nights.

Day 3

Sunday 24th November – Edwards hut to Greyney’s shelter

We had been keeping a watchful eye on weather conditions. Our last couple of river crossings would rely on the Edwards and Bealey flow levels being relatively low. Provided we didn’t get significant nor’west rain blow-over into the catchments, we would be OK. However, there had been some rain through the night, and the morning sky was dark and stormy looking, threatening further precipitation.

It was agreed that the sooner we got going the better. We expected to make good time on the well walked track back to the road. Not long after 8am we were ready to make a start. We grabbed some team photos at the door of the hut, and were soon on our way.

Our friendly hutmates

For the first kilometre down from the hut, the track flits back and forth between the river and the beech forest, making for varied and interesting travel. Then as the valley narrows quickly, there is a short climb, and from this point the track stays relatively high above the river.

Following the Edwards river
Synchronised slurping

Emma, Sian and Cole showed no signs they had walked nine hours the previous day before, and were setting a cracking pace up front. Us older fella’s just looked on with plenty of admiration as they confidently scampered up and down difficult sections. We never once heard a complaint or saw any sign of discontent from any of them.

After just over an hour of pleasant walking, we stopped for a scroggin break. Overhead conditions had brightened and the threat of heavy rain seemed greatly diminished. There was still a strong wind blowing through the tops, and we knew that the nor’wester could strengthen more and potentially bring rain.

We continued along the track, which was a mix of dropping in and out of gullies, some very dry sections along ridges, and some surprisingly wet and muddy areas.

Not long after 10am we had dropped back down to the Edwards again. From here we found that sticking close to the true left of the valley is the easiest walking. Not that walking close to the river would be especially hard. But it was at the valley edge that we found plenty of flat grassy or packed shingle areas to walk, which were much nicer than the loose rubble near the river.

A few spots of rain were blowing over the tops as we stopped for another scroggin break on a natural seat created by the river when it was in flood. A number of mice scuttled around among the sticks and stones below our dangling feet. We had seen a lot of them on this trip. This is due to the beech trees seeding heavily in what is called a mast year. They seemed relatively unafraid of us, and were taking a significant risk being out and about in full daylight we thought. Perhaps the seed bounty was running short leaving them a little desperate for food.

It was 11:45am when we reached the end of the “official” track, marked by a friendly green and yellow DOC sign. We had made pretty good time, knocking off the trip in less than four hours.

From here we just had a couple of obstacles left. Two river crossings. Any anxiety we had about these was quickly dispelled. The water was definitely cold, and did come to the tops of the legs on Adam, John and Paul, and higher on Cole, Sian and Emma. But it wasn’t swift. Crossing in pairs, holding the straps of each others packs for mutual support, we all got across both rivers very easily.

Lining up the first crossing – the Edwards…

Once over the rivers, it is just a short hop skip and a jump to a rail underpass which leads to the road and Greyney’s shelter. We were at the shelter by 12:30pm and gratefully taking off very wet boots and socks in exchange for warm dry stuff. The local sandflies had set up a strong welcoming committee and we quickly dug out the repellent sprays.

Paul and John were preparing for a jog down the road, hoping they would manage to hitch a ride with not too much running required. But this turned out to not be required. Adam got chatting to an American tourist couple who had driven to the shelter to escape torrential rain in Greymouth. They were initially intending to drive back in that direction, but when they heard we were looking for a ride to the Hawdon track, they very generously offered to take John and Paul. This was a lovely thing to do, and we were very grateful. Paul repaid them with lots of local knowledge on the geology, geography and history of the area as they drove to the Hawdon.

Greyney’s shelter

45 minutes later, John and Paul were back in the cars, and we were headed back to Christchurch. Well done to all of us, but especially our three young Moa Hunter trainees for tackling every inch of the track with enthusiasm and energy!

The Hawdon Edwards circuit is a really wonderful walk, and very underrated. You see a fabulous range of diverse scenery, face some challenging terrain, and will likely meet some really nice people along the way.

2019 – Lake Christabel – German Fire Punch!

Given it is not much more than a stones throw from both Maruia Springs and Springs Junction, surprisingly few people seem to have heard of the Lake Christabel circuit. Certainly it seemed DOC had all but abandoned any maintenance of the track a few years ago, which may have contributed to its relative obscurity. The good news is the track looks to be getting some love from DOC again, and the circuit is no longer in danger of being consumed by the bush.

Moa Hunters on this trip:  Magnus, Adam, Paul, Richard, Lewis, Chris, John, Luke

The Trip:

Day 1: Drive to Newcombes. Walk to Mid Robinson hut.
Day 2: Mid Robinson hut to Top Robinson hut
Day 3: Top Robinson hut to Lake Christabel hut
Day 4: Lake Christabel hut to Road end

Topomap of our route

Google Map of our route

Day 1

Friday 18th January – Start to Mid Robinson hut

With seven of us heading for Springs Junction from Christchurch, two vehicles were required for all the gear and Moa hunters. Given the reports we had read regarding the often dubious condition of the unsealed access road to the track, we were very happy one of them was a Nissan ute, generously loaned to us by Paul’s dad for the weekend. According to other blog posts we had read, attempting the road in a standard 2wd vehicle after any kind of rain is unwise due to the large number of fords that need to be crossed.

Eight superbly fit Moa Men in magnificent condition

The timing of our arrival in Springs Junction just after 12:15pm was almost perfect. We arrived just 5 minutes after Magnus, who had travelled down from Nelson.

With Magnus’s gear loaded into the ute, we set off along SH7 looking for Palmers Road, which would take us to the start of the track. We found it easily and followed the remarkably smooth road in both vehicles until we reached the north end of the track, where we would exit the bush in a few days time.

Feeding the sandflies…

At this point we parked Chris’s little Honda Jazz out of the way under a tree. Paul continued up the road in the ute with half the Moa Hunters on board, leaving the rest of us fighting off an enthusiatic squadron of sandflies while we changed into our boots and walking gear.

After about 20 minutes, Paul was back with an empty ute ready to ferry the rest of us to the other end of the track. As there had been no recent rain, the fords we crossed were either completely dry, or barely running. There were certainly no concerns that day. But it was clear from the amount of scouring and erosion around some of the crossings that they could become ferocious and impassable in bad weather.

It was probably around 1:30pm by the time we were all standing with packs on ready to hit the track. Despite being mostly cloudy, conditions were very warm. Whenever it found a gap in the clouds, the sun shone strongly down on us, adding more heat to the day.

Lush grass at the start of the track

The first section of track skirts the edge of farmland, following a deer fence through open country. December had been a wet month, and consequently the grass we walked through was long and lush, bent at the tops by heavy seed heads.

Heading into the Robinson valley

New orange markers along the track were actually quite good. Regularly spaced and clearly visible, they were easily spotted as we left the fence line and began following the Robinson river. However, given the pleasant conditions and easy walking along the river, we did tend to ignore them for much of the first couple of hours. We simply ambled along the river following the most inviting looking terrain as it presented itself. Occasional river crossings were required, but these were more a pleasant cooling of the feet than an obstacle.

Our lunch was more of an early afternoon tea. Or “second lunch” perhaps, if you are a Hobbit. We perched ourselves along the grassy banks of a trickle of a stream and munched our lunches in the pleasant afternoon heat. Small insects, flies and bees busily flew back and forwards past us, enjoying the abundant nectar available on the masses of flowers in the tall grass.

Richard was very happy to be with us. He had worked hard for many many months to get what is essentially a fairly buggered knee into fit condition for another Moa Hunt. Lots of low impact swimming, spinning, walking and numerous supplements and magic potions seemed to have done the trick. He wandered along, seemingly untroubled by the knee. It was certainly great to have him back Moa Hunting with us after his forced absence from the Dusky in 2018.

Walking up the Robinson river valley is lovely in late summer. The terrain is easy and the gentle flats either side of the river can be walked without a care. Flanking each side of the river flat, beech covered mountains provide drama and contrast to the scene.

Chris enjoying the mid afternoon sun in the Robinson valley

It’s amazing how varied and colourful this type of country can be. Low plants and grasses created a tapestry of colour along the river, contrasting with the shades of green and grey of the surrounding peaks.

There were occasional tricky spots as we progressed up the Robinson. The higher we got, the narrower the valley became. In places, the river in past floods had scoured out the banks on either side leaving piles of river rubble and fallen trees in our path.

Fallen trees create both obstacles and assistance

It was close to 6:30pm when we came upon the swingbridge which crosses to the true left of the Robinson to within a stones throw of Mid Robinson hut. Most of us used the bridge, despite the river being low enough to walk across with relative ease. I for one like the idea of pulling on relatively dry and warm boots in the morning… It was for that reason I was more than happy to wait my turn to cross the swingbridge.

If you were to design a hut for maximum summer sun, you couldn’t go past Mid Robinson as a perfect example. It was 7:45pm before trees and hills obstructed the warming rays of yellow sunlight that shone brightly straight through the doorway of the hut all evening. The hut is a cosy little forestry service one, with 6 bunk beds, a good size bench and barely enough space for eight Moa Hunters to move about!

Paul and Richard keeping eyes and noses close to the sizzling steaks

Wonderfully tasty and tender marinated steak was fried, filling the hut with mouthwatering aromas of garlic and red wine. When it came time for dessert, Chris surprised and amazed us all with a stunning piece of tramping ingenuity. Prior to the tramp he had cleverly fashioned a cunningly insulated container from snow foam and insulating sprayfoam. At the hut he pulled from it a litre of still frozen Kapiti gingernut ice-cream to complement our dessert. It was a fantastic treat…. and there was more to come, courtesy of Magnus!

Over the next few hours we were educated on the German ritual of the Feuerzangenbowle, or German Fire Punch. Three litres of mulled spiced red wine was gently heated over a cooker. Then a cone of sugar suspended above the wine on a metal frame, drizzled generously with dangerously potent over-proof rum, was spectacularly set alight. As it burned with a blue and red flame, more rum was carefully added to the flaming cone, creating wonderful bursts of orange flame. All the while, burning drops of caramelised sugar melted off the cone and dripped into the wine below.

Soaking the sugar cone in over-proof rum
Fiery conflagration, Magnus-style!

When the fire display was over, we lay on the bunks drinking the rich beverage while watching a black and white German movie projected onto a bedsheet screen supended between tramping poles high on the hut wall.

Magnus introduces the German film

We all agreed the “fire punch” was like a liquid Christmas Cake. The spices, red wine and citrus juice and zest had a rich flavour. Drinking the ferociously warming mulled wine while watching a quirky 1940s German subtitled movie and getting slowly sozzled was a strangely surreal and unforgettable night!

Paul estimates we consumed 8kg of food and beverage that night. Those who didn’t have to carry it in their packs the next day were no doubt extremely grateful!

Adam and Luke dossed down on the floor with an array of bedrolls and self-inflating mattressed under them for comfort. The rest of the team slipped into their sleeping bags on bunks and we were all soon sound asleep.

Day 2

Saturday 19th January – Mid Robinson hut to Top Robinson hut

Saturday morning dawned overcast and cool, with some of us feeling perhaps a little jaded from the late night before… or was it perhaps due to the somewhat higher alcohol consumption than is usual for a Moa Hunt?!

It was a leasurely 9am by the time we had eaten, tidied the hut and were balancing cameras on packs outside the hut for our traditional team photo. Judging by the map, our day ahead looked to be a fairly short one, with a couple of hundred metres altitude gain over the 9km between us and Top Robinson hut.

Eight well preserved Moa Men…

In contrast to day one, which had been spent in the open river valley, the track to Top Robinson hut winds through dense beech forest and thick vegetation. Our old friend hook grass was also out in force, its nasty little seeds keen to snag the hairs of our legs and hitch a ride.

We encountered the odd muddy patch, crossed many side streams, but generally found the track to be in good condition. If more people walked the circuit, it would be excellent. But the lack of traffic does leave the track in danger of being overgrown in parts. Grasses and ferns were quite thick, obscuring the path below.

Overgrown, but well marked

However, despite the enthusiatic vegetation growth, DOC have definitely been working hard to improve the track. Shiny new orange markers were dotted evenly between the huts, and the worst tree falls had been cleared.

The ascent throughout the day was steady, with the odd short grunt up and over a steep section, or round a gully, but nothing too onerous.

Knowing it was to be a short day, we grabbed ourselves an early lunch near a stream in amongst the beech forest. Leaning up against a comfy tree or backpack, we discussed everything and nothing, enjoying being away from the usual routines of real life.

By this time, we were feeling the occasional drop of rain, and the cloud had thickened noticeably. We were keen to get to the hut before any serious precipitation set in, so didn’t indulge in a long languid lunch this day.

Following our lunch break, the track did get a bit messier. The valley gets a little tighter, and we did find ourselves battling through trickier terrain. While it was a bit more demanding, it certainly wasn’t anywhere near as nasty as some days we have experienced.

Slippery rocks make crossing a sidestream tricky

The track does depart the river for about 45 minutes, staying quite high to avoid a steep gorged area below. The ascent is a steady climb, a short relatively flat section, then another easy climb. Friendly Robins flitted along beside us from time to time, and Lewis very briefly spotted a deer while we walked this section. He has a good keen eye for wildlife!

The benefit of climbing higher is the lack of hook grass. While hook grass does no real harm, and inflicts no injury, it is a bloody irritating and annoying plant! Having said that, we’d all prefer pushing through hook grass than being perforated by wicked spear (Spaniard) grass!

We arrived at Top Robinson hut at 2:30pm. There is a swingbridge about 500 metres before the hut, which is nestled snugly in the bush just above the river. Despite being listed as an 8 bunk hut, Top Robinson would comfortably sleep ten people. There was more than enough space for eight Moa Hunters to move about and get a large dinner and dessert prepared.

A lazy afternoon was spent snoozing, solving the World’s political problems and preparing the evening meal.

The remains of the bottle of very strong rum was polished off. Moa Hunter opinions on the drinkability of the liquor varied from “not bad, I quite like it“, to “it’s disgusting… a bit like petrol… I’ll have another swig, thanks“.

Day 3

Sunday 20th January – Top Robinson hut to Lake Christabel hut

Breakfast took nearly an hour to prepare. Fried bacon, mushrooms and black pudding with a side of scrambled eggs were generously loaded onto plates. Some experimental home-built hash browns were abandonded. They just refused to crisp up and cook properly. The mighty breakfast was excellent preparation for the only day of the trip that would involve significant altitude gain.

Saturday breakfast – a mere snack….

We left the hut at 9:15am and enjoyed the gentle first 15 minutes of track which led to another swingbridge, which crosses the Robinson river for the last time before the track leads up a ridge to the open tops.

Outside Top Robinson hut

Aside from some fairly brackish tarns on the tops, the swingbridge just past the hut is the last point to grab clean clear water for quite some time. We filled our bellies and bottles with cool water before starting up the ridge.

Plodding our way up the hill was warm work. Sheltered from any cool breeze in the thick beech forest, we found ourselves perspiring and blowing despite the grey overhead conditions and occasional drizzle. The track is evenly stepped and in good condition, the only challenge being the steady and at times steep climb.

Grunting our way up to the saddle

We stopped regularly to catch our breath and cool off a little. The higher we climbed, the more the bush around us thinned out. Beech trees gave way to lower trees and more sparse vegetation, eventually opening out completely, offering wonderful views back down the Robinson valley.

Above the bushline, the track levels out somewhat, becoming an easily followed poled route across the tops.

Clear of the bush and exposed to a strong cold wind that rapidly chilled us, we didn’t dilly dally. Despite the marvellous views around us, we kept up a sharp pace to ensure we spent as little time as possible in that unpleasant wind and the odd spot of rain.

The view back down the Robinson valley
and still climbing…
Reward! Squiggletop biscuits for reaching the tops…

We reached the saddle at lunchtime with the chill wind still blowing relentlessly into our backs. Just over the lee side we found a relatively sheltered spot. We each nestled into a comfy hollow between tussock grasses and got stuck into our lunches, enjoying being out of reach of the wind’s cold fingers.

The descent ahead…

Eyeing up the afternoons descent from our lunch spot, we could see the track dropping quite quickly into the river valley below us. The markers looked to traverse through scrubby vegetation angling down to reach the river fairly quickly, rather than taking a long sidle.

With our lunch bags tucked back into our packs, we started picking our way down the valley slopes sometime around 1:30pm. The descent to the river was no worse than it appeared from the saddle. Occasionally steep, sometimes boggy and with the odd painful grove of spaniard grass to avoid, we made steady progress down to the river.

Spaniard grass…. A Moa Man’s least favourite plant.

Beyond the first patch of beech forest, things got a bit more interesting. A wide rocky slip needs to be crossed here. It’s not immediately obvious where to head for on the far side of it. There are no orange markers visible in the distance. If you read this before making the trip, make a note to drop to the river.

Traversing the slip

Beyond the slip, the track briefly follows the river for about 50 metres, then turns abruptly left and climbs sharply to a plateau above. In the long grass and scrub it is very easy to miss this 90 degree switch to the left. So many people have now missed the turn and carried on straight that there is now an initially well defined track continuing to follow the river. It carries on for a short while, then confusingly fades to nothing. Take your time and look carefully for markers through this section to stay on the track.

This section is scrubby, messy, a little overgrown and slow going. However, the good news is it doesn’t last too long, and eventually leads into beech forest which is a far more pleasant walking experience. The final descent to the flats of the valley below didn’t take long. At 2:45pm we were dropping packs and digging out our scroggin for an afternoon break beside the river.

Between our scroggin stop and a swingbridge there were a couple of places where the river in flood had scoured away its bank and the track with it. We either skirted around these places, or dropped down into them and out again. In some places, large trees had fallen into the river, and shingle piling up against them had created new islands. With nowehere else to go, the water now surges either side of them, creating new channels and washing away existing river banks. And with them, significant sections of the track.

We reached Lake Christabel hut at 5:15pm – a solid 8 hour day on the track. The hut is an equally comfortable identical twin of Top Robinson. As was expected, we had the hut to ourselves again. A big feed of curried mince was prepared as the wind outside picked up, and heavy rain started to drum on the roof.

Inside the hut we found some interesting treasures, including what looked to be a genuine 1954 National Geographic in fairly good condition. It’s probably still there if you want to read it…

Day 4

Monday 21st January – Lake Christabel hut to Road End

Our final day of Moa Hunting dawned murky and overcast. Peering out the windows of the huts, the skies above looked heavy and threatening, but it wasn’t raining. However, the possibility of getting wet seemed high. On the bright side, it wasn’t cold.

Our final day of Moa Hunting dawned murky and overcast. Peering out the windows of the huts, the skies above looked heavy and threatening, but it wasn’t raining. However, the possibility of getting wet seemed high. On the bright side, it wasn’t cold.

Porridge was heated, dished up, liberally smothered in brown sugar, and enthusiastically consumed.

Waterproof pack covers were stretched over our packs in anticipation of likely precipitation, and by 8:45am we set off down the track. After three days walking to get to this point, we were eager to see Lake Christabel.

Preparing for a potential precipitation possibility….

It didn’t take long to tick that box. By 9:15am we were at the head of the lake and had some nice views across the grey waters. The cloud had lifted a little by this time and the peaks surrounding the lake were mostly clear of the mist that was lurking about not long before.

Our first glimpse of Lake Christabel

At our first scroggin stop, the weather was looking a bit more ominous again. Luke set about making a pack cover from a small tarpaulin he had brought. It was clear to all that he had inherited plenty of his father’s practicality and cleverness as he roped the tarp to his pack. Well done Luke, and well done Paul!

The track skirts around the edge of the lake, offering surprisingly few unobstructed views of the lake, and equally few chances to stand on the lake edge. That said, the times that the lake is accessible are particularly worthwhile. Perhaps it is because those opportunities to stand on the shore are few and far between that makes them all the more special when they happen…

Or was it the particularly flat and satisfyingly skimmable stones on the lake shore that made it special? The first beach we came upon was littered with such stones. Regardless of whether they added to the specialness of the lake, the Moa Men proceeded to skip them across the lake with great enthusiasm. All Moa Men can skip a stone, but Richard with his tennis toughened right arm is the undisputed champion. His stones bounced across the lake further and faster than anyone elses.

Serene Lake Christabel
Richard skips a stone into the far distance…

Worried we might completely fill the lake with stones, we hefted our packs and continued our walk around the lake. A lunch break was called at 12:15pm, not far from the point the track leaves the lake edge and climbs out of the basin to find the Blue Grey river.

Boys will be boys

The track leaves the lake a short walk from where it drains into the Blue Grey River via an underground channel. If we had a little more time and the weather was a little less threatening, we might have made a side trip down to investigate. As it was, we followed the track up a roughly 100 metre climb to a flattish plateau and the final stretch to the road.

Under and then over.

We found this section to be fairly overgrown, as much of the previous walking had been, but not hard to navigate. Long grasses and ferns hung wet leaves across the track and moss laden beech trees created interesting structures above us.

Wonderful, moss covered everything.

As we got closer to the road, the beech forest inevitably thinned out. We were able to make out the clear area around the road some time before we reached it. We spotted a few fishermen in black waders and green tops trying their luck near the bridge that takes the road over the Blue Grey.

Popping out of the bush around 4pm, we were right on time for meeting Magnus’s better half at Springs Junction, provided the fords were still passable in Chris’s little Honda Jazz. Fortunately they were, and Chris, Paul and Luke were able to drive to the far end of the track and return in the ute and the Jazz without incident.

Magnus ponders the end of another Moa Hunt

While this was not a typical Moa Hunt, it was a most enjoyable wander in the hills. Each of the days showcased very different scenery. From luxuriant river valleys on day one, to dense beech forest, then wind-blown open tops, and finally a serene lakeside, this track has it all.

2018 – The Dusky Track – Dry feet on the Dusky?!

The Dusky Track is a route with a reputation for stunning views, magnificent solitude, challenging terrain and lots of mud.  For many years it has been on the Moa Hunters’ must-do list of tramping tracks.  After over ten years of walking mountains and valleys across the rest of the South Island, finally we got our ducks lined up for the Dusky!

Moa Hunters on this trip:  Magnus, Adam, Paul, Lewis, Chris, John

The Trip:

Day 1:  Fly to Invercargill. Mini bus transfer to Clifden. Boat trip up Lake Hauroko. Walk to Halfway hut
Day 2: Halfway hut to Lake Roe hut
Day 3: Lake Roe hut to Loch Maree hut
Day 4: Loch Maree hut to Supper Cove hut
Day 5: Supper Cove hut to Loch Maree hut
Day 6: Loch Maree hut to Kintail hut
Day 7: Kintail hut to Upper Spey hut
Day 8: Upper Spey hut to West Arm hut
Day 9: Boat trip to Manapouri, ride to Invercargill, fly home.

Topomap of our route

Google Map of our route

Day 1

Saturday 13th January – Start to Halfway hut

After a week of the usual preparations, six Moa Hunters met at Christchurch airport.  In the days leading up to the start of our Fiordland adventure, lists had been checked, re-checked and anxiously checked again.  The Dusky is a long walk, and none of us wanted to be “that guy” – the one who forgot something vital.

We all felt a growing feeling of excitement.  At last the departure day was here.  With our final farewells made, we hefted our packs onto the Air New Zealand bag drop, and soon after, boarded the turbo-prop ATR-72 bound for Invercargill.

For those interested, our packs all weighed in at around the 19kg mark.  With some ruthless cutting back on luxury items, we could possibly all have carried a bit less. We certainly wouldn’t have wanted to carry much more!

Invercargill here we come!

While we milled about at Invercargill Airport, Paul came to a horrible realisation, which was confirmed by a call to his wife, Maria.  He had left his legendary Moa Hunt curry mix in the fridge at home.  As this was to provide the flavour that would make three of our freeze-dried meals palatable, we agreed that an emergency dash to a Supermarket for some alternatives was necessary.  Thanks heaps to Paul’s cousin Trevor and his wife Lynn for the ride!

Our trip from the Airport to Clifden in the Humpridge Track bus was more than pleasant.  Under a wonderfully clear sky blue sunny day we were driven across the lazy plains of Southland.  It was yet another cracker of a day in what was a record-breaking summer in the South.

Historic Magnus and historic John in front of historic Clifden Bridge.

We climbed out the bus at the historic Clifden Suspension Bridge and stood in the shade of a big tree while Johan opened up his mighty old Land Rover which would take us to Lake Hauroko.

Stunning conditions in Southland

The Southern end of Lake Hauroko was surprisingly busy.  Utes with boat trailers lined the edge of a large parking area near a boat ramp, and a group of lads were busy loading slabs of beer onto a boat for what looked sure to be a very big night indeed.

Hauroko is a hidden gem – a really beautiful lake.  Where we stood, golden sand left dry by the hot summer is quickly met by green beech forest, and further round the lake, lush bush pushes out to the lake edge.  A wooden jetty extends out into calm dark waters of the lake.  Johan expertly reversed up beside it, and launches his boat “Namu” – our ride to the northern reaches of the lake.

The many colours of Lake Hauroko
Chris enjoying our blast across the lake

Powering across the lake, it felt like our adventure had truly begun.  Following a short and slightly tongue-in-cheek safety briefing from Johan, we were left to soak up the constantly changing view.  We did so with relish, taking in every moment.  Lake Hauroko is prone to strong winds that can create an unpleasant chop.  But not so on the day we crossed it.  In delightfully smooth conditions, we thoroughly enjoyed every view New Zealand’s deepest lake offered us.  The 45 minute ride was worth every penny.

As we unloaded our packs at the northern shore of the lake and the start of the track, Johan commented on the lack of sandflies. He seemed somewhat bemused…  Maybe it was the weather?  Maybe some other factor?  He had no explanation.  Whatever the reason, there were very few of the miserable little bloodsuckers to form a welcoming party.  And we were very happy about that.

At 2pm we took our first steps onto the Dusky track.

Six fresh and fit Moa Hunters ready to conquer the Dusky…

The first hour in the bush gave us a strong indication of what was to come; Very warm conditions, little breeze and high humidity, all made for some very sweaty Moa Men.  From the first step, the track is beautiful.  Flanked by countless varieties of ferns which fill every available space at the feet of moss-covered silver beech trees, it quickly led us into deepest darkest Fiordland.

Areas that would in “normal” Fiordland weather have been muddy bogs, were relatively dry.  Consequently, we made good progress on what is a mainly flat and easy section of the track.  Our first three-wire bridge crossing was done and dusted just before 5pm.  Varying foot placement techniques were employed by members of the group.  While the bridges aren’t particularly hard to cross, the consequence of a mistake is high, so we all took care and didn’t rush our crossings.

An upmarket wire bridge – 5 wires instead of 3

Shortly after 7pm we were at Halfway hut.  Given how remote the Dusky track is, we were surprised to find five other trampers inside.  No doubt they had some misgivings when six blokes somewhat noisily rolled on in, disturbing their evening!  As it turned out, three of them were up for a chat, which is always good.  Melanie from Devon, UK, Hayden from NZ, and Konrad from Germany were excellent company.

In fact, Hayden had even read a Moa Hunter website post or two:  “Oh, so you are those old fellas!” sums up the moment he realised who we were…

Public Service Announcement at Halfway hut…

As is a first-night-on-the-track tradition now, Paul cooked up a tasty steak and veg dinner.  It was a very warm night and sleeping bags remained unzipped throughout.

Day 2

Sunday 14th January – Halfway hut to Lake Roe hut

One of the many things that makes tramping an addictive drug is standing outside the hut on a clear crisp morning, inhaling cool air so clean and so fresh it seems nobody before you could have breathed it.

“Dolly Parton” Peaks

High above the hut, “Dolly Parton” peaks (as we dubbed them) were tanning in the early morning sun. It was going to be another lovely day.  Creamy porridge liberally covered in brown sugar would provide us with energy for the first couple of hours of the day.  And a steaming cup of coffee, your choice of Hazelnut Latte and Salted Caramel, provided by Magnus.

By 8:30am we were packed up and ready for the obligatory team photos. Hayden “volunteered” to take them for us, and hopped barefoot across the damp grass to snap a few shots on our many cameras.  Justifiably, he wondered why we needed so many photos…  There’s no reason, it’s just tradition!

Konrad, Hayden and Melanie

Our packs still felt like they were full of lead and stones as we said our goodbyes and left Halfway hut. The track climbs gently up the Hauroko Burn valley, and we were mostly untroubled by bog or awkward terrain.

Dehydrated mud.  Our favourite kind!

We were standing at the first swing bridge by 9:30am.  Crossing this one was made doubly interesting due to its drunken nature.  The upper-left cable is not as taut as its partner on the right, causing the whole rig to lean awkwardly to the left.  With 19Kg on our backs, crossing it was an interesting off-kilter exercise…

Lewis employs the “duck feet” wire bridge walking technique…

Around midday we rolled up to the second wire bridge.  Regular boggy patches along the way had been easily hopped across or skirted.  The odd steep drop into a gully and similarly tight climb out the other side kept things interesting.  Generally we found the terrain in this section easy going and quite pleasant.

Our only “complaint” was the heat.  Our expectation was that we would get very wet on the Dusky, notorious for the metres of rain that Mother Nature dumps on it every year.  We had not expected our shirts would be soaked with sweat in place of that regular precipitation.  At times the heat and humidity were oppressive.  With no relief even in the shade, our bodies struggled to maintain temperature.  We all drank plenty of water at every opportunity to maintain fluid levels.  John used his sweat to create romantic art on his walking top.

John’s prize-winning entry in the Dusky sweat art competition

The stream here was so low here we didn’t bother with the wire bridge, and just rock-hopped across.  On the other bank we dropped packs and had lunch.  A few sandflies hovered about listlessly, but perhaps they also found the heat tiring.  They lacked commitment, and didn’t live up to their fearsome relentless bloodsucking reputation.

Paul perused his topomap and reminded us all that the next section would get steeper.  Not horribly steep, but a good workout.

Paul’s arms are just long enough for him to read a topomap without optical assistance…

From the wire bridge the track follows the true right of the stream.  Below Lake Laffy the valley narrows considerably, and the track gets noticeably steeper with numerous rocky sections. Progress slowed, and the heat of the day increased.  The bush above our heads thinned and the sun made its presence felt, adding fire to the already oppressive mid-afternoon heat.

Tricky downhill conditions in the summer heat

Breaking out of the bushline we almost immediately encountered boggy conditions.  Perhaps this is due to the lack of large vegetation to soak up the moisture.  While the ground underfoot was heavy and at times spludgy, crossing this area onto higher and drier ground wasn’t too arduous.

Looking dark and almost syrupy, Lake Laffy sits below Lake Roe hut.  Adam wondered why the hut is named after a Lake you can’t even see from it.  Lake Roe is significantly larger, and is a short walk over the low hills behind of the hut.  Maybe it got hut naming rights because it is the big brother.

Lake Laffy

It was almost bang on 2pm when we spotted Lake Roe hut across Lake Laffy.  Our short day on the track would give us some time to explore the interesting looking terrain behind the hut.

We had been told at Halfway hut that Lake Roe hut was being used by two DOC staff for a Rock Wren monitoring programme.  So finding the hut full of supplies came as no surprise.  They had all sorts of goodies like fresh lettuce and tomatoes.  Having a chopper bring in your gear allows for some luxuries.  However, the two staff were nowhere to be seen at this time.

Mighty muscly Moa Men

After a pleasant break soaking up the warm afternoon sun on the porch, we organised ourselves for a foray over the low hills that hide Lake Roe behind the hut.

Without our heavy packs, and wearing light footwear, we scampered up the slopes in no time at all. The short walk is well worth the time.  The strange array of tarns that punctuate the grassy flats around Lake Roe are quite unique. Cameras were pulled out and many photos taken.

Magnus takes in the view of Lake Roe

Below us, one of the DOC staff strode into view, carrying a mid-size day-pack.  We gave her a cheery wave, and she waved back.  No doubt we would say a proper hello later at the hut.

A patchwork quilt of tarns beside Lake Roe

Hoping to catch a view of distant Centre Pass, Chris, Paul, Lewis and Magnus decided to walk across to the opposite peaks for a view.  Later when we met back at the hut, they reported nice views, but were nowhere near high enough to get a glimpse of Centre Pass.  That would have to wait a few days now!

Our evening at the hut was a very interesting one. Crystal and Louise explained the DOC Rock Wren programme to us all.  Pointing to various marked locations on a topmap, they gave us a fascinating insight into the daily life of this tiny native bird.  The passion they have for their work, and love for the Rock Wren was impressive.  So much so, when we mentioned seeing Kiwi on Stewart Island, they were almost dismissive.  Kiwi are nowhere near as exciting as Rock Wren in their books!

In return, we entertained them with tall tales of our Moa Hunts.

Crystal and Louise – our lovely DOC Rock Wren enthusiasts

Sadly, Richard had to pull out of this year’s trip due to a dodgy knee.  Because we would be missing his frequent renditions of children’s songs, Paul had recorded him singing “Wonky Donkey” on his phone.  He played it to us all, including the slightly bemused DOC gals…  Hearing Richard recite the entire Wonky Donkey song certainly brought a smile to all our faces and was a fitting end to a really enjoyable day on the Dusky.

Day 3

Monday 15th January – Lake Roe hut to Loch Maree hut

Monday morning looked good.  High cloud meant we would be spared the full force of the sun as we traversed the tops of the Pleasant Range.  We were also hopeful it would remain clear of the higher peaks and allow us some great views.  An increasingly enthusiastic nor’westerly breeze would keep things interesting.

All six Moa Hunters were out of their sleeping bags before 7am, and a mere hour and a half later, we were ready to start our days walk.  After the obligatory photos and goodbyes to Louise and Crystal, we were off.

Moa Men ready for action

In dry conditions the climb out from Lake Roe is a straightforward exercise.  Steep sections are well stepped, and where the going is less tough, the track meanders its way up the slopes.  Climbing is steady, and we all got quickly into our stride, with a welcome breeze keeping us cool.

Some parts were a definite grunt, with some blowing and panting.  The spectacular views back to Lake Roe hut behind us provided plenty of excuses to stop for a breather, and take in the wonderful scenery.

Looking back at Lake Laffy.  It’s a steep climb from Lake Roe hut to here…

Lake Horizon sits just above 1000m.  The track follows a narrowish grassy strip that runs between it and Lake Ursula, undulating over small lumps, or winding its way between them.

Lake Horizon

Leaving the Lakes, our next leg was across the open tops of the Pleasant Range.  Chris and Paul noted on the map that there are quite a number of tarns along the way.  Conscious that once we hit the bushline later in the afternoon there would be no more water until Loch Maree.  We planned to fill out bottles at one of the last tarns that we would pass.

Surrounded by range after range after range of granite mountain peaks, we enjoyed every angle of the 360 degree panorama that swept around us.  This is a special part of New Zealand, and we were all determined to make the most of the spectacular scenery that was on show.

Shortly after 11am we stopped at a clean and clear looking tarn.  Chris hopped down and sure enough, the water he filled his bottle with looked clear and very drinkable.  Bottles and bellies were filled with cool refreshing water.

Yummy tarn water…  Actually, it wasn’t bad at all for tarn water.

Reaching a high point shortly after, we were finally rewarded with absolutely stunning views of Dusky Sound.  After half an hour of being teased with tantalising glimpses of the distant ocean, it now lay majestically in front of us.  Despite the cool breeze, we stood there for quite some time, rewarding ourselves and feeling privileged.

Distant Dusky Sound from the Pleasant Range

Below us we could see the track disappearing into the bush.  We agreed that lunch should be taken at a spot out of the bush, out of the wind, with views of the Sounds.  We walked on down, and just after midday found just such a spot.

Cushioned by the long grass and sheltered from the breeze, with the World at our feet, it was all too comfortable and pleasant.  We were in no rush to start the brutal descent to Loch Maree, and spent over an hour in that place, chatting, snoozing, and nibbling away at our lunches.

Magnus enjoying a tussock bed, high in the Pleasant Range

From the tops, the track drops away steeply.  And that would be a fair summary of the entire 900 vertical metre drop to the Seaforth River below.

A beautiful view, but a brutal descent…

Initially relatively dry and clear, the track quickly becomes trickier with plenty of beech roots and short vertical climbs.  Out of the breeze and working very hard, we quickly got very warm indeed.  Aware that we had only the water we were carrying until the bottom, we rationed ourselves.  This took some willpower in the stifling heat.

Steep… steep… steep!

Only Lewis enjoyed the long descent.  While the rest of us puffed, grunted and grumbled, he cheerfully hopped and skipped his way down.  What a bastard.

We had numerous stops during the two hours of arduous downhill.  Any flat place with a hint of a breeze was a welcome respite.  Imagining what the Dusky might be like, none of us had envisaged this.  In my mind I pictured myself with a jacket on, frequent heavy rain, mist, mud and sandflies.  I certainly hadn’t anticipated the heat, humidity, sweat and sunshine we were experiencing.

Dropping our packs beside the Jane Burn was a welcome relief.  Two hours on that hill had been more than enough, and we were feeling generally buggered.  The cold clear water of the stream was heavenly.  It’s amazing how good water can taste.  Just drinking from Jane Burn was not enough for Lewis, who took the opportunity to cool his entire body in the water.

Does water get any more sparkling crystal clear than this?

The short stretch of track from Jane Burn to the wire bridge over the Seaforth River is magnificently flat.  We filed across the bridge and just a few minutes later were at Loch Maree hut, after a short climb up the rocky knob it sits atop.

A proper 3-wire bridge

We were the only trampers at the hut, but not for long.  Shortly after our arrival, two men rolled in, followed by a group of four internationals who had been to Supper Cove.  The two older Kiwi blokes had come in from Kintail Hut.  We dubbed the younger group “The United Nations”.  Ulysse from France, Marlene from Norway, Lukas from Germany and Harry from Scotland all met at Auckland University and were spending their summer break walking the best tracks in the South Island.

After a hot day on the track, the cool waters of Loch Maree and the Seaforth River looked inviting.  John, Magnus and Adam strolled down for a dip.  The initial intention was to plop straight into cool waters of the Loch.  However, the sandy bank is extremely soft and drops steeply into very deep dark water.  Getting out again could be an issue.  As we pondered this, a very large eel slowly swam past, sealing the deal.  We instead bravely (not!) opted for a splash in the shallow waters of the Seaforth where it flowed into the Loch.

It was how big?

Loch Maree was created by a landslide that was triggered by a large earthquake on the Alpine Fault in 1826. The landslide dammed the Seaforth river creating this lake in the valley behind. The trees in the valley were all drowned. It is amazing that nearly 200 years later, their stumps still remain, the cold water of the lake protecting them from insects and fungus attack. They now form a handy gauge for trampers. If you can’t see the stumps, you can’t get to Supper cove. The rivers will be impassable. If you can see half a metre of stumps, you are good to go.

Seeing all the spider webs on the hut, each festooned with dead sandflies got Magnus thinking…  He made the comment that in Fiordland, we lowly humans are the bottom of the food chain.

“Sandflies feed on us. They are then eaten by spiders, which are finally eaten by birds…”

That evening, a hearty Spaghetti Bolognese followed by Panna Cotta dessert filled our capacious Moa Men bellies.  Hot chocolate fortified with whisky capped off a deliciously tasty trio.

We enjoyed chatting to the other hut residents, and watching The United Nations play a fascinatingly complicated card game.  Before bed, we played Richard’s rendition of Wonky Donkey for everyone, which was enjoyed particularly by our young tramping friends.

The “United Nations” are suitably bemused by Wonky Donkey….

Day 4

Tuesday 16th January – Loch Maree hut to Supper Cove hut

Looking down at Loch Maree from the hut window, the waters seemed even lower than the previous evening.  Perhaps it was our imaginations, but the dead trunks seemed more exposed on this slightly overcast but pleasantly warm morning.

Loch Maree…  Eerie and unique.

We spent the morning doing deciding what equipment and food we could leave at the hut.  Our aim was to carry to Supper Cove only what we needed. The rest could stay in bags in a cupboard at Loch Maree until we returned.

Leaving the hut at 10am is late even by Moa Hunter standards, but with walking conditions very good, we were not concerned about the leisurely start.

Did we find a Moa skull?

The first section of track follows the north bank of Loch Maree fairly closely, with regular climbs to skirt boggy areas and gullies.  Progress along here is steady and we made good time to the west end of the lake.  At times it was clear were on the remains of an old miner’s track that was cut through this area in the early 1900’s.  In particular when we walked past an old blacksmith’s anvil on a rusting iron frame.

Beyond a section that skirts high above the narrow gorge at the tail of the lake where a huge landslide blocked the river a few hundred years ago, the tracks drop into the Seaforth valley again.

We stopped for lunch at a lovely spot on the bank of the Seaforth.  Leaning up against moss covered rocks, munching on our lunches while watching the river flow slowly past was a peaceful and incredibly pleasant experience.

Lunch at the most remote and peaceful cafe in the World

After an hour we somewhat reluctantly pulled our packs onto our backs and continued on.  Shortly after our lunch break we came to a ladder up a steep rocky face.  This is a fairly unusual find on tramping tracks.  Clearly, heading into the bush to find a way around this feature proved too nasty when the track was being formed, and the ladder was put in place instead.

Shortly after crossing a three wire bridge, the track opens out into a flat super flat super easy section, akin to a great walk.  After the earlier slightly awkward sections, unimpeded walking was a welcome change.

We stopped beside the river at a deep and inviting looking swimming hole.  Lewis and Paul were keen for a quick refreshing dip.  Dropping packs, they were in the water in no time, enjoying the clear water of the Seaforth.

7/10 for artistic impression, 8/10 for technical merit…

Marking the end of this Fiordland highway is a set of three walkwires which cross Henry burn and another unnamed river that crosses the track.  Conditions around these bridges were boggy even when we were there.  Chris did have to excavate one of his legs by hand from a particularly deep and sticky mudpool.  After rain you can expect to encounter some serious gloop and spludge in this area!

A short walk from the trio of bridges, we stopped for afternoon tea in a clearing with a beautiful waterfall.  Two blue ducks were standing on a rock between us and the fall.  Clearly they owned the place.  We took lots of photos and enjoyed the serenity of that place.  A skilled painter couldn’t have come up with a better composition.  Because it was such a lovely spot, we spent longer there than our usual afternoon rest.  We arrived about 3:30pm and didn’t leave until an hour later.  But it was worth it.

The ridiculously photogenic Dusky…

Beyond the waterfall, the track gets rougher.  In fact, it gets particularly unpleasant and grovelly.  There is an option to avoid this section if the tide is out, and walk across the sand to Supper cove hut.  This wasn’t an option we were able to avail ourselves of.  So we spent the next hour and twenty minutes scrambling up and down awkward, slippery, nasty terrain.  After the easy section that preceded it, this seemed like a particular hardship.

Our tired bodies were very happy to drop out of the bush into a small inlet with an old boatshed nestled up in the trees.  Paul had arrived a few minutes before us, and comically greeted us at this point carrying an umbrella he had grabbed from the hut.

How may I be of assistance, good sir’s?

We wandered up the last gentle climb to the hut and gratefully dumped our packs for the day.  After marvelling at the sweeping spectacular views of Dusky sound from the deck, a few of us headed back to the little inlet for a quick swim to wash off the day’s sweat.

Supper Cove…

Our plan was always to catch and eat fish for dinner this night.  So, we rigged up our lines and headed down to some rocks below the hut to try our luck.  As it turned out, not catching fish was harder than getting them!  A short throw of a hand line from the rocks invariably came back with a fish on the hook.  In just over an hour we caught over a dozen good sized fish, including blue cod, terakihi, red cod, parrotfish, stargazers and spotties.  We kept the best eaters, and put the rest back.

A word of warning – the large rocks are very good to fish off, but are also extremely slippery.  Magnus very nearly took an unscheduled swim before John grabbed his collar and prevented him sliding into the drink.  Normally slipping into the sea wouldn’t be of much concern, but the large sharks that were regularly cruising by made us rather cautious about falling in!

Our fish bounty caught at Supper Cove

It would be fair to say we overindulged on fish that night!  The rather unique combination of  terakihi, ghee, seasoning and wasabi peas was actually rather good!  We piled so much pan-fried fish and couscous into our bellies that it was agreed a dessert wasn’t required.  A rare decision for the Moa Hunters!

Day 5

Wednesday 17th January – Supper Cove hut to Loch Maree hut

Breakfast consisted of left-over couscous and rice pudding.  Not a traditional offering, and probably not one that we will repeat.  But it did put some fuel in our tummies for the morning’s walking.

Overnight we had the first significant rainfall of our trip.  By morning low cloud was still shrouding the hills that flank Supper Cove, and light drizzle was falling.  Hearing the heavy rain during the night had raised some concerns that crossing some of the low-lying sections back to Loch Maree could become tricky.  But those fears proved unfounded.

Mist and drizzle finally feels like Fiordland!

As we packed up our belongings and tidied the hut, drizzle and rain alternated outside.  Knowing that a 10am departure would be plenty of time to get to Loch Maree, we had another lazy start to the day, with plenty of tall tales and laughter around the breakfast table.

We all loved Supper Cove.  It is a special place that not many people get to experience.  Describing it in words or even photos doesn’t come close to doing justice to the pristine beauty.  To understand how lovely it is, you will need to get your tramping boots on and see for yourself.  Fun fact:  Dusky Sound is the first place that beer was brewed in New Zealand.  Hooray!  In 1770, James Cook had his crew make spruce beer here, using molasses, Rimu tips and Manuka as the primary ingredients.

After a protracted photo session, we bade goodbye to Supper Cove at 10:10am and walked back down the track towards Loch Maree.

Low tide was 7am, which meant that by the time we reached the first streams that flow into Supper Cove, the tide was well on its way in.  The incoming tide is very effective at blocking the stream water flowing into the cove, causing them to back up and get very deep.  Crossings that we strode through with dry feet the day before were now a metre deep in water.  We were forced to make two or three long diversions up these creeks to find suitable places to cross them without swimming!  In one case we had to walk quite some distance before finding a perfect bridge formed by a large fallen tree across the stream.

Chris, comfortable in his natural habitat

Aside from occasional refreshing drizzle, our day was very much the previous one except in reverse.  We did take the opportunity to walk the lake edge for the last couple of km to the hut rather than stick to the track.  The sand was fairly puggy and soft, so the change of route didn’t save any time, but was a nice change from the track through the forest.

We reached Loch Maree hut at 5:30pm to find just one occupant – a young French fella called Johann.  He was a friendly and quiet dread-locked dude – a proper hippy loner who was cycle-touring and tramping his way round the South Island.  We gave him some of our unused soft baits for fishing with, and rags to make sinkers from.  (Putting a stone in a scrap of material and tying it to your fishing line makes a perfect sinker, and rags are much lighter to carry in your backpack than lead sinkers!)

Loch Maree turning on the special effects for our return

Dinner that night was nachos punctuated with what we christened “bullet beans” in it.  Partially rehydrated, they were rather solid, but actually quite good.  Dessert was ambrosia pudding, and was a brilliant success, and a debut for that recipe on a Moa Hunt.  Chris was particularly pleased to have finally produced a properly set yoghurt on a tramping trip, which was used for the ambrosia.  Johann was also pleased, because he got to share some of it!

Sleepy Moa Men with Johann after consuming lots of ambrosia…

Shortly after 10pm we were all in our sleeping bags snoring contentedly.

Day 6

Thursday 18th January – Loch Maree hut to Kintail Hut

Low cloud quickly gave way to clear patches and soon a sun was shining warm and bright on Loch Maree.  Our packs were loaded up with all the extra gear we had left behind while at Supper Cove, and certainly felt heavier this morning.

New Zealand’s most ineligible non-bachelors…

The track from Loch Maree starts with a rough and at times awkward sidle above the Seaforth River.

Almost exactly an hour’s walking from the hut we came to a short solid construction bridge over a stream.  From there the track stays low beside the river.  For much of the next two hours, the track isn’t much of a track at all.  The river valley is wide flat and quite boggy.  Rather than looking for an obvious trail, the best course was to choose the least muddy and wet looking route to the next orange marker, if there was one.

In many places, even finding the next marker was a challenge.  If you are on the Dusky and walk more than 20 metres without seeing an orange track marker, you are likely not on the track any more.  The track is not always well formed, but it is very well marked.  If you aren’t seeing regular orange markers, backtrack to the last marker you passed and have a better look around for the next one.  While the track may appear to carry on straight, oftentimes the next marker is to your left or right.

A blue duck keeping a watchful eye on John…

We reached the first wire bridge right on 12:30pm, and once all safely on the other side, we dropped packs for a lunch break.  A blue duck preening itself on a rock nearby provided some light entertainment as we sat back and enjoyed hot sunny conditions next to the river.  Enjoying the lovely day, we didn’t pull our packs on until 1:45pm.

Beyond the wire bridge the tracks begins to climb towards a tight valley at the base of Tripod Hill.  After 30 minutes walking, light rain started to fall.  We put our pack covers on, but didn’t bother with rain jackets.  The day was still very warm, and wearing another layer would have been extremely hot and sweaty even in the rainy conditions.

Just after 3pm we had our first glimpse of Gair Loch.  What looks easy on the topomap proved not to be so in real life.  We lost the track numerous times around the lake, and had to traverse a large slip full of boulders and trees that had swept down with all the earth.

Drizzly Gair Loch

Beyond the lake, the last section of track to the hut is much easier to follow and we reached Kintail hut at 4pm.  The rain had now stopped and we hung out wet pack covers outside the hut to dry.  It was something of a relief that the rain had stopped.  A note in the Loch Maree hut book warned trampers that the wire bridge east of Kintail hut across the Seaforth River had been destroyed by a tree fall.  If the Seaforth was in high flow, crossing could be problematic or impossible.

Och aye…  Not far to the hut, laddie.

Magnus brewed up a very welcome hot chocolate, which was fortified with the last of our whisky.  Dinner was an Indian curry and naan bread.  The naan was a particularly delicious success.  Dessert was less of a success, but equally tasty.  What was supposed to be a self-saucing chocolate pudding ended up as chocolate slops due to too much liquid and no baking powder.

Yummy curry not far away…
A perfect naan bread ready for frying

Kintail hut is a good one – larger than the others we had stayed in on this trip, with low sandfly numbers.  Any hut with few resident sandflies is a good one!  For the first time on our Moa Hut, we came to a hut with no other occupants.

Lewis and Chris amused themselves that evening repairing Chris’s boots, which had started to fall apart.  The sole and leather upper had clearly had a disagreement, and had decided to part company.  A combination of wire and strapping tape was used to resolve the dispute.

Good as new!

Day 7: Friday 19th January – Kintail Hut to Upper Spey hut

The United Nations left us a wonky note.  They are awesome!

Clear skies greeted us as we went through our usual morning routine of porridge, fart-arsing about, tidying up, fart-arsing about, cleaning, fart-arsing about and a team photo.

Despite the fart-arsing about, we were out the door and on the track by 9am.  Knowing we had a fairly big day ahead, with a solid 600 vertical metre climb to Centre pass, we were keen to get going earlier than our more recent starts.

With the wire bridge smashed, we wandered upstream from its remains to find a suitable crossing.  This was found almost immediately.  The Seaforth was running very low, and could be crossed easily almost anywhere.

The remains of the wire bridge near Kintail Hut

Beyond the river crossing, the track launches into a steep sidle followed by a steep climb through the bush.  Steep became a bit of a theme for the day.

The first wire bridge was reached in 50 minutes.  From this point, things get very steep, and with no streams marked on our map for quite some distance, we took the opportunity to fill our drink bottles.  The best spot to get water here is five minutes’ walk up from the wire bridge, then a short clamber down a slope to the stream below.   We dropped down at a DOC post marker with an arrow on it.

From here we slogged uphill for an hour and fifty minutes.  Twenty minutes of that was particularly steep.  As it looked like the bushline was not far ahead, we stopped in the shade for some scroggin and a break.

Our break was well timed.  After just ten minutes more walking we emerged from the bush and could see Centre pass looming high ahead of us.  It took us an hour and a half to reach the pass.  Walking through the tussock and alpine herb fields was a pleasant change from the bush.

We had been hoping for a clear day, and it looked like we would get out wish.  While there was scattered cloud about, it was high, and we would get good views from the top of the pass.

Looking back towards Tripod Hill and beyond from the pass is a spectacular sight.  Standing up there certainly gave us an appreciation of the just how vast, rugged and isolated Fiordland is.  You don’t get to see views like that very often, so we made the most of it with a long leisurely lunch.  Lying in the tussock just below the pass we were out of the keen wind.  John may have even fallen asleep.  Briefly.  Again.

Looking back past Tripod Hill from Centre Pass.
Magnus shaded by his well-walked customary tramping hat.

Having filled our bellies with lunch, and our eyes with the views, we proceeded over the pass for Upper Spey hut.  It is just ten minutes from the top to Warren burn and the bushline on the north side.

We were lucky to reach the bush at a time when the trees were flowering.  The sweet perfume scent of the blossoms was almost intoxicating and very unexpected.  We were not sure what the trees were – Plagianthus perhaps?

Beyond the flowering trees we descended into an eerie goblin forest.  Massive old gnarled trees draped in thick trailing moss would make for a great Lord of the Rings movie set.  From the goblin forest and flowering trees, we had roughly half an hour of relatively pleasant descent, followed by an hour of solid, somewhat steeper, and slightly less pleasant descent.

When you reach a waterfall on the left side of the track, you are twenty minutes from the hut.

Ten minutes from the waterfall you are down on the flats, which rather amusingly have boardwalks across them to the hut.  Having walked through far nastier looking bogs, this seemed a little unnecessary, but also a welcome luxury.

Our arrival time at the hut was 4pm, which gave us time to relax and enjoy the surroundings.  Upper Spey hut sits at the base of Mount Memphis and is surrounded by spectacular peaks.  Walking a short distance down from the hut to what looks like a wooden helicopter pad affords some lovely views of the surrounding mountains.  While enjoying the place, we indulged in a few old man leg muscle stretches, which always seem more painful than the actual walking.  But they do seem to reduce stiffness the next day.

Day 8

Saturday 20th January – Upper Spey hut to West Arm hut

We heard some rain on the iron roof of the hut at various times through the night.  Our Saturday morning was overcast, but still very mild.  A few showers passed by, but nothing too ominous.

Upper Spey hut sits nestled in the bush under the watchful eye of Mt Memphis
Six mighty Moa Men, still looking powerful and manly.

By 9am we had the hut tidy, and were ready for our last day on the track.

It seemed like time had flown by and the end had come too soon, but at the same time, our trip across Lake Hauroko seemed a lifetime ago.

We set out across the boardwalks from the hut and onto the track at the far and of the clearing.  From here the track descends moderately steeply down to the flatter Spey River valley.  It took just 45 minutes to reach the pair of two wire bridges at Waterfall creek.

The track meanders at a generally even height above the true left of the Spey River, deviating around frequent areas of windfall.  There must have been a strong wind through this area in recent times, as there were a lot of trees down.  The men and women from DOC hadn’t been through with their chainsaws to clear them yet, so regular scrambling up or down was required to pass these messy areas.

An interesting pink cabbage-like fungus

Skirting round the windfall did mean we regularly lost the track.  But it really didn’t matter.  The vegetation below the trees was relatively sparse, and you can make your way forward fairly comfortably whether you are on the track or not.  It was always just a matter of time before we stumbled upon the “real” track again.

We stopped at the walkwire over Bypass Stream for lunch.  Little fish watched us munch through our food from the stream that trickled by.  The stream was so low that we didn’t bother with the walkwire, opting to walk under it instead.

“Come on in, the water is lovely and warm”

At 1:50pm we rather suddenly exited the bush and found ourselves standing on Wilmot Pass road, a shingle road that links Manapouri Power Station to Deep Cove.  Within five minutes we had watched five coaches full of tourists roll past.  Eight days of seeing almost nobody, then as soon as you hit a road, 150 people rumble past in a matter of minutes!

The Dusky.  Done and dusted…

The walk to West Arm hut from the end of the track takes half an hour or so.  At 2:20pm we pushed open the door of the hut, and were relieved to find it unoccupied.  Being a snug six bunk hut, we were going to need the whole thing!

After dropping our bags and scoping the place and resting our hot feet, we wandered down to the wharf at Manapouri Power Station wearing more comfortable shoes.  Boots are not nice to walk long distances on hard hard roads.  The visitor centre was still open.  Inside we chatted to the Real Journey’s staff member about ferry times.  Our original plan was to catch the 11am boat next day, but after some discussion, we agreed to grab the 8:45am one instead, and have brekkie at Manapouri township.  Porridge on the track is very nice, but a big fry-up instead sounded irresistable!

Wandering down to the Power Station.
Manapouri Power Station

Back at the hut we had a dinner which consisted of any leftovers we could find.  Salami and all sorts of other bits and bobs combined for a tasty meal.  Dessert was crème brulee topped with brown sugar and Glayva.  Not quite traditional, but a damn fine twist on the recipe!

Creme Brulee on Day 8 – not a bad effort!

The sandflies were particularly brutal at West Arm hut.  We all grabbed a quick splash bath outside using water from the tap at the base of the hut water tank.  It was fantastic and invigorating to feel clean again, even if sandflies were being swatted at throughout the whole process!

Day 9: Sunday 21st January – Manapouri to Home

After an early start, we made our way down to the wharf where we enjoyed some very pleasant views through the clouds of sandflies that swarm around the lake edge.

Our ride, berthed at Manapouri township

The boat trip was a lovely finale to the trip.  We all enjoyed the views on both sides of the boat as we powered across the glassy flat surface of Lake Manapouri.  At Manapouri township we walked a short distance into the centre and found what we were looking for – cooked breakfast!  Initially John was going to have something healthier, but he quickly folded to peer pressure and ordered a big cooked feed like the rest of us.  A decision he did not regret.

The breakfast of champions…

2017 – Two Thumb Track: Snow and Sun on the Te Araroa

Moa Hunters on this trip: Paul, Chris, Lewis, Magnus, Richard, Logan

This year a more benign trip this year was scheduled, mainly due to time constraints, and foundation Moa Hunt member Adam being absent due to a ruptured Achilles.  His quick wit was missed, but this did not detract from the overall enjoyment of the trip.

The Two Thumb track is a small portion of the increasingly popular Te Araroa trail, so we expected to enjoy the camaraderie of more tourists and trampers than in previous Moa Hunts.

The plan was fairly straight forward:

Day 1: Road trip to Mesopotamia, walk to Crooked spur Hut. 9km / 4hr
Day 2: Crooked spur hut to Stone hut. 9.5km / 5hr
Day 3: Morning Hunting, Stone Hut to Royal Hut in afternoon. 6km / 2hr
Day 4: Royal hut to Rex Simpson Hut. 14km / 6hr
Day 5: Rex Simpson hut to Road and home

Topomap of our route

Google Map of our route

For this adventure, we all converged in Christchurch on Friday 20th January, a whole month ahead of the standard Moa Hunting schedule, as our main food man Chris could not make the usual March Schedule.  Everyone knows a good Moa hunt marches on its stomach!

To negate any weather holdups, Richard, Lewis and Magnus had all flown in on the Friday afternoon. Sampling the local brews, and devouring “shark and tatie” in the name of carbo-loading helped to fill in the time before departure the next morning.

Day 1

Saturday 21st January – Mesopotamia to Crooked Spur hut
Nice spread, where’s your head at?

All on time, we converged at Adams place, as he had generously given his time to help transport us to the start of the track this year. As there were 6 of us, Paul’s dad Alan also helped with transport. Without further ado we packed and drove to Mesopotamia station, where breakfast number two (for some) was prepared. The ritual Moa Hunter enormous, gourmet breakfast of bacon, eggs, hash browns and lots of mushrooms was expertly fried up by Paul and Adam.

We start out as seven…

Once we had all got our gear sorted, we had an obligatory group photo, then set off in overcast, calm conditions. The track started on a scrubby river terrace across a road into Bush stream river valley, all fairly innocuous stuff. The first river crossing arrived about 40 minutes in – always the tester as it will be the deepest after recent rains. It turned out to be swift but manageably shallow,  keeping the ‘tackle’ dry – thankfully!

As we were progressing up stream, the expectation was that the flow would reduce… This proved correct with relatively easy crossings for the rest of the day. The second crossing was just over an hour in. Paul’s father Alan (who had joined us for the first part of the trip) decided this was his turning point, but not before crossing for a snack! Good effort and thanks for the company, Alan.  We’ll see you in four days on the far side!

We continued on, following Bush stream until the track rose abruptly to avoid a gorge over a small saddle, in a short but well formed grunt uphill.

First grunt! Nice track…

We arrived at Crooked Spur hut about 3pm, taking little over the posted 4 hours and still feeling pretty fresh.  Despite the light day we all were looking forward to the traditional first up steak dinner, which Paul gladly prepared, pleased to not have to carry it any further!

Crooked hut is a delightfully rustic musterers hut with rough-sawn timber framing seemingly being held up by the bunk frames, clad in 3rd hand corrugated iron peppered with nail holes. It is in a magic spot, with a great view down the valley through one small grimy window. The floor is a very rough concrete, and not pleasant on bare feet.

Crooked Spur Hut

Around 4pmish, two very fast Te Araroa walkers motored into view. Blair was lucky to stop without overshooting, Marten was hot on his heels. Blair was on his 84th day on the trail, with very few rest days since departing Cape Reinga! They made Crooked Spur in 2 hours 20 minutes and weren’t sticking around. Traveling light, with poles they swore by, they looked in peak fitness. A quick yarn uncovered they had stocked up earlier that day and were heading to either Stone or Royal hut that night. We checked out their gear and setup, compared notes, discovered Blair used to travel like us, but had been transformed by the Te Araroa trail experience into a super light (or is that Ultra-light?) tramper. They had seen Alan heading back near the start, and two other trampers removing their shoes at the first crossing (rookies) when they blasted by! Without further dilly-dally, they were off, trying to beat the weather and light to Royal hut.

(I later read Blair’s account of the snow, and wonder if it was the only time they needed to turn back on their entire trip.)

Dinner was expertly fried by Paul, and as always, was a superb warming feed, and one we were going to need if the weather forecast of snow was accurate! During the process we discovered that the white Spirits brought for fuel had a too high flash point to work on either of the cookers. Magnus spent a good 30 minutes trying to get the fuel to work in his museum piece (sorry Magnus, it was entertaining!)

Paul’s Whisperlite, with a pre-heating coil battled and produced a black sooty flame. Who are the rookies? Luckily Paul had filled up on Fuel Lite which we decided to nurse through the trip. The cooker fuel was to become a fixation for Chris who could never quite figure out how to use it!

Dishes time produced “The Glove”!  A trial device designed to make back-country dish washing a whole lot easier, and entertaining(!) eh Logan?

The ultra-modern glove welded by Logan with a rustic framing backdrop.

Two Belgian youngsters – Yannick and Aline appeared after dinner, just as it started to rain. They were absolute beginner trampers on holiday in NZ. Carrying a lot they didn’t need, they were a little damp, but in good spirits. They were learning a hell of a lot, and were to be our companions on and off for the next 4 days of quite frankly grotty and great weather.  Welcome to tramping in New Zealand! These guys were great company and we hope the trail didn’t put them off tramping for life.

That night it poured down.  The swiss-cheese iron roof of the old hut afforded us an unpleasant damp night. It wasn’t just wet, but cold too. The lack of insulation meaning we made full use of our warm sleeping bags!

Day 2

Sunday 22nd January – Crooked Spur hut to Stone hut

Dawn was cold and damp, with breath showing in the hut. A quick glance out of the window told us the snow level was not far above us. It sounded like steady heavy rain outside, but the noise can be deceiving in a tin hut. As usual Paul was first up and cranking out a billy load of porridge, which was scoffed down with liberal dollops of brown sugar, the staple start to any Moa hunt.

Chris and Paul discussing the plan of attack – note the dusting of snow on the hills behind.

In rather quick time we were ready to depart by 8.40am, eager to hit the trail and check out the conditions. Yannick and Aline we much less keen, only just starting to stir as we departed.  Their choice turned out to be the better one…

The team ready to depart, one of us is wearing no pants…

We bid farewell to Crooked Spur hut in persistent, but not heavy rain. Climbing steadily up a lovely gradient kept us warm for the next 30 minutes. Around this point the ground was becoming a little slushy, the temperature significantly colder, and the rain was getting a little harder.  We decided to don some warmer gear.  Twenty minutes further on, we were walking through steady snow with a good inch underfoot. We kept fairly warm on the climb, apart from wet chilled hands and feet. Those of us with wind proof gloves fared better.

At the top we stopped briefly to get the lay of the land and snap the odd photo, but conditions were brutal and we didn’t linger. Apparently we were at 1500m in high summer – could have fooled us! Lewis was finding his choice of a light jacket less than adequate, but he has always had a high threshold for coping with cold conditions.

Paul looking toasty warm, not far from the unnamed saddle

Fortunately, Chris had been on this track in better conditions and was able to point out the way forward down the right side of the valley. So, in a mixture of glissading and walking, we high-tailed it down, noting very quickly that the lack of exertion in descent was not so warming.  This was especially the case for Logan. He quickly started to shiver and wasn’t keen to stick around. The lack of water-proofing in his jacket proving to be his undoing.  He was also not wearing all of his warm underlayers, having chosen to keep it in his pack as a dry reserve. We persuaded him to stop, and gave him another polypropylene top to put on. For a brief moment his torso was pretty exposed to the elements, but a dry first-layer helped keep some body heat in when he was fully dressed again.

Chris proving shorts are for all seasons.

Once out of the heavy snow, we stopped briefly by the first stream crossing for a nutritious scroggin energy hit. We decided those who were cold should push on fast to keep warm and get to shelter. It was still raining hard. The next section was a steady climbing sidle to the right of another saddle. In the end Logan and Richard pressed on while the rest were distracted by the locals (Tahr) who seemed to be quite numerous. At this point Chris, who had packed his hunting bow, became fairly excited. He began planning a couple of hunting excursions immediately!

We arrived at Stone Hut about 12.30pm, just in time for lunch. Conditions had improved.  It was a little breezy with the odd smatter of drizzle between welcome sunny patches. The Hut offered dilapidated but usable camp chairs for outdoor use. There were a couple of trampers enjoying the sun on these when we arrived, looking to head to Crooked Spur hut in improving conditions.

Stone hut was of a similar construction to Spur Hut, with the exception of a large stone wall on the south west end.  The corrugated iron seemed only 2nd hand rather than 3rd hand, with far less holes! It featured a largely useless open fire place, and the available fuel was no more than scrub.  That didn’t stop us trying to get a warming blaze going though.  It was going to be a chilly night…

After lunch Paul and Chris set off on a hunting expedition that would prove to be a learning experience. The rest of us pottered about taking in the serenity and wildness of the central south. The hunters returned empty handed but with tales of seeing Tahr either too high or too far away across rivers. Plans were conceived to have another go tomorrow.

Magnus and Lewis taking in the last of the summer wine.

By 6pm the snow had gone from the pass and our Belgian friends had arrived, having had a better time crossing the saddle than us.

Another option for using the stubborn white spirits –blackening Billies!

Patience (or tardiness) had paid off. Dinner at Stone hut was a magnificent affair featuring fabulous nachos incorporating home-made dehydrated beans, full of flavour.  The sour cream was a little dodgy, but overall, the meal was judged a great success…

Surprise!! Happy 50th, Richard.

A big surprise was the second dessert (always a good thing) of birthday cake complete with candles! You only turn fifty once, Richard!!

We cranked up the fire, which did a good job of drawing cool air into the hut for the hour it was burning! It gave off little heat but provided some entertainment, in a black-humour sort of way. We all hit the sack once the entertainment had subsided to embers.  With all the bunks full and two on the floor, any night movement was tricky.

Day 3

Sunday 23rd January – Stone hut to Royal hut

Dawn broke after a windy and wet night, but temperatures had risen meaning no more snow. Today was the short day with only two hours walking to Royal Hut. The plan first thing was for Chris to venture down Bush stream on the true right, using his learnings from the previous day to bag us some dinner with his bow! The rest of us big stompy footed noisy trampers agreed to move in the opposite direction, meandering up the nearest gentle slope in search of snow and a good view. The weather was cool but clearing for what looked like a great day.

Stunning conditions…
Some of the locals…

On the climb we counted 24 Tahr moving up scree, obviously expecting improving weather. They were too far away for bow hunting, the only shots taken were with cameras. We made the top of the lump we were climbing in now fairly blustery conditions. Magnus’s well-loved hat got caught in a gust and vanished over the side at a fair rate of knots. Paul, forever the innovator, immediately setup a direction indicator so we knew which way to search.

What a view – Stone hut way down below by the stream.

We took off in the direction the hat had vanished, discussing the rather slim possibility of finding a stone coloured hat on a mountain of stones! The search proved a long one with us losing the direction because of the steepness of the slope and the swirling nature of the wind in the hills. Some of the scree proved to be quite a lot of fun, with frequent stops to scan for the hat. Having given up of reuniting Magnus with his hat, it miraculously appeared on the edge of the scree at least one kilometre away from where it had first taken flight. Magnus’s sharp eyes picking it out!

Magnus on right with Hat – well chuffed!

The remaining descent was uneventful, but the spectacular scenery made for an enjoyable walk. We arrived back at Stone not long before Chris, having not been able to spot him on the other side of the valley. He found Tahr. Unfortunately they also found him. Chris had fired an arrow in their direction, but had to settle with hitting the rock beside one. After a spectacularly sunny lunch at Stone hut we assembled our gear from all points of the hut, posed for a photo and left for Royal Hut.

Well posed, beautiful close-up of the grass.

With sun block and hats slapped on, we set off, steeling ourselves for the first chilly stream crossing. After a few minutes of debate we decided to sidle around on the true right of the stream. It was a bit of a clamber but certainly the dryer and safer option! This turned out to look like a well-trodden route and relatively easy. We did venture into the water briefly, but no further than a metre from the bank. Doing this missed two crossings and the higher we got the less flow there was in the ever present Bush steam. Logan seemed the only one disappointed as he continued to carry a large wooden pole for the purpose of propping against in fast water.

Lewis taking a close look at the river.

When we finally got to the point making a crossing was unavoidable, we were actually rather keen for a dip as it was now quite warm. The stream was still swift and around high thigh deep, made more difficult by the large slippery boulders. Richard, Paul and Logan were the first there and linked up to get across. Paul couldn’t understand our difficulties on foot placement until he realised he has polarised sunglasses making the water far more transparent. Note to self – get some!  Chris, Lewis and Magnus soon followed with Lewis taking an unplanned refreshing dip.

From there the track became quite well formed on the true left of Bush stream and was a pleasant amble. For a while we watched a Tahr family higher up on the other side of the stream. They were moving slowly in the same direction as us and were really hard to spot amongst the grass. Eventually we re-crossed Bush stream, now a much smaller version of its former self.

Easy walking.

We then came to Forest Creek track and turned right to stroll up to Royal Hut in a very open valley with a flat base. This was high country now, with snow on the tops it seemed like late winter early spring, not mid–summer! The scenery seemed to get more spectacular, helped by the superb weather conditions.

As Royal hut came into view it looked like there was a party going on! We knew Yannick and Aline were ahead of us but there seemed quite a crowd sitting out in the sun. As we got closer the numbers reduced as we realised some of what we thought were people were in fact, packs. But there was a great get together, fellow walkers being full of chat about their experiences of Te Araroa and the various obstacles, highs and lows. We sat down for a good chin wag, getting the tourist point of view, and giving our local take on the experience.

Lewis enjoying the scenery.
A party going on!

A couple of the most amiable people we have met were Matt and Jo who were well through their Te Araroa trip and were loving it at day 6o something! All had learned along the way and refined their kit to be efficient and very fit walkers. They certainly made good pace as we were to find out. Royal hut is situated in a very pleasant river valley devoid of trees, which just serves to enhance the stark beauty of the spot. The sunset was spectacular with a few trying to get some shots – here’s my take with a sunglass filter!

Sun Ray(Ban)s…

The evening saw us retreat into the hut and the party followed. There were two tramping chaps unable to move due to snow blindness. They had been bunked up all day waiting for it to subside, which it did, but not before significant headaches and very little vision. One had tried to move off in the morning but found it impossible to see the track. This was a warning to us to use our sunglasses on the pass, which we all luckily carried. Yannick did not have any but Chris offered an ingenious solution……. Again the dinner formed the entertainment and conversation!

Ambrosia – Fab food.

After a jolly evening, we folded ourselves into the 8 bunk hut with some difficulty… Four on the floor with Matt and Jo topping and tailing, content with having experienced an enjoyable, easy day of variety and scenery.

Day 4

Monday 24th January – Royal hut to Rex Simpson hut
A Royal Hut with light frost and a Central Otago feel!

We woke to a late January, mid-summer frost! The unexpectedness of the temperature helped to highlight the snowy mountain tops and general scenery. A bowl of steaming porridge put us in great shape to tackle Stag pass. There was much chatter as we got our stuff assembled and took the obligatory photos.

Team photo – note the last remaining mushroom and sunnies.

Yannick and Aline were first out the door, we weren’t far behind intending to catch them before making it into the snow. The first task was crossing Bush stream for a final time before heading up a side valley. The track was a steady climb following a stream that was crossed with regularity. Before long we had warmed to our task. Matt and Jo caught us at our first scroggin break.

The start of the real climb to Stag Saddle!

They were cruising effortlessly up the climb, showing off the conditioning they had built over their many weeks on the Te Araroa trail. Not to be outdone, we Moa hunters tagged along making conversation like it was easy! Lucky there was 6 of us so we could rotate the talk while others got their breath back.

Before long the track left the stream to ascend the left side of the valley, initially quite steeply, before settling back into a steady climb. After about 45 minutes we caught Yannick and Aline on a plateau amongst scattered snow, stunning views and wispy cloud. We stopped to make and don sunglasses.

Yannick donning Chris’s inventive “back to the future” pinhole sunnies!

From here the  steady climb continued, following a snowy boot channel track to the highest point of the Te Araroa trail, Stag Saddle. The abrupt view from the top was breathtaking, with a sweeping vista of nearly all of Lake Tekapo. There was a small DOC sign on the saddle proclaiming it to be at 1925m.

A happy bunch at the top – mostly downhill from here.

It was fairly breezy on the saddle, the view only spoiled by an annoying ridge to the North West hiding what had to be a view of Mount Cook! After a quick lunch we traversed to the ridge to find the promised view and what looked like an easier ramble down to the hut for the night. On reaching the ridge, sure enough Mt Cook was there to see, plus other outstanding snow covered peaks.

Looking up the ridge, Beuzenberg Peak beckoned… in fact it demanded to be climbed! So we ambled up to the 2066m peak and took in the 360deg views from Tekapo through to the headwaters and the mountains beyond. We lingered for a time on the peak not wanting to leave such a magical spot. Logan planted his walking pole into the pile of rocks on the peak which looked a fitting place. But when the time came to leave he took it with him, the attachment too great to leave behind. The descent was very straight forward, follow the ridge all the way down on a constant decline. The trail seemed well trodden and clean, with the perspective of the view morphing as we descended. We caught up with Matt & Jo, Yannick & Aline about half way down the ridge towards Rex Simpson hut.

Magnus nearly at the top struggling with the view.
Hello Mt Cook!

After fond goodbyes we parted company above the Rex Simpson Hut. They were heading to Camp Hut, probably to sleep on the floor.  In the space of three and a half days we had forged strong connections with strangers as is often the case in the back country. Good times, shared experiences and a lot of laughs; must be all the fresh air! We were stopping at the Alpine Recreation Rex Simpson hut, which we were very lucky to get the use of. It is a far more modern affair compared to other huts on the Two Thumb track, built on a strong semi A-frame design, to take the strong winds its exposed position would subject it to. It has tremendous views, a wooden floor and even insulation! The only drawback being the water supply was a fair trek away.

Alan Stevens greeted us as we arrived. He had camped up near the hut for two hours waiting for us, obviously making good time up from the carpark having driven from Christchurch. Around an hour after we arrived a couple of extreme cross country mountain bikers appeared looking for a place to stay. We had no room (the floor space is minimal) but there was an outside access snug on the hut designed for shelter which they decided to use. Richard took time out to discuss their bikes, turning slightly green with envy! They were heading to Queenstown and had traversed the Two Thumb track, obviously very fit as pushing those bikes through that sort of country would not be easy.

Sun setting on the edge of the Rex Simpson hut – spectacular vista.

Day 5

Tuesday 25 January – Rex Simpson hut to road end

After a very blustery night and what sounded like horizontal rain, Paul was first up as usual to get the porridge on the go. During the usual pack and clean up and after a first class coffee and porridge, three girls arrived on the Te Araroa trail. Two through walkers and one in and out, keen for advice on central Otago trails. It’s safe to say she was in the right place for advice on that area and left keen on paradise! We hope she found it.

Alan hit the trail while we gave the hut an extra going over and re-stocked water supplies to make sure it was as pristine as we found it. The walk out was pretty straight forward, downhill through farm land but with views of the upper Tekapo area a constant. We were surprised to see a wallaby bounce through the scrub. From there it was a gentle stroll down to the car park where Alan and John Bowers were waiting with vehicles for the trip home.

Leaving that place for home, we all reflected on the incredible country right on our doorstep. The scenery was so unexpected, and made more striking by the hugely changeable weather we experienced.

Of course the hot pies bought in Fairlie on the way home were great too!

Another excellent Moa Hunt completed.

2016 – Whitcombe Pass – Beautiful and Brutal

Moa Hunters on this trip:  Magnus, Adam, Paul, Richard, Chris, Logan


Crossing the main divide 150 years ago proved to be difficult and perilous for surveyors John Whitcombe and Jakob Lauper.  Their goal was to map an East – West route, suitable for constructing a road link between Christchurch and the West Coast.  Starting their journey in the upper reaches of the Rakaia, they struggled through increasingly challenging terrain for three weeks, until they finally reached the Tasman Sea on the West Coast.

It was there that Whitcombe tragically lost his life when the explorers attempted to cross the flood swollen Taramakau River.  Their makeshift raft capsized and the men were swept out to sea.  Lauper, the stronger swimmer made it to shore.  Whitcombe succumbed to the pounding waves of the Tasman sea.

Well aware of the history of Whitcombe Pass, The Moa Hunters knew this was going to be a tough trip.  We had read enough of Lauper and Whitcombe’s account of the route to know it would be challenging.  Just as the two explorers before us had underestimated the crossing, we did not anticipate just how brutally tough it would be…

The Trip:

Day 1:  4WD to the headwaters of the Rakaia. Walk to Evans Hut (2hrs / 3km)
Day 2:  Evans Hut to Neave Hut (13hrs / 19km)
Day 3:  Neave Hut to Price Flat Hut (8hrs / 10km)
Day 4:  Price Flat Hut to Frew Hut (6hrs / 8km)
Day 5:  Frew Hut to Road End (7hrs / 16km)

Topomap of our Route

topomap snip whitcombe pass

Google Map of our Route

whitcombe pass altitude profile

Day 1

Friday 26th February – Evans Hut

Our day started early.  By 6:30am the Moa Hunters had converged on Adam’s house in Rolleston and we were busily loading packs into two utes.  Yet again, Paul had worked his organisational magic and convinced Alan (his father), and two-metre Peter (a work colleague), to drive us to the upper reaches of the Rakaia.  According to Paul, the two hadn’t taken much convincing.  Alan fancied a bit of fishing, and two-metre Peter had his rifle stowed in the ute.  His plan was to bring back some venison for the freezer.

From Rolleston the two utes drove out to Mt Hutt township and up Blackford Road, which becomes Double Hill Run Road at the point the seal ends.  Along the way we met up with George, a good mate of two-metre Peter’s.  Under a hot February sun, we now had a three vehicle convoy.

Just testing
Big country

From the meeting point it was a long but not entirely unpleasant drive along 40km of unsealed road, to a junction at Glenfalloch Station.  The scenery around us was barren and beautiful.  At the junction we turned right onto the short track to the edge of the Rakaia where we stopped.  Across the river we could see dust clouds being whipped up and blown down the valley by the increasingly boisterous nor’westerly wind.  An ominous sign.

Moa Men prepped and ready for battle
Moa Men prepped and ready for battle

Fortunately on our side of the river we were relatively sheltered, making it a perfect spot for a cooked breakfast.  Cooking gear was quickly assembled, and before long bacon, liver, kidneys, hash browns and mushrooms were sizzling.  Alan broke out his Thermette and brewed a welcome cuppa to chase down our hearty breakfast.

The next challenge was crossing the Rakaia.  It was agreed Alan’s ute had the least ground clearance and he should go in first.  A good choice because Alan knew what he was doing…  He drove out