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:  Paul, Luke, John, Chris, Richard, Magnus

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!

The Three Passes 2006: Pea Soup and Brown Trousers

Moa Hunters on this trip:  Chris, Paul, Richard


Day 1:  Klondyke Corner – Carrington Hut – Harman Pass (Ariel’s Tarns)
Day 2:  Harman Pass – Whitehorn Pass – Park-Morpeth Hut
Day 3:  Park Morpeth Hut – Browning Pass – Grassy Flats Hut
Day 4:  Grassy Flats Hut – Road End

See our route on topomap.co.nz

See our route on Google Maps

Google Earth flyover of the approximate Three Passes route

This was to be the third Moa Hunt, and after the two excursions to Mt Tapuaenuku, the team were looking forward to a different destination this time.

The regular February tramp had now been elevated to a required item on each of the Moa Men’s calendars and was eagerly anticipated.

Indestructable go-anywhere Moa Men delivery vehicle

This year it was time to try out a true classic trip – “The Three Passes”: Harman, Whitehorn  and Browning Passes, crossing the main divide thrice.  Taking in the headwaters of the Waimakariri, Taramakau, Rakaia and Hokitika Rivers in just 4 days.

Paul suggested the route this year, heartily agreed upon by Chris and Richard.

Day 1

Klondyke Corner to Carrington Hut

An 5:30am start was achieved from Chris’s place, with Paul’s very obliging father Alan, providing transport to the start line at Klondyke Corner.  Alan also provided a stomach lining, artery hardening, breakfast from a BBQ perched on the tailgate of his 4WD.

Breakfast consisted of eggs, bacon, tomatoes, sausages and lamb’s liver all well fried and served on toast.  Alan had heard of healthy, fibre filled breakfasts and didn’t put much faith in them when it came to kick-starting and 4 day tramp.  (Many thanks Alan)

Carrington Hut

Powered by the high calorie breakfast, the stoney stroll up the Waimakariri Riverbed to the Carrington Hut was soon dispatched, in just under 4 hours.

An early lunch at Carrington Hut also seemed somewhat unnecessary with the breakfast still sustaining all of us, even Chris a true food lover only managed a light nibble.

The day remained dry but clouded over as we crossed the White River and ascended Harman Creek to Harman Pass, the first of the 3 Passes.

Chris on Rocky Terrain

While climbing we met several small parties on day return trips from Carrington Hut to the pass, all enjoying the rugged beauty of the Harman River.

The Harman creek is a narrow waterway of average steepness with very little vegetation.  Chris and Paul had traveled the same route many years before, during a Labour weekend trip to the Julia Hut Hot Pools.  Conditions on this trip were noticeably lacking the 10 feet of packed avalanche snow filling the narrow ‘V’ of the valley that we had last time.  It is debatable if the ascent is easier on firm snow or broken rock streambed.

Harman Pass was reached about 3:30pm and Ariel’s tarns soon after, with a glimpse or two obtained, between the hills, of tomorrow’s route up the valley leading to the Whitehorn Pass.  Camp was pitched in a picturesque location on the edge of the largest tarn.  The tent was positioned in the lee of a pile of rocks constructed by previous tramping parties.  Ariel’s tarns are sparsely surrounded by a quite a number of rock monoliths, the tallest of which are about 4m tall, this creates a strangely prehistoric landscape that is well worth the visit.

Camping at Ariel’s Tarns

The water in the large tarn is drinkable and not the mud flavoured offering found in many other smaller tarns in the mountains, so drinking and cooking water is conveniently handy.

The climb up to the Harman Pass had proven strenuous and we were all glad to climb into our sleeping bags that night.  The weather forecast for the following day was for the clouds to close in and light rain to infiltrate the mountains around the main divide.  Unfortunately this prediction was uncannily accurate.

During the night the wind and rain started and the temperature dropped.  Paul and Richard found themselves “snuggling” back to back to keep warm (I would like to stress here that both were still in their separate sleeping bags,  no ‘Broke Back Mountain’ for the Moa Hunters!)

Misty Ariel’s Tarns
Pea soup at Ariel’s Tarns

Day 2

Harman Pass – Whitehorn Pass – Park-Morpeth Hut

Morning dawned with drizzle and thick cloud down to ground level, creating an otherworldly, barely discernible landscape through the murk.  The large tarn was no longer completely visible and the rock monoliths loomed ominously out of the low cloud, often disappearing completely as pockets of thicker cloud swirled and obscured them.  Traveling up the valley to the Whitehorn Pass in the disconcertingly thick cloud proved to be a very challenging navigational experience.  With visibility down to 20m at best, all three of us were soon totally disorientated and forced to rely completely on the map and compass.  All of us found that our internal direction finders were thoroughly scrambled and would have had us traveling in the wrong direction.  This was, needless to say, very disturbing and had us quite worried about whether we were making a sensible decision to keep going.  Thank goodness for the compass!!

On the Whitehorn Glacier

After a couple of anxious hours in the clouds, we emerged out of the clag onto the lower reaches of the Whitehorn Glacier (right on track).  Guide books and DOC at Arthur’s Pass had advised that ice axes, crampons and possibly rope could be required on the Whitehorn Glacier.  We found the snowy slope to be gentle and benign and another hour without the use of any specialist equipment had us basking in full sun on Whitehorn Pass and lunch was soon spread about on convenient rocks.  The Cronin Glacier provided the mid-day entertainment with regular chunks of ice breaking off the terminal face and crashing 100’s of meters into the valley below.

Awesome glacial terrain

The descent off Whitehorn Pass into the valley is long, steep and rocky, do not attempt it unless you have good knees and at least reasonable visibility to see safely ahead, as some of the scree paths finish abruptly in bluffs.  Our advice is to traverse uphill towards the Cronin glacier for a few hundred metres until you could see safely to the river at the bottom.

From the pass it took a good 3 hours to reach the Park-Morpeth Hut, which was bathed in warm sunshine.  We were all glad to spread our sleeping mats on the grass and soak up the sun’s rays, a pleasant end to a day that had started with a fair sized serving of navigational unease in the clouds at Ariel’s Tarns.

Moa Hunter solar panels

We were soon joined by 2 hunters from Ashburton, who later went out for an evening shoot.  They returned with some reasonable photos of deer, but had not actually fired a shot, as their freezers at home were already full and they were after trophy heads.

Day 3

Park Morpeth Hut – Browning Pass – Grassy Flats Hut

Next morning dawned cool and cloudy and the ascent of Browning Pass began. The hunters had said it was about 2 hours from the hut to the top of the Pass, the 500m climb took us 2 ½.

Browning Pass

The track over Browning pass was originally surveyed in the late 1800’s as an alternative to the Arthur’s Pass route.  Considerable effort has been invested in the distant past to build a 1 metre high by 2 meters wide stone path that zig-zags through several switch backs while ascending the slope towards Browning Pass.  We were somewhat perplexed by the massive effort invested to construct this wall by hand, as the obvious destination is the near cliff-like final climb to Browning Pass, where no road or track could ever be formed and certainly no cart or horse could ever travel.

The last 50 meters or so to the top of Browning Pass is very steep and requires considerable care.  Do not rush this bit!  It was at this stage that Chris and Richard decided they were outside their comfort zone and renamed the pass Brown-Trousers pass.

Impressive valley views from Browning ‘Brown Trousers’ Pass

Reaching the top of Browning Pass sees a spectacular change in terrain from a steep almost cliff-like scramble in a rock chute, to the large, level vista that is Lake Browning and the tussock meadow that surrounds it.  We had read that many summer parties have a quick dip in the lake, but today the overcast sky and strong cool wind put pay to any temptation for a quick splash.

Lake Browning

The rest of the day passed uneventfully and pleasantly, descending to the Arahura River, passing by the Harman Hut, crossing the lofty swing-bride over the Harman River, then through the Styx Saddle to the new Grassy Flats Hut.  The only tricky bit is the chest high tussock in the Styx saddle which completely obscures your foot placements and therefore often has you stumbling.  A turned ankle at this stage, on the easy going low lands would not be a good way to end the trip.

Grassy Flats Hut

We joined 2 other trampers at the Grassy Flats Hut.  The day had been about 9 hours walking and the 3 of us were glad to get the boots off and get a hot cup of Milo in hand.  The Milo was of course liberally spiked with whiskey, this medicinal additive soon helped numb the sore feet and stiff shoulders.  The new Grassy Flats Hut is well constructed and well sealed against sand-fly penetration (thank goodness).

Day 4

Grassy Flats Hut – Road End

An early start the next day had us comfortably through the easy 12kms to the end of the track by noon, hampered only by about 1 million hook grass seeds attaching themselves to the hair on each of our legs.  Luckily at the road end we found a couple of car loads of kayakers waiting for the rain promised later that day, to bring the river level up.  One of these kayakers was happy to give Paul a lift to a local farm to phone cousin Raymond in Hokitika, who had been pre-arranged to pick us up.

A lush green stream

Raymond soon arrived and whisked us away to Hokitika, where with time-honoured West Coast hospitality, he laid on large steaks, beer and a shower for each of us.  (God-bless the Coasters)

2011 – Arthurs Pass – Benevolent Waimakariri WeatherGods

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

The trip:

Day 1:  Klondyke corner to Barker hut
Day 2:  Barker hut to Carrington hut
Day 3:  Carrington hut to Klondyke corner

Topomap of our route

Google map of our route

Our original plan for 2011 was a longer trip than this. However, in February a large earthquake devastated central Christchurch killing many people and leaving thousands in seriously damaged houses. Going tramping and leaving our families just weeks after such a traumatic event was not an option. We cancelled the trip and agreed to organise a smaller walk later in 2011.

April arrived and we agreed it would be OK to head out for a short walk close to Christchurch. We would walk up the Waimakariri river past the Carrington hut, then up the White river to Barker hut.

Day 1

Friday 8th April – Klondyke corner to Barker hut

Early in the week, weather forecasts for Arthur’s Pass  looked dire.  A strong southerly blast arrived on the Tuesday and initial predictions showed the cold wet weather persisting into the weekend.  This prompted Adam to head out and save a large amount of money on a sale price gore-tex jacket at Kathmandu.

It turned out the forecasts were a little pessimistic.  Friday morning dawned cold but relatively clear.  The strong cold southerly wind had died away and looking out to the alps in the west, things looked very promising.

To make Barker Hut while it was still light, Paul calculated we would need to be on the track by 9am.  Factoring in the drive time to Klondyke corner, dropping a car at Otira and the usual farting about, we would need to meet at Adam’s house at 5.30am.  Ouch.

Everyone arrived on time, and somewhat against the odds, we set off in two cars not long after 6am.  Adam had made a breakfast bag for each car.  Filled with bacon and cheese croissants, muffins and bananas, it was more than enough food for the moa hunters.

At precisely 9.02 am we were ready.  With packs on and generous amounts of sandfly repellant applied, we strode manfully into the rocky Waimakariri river valley.

The Moa Hunters enter the Waimakiriri Valley
The Moa Hunters enter the Waimakiriri Valley

Wide flat valleys make for meandering rivers.  The section of the Waimakariri we were walking is a classic example, with the river weaving from one side of the valley to the other.  Consequently it wasn’t long before we had to make our first river crossing.  We steeled ourselves for ankle achingly cold water, but were surprised and generally happy to discover it was only very cold.

One of many large slips in the valley
Rounding one of many large slips in the valley

Some people complain that the Waimakariri valley is boring.  From a walking point of view, that’s probably true.  The large number of difficult sized and often loose rocks make walking a bit of a chore, and it doesn’t change much from hour to hour.  But on the day we were there, the snow topped mountains surrounding us were absolutely stunning.  Pristine and magnificent against the bright blue sky, they more than made up for the mundane valley floor.

Sunny skies smile on the Moa Hunters
Sunny skies smile on the Moa Hunters

By mid morning we had made good progress and as the day warmed, sunscreen and hats were slapped on.  Adam’s new jacket looked destined to stay deep in his pack this day.

A badly timed dose of diarrhea in the few days leading up to the trip had Paul worried he may have to pull out.  Fortunately by Friday, things “down below” had settled enough for him to feel confident about the walk in, though not quite confident enough to fart.

Four hours of relatively easy walking saw us arrive at the Carrington Hut. Big enough to sleep 36 people in bunks, it’s more of a hotel than a hut.  Our arrival coincided with lunchtime.  While it was tempting to sit on the deck in the sun and eat, the thousands of extremely enthusiastic sandflies outside the hut forced us inside to eat at one of the many tables.

After lunch we braved the sandflies on the deck and pulled on our wet socks and boots.  Food and anything else thrown out of packs were systematically stuffed back in.  “Bugger, what the hell have I done with my glasses,” muttered Adam, rifling through some bags.  Paul, with a smirk on his face, replied “…your glasses?”  At which point Adam realised he was in fact wearing them.  A sure sign he has joined the over 40′ (12.2 m)s club in body and in mind!

Magnificent Scenery all around us...
Magnificent Scenery all around…

Leaving the Carrington Hut, we also left the Waimakariri valley, turning southwest into the rather similar White River valley.

The route guide suggested that it was best to cross to the true left of the White River close to the Carrington Hut.  We dutifully did this, only to have to cross back five minutes later as the river swung across the valley in front of us.  None of us minded too much though.  By this time the afternoon was getting hot, the cold water was refreshing and not particularly deep.

Walking up the valley became steadily more challenging.  In a couple of places the river gorged and we had to leave the valley floor, picking our way higher up the side of the valley for a time.

In other places rock slides had left steep chutes of loose shingle.  For Lewis this was new territory.  Traversing these tricky slopes and learning to “go with the flow” when you start to slide on loose material earned a “five on the sphincter scale” from him.  He was assured that loose rock and scree would quickly be mentally downgraded as he did more of them.

Without doubt the most “interesting” moment of the trip for Magnus was when a slab of rock suddenly cut loose above him, sliding towards him.  A warning shout from Chris, and a neat sidestep from Magnus saw the slab go past him harmlessly.  When asked what he said when the rock came to a rest below him, Magnus assured us it was “scheissdreck!!”

Magnus and his rock slab
Magnus and his rock slab

As we rounded a spur, the Barker Hut showed itself for the first time.  High up on a rocky outcrop at the head of the valley, it looked small and rather distant.

Barker Hut in the distance atop a rocky outcrop
Barker Hut sits in the u-shaped basin on top of a rocky outcrop.

In fact, a good three hours away.  The valley clearly became increasingly steep heading towards the hut, with a final brutal looking grunt round and up the  left side of the outcrop.

The route guide mentioned a “high track” could be used.  If we had seen where it started, we might have.  As it was, we boulder hopped our way up the valley making steady progress.

Somehow though, we all had the feeling we were being quietly taunted by the Barker Hut.  Throughout the afternoon it always seemed a lot higher than us, and never as close as anticipated when a new corner was rounded.

We did eventually reach the base of the outcrop, and were relieved to find the final section around it wasn’t nearly as gnarly as it had looked from a distance.  Footholds were sure and while it was relatively steep, it wasn’t in any way precarious.  One by one we made the top where the  cheerful orange coloured  Barker Hut welcomed us.

As always, we quickly turned an orderly hut into a mess of packs and gear strewn in all directions.  The mountain radio and interior light were both non-operational.  We found out later that a lightning strike had munted the solar panels / lead acid battery setup.  A regular occurrence apparently.

Being autumn, dusk arrived quickly and it wasn’t long before we had to turn on our own battery operated lights to see what we were doing.  Dinner smelled damn good and the hut quickly warmed up.  Constructed from the same materials you would use for a coolstore, it is incredibly well insulated.  Even with no heating, it got remarkably toasty inside.

Barker Hut catches the mornings first light
Barker Hut catches the mornings first light

Day 2

Saturday 9th April – Barker hut to Carrington hut

The next morning was a stunner.  Patches of low cloud and fog drifted in the valley below, but where we were the air was icy clean and crisp.  There was not a breath of wind and the first rays of sun were glancing orange and pink across the nearby glaciers.

Morning mist in the White Valley
Morning mist in the White Valley

Eating breakfast inside the hut would have been a crime, so we carried a bench seat up a small rise beside the hut.  There we stood or sat and enjoyed our hot porridge while taking in spectacular views that money can’t buy.

Another criminal activity would have been to leave that place on such an amazing day.  It didn’t take long to agree on a new plan.  The morning would be spent exploring the ridges above the hut.   After lunch we would walk four hours back to the Carrington Hut and spend the night there.  The Waimakariri Falls Hut would have to wait for another trip.

Walking a broken rock ridge above Barker Hut
Walking a broken rock ridge above Barker Hut

With a couple of daypacks we set off up an obvious looking route behind the hut.  It was very interesting terrain.  Shingle and rock rubble piled high long ago by glacial activity had weathered away on both sides, forming it into a fairly narrow steep-sided razorback ridge.  Walking across it, we were all careful to stay central as the drop off on both sides didn’t look like a fun way to fall.

Stopping at the top of a rise, we sat down for a bite of scroggin.  Looking down on glaciers, it felt we were pretty high up.  Spotting a group of seven chamois below us confirmed the feeling.  Being above chamois means you have achieved a respectable altitude.  Unfortunately they didn’t stay in sight for long.  Scampering at amazing pace across a rocky face then up and over a steep outcrop, they were gone in a matter of twenty seconds.  It would have taken us a good couple of hours to cover the same ground.

Paul, being something of a mountain goat himself, decided a nearby peak was irresistible, and for the next half hour he entertained the rest of us by climbing it.   We sat lazily in the sun watching him picking his way up to the top, betting on which route he might take.  The view from the top was, according to Paul, an order of magnitude more spectacular than from where we were.

Looking down at Barker Hut and the White River valley beyond
Looking down at Barker Hut and the White River valley beyond

Feeling privileged to be there in such spectacular surroundings in such extraordinary weather conditions, we headed back down to the hut.  It was approaching lunchtime, and still there was barely a breath of wind and not a cloud in the sky.

When we reached the hut, the sun was hot and the tarn looks crystal clear and inviting.  One by one the Moa Hunters stripped off and launched into the freezing water.  Apart from Lewis, the exit from the tarn was almost as rapid as the entry!

Despite a few hunger pangs, we agreed to walk some way down to the valley before breaking into our lunch rations.  We started packing our gear.  Paul mentioned he “smelled different”…  A curious thing he put down to not being 100% the past few days.  We agreed this was probably the case.  That was until Chris wandered in asking if anyone had seen his polyprop top, then pointed out the one Paul had on was remarkably like his.  This observation explained two mysteries:  where Chris’s top was, and why Paul thought he smelled more pungent than usual.

When we had all stopped rolling about laughing, we finished our tidy up, hefted our packs on and set off down into the valley below.

The Moa Hunters pose at the Barker Hut before heading down the valley
The Moa Hunters pose at the Barker Hut before heading down the valley

After an hour or so on the track, we called a break on the other side of a steep little ravine.  It was once spanned by a bridge, but now crossing requires a sharp descent and an equally sharp climb up a narrow gut.

We unpacked salami, cabin bread and other goodies, sat in the sun and yarned about everything and nothing.

Heading down a valley you see more.  You don’t have to look up far from your feet to see a long way ahead.  Maybe that’s why we spotted a marker pole up the valley side on the true left of the river we hadn’t noticed on our way up the previous day.  Following a fairly well walked track which sidled down the valley we made good progress.

Well, for about half an hour anyway.  That’s when we came to a section of track littered with rocks left there by a large and relatively recent slip.  They were difficult to spot in amongst the tall tussocky grasses and were almost always loose and unstable.  The track was also very easy to lose and it was becoming generally ugly going.

It was at this point that Richard and Paul decided the high track was no fun at all and the river bed looked far more pleasant.  We bashed and slid our way down the hillside scrub to the river, coming out not far from the “official” start of the track we had just abandoned.  Somehow we had missed the marker pole at the bottom of the track on the way up.

Lots of delicious healthy whisky
Lots of healthy life-giving whisky

Once in the riverbed again we covered ground quickly, and by late afternoon the Moa Hunters were pulling off their boots at the Carrington Hut.  A group of three others had claimed the coveted left-wing of the hut which has a log burner fire in it.  We didn’t mind.  Our side felt cosy enough once we filled it with the smells of cooking and had another of Magnus’s delicious whisky infused hot chocolate drinks in our bellies.

Later, Chris confessed to joining a yoga class.  The rest of the Moa Hunters were suspicious his motives were just as much about viewing lycra-clad women as improving suppleness and flexibility.  However, there soon followed an unexpected session of yoga stretching, contortion and other bizarre looking activities such as the Carrington Hut has never seen before.

Sitting at a table later in the evening, we were discussing the relative merits of sleep and how much is required.  Chris noted that after 9 hours sleep he generally wakes up invigorated, feeling like an 18-year-old, runs outside, and can never find one!  From there the level of conversation predictably deteriorated and Richard started singing the wonky donkey song…

The Carrington Hut (Hotel!)
The Carrington Hut (Hotel!)

Day 3

Sunday 10th April – Carrington hut to Klondyke Corner

The following morning was yet another stunningly clear crisp autumn day.  Frost sparkled on the grass, and the hut in contrast to the Barker, was decidedly chilly.  We all rugged up warmly as the porridge cooked.  As there was no particular rush to get organised, we didn’t rush at all.  It wasn’t until mid morning that we walked out the hut and struck out for the Waimakariri valley.

Hunter Dude and his gummy wearing gal
Hunter Dude and his gummy wearing gal pal

We bumped into two other groups as we wandered our way down.  The first were a couple of experienced looking dudes heading out on a multi day expedition to the Julia Hut.

The others were a young hunter and (we assume) his girlfriend.  He was decked out in expensive Swazi camo hunting kit.  She was wearing a camo top, shorts and gumboots.  Both had a leg of venison poking out their backpacks.  It turned out she was in fact right at home in her gumboots, being a country gal from the UK, now working on a West Coast dairy farm.  She assured us there’s nothing more comfortable!

The walk out to the car was an easy stroll and we were dropping packs beside the car by early afternoon.  Chris and Paul headed over to Otira to fetch the other car we had left at that end.  Rather than stay and be consumed by sandflies, Magnus, Adam, Richard and Lewis started wandering up the 4WD track to the road.  By the time Paul and Chris completed their return trip and caught them up, they were in the Bealey Pub a few km up the road ordering the first round of beers.

Treading tarmac, heading for the Bealey Pub
Treading tarmac, legging it to the Bealey Pub

It had been a fantastic weekend.  At the Dept of Conservation Office in Arthur’s Pass the ranger had remarked to Paul and Chris that he had never seen weather so clear and calm.  We felt pretty damn lucky to have been there to enjoy it.

Flightless birds behind the Bealey Pub
Flightless birds behind the Bealey Pub