2012 – Wangapeka – Wonderful wilderness and wasps

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

The Trip:

Day 1:  Drive to Murchison. Stay night at River View Holiday Park.
Day 2:  Drive to east end Wangapeka Track.  Walk to Kiwi Saddle Hut
Day 3:  Kiwi Saddle Hut –  Stone Hut
Day 4:  Stone Hut –  Biggs Tops – Thor Hut
Day 5:  Thor Hut – Karamea Bend Hut
Day 6:  Karamea Bend Hut – Flora Carpark

Our route on topomap.co.nz

Our route on Google maps

Day 1

Thursday 23rd February – Drive to Murchison.

After the usual week of emails flying in all directions, we were as ready as we would ever be.  The Moa hunters converged on Paul’s house at 6pm ready for a fairly long drive to Murchison and a night in a tourist flat at the Riverview Holiday Park.

Despite some dribbly West Coast rain, we made good time and rolled into Murchison at 10.15 pm.  The camp manager at Riverview initially looked pissed off that we had arrived so late.  However, when we reminded him that we had booked and arranged to be late, he transformed quickly into a laid-back friendly camp manager and gave us the key to our accommodation.

Delicious bacon...
Delicious bacon…

Our tourist flat turned out to be a fairly decent sized three bedroom house.  By 7am the following morning we had successfully filled it with the delicious aroma of bacon, eggs, tomato and hash browns.  By 8am the fried goodness was all gone and we were out the door and on the road again.

Day 2

Friday 24th February – East end Wangapeka Track to Kiwi Saddle hut

10.00am arrived and we were finally standing at the East end of the Wangapeka track.  The skies were overcast, but not threatening. Bellbirds chimed their welcome from the surrounding bush, and we were keen to get under way.  None more so than Logan who took off at something close to escape velocity.  We blasted down the extremely easy track, reaching the Kiwi saddle track in two hours…  A good 30 minutes quicker than the listed time on the DOC information board.

Leaving the Wangapeka, we set off up the somewhat more challenging Kiwi track.  With far less foot traffic than the Wangapeka, this track was quite overgrown in places, and considerably more uneven.  Hook grass quickly became the bane of our lives.  Reaching across the track, hungry seed heads were constantly tugging at the hairs of our legs, decorating them with hundreds of annoying jangling little seeds.  Pulling them off was a futile endeavour.  Each seed removed had a thousand mates waiting in ambush round the next corner.

Damn hookgrass!
Damn hookgrass!

As we climbed higher, the hook grass thinned out and we started to enjoy the surroundings.  The Beech forest slowly gave way to more unusual looking vegetation, including the mountain neinei, looking like a twisted and contorted cabbage tree.  Three hours later the superbly graded track had led us easily up to the Kiwi Saddle Hut.  Nestled in a small grassy clearing with great views of Mt Luna, the hut is a fantastic old relic.  Inside we quickly spread the contents our packs in all directions and made ourselves at home.  The open fire was almost completely useless for heating the hut, but standing outside and leaning on the metal flue was a great way to warm tired backsides!

With the prospect of a fairly big day ahead, we hauled our aching carcasses off the hut bunks at the fairly crisp hour of 6am and set about heating some porridge.  It was very cold in the hut, but the weather outside looked promising.  If we were to get over the Mount Luna route, we would need clear skies.

Kiwi Saddle Hut
Kiwi Saddle Hut

Day 3

Saturday 25th February – Kiwi Saddle Hut –  Stone Hut

By 8.40am we were packed and out the door.  Heading up the track through large stands of mountain neinei, we made an easy ascent to the bushline.  Once clear of the vegetation, we followed a fairly well trodden route up an increasingly narrow ridgeline.  An hour later we had a clear view of what lay ahead.  We could see a potential route across the tops to Mt Luna, but also had significant doubt about one section in particular which looked especially steep and gnarly.

Paul and Richard made a quick descent to a tarn some 50 metres below to stock up on water.  By the time they returned, the wind had picked up considerably and cloud was building on nearby peaks.  Things were starting to look ominous.

A razorback ridge
A razorback ridge

We picked our way up the ridge, which at times was a real razorback with severe dropoffs on either side.  A mistake here would be serious.  The wind gusts were now strong enough that we all took it into account on narrow sections, making sure we had room to step to the right, should we be blown off balance.  Just to make things even more unpleasant, the cloud descended, a bitterly cold rain began to pelt us and visibility dropped to less than 100m.

Upon reaching a high point, we stopped and made a key decision.  Attempting the tops  route would be dangerous and foolish.  We opted for Plan B, and pointed ourselves down a fairly steep grassed slope leading to the head of the Stone valley.

We quickly located the familiar large orange triangular DOC track marker at the edge of the treeline and began our descent down the sheltered track.  Two and a half hours later we emerged from the forest.  A quick river crossing later and we were at the Stone Hut.

Stone Hut is a big modern DOC built hut, with ten bunks and a proper log burner.  We settled in, lit up the gas burners and prepared ourselves the traditional enormous Moa Hunter meal with a hot chocolate entree.

Day 4

Sunday 26th February – Stone Hut to Thor Hut

Day four dawned overcast, but not unpleasant.  We had effectively lost half a day by bailing out on the Mt Luna high route, so had to make good time to our next goal – over Biggs Tops and down to the Trevor Carter Hut.

We hit the track at 8.10am and made our way up the track, which meanders along just above a sleepy trickling creek.  Located well below the bushline, the Wangapeka Saddle was reached in less than an hour. We stopped briefly and took the opportunity to fill our water bottles, before setting off up the side track.  Half an hour later we broke out of the bushline into the bright warm sunshine.  It was all too pleasant, so we took the chance to find a sheltered spot on the rocky slope for a snack.

Following a poled route that traverses two thirds of the way up the side of a large basin, we were able to enjoy some excellent views of the mostly bush covered surrounding ranges.  After a quick side trip to the top of a rocky knob, we stood at the top of an extremely steep looking track leading to the Karamea river far below.

Open country of Biggs Tops above the Wangapeka Saddle
Open country of Biggs Tops above the Wangapeka Saddle

And true enough, the descent was brutal.  A benign looking layer of fallen leaves on the track masked treacherous slippery beech roots.  Stepping on a concealed root meant an instant loss of traction, feet, body and pack sent careering down the steep slope.  During the two hour drop to the valley we ended up on our sorry arses at least a half a dozen times.

Aside from numerous falls on the way down, the only other point of interest was Richard’s close encounter with a fawn, which was heading up the track as he rounded a corner.  He wasn’t sure who was more startled at their chance meeting!

The elevated "throne" at Trevor Carter Hut
The elevated “throne” at Trevor Carter Hut

The Trevor Carter hut is a big one.  As it was only mid afternoon, we decided to press on to the Thor Hut.  After grabbing a quick bite to eat, we were soon on the track again.  The walk along the Karamea river was lovely, with beautiful crystal clear pools revealing large rainbow trout, swimming lazily in the current.

Like the Kiwi Saddle Hut, Thor Hut is a quaint little six bunk setup with an open fire and not much more.  We arrived to find it empty and well stocked with firewood.  We dumped packs, removed boots and made ourselves at home.

Before long we heard voices outside, and a quick look out the window confirmed we would likely be sharing the hut that night.  Four French tourists on a fishing trip had joined us.  This left us with the slightly awkward situation of having eight people and only six bunks.  Richard opted to kip on a pile of Thermarests and we loaned some bedrolls to one of the Frenchmen.

The tourists had been choppered in to the Crow Hut, complete with all their supplies.  They had made their way along the Karamea to Thor Hut, fishing as they went, hooking some very nice trout along the way.  They had released them all.

We spent the evening with them next to the river watching eels swim into the bank, temped by the empty tuna tins the tourists had put in the water.  Later we shared our cheesecake and what conversation we could, given the language barrier.  Our French friends were polite and friendly, like us enjoying the beauty of the Kahurangi National Park.  Despite that, we felt they were somehow not quite from the same planet as us.

Day 5

Tuesday 27th February – Thor Hut to Karamea Bend Hut
Superb scenery all around
Superb scenery all around

Just before sunrise the following morning we attempted to eat breakfast and depart as silently as possible.  I don’t think we succeeded at all, but hopefully our French hut-mates appreciated our efforts.

At 8am we said Goodbye.  Richard, having traveled recently to Vietnam demonstrated his multiculturalism by bidding the friendly French fishers, ‘Adios’.  Hopefully one of them knows a little Spanish, Richard!

Unfortunately the Kahurangi National Park is home to a few nasty pests…  Wasps are pretty much everywhere.  We had been aware of their presence the whole trip, and were always careful not to stray from the beaten track.  But on this day our luck ran out when Paul and Richard accidentally disturbed a nest.  Shouts of warning and pain from each of them had all four of us sprinting down the track, packs and all, to escape the unseen enemies.

Richard and Paul copped two fiery stings each.  Later in the day Adam grabbed one of his own and later still, Logan joined the stung club.  Each incident was accompanied by a 50 metre wind sprint.  While we saw the funny side, the wasp attacks really did take the gloss off what are spectacular natural surroundings.

While most of the route was easy walking, a short greasy rocky section below a steep bank was a bit more interesting. Fortunately DOC had attached a series of cables for handholds, and we made our way along the slippery sloped surface without incident.

Walking a sandy corridor
Walking a sandy corridor

Two hours after setting out, we arrived at the Venus Hut.  Unlike her much older brother Thor, Venus is a shining example of the new DOC hut style.  While lacking in any kind of charm, they do have smart features, effective heating and insulation.

Between the Venus Hut and the Karamea Bend Hut the track occasionally followed some interesting dry steam beds which formed sandy corridors through the beech forest.  Following one of these corridors, we we came to a section of the Karamea river where it eddied out on a bend, forming a broad glassy lake.  It was irresistible.  We stopped to skim stones and generally soak up a little sun.  When the sandflies found us we hefted our backpacks and set out down the track again.

A pristine stone skimming surface
A pristine stone skimming surface

About half an hour before the Karamea Bend Hut our hopes that the day was done were raised when we came upon the DOC staff quarters.  Perched in a clearing high on the hillside, DOC staff are able to enjoy great views of the river below.

Karamea Bend Hut
Karamea Bend Hut

The sandfly population at the Karamea Bend Hut were brutal.  Savage, persistent and voracious.  Even the stiff breeze outside the hut wasn’t deterring them.  We very quickly dropped our packs, removed our boots and bolted into the relative safety of the hut.  As if the sandflies outside weren’t enough, we quickly discovered that wasps have built a nest in the ventilation chimney of the toilet outside too.

Day 6

Wednesday 28th February – Karamea Bend Hut to Flora Carpark

We had a comfortable night in the enormous new hut, an exact replica of the Venus Hut we passed earlier in the day.  After an early breakfast, we were packed and on the trail shortly after 8.  The Leslie track was idyllic to say the least.  With the river flowing sedately on our left, and ancient massive totara, rimu, kahikatea, matai flanking the track on our right, we were surrounded by New Zealand’s finest.  It was a magic start to what would be a long day.

After a couple of hours, the track leaves the river, beginning a long but steady climb through the forest to the tablelands.  By midday we reached Spludgeons Shelter, a rustic and atmospheric place which had surely has seen a lot of interesting people come and go.  We would have loved to have spent a night there, but by this time we had agreed we would attempt to walk out and drive home that night.  We ate  a hearty lunch, and after a worthwhile scamper up to the lookout above the shelter, we were back on the track.

Rustic Spludgeons Shelter
Rustic Spludgeons Shelter
Lunch at Spludgeons
Lunch at Spludgeons

From Spludgeons, it is an hour and a half’s walk up to the tablelands, a unique setting of flat moor-like grasslands above the bushline.  From this high open vantage point, we could see a weather change was on the way.  Grey clouds were snaking around the surrounding hills and a cool damp wind started to blow.

We increased our pace, stopping a couple of times to chat to a the mostly elderly day walkers we encountered who had walked in from the Flora carpark or one of the many huts in the area.

The moor-like Tablelands
The moor-like Tablelands

Just as the walk up to the tablelands was steady uphill, our walk for the rest of the day was a steady descent.  We made good time and by mid afternoon we were sitting at the Growler shelter having “second lunch”.  A few spots of rain were starting to fall, and it seemed inevitable we were going to get wet.

The lower we got, the wider and more well worn the track became, until finally at the Dry Rock Shelter it turned into a 4WD track.  If the rain hadn’t been so persistent we would have spent more time exploring what is an amazing shelter built on and around an enormous boulder beside the track.

When we reached the Flora Hut, the rain was still falling steadily and we were walking through misty cloud.  A final snack of scroggin was eaten before we walked the final section to the Flora carpark where the ute was waiting for us.  It had been a ten hour day, and to put it bluntly, we were all fairly knackered and happy to be finished.

On the downhill slide to Flora Carpark
On the downhill slide to Flora Carpark

On the way back to Christchurch we all reflected on what had been a great walk, through spectacular country.