Trip Reports, April-May 2015

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  1. Richmond Alpine Route > Mt Richmond Forest Park
  2. Lake Camp > Cobb Valley, Kahurangi National Park
  3. Harris Hill > Atawhai, Nelson
  4. Mount Stokes > Marlborough Sounds
  5. Harwoods Hole & Starlight Cave > Abel Tasman National Park
  6. Sawcut Gorge & Ben More > Isolation Hill Scenic Reserve

3–6 April 2015 (Easter) – Richmond Alpine Circuit
Leader: Kate Krawczy

We started out from the locked gate up the Wairoa Gorge on Friday at 8:30am. There was about five kilometres of road to start and it was good to get that out of the way.

But then we started up the track following the true left of the Wairoa River and almost wished we were back on the road: the track was not easy.

It is a slippery and difficult sidle along the river banks with lots of up-and-downs to get around the gorgy bits – very slow going. We made it to Mid Wairoa Hut after 1:00pm, way behind schedule. We had a good rest and lunch break to replenish ourselves for the next 4–5 hour trek up to Tarn Hut.

Daylight savings hadn’t happened yet so we were pushing it, but knew we had enough daylight. The track was climbing up a spur to gain the ridgeline near Bushy Top. It was steep and tough – we climbed over 800 metres from Mid-Wairoa Hut – but it was just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. We reached Tarn Hut at 6:30pm and it was a very welcome sight after a hard day on the trail.

Mike, John and I set up tents as the hut only has five bunks (and there were a couple of hunters staying there). To top off the day there was a blue duck relaxing on the tarn.

The next day was an easier one. We knew the weather was forecasted to turn on Saturday afternoon, so the plan was to get to Rintoul Hut early then stay dry and warm. It only took us just over four hours to get from Tarn to Rintoul along the lovely ridgeline towards Bishops Cap, where we hung a right to Rintoul.

It was a lovely place to spend the afternoon and for once, Metservice was spot on: the rain passed through between 2–5pm and we were warm and comfortable inside. Mike had thoughtfully brought up cheesecake mix and proceeded – with help from British Baking Champ Andrea and NZ Legend Mrs. Edmunds – to make us a yummy cheesecake in a wilderness hut. This was complimented by whiskey that John poured from a glass bottle – because “it tastes different out of plastic.” It made for a jovial atmosphere.

The next day was another hard one and made me realise why this is really meant to be at least a five–day trip and not four days. We left Rintoul Hut early – an hour earlier than we all thought – the clocks had gone back the night before. It was a fortuitous thing because it turned out to be a VERY long day! We left Rintoul Hut and climbed straight to the top. Over 500 metres climb in less than one kilometre. We had amazing views from the top.

“I was happy to have ‘knocked the bastard off,’ having spent years looking up at Rintoul and wanting to climb it.”

Over the other side of Rintoul we dropped down steeply 300 metres only to have to scramble steeply up Little Rintoul for over 200 metres. Talk about adding insult to injury! I laughed when I saw it. Up down... up down….

The weather rolled in as we had a lunch stop on Little Rintoul and our grand views disappeared. But, as Mike says, ‘views are over-rated sometimes’.

We descended steeply again to the ridgeline and proceeded towards Old Man. We were already tired at this point – even though we hadn’t covered many kilometres we had been ascending and descending difficult, steep, rocky terrain for five hours. (I could see why anyone in their right mind would stop for the night at Old Man Hut!)

Nevertheless, we pushed on and stuck to plan, making it to Slaty Hut at 5:30pm. Here, Chris Louth had come in from the Hackett to meet us. He had the hut warm and it was a lovely welcome after such a hard day.

The next morning I think we were all happy to be heading home to bathtubs and beds. The weather was still clagged-in and it was raining intermittently past Starveall Hut and down to the Hackett. It took longer than we expected to descend from Starveall because the wet weather made the steep descent more slippery and tricky than usual.

Participants: Kate Krawczyk, John Whibley, Andrea Cockerton, Madeleine Roeher, Mike Drake & Chris Louth.


11–12 April 2015 – Lake Camp – Kahurangi Nat. Park
Leader: Mark Graesser

Camp Lake, or  ‘Lake Camp’, as some call it, is perched in a sub-alpine cirque beneath Mt Prospect on the western side of the Cobb Valley, opposite the Tent Camp on the valley track.

Three of us set off at 8:00am on Saturday in hopes that the unstable weather would settle down for a couple of reasonable days on the Cobb.

As it turned out, a mixture of misty rain and sunny breaks made for pleasant walking.

Our German guest, a recent biology graduate, was happy to absorb a steady stream of commentary from the locals on the prolific bush birds and native plants. We ducked out of the rain for lunch in the Chaffey’s Hut, and paused at the newly-refurbished Tent Camp to consider whether or not to proceed or bail out at this point. ‘Onward’, was the decision.

Getting to the lake proved more problematic than I dimly recalled from a visit about a decade ago. We began by following a sporadically-marked track leading across the stream just north of the camp, then steeply up the side of the ridge. This track was probably created by Friends of Cobb to access the Henderson Lake area, where they operate trap lines in hopes of saving the rock wren population.

The good news was that this track enabled us to gain about 250 metres of elevation fairly efficiently; the bad news was that it seemed be taking us well to the north of the lake itself. Finally, we plunged into the dense, resistant bush, and bashed for more than two hours before arriving at the lake around 6:00pm, as darkness was rapidly falling. (Total time from leaving the road end was about seven hours, half that being the off-track climb.)

We quickly pitched tents in less than ideal locations, and hunkered down for the night to recover from an unexpectedly exhausting journey.

In the morning, Uta announced that her thermometer read zero degrees. We bundled up, pausing only for a couple of misty photos, and found our way out by a somewhat more efficient route than on the previous day.

All members of the party appreciated the natural features (birds, plants and geology) we encountered, and the satisfaction of completing a trip whose ultimate challenges placed it well above the official ‘medium’ rating. As leader, I was grateful for the steadfast, uncomplaining demeanor of my two companions, one a veteran and the other a neophyte. Participants were Uta Purcell, Julia Piko and Mark Graesser.

3 May 2015 – Harris Hill ridge ramble – Atawhai hills, Nelson
Leader: David Blunt

Situated just ten minutes from Nelson, high above Marybank, is the 500-acre Harris family farm, with 50 acres of mature native bush, abundant bird life, goats, sheep, cattle and panoramic views of Nelson, also with three lovely homestay cottages available for rent.

What a wonderful turnout: 17 walkers thereafter referred to as ‘the mob,’ set off from Millers Acre on a wonderful, crisp autumn morning. Later in the day the temperature would rise to 17 degrees.

After a steep beginning, we walked at a leisurely pace past the farm houses, greeted by the farm dogs as we passed by, and on through a number of gates to a morning tea stop with an outlook over the bay.

Not long after, Ray made a detour to the summit of Wells Hill, catching up with the mob some time later, not on foot, but on a farm bike with which he had hitched a ride! About this time our path joined with several mountain bike tracks which come up from the Maitai Valley.

Our lunch stop was at high point BIYN, 514m altitude, with a 360-degree view. With so much to see, we spent about an hour just taking it all in.

The walk is on well-graded farm tracks with a bit of uphill. It was nice to be able to walk without rocks and tree roots for a change, through manuka and kanuka. One comment I heard was that ‘there were no pine trees.’

Nearly back, we realised that two members of our party were missing, last seen heading for a toilet stop – they had taken a wrong turn.
Our missing walkers appeared after about half an hour. Meanwhile, Tony and Gretchen continued along the ridge towards Kaka Hill to reach their home in the Maitai Valley.

A great day, great conversation, great views, great photos. Thank you, David.

Walkers were: Dan McGuire, Maureen Cotton, Pat Holland, Tony Haddon, Gretchen Holland, Don Morrisey, Nicola Harwood, Ian Morris, Marie Lenting (scribe), Ray Salisbury, David Cook, Lou Kolff, Chrissie Millington, Val Latimer, David Blunt & visitors Helen Sullivan & Asy Leuthold.

10 May 2015 – Mt Stokes – Marlborough Sounds
Leader: Lawrie Halkett

It was a very early start for eight members of the tramping party, setting out from Nelson around 6.00am to rendezvous with the more sensible two remaining members that had left the day before and camped at the head of Keneperu Sound.

After a tortuous drive (there are more corners on that road than the Takaka Hill road!) to Keneperu, during which several passengers  complained that their breakfasts were about to see the light of day (or was that Lawrie and Graeme’s driving?) we made it on schedule at 8.30am and met up with Ian and Annette.

It was introductions all round, then unfortunately it was back into our metal steeds and another eight kilometres to the start of Mt. Stokes track.

Track time on the DOC sign was a five-hour return trip to Mt. Stokes (1,203m), which we accomplished.

After leaving the vehicles the track sidled under Mt. Robinson into a saddle then up a long, leading ridge, through gnarly old silver and mountain beech forest to the top. At the timberline, we broke out onto a relatively flat tussock top, to be confronted by radio repeaters and a brisk, chilly south-westerly. (Time: 2 hours).

The 360-degree panorama afforded by Mt. Stokes was marvellous. The western coastal hills of the North Island were easily visible; even more so were the scores of wind turbines glistening in the sun. Further north-east we could see Cape Palliser. Swinging north-west our view took in Durville Island and Pelorous Sound. Way off to the south-west was our homeland, the Nelson  region: Golden Bay, Kahurangi and the Richmond Range. Swinging to the south our vista took in Nelson Lakes mountains, the Inland and Seaward Kaikouras and, closer at hand, the townships of Waikawa Bay and Picton.

After a pleasant rest, lunch and photo shoots, it was a speedy trip back down the to the car park.

Because we had made good time we decided to cap off the day with a refreshment stop at the Slip In, Havelock. It  was a good chance to relax, enjoy one another’s company and toast Annette, as the only mother among us, in the name of Mothers Day  ... and the conquering of Mt. Stokes.

Participants were: Annette Le Cren, Anna (guest), Tim (guest), Bruce Alley, David Cook, Graeme Ferrier, Ian Morris, Ray Salisbury, Ron Graham (non-member) and Lawrie Halkett (scribe).

24 May 2015 – Harwoods Hole & Starlight Cave
Leader: Chris Louth

Cold mornings often herald clear skies. And so it was as we left Canaan clearing for the easy walk into Harwoods Hole.

A limit of 12 participants was put on this trip for reasons that will become clearer later. Twelve became 11 after a frustratingly late withdrawal. It was a multi-national group with five of the seven continents represented – no Africans or Antarcticans.

A couple of the group had done this trip before (below ground rather than above) so they gave the others an insight into the descent techniques required to enter the Harwoods/Starlight cave system. It is difficult to get a clear view into the Hole without getting too close to the edge and, with a drop of 150-plus metres, no-one was was that willing.

We back-tracked and headed up the lookout track for a bite to eat in the sunshine on the ridge with Gorge Creek and the Takaka Valley on one side and Harwoods Hole on the other. We could see where we were heading, but were unsure of the the exact route to get there.

There was nothing subtle about the descent. 450 metres of very steep forest, mud and loose rocks, liberally laced with onga onga. The participant level was restricted because of the anticipated very real rockfall danger between the ridge and Starlight Cave.

One of the group became acutely aware of this when a housebrick-sized rock came clattering down the hill and missed his head by centimetres. We knew it was coming but its course was so erratic we didn’t know which way to move until the last second, then bodies dived one way or the other.

Towards the valley floor the track veers off and sidles across a large steep boulder field to the cave mouth, hidden from view until you are right on top of it.

Lunch was eaten, then some ventured through the jaws of stalactites at the entrance and into the back of the first cavern, while others chose to stay outside. To enter it was necessary to wade through thigh deep, cold water then negotiate a maze of stalactites and stalagmites along the side on a narrow ledge to avoid deeper water.

We had hoped to head further down into Gorge Creek Cave but thoughts of the climb back up and lack of daylight hours prevented this.

We made it back to the ridgeline without further incident. Participants were: Kate Krawczyk (Canada), Birgit Klingebiel (Germany), Mai Kimura (Japan), Ana Clara and Gera Giorgini (Argentina), Bruce Alley (origin unknown), a token kiwi John Whibley and the Poms: Andrea Cockerton, Ken Ridley, Bob Renshaw and myself, Chris Louth.

30 May–1 June 2015 (Queens Birthday Weekend)
Sawcut Gorge – Isolated Hill Scenic Reserve. Marlborough

Leader: Kate Krawczyk

Kirwans Hut in Victoria Forest Park was our ambition, but a fierce forecast scared us off to the brighter, sunnier reaches of the East Coast.

Kate kindly collected us, sleepy-eyed, from our residences and transported us to the trackhead in three hours. Parking the spacious 4WD ute at the homestead of Blue Mountain Station, we donned boots and gaitors in anticipation of the foreboding wetness to come.

An hour of boulder-hopping up the Waima River, with some vainly trying to keep their feet dry, we stumbled up the sidle track into Isolation Creek proper. Some 15 minutes up this slot canyon, and it narrowed to a defile of about two metres across, and, unfortunately, to a watery depth of 50cm. A refreshing wind whipped through Sawcut Gorge as we splashed through back into daylight.

An unusual concretion caught our attention – almost identical to the Moeraki Boulders – just before we climbed up to the hut. (Total time: 2 hrs). The eight bunks were empty, and a subsequent party camped below on the river flats. An hour of chopping provided a winter’s supply of firewood, then we got the large woodburner firing hot.

On Sunday, my four companions elected to make the club’s first ascent of Ben More (1244m); a remote outlying peak which provided stunning ocean views. Their successful summit attempt was via an obscure track which ended at the remote Napoleon Biv.

I followed the footsteps of previous club members, and did a solo eight-hour mission to The Zoo. Here, in the visitor book, a fellow hut-bagger had written in large capital letters: ‘eat your heart out, Raymond!’ (Darn you, Dion.)

From 5:30am, I was kept awake by a companion who was humming to music on his mobile device, which resounded around the hut. But revenge is sweet, since another party member strategically placed a 850g ‘momento’ in his pack. On returning home, the humbled recipient weighed the rock ‘to measure the kindness that was bestowed upon him, and ‘expressed his hearty appreciation at the rather unexpected gift.’

Explorers were: Kate Krawczyk, Andrea Cockerton, Chris Louth, Mike Drake & Ray Salisbury (scribe).

RANGER's POEM > Excerpt from Visitor Book at Isolation Creek Hut

“Head up the Ure from State Highway One,

Follow the river, keep your back to the sun,

You’ll come to an almost impassable crack,

Keep heading upstream (there’s no markers or track)

You’ll find a hut so isolated and quiet,

It’ll give you shelter on a cold winters night”


From ‘The Map in the Sand’
Ray Bennett, DOC Ranger South Marlborough



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