And so five Australian Bushwalkers set out on a walk in the Kahurangi National Park at the top end of the South Island of New Zealand. Almost due West of Nelson, starting near Matariki and finishing at Little Wanganui on the coast north of Westport.
The weather forecast did not look good but you have to take what you are given. Any other time I would have sat in town and played tourist but this time I was a guest in the party and the others were keen walkers ruthlessly led by Captain Wassenberg. Even the name sends shivers down my spine. Guess I just got a little slack in my old age and expanding girth.
The shuttle bus left Nelson at 7.30. That’s 7.30 in the morning. I must have looked silly climbing in the bus in my jim jams. At least I could change on the bus. Peter, the driver was a very knowledgeable tramper himself with reams of information on the area we were to visit. He was taking us in to the start of the Mt Owen Track and the Wangapeka Track but 8km before the end of the road the Dart River causeway was flooded and a little risky too drive across so we disembarked and had a extra 8km to hoof before the trip actually started. As the weather forecast was lousy and Mt Owen was the highest peak in the northern sector and in theory we were 2hrs late because of the extra walk we decided to leave Mt Owen for another day or should I say 3 days.
We started the Wangapeka Track at Rolling Junction at 11.15 am and reached the Kings Creek Hut at 3.15 pm. The walk follows the Wangapeka River and me assuming the river was flat with just a little downhill to make it flow envisaged a easy walk in to the hut like walking into Aspiring Hut.
Silly me. The track does follow the river but there were lots of little ups and downs. The track not the river. And me being as unfit as I was, then those littlies turned into bigs. Most of the walk in was in rain, not enough to justify rain gear but either way you would have got wet. Rain from the outside or sweat from the inside. Never the less when I got to the Kings Creek Hut I was buggered and my wonky knees were screaming.
The party consisted of 3 Redlands Bushies, Captain (Super fit) Wassenberg or if you were game enough Sir or just plain Ted. Russell who was also very fit and it helped that all he carried was a handkerchief cut in half for equipment. And Rob, who thankfully also had deteriorating knees. Two YHA Bushies, Kerry, who was a little new to this game, could walk fast but had not yet learnt to pace himself and old blubber guts me, could pace myself but it did not seem to help with enough food on board to feed a regiment for a month in case it was necessary.
Kings Creek Hut. 4th November
Late yesterday afternoon was fine but the rain started about 4am this morning. Our plan was to walk up to Kiwi Saddle Hut which was an off shoot off the main track and was up on the tops of the ranges. But there was a creek to cross and that would have been flooded. On our walk in yesterday we met a tramper walking out who was stuck in Kiwi Saddle Hut on the other side of the stream for 2 days waiting for it to go down. The catch was he had to walk down from the hut for 3hrs to find the stream was flooded and then had to walk back up to the hut again for the night.
So here we sit in Kings Creek Hut waiting for the weather to clear. We could not move on to Stone Hut as there is a very large party of American Outdoor Education people camping there for the night and the hut only holds 10. Here we have a 20 bed hut all to ourselves. We just sat around with “I remember the time” and “back in the good old days” stories.
1.30pm and all's well. I never realised how much fun you can have sitting in a hut with no library. Kerry for instance is not noted for his powers of observation but came up with a profound statement “The rains coming down now.” He meant the rain is a little heavier than 5hrs ago. Rob was measuring the angle of inclination of the falling rain. Mainly down. But at different times it was at different angles. I decided to have some lunch as my pack was too heavy because of the excess food. So for lunch I had a charming little combination of cheese slices, Swedish salami and dried tomato in pesto in a wholegrain tortilla wrap. Not much reading matter, only two magazines. One of them I never got to read as it was very popular. I think it was a porn magazine called “Forest and Bird”. The other was a South Island accommodation listing. In these conditions King Creek Hut seems pretty good and a hive of exciting activity.
Captain Wassenberg just kept pacing.
Kings Creek Hut. 5TH November.
6.30am and alls well. Except it’s snowing. Not really heavy snow but enough to leave frozen clumps of snow on the grass. We are at 480 metres elevation here.
We started walking at 8.30 am heading for Stone Hut, had a quick look at the historical Cecil King’s Hut and then onwards crossing Luna Stream on the slippery ice covered swing bridge and then another swing bridge over the Wangapeka River arriving at Stone Hut at 11.30am in sunshine. We were walking alongside a lovely stretch of river with its deep gorges and waterfalls but becoming flat as we approached Stone Hut.
There was 4 DOC track clearing fellas staying there and our 5 made it quite cosy in the 10 bed hut. Two young Czech girls just passed through going the other way stopping long enough to have a cuppa and some soup, they had just walked up the Karamea Valley and then stayed in the Trevor Carter Hut for a day to dodge the weather that had us idle. Trevor Carter Hut being a day and a half further up the track that we were following. These little lassies were in a hurry to get out as they had work lined up so they took a short cut over the Biggs Tops which at this stage was covered in snow and another700 metres higher than we were. They seemed to know what they were doing but their plastic shopping bag gaiters had me wondering. They were certainly braver than me.
Stone Hut is in a lovely position, the river just in front with a Blue Duck preening itself just opposite.
I fell in the creek while trying to cross it for a photo. With the sun out it was not a big problem. And all of a sudden it started to snow again. Talk about Melbourne weather. All the while the DOC blokes were out there somewhere clearing the tracks. They sure do earn their money.
Stone Hut. 6th November
Left Stone Hut at 8.40am heading for Helicopter Flat Hut at 730metres high but we had to walk over the Wangapeka Saddle at 1020 metres high. We got to the saddle at 10.20am. The weather looked sort of reasonable so we altered our plans and decided to go over the Biggs Tops to the Trevor Carter Hut knowing full well the Tops had a good covering of snow from the previous two nights of snow. This was the way the two Czech girls had come the previous day.
Walking up to the Wangapeka Saddle the track had snow beside it all the way. To get to the Biggs Tops you leave the Wangapeka Track at the saddle and head up another 300metres to the treeline, walking in snow all the way.
We geared up and started following the snow poles sidling around a ridge in snow 300 to 600mls deep. Going was slow with one of the party not familiar with these kind of conditions, and the weather appeared to be changing so we bailed out and retraced our steps back to Wangapeka Saddle. It was good fun and a little different to what we would have expected. We stopped beside a creek at 1pm and had our customary 15min. lunch hour.
Captain Wassenberg had a heart after all.
We then headed down to Helicopter Flat Hut following the Karamea River. It was good going initially except for a detour around a big land slip and when we got down to the river there is a couple of wet boot crossings and then slow going due to little ups and downs to get around rocky bluffs bordering the river. We arrived at Helicopter at a tired 5pm. The 10 bunk hut all to ourselves as the American Adventure group which were there were camped in 3 and 4 man tents. I do not know where the women in the party camped.
Kerry had a bath in the creek this evening as he thought he could smell something while the others had bucket baths. I was always told that only dirty people bathe. So that was that.
Helicopter Flat Hut. 7th November.
As per usual Ted was up at 5.30am stuffing around but the rest of us did not move a muscle till 7.30am. It takes will power. Today is a easy day, time and distance wise.
Left Helicopter at 9 for the Trevor Carter Hut via the Lost Valley. A very pretty walk, made better by the fact we had sun and blue sky. Arrived at 11am. Beautiful modern hut and a excellent situation. The crystal clear Karamea River out the front door and a great view up the Taipo Valley where we head tomorrow. The more intellectual minds in the party spent the afternoon throwing rocks in the side creek so they could cross without getting their tootsies wet. They could have walked upstream a couple of hundred metres and stepped across, it would have been a lot faster.
The dumb ones, Kerry and myself, sat in the hut looking at the view.
Then the tranquillity was pleasantly disturbed by a visit of an angel. A female angel, albeit grubby. The advance scout of a group of 5 angels. This was a party of local young mothers who abandon their partners and off spring once a year to do their head clearing exercise. They had arrived at the hut via the Biggs Tops. That was the way we attempted the previous day and backed off. They had a lovely sunny day but melting snow to contend with. They breed them tough in NZ. (Except one was a pom but she has been forgiven.) Great night, great company.
Trevor Carter Hut. 8th November
The long range weather forecast did not mention yesterdays beautiful day but they did say today was going to be rain. Not to be confused with showers which is a different proposition altogether. Rain means you are going to get wet.
We left the Trevor Carter Hut at 8.10am which is early by our standards and headed for Taipo Hut up the Taipo Valley. If Captain Ted had his way it would be 6.10 but 4 against 1 are strong odds. The reason for leaving early was to try and dodge the rain and it was only a 2 ½ hrs walk if you read the signs. Unfortunately, most walkers are pretty dumb and can not read as we took 3hrs like most people who do this walk.
We just got in to the Taipo Hut and out of our wet gear from the showers when it started to bucket down.
There was 5 soggy ladies out there somewhere on our tails. By the time they arrived we had the fire going, clothes line strung up and water boiling for a cuppa. We all took over the hut, which sleeps 16, and ate, drank and talked for the rest of the afternoon. Walking does not have to be painful. Tomorrow is a big day. Taipo Hut is at 700metres and to get to Bell Town Mananui Hut at 250metres we have to go over the Little Wanganui Saddle at 1100metres.
I am glad we did not have to go over the Big Wanganui Saddle wherever that is.
Taipo Hut. 9th November.
5am. Heard a Kiwi call at Taipo Hut. Set off at 7.40am for Little Wanganui Saddle in fine weather with mist on the mountains and down below the saddle, but with little sun. Arrived at the saddle at 9.15am. Very pretty spot with a large tarn and good picture opportunities. Headed down into the valley towards Bell Town Mananui Hut, a steep down and hard on the knees through some lovely moss forest. Morning tea just before Wangapeka Bivouac at 11 and lunch at 12.30 just before the Tangent Ck. Bridge. Captain Ted relented and allowed us 16min. for lunch.
The track on this side of the range is much rougher and the flora lush. Slow slog over tree roots and rocks arriving at the Bell Town Mananui Hut at 3.20pm. Starting to rain and a little worried about the 5 girls behind us. Sigh of relief when they arrived 2hrs behind us, wet as shags and all smiles. A good night. Five blokes and five girls in a 10 bed hut. Drinks, jokes and tall tales. Great company.
Bell Town Mananui Hut. 10th November.
Last day. 7.40am left the hut for a 3hr. walk out to the trail end. Followed the river most of the way along a very wet track from all of last night’s rain and just before the end of the track I stopped. Imagine when one dies and you go to your version of heaven, you would hear angels singing. Well I was standing on the side of the track and even with my hearing difficulties and imagination I could hear singing. A lady with a beautiful voice was singing some form of opera. I did not think I was dead although I probably felt like it but off in the distance somebody was playing music and it was opera. Wonderful experience for the end of the walk. Civilisation.
Thanks as always to Ted for doing all the work organising the Wangapeka Track walk and to the company of Kerry, Russell and Rob and to the 5 Takaka ladies for a memorable trip.Love Lance.