Monday, January 28, 2008

Aickens – Erewhon Station (Dec 2005)


Day 1 Aickens to Hunts Creek Hut 5.25 hrs 13.5 kms

Day 2 Hunts Creek Hut to Julia Hut 10 hrs 12 kms

Day 3 Julia Hut to Harman Hut 10 hrs 13.5 kms

Day 4 Harman Hut to Camp Harman River 10 hrs 4 kms

Day 5 Camp Harman River to Crawford Junction Hut 10 hrs 8 kms

Day 6 Crawford Junction Hut to Adventure Bivvy 11 hrs 9 kms

Day 7 Adventure Bivvy to Cedar Flat Hut 2 hrs 2.5 kms

Day 8 Cedar Flat Hut to Hokitika Gorge 7 hrs 22.5 kms

Day 9 Hokitika Gorge to Prices Flat Hut 9 hrs 20.5 kms

Day 10 Prices Flat Hut to Neave Hut 7.75 hrs 9 kms

Day 11 Neave Hut to Louper Biv 6.75 hrs 12 kms

Day 12 Louper Biv to Lawrence Biv 9.5 hrs 15.5 kms

Day 13 Lawrence Biv to Erewhon Station 7 hrs 25 kms


Saturday 3rd (Day 1)

Drove down from Nelson, lunched at the Otira Hotel. Dined on fish, chips and salad with a pot of tea. The hotel is pretty run down and the pineapple pieces in the salad fizzy! Dropped off pack at Kelly’s Creek then drove back to Aicken (the end of last year’s walk) where Pam dropped me off at 1:45pm.
The first 4-5 kms travel without pack an easy walk along the road, but weather drizzly. Arrived at Kelly’s at 2:30pm, donned my pack (26kg) and headed up stream. The sign said 5hrs to Hunts Creek hut, but I arrived after 4½ hrs. It was a good job I started a ½ day earlier than planned because my original plan was to do Aicken to Julia hut in one long day! It rained all day and I was very damp when I arrived at the hut. Some of the food in the bottom of the pack got wet, including the rolled oats! The first part of Kelly’s basically follows the river, except at the first gorge where I had to sidle high, and in a couple of other places following a cut track. Upper Kelly’s follows cut bush track all the way to saddle, then sidles around the steep sided Hunts Creek until it opens up near the hut. Got wet to the crutch crossing a deep narrow ditch when passing through the saddle. The hut is a 4 bunker, especially cosy when it’s wet outside. However, no dry wood, so damp clothes will be put on in the morning. Mild weather. Tomorrow will head to Julia hut, wet or fine. I may not see tops tomorrow, so are thankful for having the GPS and waypoints to aid me in finding the saddle in Dry Creek.

Sunday 4th (Day 2)

Steady light rain all night and for the first 2hrs today, then on and off thereafter. Made porridge out of the damp portion of the oats. Left Hunts Creek Hut at 7:40am. The first part was slow going over big boulder scree, and then it was easy going up tussock flats. I had to use the GPS to confirm the position of the saddle. However, when I went to “ Go to nearest”, nothing came up! I hadn’t uploaded the waypoints from the computer, so I took shelter behind a large boulder and manually loaded in the required coordinates. The climb to the saddle was easier than I had expected with a good gut to follow to the top. Arrived on top after 4½ hrs, in mist, but the mist cleared from time to time to allow me to see where I needed to head. I dropped down a gut to get into Dry Creek but got stuck so had to climb back up and go up and over some bluffs, then dropped down loose scree. Very slow descend down Dry Creek to Taipo due to weight of pack and boulder hopping, but at least no bush bashing was required. It took 3½ hrs to reach the Taipo from the tops, and then a 2 hr walk up a good track to Julia Hut. Crossed my first 3-wire bridge on track to Julia. Arrived at Julia hut at 5:30pm, 10 hrs from Hunts Creek hut. I had met 3 people who had come from Harman Saddle, heading for the Mid Taipo hut. They said they couldn’t find the hot pools as they thought they were underwater due to the river being up slightly. Anyway, I headed off as soon as I arrived at Julia hut in search of the hot pools and much to my relief found them easily. 15min later, I had shovelled out a pool then soaked til 7pm in the lovely hot water. I got a pack full of dry wood from the old hut nearby and lit a fire to dry out wet clothes. The sun had come out for ¾ hr at 1:45, otherwise intermittent drizzle/light rain for the rest of the day. Will sleep well tonight. I wouldn’t mind a rest day tomorrow but will need to press on to Browning Pass/Harman Hut. It looks like Popes Pass has some snow on it, but I hope it is soft with the mild weather I am having.

Monday 5th (Day 3)

Nice to start with everything dry! Left Julia Hut at 8am. Although the track has been trimmed recently, it was still 3hrs to get up to the tussock flats. This section used to be a benched track! It is now hard going and I was wet through. Overcast with drizzle, although I thought I saw my shadow for 1 min. Overall the conditions were good until I was descending to Browning Pass. I arrived at Popes Pass at 2:15pm, then backtracked and climbed up a snow chute SW of pass and crossed under Mt Harman. Going not technical but didn’t arrive at the top till 3:30pm. Misted in on the Browning side so needed compass to get direction. It started blowing with cold rain, so for the first time this trip I got cold hands. Ended up slightly west of the lake and since the conditions weren’t pleasant, I didn’t bother going to the lake but cut down to where I could see the main track crossing the Arahura. Arrived wet at Harman hut at 6:10pm. All up, 10hrs 10mins. After 2 10 hr plus days in a row, I am feeling rather tired. Harman Hut has some dry wood so will get a fire going to dry clothes etc. Tea was bacon & rice risotto.

Tuesday 6th (Day 4)

Woke at 6am and I could see the tops out both windows, so the weather must be clearing. It had rained during the night and was drizzling in the morn. Got up for a pee but went back to bed, as I was still tired. Slept a bit more and finally rose at 8am. Went for a walk down to the Harman swing bridge to look at the river and take some photos. The drizzle had finished but it remained overcast. Left the hut at 10:20am and was in the river above the gorge 1 hr later. I climbed up to a rocky knoll above the hut and then did a very steep but short bush bash/slide down to the river. Another 2 hours and I was at the base of the snow chute that I needed to climb up. I climbed up the main chute, and then headed up the main gut at the top of the snow. Slowly the going got steeper and steeper until I could go no further. I got the GPS out and found that I was 200m N of the saddle I was heading for. I could not climb back down with my pack on, so I had to lower the pack down with a rope, and then climb down after it. Had just got down onto the top of a snow chute when I stumbled and slid about 10m. It happened so quickly it was all over in an instant. I had my walking stick with me and had planned to use it to self-arrest. However it was not strapped to me and it got left sticking up where I tripped. Luckily the snow sloped sideways as well as down, so I slid off to the side and came to rest against the side of a hole where the snow had melted through. No damage was done but what a wakeup call! If the snow had not sloped sideways, I would have gone straight down about 50m and slammed into rocks at the bottom. I climbed back down to where a small gut came in from the side and proceeded up to where the saddle should be. However, I got bluffed up there also, so had to climb back down lowering the pack on the rope as before. Before I got back into the main gut I slid about 5m on some steep smooth snow grass. The dilemma I now had was; how was I going to climb back down the main snow chute that I had come up earlier? It was steep, about 120m long and had sheer rock sides so I couldn’t get around it. After the earlier incident, I knew that if I slipped here, it would be all over for me! I therefore decided to descend backwards using the walking stick as a third leg in front of me. I would move one limb at a time, kicking my boot into the snow several times to ensure that I had secure footing before moving the next foot. When both feet were secure, I would reposition the walking stick by stabbing it into the snow. It took me over an hour to descend down that snow chute but I made sure I took as much time as I needed. Going down backwards meant it took 3 times as many steps than when I went up. Why didn’t I have crampons and an ice axe??? I dropped back down to a flat spot near the Harman River and set up the tent. Arrived there at 8:30pm but only 2 hrs from where I had started out this morning. 8 hrs wasted in another 10 hr day, but hopefully valuable lessons learned? I had an easy tea of backcountry cuisine; cup of tea and then it was into bed.

Wednesday 7th (Day 5)

Sunny at last! My new Hubber tent was good. I had set it up on the edge of a mossy swamp. (Only flat smooth site I could find) No dampness came through the floor though, and it was very soft. Left at 9am for the other obvious saddle shown on the map. (South of the one attempted yesterday) and was at the top at 11:30am. Hard climb but not technical and was able to climb up the edge of some packed snow. There was one small tricky bit just before the top where I had to clamber over the top of a pile of potentially loose rock. The Crawford side was much easier but I had to bush bash for ½ hr to drop down to the river and arrived at the Crawford bivvy at 2pm. Nice bivvy, had a late lunch and cuppa. Last person signed in there was on 1/11/05! It took 1 ½ hrs to drop down to the Top Crawford hut. The track down the Crawford has recently been cut properly which is a nice change, but it’s still typical rough west coast track. A further 2 hrs should have seen me at Crawford Junction hut, but I crossed over the swing bridge to the west side 10mins above the junction, so I found myself on the wrong side of the river. DOC west coast isn’t strong on signage! Not knowing what the river crossing was like at the junction, I backtracked and arrived at the hut at 7pm. (4 hrs from bivvy) Another long day but did spend 1 hr at the bivvy. So here I am at Crawford Junction, 1 day later than intended. However, from here to Rakaia I will be following tracks or marked routes. I have had 4 ½ days of hard walking so far, but at least the pack is getting lighter and my shoulders are toughening up. The old junction hut in front of the present hut has recently been demolished and burnt but there is still a lot of sheet metal and nails lying around. The firebox in the hut was out of action so I lit a nice fire outside and enjoyed the evening and warmth.

Thursday 8th (Day 6)

Another wet drizzly day with a couple of brighter periods. Left the junction at 8:45am. Arrived at the swing bridge to Kokotahi hut 3¼ hrs later, snacked, then carried on to Kokotahi bivvy, arriving at 2:10pm. Out of 5 hrs walking, 3 hrs was boulder hopping up the river and the last 1 ½ hrs was better on bush track. Going was very slow for the distance travelled, but not strenuous, though hard on the legs and ankles. The Kokotahi bivvy is derelict but still a nice place to lunch, especially as the weather was drizzly. Also known as candle hut as inside was a galv drum full of candles from the NZFS days. The going up the creek to Zit saddle was easy. Before arriving at the saddle, I cut north per details obtained on Even with a GPS I still managed to stray too far SW and had to backtrack to get back on track. Luckily I had not dropped down too far down the Zit creek side before I realised my error, but I can see how many others would have got themselves bluffed in Zit creek. Left Kokotahi bivvy at 3:30pm and arrived at Adventure Bivvy at 7:50pm. I was too tired to carry onto Cedar Flat hut, so am staying here tonight. It’s a small one bunk, low roofed bivvy with a water tank. But it’s dry and cosy. Weather misty and drizzly and my clothes are quite damp. There is a lot of weka about and they call quite frequently. Lilies are everywhere and are flowering. I didn’t see Spaniard grass until Harman River where they are very small. Here in the Toaroha catchment, they are larger, more like you see in Nelson Lakes. The body is sore so am hoping for a good sleep tonight. Just because a track is shown on a map does not mean the going is easier! The pack is lighter now, but in future I’m thinking of leaving more gear behind, but what can I do without? Dry clothes!

Friday 9th (Day 7)

Rained through the night and all morning. I rose at 10am. Every part of me is sore from the shoulders down! The hut book at Adventure bivvy goes back to 1984! Only 6 Nelson region people noted in the hut book in that time. Apparently the hot pools at Wren creek are still there, so I intend to hike down to Cedar Flat in the afternoon and stop the night there. It shouldn’t take more than 2 hrs.
It was still drizzling when I left Adventure bivvy at 1:30pm. It’s a steep descent down Adventure ridge to the Toaroha River with a flat section ½ way down. Arrived at the river at 3pm and arrived at Cedar flat at 3:30pm. The Toaroha was running dirty due to the rain. There are 2 huts at Cedar flat, one historic and one newer. I stayed in the newer one, which should be rat proof. Cedar flat is aptly named as the tussock flat is surrounded by mountain cedar (Kaikawaka). I went up and checked out the hot pools only 15mins away. They weren’t very warm due to the rain causing surface water to dilute the hot spring water, so I didn’t get in. Got a fire going in the hut to dry out clothes, found a nice plate so I had a “proper” meal. (Pasta, green beans, tuna for main and dried apricots for dessert) The sun came out when I arrived at Cedar Flat and the sky is still blue at 9pm, so I am hoping for a fine day tomorrow for a change. One Whio (blue duck) seen in the Toaroha, and I also saw one just below the Crawford bivvy a couple of days ago. Today has been a rest day with only a 2hr walk. I am now 2 days behind schedule, so I will walk out to the road end tomorrow, then road walk to the Hokitika Gorge. That should then put me 1 day ahead of schedule for the Whitcombe leg of the trip. However I won’t get to see the upper Toaroha, Mungo and Frew saddle. Maybe another time though?
Sandflies have not been a big problem until now. Somehow they are getting into the hut through the mesh screens?

Saturday 10th (Day 8)

It has been a beautifully fine and warm day today. It took 3 hrs to walk to the road end, and then I crossed the river and cut across paddocks to link up to the road leading toward the gorge. Luckily the river had dropped from the day before. I got permission to cross another property so I was able to take the most direct route. I imposed myself on a farmer’s wife at a farmhouse, to use the phone. No answer at home so I rang Peter Hutton’s 0800 number and made contact through him to Pam. Also requested that an ice axe and crampons be brought to Christchurch for the Alma Col part of the journey. I arrived at my food drop spot at 3:30pm, so it had taken about 7 hrs from Cedar Flat. I set up camp near here in a small clearing with water only metres away. Set up a clothesline and dried and aired clothes etc. Weather forecast is fine for the next 4 days so that should get me at least over Butler saddle? I ran into a couple of people on my way out of the Toaroha, the first people seen since the Taipo. I sorted out my food and supplies for the next leg, and then I rehung the surplus back in a tree for later pickup. Tea was canned beans and sausages, followed by fruit salad.

Sunday 11th (Day 9)

The day was fine and warm, although it started with heavy dew. Left the locked gate at 8:45am for the 2 hr walk to Rapid Creek hut. Lex Sutherland’s book published in the late 60’s stated that the track followed the true right all the way to the hut. Therefore I did not cross the 2nd of 2 cable carriages on the way and lost 15mins before I spied a track marker across the river. So I backtracked and found the hut not far up the river from the cable carriage. Met a couple of young hunters in for a 2-day weekend from Christchurch. Had a cuppa and long chat with them before heading of at noon for the 3hr walk to Frew hut. I got to the Frew junction in 3hrs but somehow missed the hut. It appears to have been relocated? The track markings leave a little to be desired. Carried on for another ½ hr before stopping for a late lunch. Off again at 4:30pm for the expected 2½ hrs to Prices Flat hut. It actually took 3½ hrs due to numerous active slips in the last 2kms of the gorge below Prices Flat. All up it was 4hrs from Frew to Prices. Total walking time for the day 9hrs, as I missed the new Prices Flat hut as well and had to backtrack. (No sign indicating, “Hut this way” but a sign indicating “track splits 2 ways”. I took the wrong way!). Saw a deer on the track between the old and new huts. Actually 2 hind legs and a bum as an animal meandered off the track. The Hokitika/Whitcombe catchment is the only area so far to show deer sign. Actually there are more deer prints than human on this track. The last person to stay at Prices Flat was exactly 1 month ago. This route is not as popular as I had expected. The track to Rapid Creek was a combination of benched track and riverbed. Rapid to Frew, mostly riverbed; Frew to Prices, it starts off good with good benched track, terraces, some better riverbeds, but then gets really hard going through the slips. There were lots of thistles and nettle. I grabbed a nettle bush for support at one stage and am still getting tingling in my hand and arm. Not nice! I have a fire going to dry out wet socks and leggings, and to burn up rubbish. Why was the Whitcombe not named the Hokitika? It seems to be the main feeder of the glaciated water and carries more volume. However I did not get to see the upper Hokitika and Mungo rivers. I presume that the Wilkinson will be the source of the glaciated water off Mt Evans. Tea was rice risotto with tinned tuna found in the hut. It’s now 11:15pm, one more cup of tea and then it’s bedtime. Will not need to be up too early as tomorrow’s walk should be 2 3hr sections. There are mouse droppings in the hut so food will be hung tonight.

Monday 12th (Day 10)

It came in overcast last night with some drizzle throughout the night. It stayed overcast all day, but with only a few light spots of rain. Most of the day was warm and bright. I left Prices Flat at about 9am, crossed the swing bridge and climbed up the vertical bank again (DOC has a rope hanging down) and expected to be at Wilkinson hut turnoff at noon. However the going was slow, mainly due to trees across track and not so much caused by slips as yesterday. I even got the GPS out to find out how far I had got and eventually arrived at the turnoff after 4¾ hrs. I didn’t go down to the hut in case the next leg was similarly slow. Stopped for lunch on the track and was away again by 3pm. The track was much better from Wilkinson and arrived at Neave hut at 4:45pm. What a nice change to arrive at a hut this early. The views of Mt Evans, the Wilkinson glacier and bluffs were awesome. I hope my pictures turn out OK. Took a picture of 2 Whio today. Saw a fantail today, which reminded me that it was the only one I have seen! In fact I haven’t seen any robins either. Is it because of the bush, weather or 1080? Some kind person had left a book in the hut, which was of Louper’s account of the first European attempt to find a route over the Whitcombe pass to the West Coast. They both managed to get to the coast but Whitcombe drowned crossing the Taramakau. They were near starvation. A very interesting read.

Tuesday 13th (Day 11)

Another overcast and warm day. Some drizzle at the pass but cleared again. Tops partially misted so will have to see how the pictures come out. It took 3¾ hrs to climb to the Whitcombe pass, which is nothing more than a gravel pile. Most of the route to there and down the eastern side was riverbed travel though easier on the east. Even had some tussock travel, which doesn’t happen on the west. The downward leg took 3hrs to Lauper bivvy and arrived at 3:45pm. The hut book had indicated Lauper to Neave 5-6hrs. I think a heavier pack than most have really slowed me up when one is clambering over rocks all the time. A blister on the outer left ankle giving some grief, mostly caused by travelling up the true right of the Whitcombe and always using the inside edge of my boots clambering over thousands of river boulders of varying sizes. Lauper bivvy is very basic, but it does have an open fire and there is plenty of dry wood about. Got a lovely fire going. The challenge tomorrow will be to get across the Rakaia River, especially as it’s running very milky. It has two tributaries, being fed by the Ramsay and Lyell glaciers. The tops are misted in on the Jollies range so I can’t see Butler saddle. There is no memorial to Whitcombe at the saddle, which surprised me. It’s now 7pm. I will relax and enjoy the fire. The sandflies are really thick.

Wednesday 14th (Day 12)

It’s been a great day today, the best so far this trip. Left Lauper bivvy at 8:30am, I walked across the Rakaia riverbed toward Reischek hut. (The riverbed is 1.3km wide here) Couldn’t cross the river here due to slippery boulders, depth and speed of flow, so I headed upstream. Just managed to cross the Ramsay tributary but in hindsight, probably shouldn’t have. I really had to lean heavily on my walking stick. The main flow at this point was less than 2m wide but swift and waist deep. As I exited I slipped on a slime-covered boulder and arsed up, so I got completely wet. I probably should have crossed at the outlet of the glacier lake, though it probably would have been slippery?
Carried on up to the Lyell tributary and missed or did not see the swing bridge shown on the map. Managed to cross just after Meins Knob, but lower down than the Lyell hut. I found a spot where there was a deep pool so the current was minimal but it was chest deep. Wet again! From here I started to climb toward Butler saddle. Luckily, only a very short bush bash was required before getting onto easier tussock. I followed the main spur up until above Lyell hut, and then I started a sidle around toward Butler saddle. Came to a bluffed creek, so I had to follow it straight up. Going was good though, yeah no boulders! I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to cross this creek until I got to the main ridge. Luckily just before the top, a basin appeared above a waterfall, so I was able to sidle around to the saddle. Saddle was 1800m; the river was 600m. It had taken 2 hrs to cross the Rakaia, then 5¼ hrs to the saddle. Arrived at 3:45pm. What a contrast the Lawrence side is, practically all scree. The first 10-15mins was loose scree so I made the most of that and dropped quite quickly. Then it was back to the monotonous slow unmoveable stuff. It took 2 hours to drop down to the Lawrence River, and then it was a 15min hike to the Lawrence bivvy. The bottom part of the stream had a small gorge, so had to sidle around it, otherwise I just followed the stream out. I saw 3 dead tahr today, so some culling has occurred recently. Arrived at the bivvy at 6pm. The bivvy is very small, the door the smallest seen so far, but cosy and well provisioned. The result of being used by hunters no doubt. (Lots of empty 270 shells lined up on the dwangs) I was well provisioned myself so didn’t need anything, except I did top up my fuel bottle. The best part today was being able to walk on snowgrass instead of continual boulder hopping. The weather was mild and mostly sunny. I may only go to Lawrence hut tomorrow as I have a day up my sleeve. My ankles are also causing some concern, as the tendons are very sore. A nice waterfall tumbles out of a basin behind the bivvy.

Thursday 15th (Day 13)

10 days to Xmas! I slept in a bit this morning and didn’t leave the bivvy until 9:30am. Ankles are very sore when walking on uneven surfaces, but much better when I picked up the rolled surface of the 4wd tracks. Didn’t see either the Hermitage or Lawrence huts on the way out, so carried on down to the Clyde junction where there was a station hut but no water outside. Got there at 1:15pm. A quick bite to eat, then I carried on to Erewhon Station. As I neared Erewhon I realised that the combined flow of the Clyde and Lawrence rivers made it impossible to cross the main channel, so I had to back track 1 km to a point where the main channel braided. No problem crossing here. Arrived at the station house about 4:30pm and was invited by the cook to have tea with the owner and staff. The mutton and pudding were fantastic. I have set up camp on the lawn in front of the old disused homestead and strung a clothesline along the veranda. The lawn is so fine and soft that I can be assured of a comfortable sleep. The homestead is surrounded by all sorts of introduced trees; flowering cherries etc. The air is full of bird song. I cannot wait to hear what they will sound like at dawn. I am also looking forward to sleeping in, tomorrow morning. I have decided not to continue on with the third leg of the journey at this time so will finish it here. My ankles are very swollen and it would not be enjoyable to continue. Chris is due to pick me up tomorrow evening. No sandflies here but lots of sheep though you wouldn’t know it, the country is so vast!

Friday 16th (Day 14)

The weather once again warm and sunny and the birds started singing well before first light. Slept in, enjoyed breakfast sitting on the veranda in the sun, and socialised with Annette and Bryan, the cook and handyman. Took morning tea up to a guy working a paddock with a team of Clydesdales. He was down from the Waiarapa and is involved with the Clydesdale association along with the station manager and Fergus O’Connor of Nelson who he knows well. Filled in part of the afternoon climbing up onto a low knob to have a look around. Great without a pack on! Chris and Brian H arrived from Christchurch at about 5:30pm to pick me up. It took 2½ hrs to drive back to Christchurch. Pete and Ellie had kindly waited for me to arrive before we had dinner together. Tomorrow night, Pete is to celebrate his 50th birthday. I am a lot thinner than when I started out, having lost 4-5 kgs.

1 comment:

gerkin said...


thanks for the blog, I'm also on a "southern odyssey" and planning to follow some of your route

I am "skiveoff" on and keen to make contact