Interim Trip, Xmas 2011 - 2012 - Sunday 8 January 2012 to Monday 30 January 2012 (23 days)

We headed for the Richmond hills at the back of Nelson on a sunny morning on 11 January. The first task was to drop Graeme McGowan’s group off at the road end at Pelorus River. From there, Keith drove the bus further along to turn off on to Northbank Rd which would take us to the start of our seven-day tramp. Due to recent rainfall around Nelson, there was uncertainty as to how far the bus could travel along this four-wheel-drive track. We did make good progress over the recently graded track but there was a point where concern took over and it was decided to turn the bus around and park it at a more appropriate place. Having left the others in the party at the bus turn-around point, it was somewhat after 1.00pm before Keith and I set off from the bus to our first hut, Lower Goulter Hut.

Northbank Rd-Lower Goulter Hut

The afternoon was sunny and hot but, with shade from the tall flowering kanuka, we made pleasant progress. The cicadas were chirping at full volume. It is always a joy tramping in the South Island, seeing that scenery - mountains, beech trees, rivers. In no time we arrived at Lower Goulter Hut. The huts on this trip were all similar: 1960s 5-6 bunk, pot belly, cooking bench, and new aluminium joinery! While the hut was nice, the setting was fantastic - set within green, grassy flats ideal for pitching a tent, right on the bank of the Goulter River which, with its blue-grey stones, made the water look clean and clear. But what really topped it off for me was: hardly any sandflies, river stones which were flat and even in size (you could walk bare feet without tripping over awkward-shaped boulders) and, most surprisingly, a river temperature that was pleasantly cool, not freezing cold. I have done enough tramping to know that one does not very often get all these factors together in one place.

Lower Goulter-Tarn Hut (4 hrs)

Dawn was announced by a flock of bellbirds tinkling like a crystal chandelier. Needing to cross the Goulter first thing, some of us walked and crossed the river barefooted. It was our one and only river crossing for some days. Keeping the boots dry seemed important at the time. From the river bank it was straight up into a steep climb, with views from time to time showing the length of the Goulter Valley. It seemed a lovely valley and I will need to explore this further one day. The forest was mostly silver or mountain beech, the weather was fair and, after the initial steep climb, the body settled into the rhythm of tramping. The track followed the ridge line, more or less, and at the top it levelled out into a comfortable track covered in brown beech leaves.

Tarn Hut is set within a beech-tree clearing on top of the flattened-out ridge. Out of sight, but within a short stroll, is a tarn. To me, tarns are smaller than this one and I would have called it a small lake. It is surrounded totally by beech forest, reflected in the surface of the tarn. The afternoon wind played on the surface of the tarn but it was a nice setting. More surprising was to find, on closer inspection of the clear water, hundreds of tadpoles (I called them froglets as most had their legs already out). When I entered the water I found more lying on the tarn floor, the water turned black with tadpoles. How do frogs get into a one-off tarn that is miles away from the nearest frog environment?

Tarn Hut-Rintoul Hut (3½ hrs)

We left at the usual time, 8.00am, after a good night’s sleep. I had heard the frogs whistling during the night; they didn’t croak. I was going to get up to inspect and listen some more but rain settled that idea and I went back to sleep. The weather forecast was not pretty but with ever-changing scenery of silver mountain beech, rocks and ferns, my attention was not on the weather - not until we got higher and more exposed at Purple Top, where the temperature dropped, the rain turned to sleet and we kept walking. We arrived at Rintoul Hut, cold and wet. Once inside, chewing on crackers and with gas stoves going to create hot brews, we looked at the hail hitting the windows, pleased to be inside and not walking outside. Then it all stopped, the sun came out, and in no time we were outside warming up. Nothing beats that direct warm sunlight shining on your cold body, penetrating all the way to the back of your spine. Life then jumped up a few notches. We had a great time drying out all our gear. We could also see the start of the next day’s tramp, up and around to Mt Rintoul.

Rintoul-Old Man Hut (5 hrs)

From the hut it was a steady, steep climb to the bush-line. The previous day we had seen some track markers just above the bush-line. However, with mist well settled in it did not take us long to lose our way. A bit of time was spent searching and reference to the GPS suggested we had to be higher up. For a brief moment the mist lifted to reveal a lone, white track marker. From there, progress was made from track marker to track marker. The terrain was open and rocky, with bluffs or rock outcrops appearing and disappearing. We noted that ahead, the track swung left up a gut to reappear higher up. While this proved to be the trickiest part, it was not difficult and added a nice challenge to the day. By now the mist had lifted and we began to see more of our surrounding area. We dropped off Little Rintoul ridge via a slope - a slope that was not quite scree but had enough loose, soft ground for us to enjoy bouncing down on.

From there it was back into the bush and a descent to five-bunk Old Man Hut. Arriving in sunshine, we saw a spring-green paddock with seven goats grazing next to the hut. There we met up with our other group, and as the hut was too small for both groups, a lot of tents were pitched that day. In the evening, a couple of wekas were seen around the hut. I had not seen them since my trip on the West Coast some 20-odd years ago. During the night, gusts of wind would come barrelling down off Rintoul top, brushing the tops of the bush on its way, heading straight for the hut and the tents pitched below, only to pitch up again at the last moment, leaving us its turbulence to deal with.

Old Man-Slaty Hut (4 hrs)

A sunny morning dried out our tent prior to our leaving late at 9.00am. It was open tops most of the day, with the weather forecast sunny. What a contrast to have wide views of Richmond Ranges, Kaikoura, Nelson lakes and NW Nelson. It was still windy and cold and we maintained a casual pace until lunchtime. We had a lovely lunch spot, off the main ridge, among tall grasses, in sunshine and mostly out of the cold wind. With rain clouds building behind us and looking unpleasant, a hasty pace was made towards Slaty Hut.

By the time we arrived it was overcast and starting to spit. Two other groups were already at the hut, one being a family of three with a dog, and heaps of heavy food. Another tramper, Indian, doing the Te Araroa Trail, turned up as well. But everyone was most accommodating, three tents were pitched and the dog housed in the ‘dogbox’. It proved to be a very cold night there. First the rain came. I was thinking that while it rained it would not freeze, but the rain stopped and then it froze! Having pitched my tent I found that the very cold wind could blow through my tent and through my sleeping bag, chilling my body no end. Hence, I had a poor night’s sleep. The dog did not sleep well either.

Slaty-Hacket Hut (6 hrs)

The day started with a frosty morning but with beautiful, sunny sky. Still out on the open tops, we enjoyed the extended views and much-needed phone coverage for an urgent phone call. From where I was sitting you looked straight down on to Nelson City. All too soon the open tops were left behind and we made the long descent down to the valley. We moved through a large area of beech forest mowed down by a past storm. It was impressive to see how easily a bit of wind can push over so many large trees. The forest had changed - we were now in lowland beech forest with its richer and more diverse plant and bird life. We had been warned by Group 1 of a wasp nest on the track after the eighth stream crossing. So, at that crossing, some dressed up as if ready to go for a space-walk.

Noel and I chose to continue to follow the stream, only to find we had to join the track before the wasp nest was found. Jean and I were the last two people to come through, and with careful attention to flying wasps, I did find the wasp nest, undisturbed, on the track. How six others had gone before us without upsetting the wasps is beyond me. For the record, Jean and I went around the nest via the stream. The hut was a short distance from there and a welcome site - mown grass, a sunny spot, and good camping. Noel left us at this point to continue to Browning Hut as his plan was to walk out via Maitai Valley.

Hacket-Middy Hut (8 hrs)

Our big day, 8 hrs, with a good climb as well. We made an early start, before 7.00am. The track started out as a nice, level, grassy bench track following a small stream. Browning Hut turned up within the hour. From there we reached Totara Saddle after a steady climb to the top of the ridge. The day was broken up with numerous stops and interludes such as ‘open mineral tops’ where, due to the minerals present, not much greenery grows. The terrain levelled out and we were surrounded by silver and mountain beech.

We encountered our first mud and arrived at Rocks Hut in good shape. This was the only hut that was different from all the other old Forest Service huts. It was larger, and with more mod-cons. It would have been nice to stay here for the night, but the trip plan did not allow for this, so on we went down to Middy Hut. With sun and no wind, we happily descended, then along the Pelorus River for a bit to the long swing bridge. At this point we were greeted with a massive, very deep, beautiful, clear, emerald-green pool. What a sight! Looking from the mid position of the swing bridge, we saw that there were similar pools both up and down river, all clear, clean and beautiful. Closer to the water among the rocks, the sandflies ruled, subduing the moment somewhat.
Tomorrow would be our last day, with an early start.

Middy Hut-Road-end (4-5hrs)

The arrangement was that we would be picked up at 12.45pm at road end. So we set off before 7.00am, making good progress on a sunny, blue-sky day. It was lovely terrain of lowland beech forest with an easy track following the Pelorus River. After steady progress we stopped at Emerald Pool. Being hot and sweaty and the pool looking so inviting, I was not content with just a photo. So, darting off down the pool I had to have a dip. The water was cool, refreshing, and well-deserved. It did not take too long before I was joined by the others, and we all had numerous dips. Sometimes the bus might just have to wait for more important things. As it turned out the refreshing dip in the pool must have invigorated us - our faster pace meant we arrived at the road-end before 12 noon. We even had time for our lunch before Big Blue arrived.

To summarise: Great trip, beautiful scenery, great party. Weather: we had everything but snow. A large number and variety of birds.

Special mention must be made of Geoff who, at every hut, spent his free time chopping and stocking up firewood. And of course a big thank you to all of those who made it happen.

We were: Keith Ayton (leader), Jean Barton, Noel Ashton, Dave Best, Geoff Fischer, Kay Willcocks, Mere Roberts, Robert de Jong (scribe)