Interim Trip, Part 1 - 10th to 17th January 2009

Eleven of us gathered at Nelson airport on Saturday, 10 January, then were driven by Keith in Big Blue to St Arnaud where we picked up Sue. Checking track and weather conditions at DOC, we were told the Begley, Hamilton and E Sabine, where we had planned to go, would probably be no-go due to heavy snow in November causing fallen trees which would now be infested with wasps.

Keith drove us south for 2 hrs on the Rainbow road (or as the map calls it, the Wairau-Hanmer Springs Hydro road) to Lake Tennyson. The temperature dropped as we neared the lake. When we arrived it was bleak, windswept, almost raining and 5 degrees. Dinner was a chilly affair huddled in the lee of the bus. Most of us slept in the bus trying to keep warm.

Sunday began with crossing the lake outlet. For some reason most people chose to remove their boots first. We continued along the western side of the lake and up the Clarence River Valley for 4 hrs to a campsite by a side stream below Paske Saddle. After lunch, some explored further up the valley. The night was still, clear and unexpectedly cold, with frost on tents in the morning.

On Monday morning Noel’s group left around 8.00am heading for E Sabine. Keith, Jean, Sue and Liz proceeded in unhurried fashion, climbing steeply through vegetation then shingle to Paske Saddle, stopping beyond it for lunch. Continuing our descent we saw Paske Hut at 1.00pm and reached it at 2.10 after crashing down to the river through beech and scrub. We had the place to ourselves. Tents were pitched to dry in the sun. A little rain fell in the evening; Liz caught a small fish while filling her water bottle at the river.

The ladder stored under the hut was put to good use, firstly to hold up the aerial for our radio sched, and later inside the hut to enable access to the high top bunk. Lots of sandflies.

After a warm night - 11 degrees in the morning - we set off at 9.00am on Tuesday down Paske Creek to its confluence with the Rainbow River, then started up the track to Begley Hut, to see how bad the windfall was. We found virtually none at all, and reached the hut at 2.15pm after a couple of river crossings and lunch. The 8-bunk ex-Forestry Service-style hut was a pleasure to stay in - homely and well cared for with a table, cooking bench, proper fireplace and some cooking gear including a camp oven. Again we were the only ones there and soon made ourselves at home. We enjoyed washing in the sun by the river. Keith did an hour’s recce to locate the track beyond the hut.

Wednesday 8.30am saw us in the bush following the Begley River, where Liz showed off her track-finding skills. We had a choice of two un-named passes over to the Hamilton Valley. Comments in the hut book led us to take the nearer, eastern one which was fairly straightforward - about 80 minutes up through grass and spaniards, then lunch at the top. Progress down was slow, steeply down through thick lumpy tussock, spaniards and scrub concealing deep narrow watercourses. Here Jean developed a pack-hurling technique, allowing the pack to slide and tumble over vegetation for 10m or so, quickly reaching it unencumbered, then repeating the process. Eventually we turned downstream well before reaching the river and crashed through scrub into more open beech forest. We sidled for some time before dropping down to the rocky creek and continuing in the creek bed, where the water abruptly disappeared, emerging again 30 minutes downstream. Here we stopped and managed to find camp sites among the trees, everywhere else being wet or rocky. A warm night, lots of flies about. Weather report indicated rain could happen Friday or Saturday. As we still wanted to get on to the tops, a decision was made to get there the quickest way, meaning a long day via the Rainbow skifield road, to get us a day ahead.

On Thursday we were away at 8.00am, down the river on to the track through beech forest with only a couple of windfalls and out on to the road at 11.00am. There began an extremely tedious road-bash for 6 kms along the aforementioned Wairau-Hanmer Springs Hydro road to Six Mile Creek where we intended to walk up a track to the Rainbow skifield, more or less parallel to the creek and the skifield road on the other side of it. We had noted that Sue’s newer map didn’t show this track, but optimistically plunged into the bush by the creek and battled through dense regrowth and windfalls for about 20 minutes before conceding that the un-maintained track had disappeared. We crossed the creek, scrambled up the bank and resumed bashing up the steep skifield road in relentless heat - truly the road-bash from hell. Keith and Jean had raw feet, Liz had heat-induced dizziness, and Sue, who had cool wet feet from the river crossing, enjoyed the spectacular scenery. We drank all our water and grimly trudged on up - and up - and up - another 6 stricken kilometres. At one point we were delighted to find a trickle of water beside the road and excitedly refilled our bottles. Further on was a little waterfall and pool where we almost had to restrain Liz from jumping in. We kept checking map and GPS but never seemed to be getting anywhere. Then at 4.00pm a minor miracle - the river which had been far below us now appeared beside the road and, wonder of wonders, there was room for campsites beside it. Up to this point we had been resigned to camping on the roadside. Secretly worried it might be a mirage, we dived off the road into the trees and in no time at all had our tents up and our feet in the cool water. Only after dinner did Sue find the sign a little further up the road warning not to drink the stream water - too bad, we were past caring.

Friday morning - multiple Bandaids to the sore feet then another 2 km to the very top of the skifield road - great views. We got on to the St Arnaud Range tops after following a poled line of stoat traps up a valley, then followed the ridge until dropping down to camp by a lukewarm tarn at 4.00pm. At one point a glider flew silently past quite close to us. At the tarn swarms of dragonflies were laying eggs on floating water plants.

Saturday: back up to the ridge then along it for 75 minutes to the St Arnaud track down a spur - stoat traps all the way, serviced by Friends of Rotoiti volunteeers. Soon we were into the bush then a long descent, listening for mohua and meeting numerous tourists walking up. We walked into our lodge just as the rain came down.

We were: Liz Ware, Sue Webb (special guest from Wanaka), Keith Ayton, Jean Barton (scribe)