Extended Trip - Saturday 27 December 2014 to Friday 9 January 2015 (14 days)
On Tuesday 5th January 2015 at 6.50 am the earth moved for me, as it did for many South Islanders as I lay in my tent at Bullock Creek on The Inland Pack Track in the Paparoas. Thanks to Dave’s I-phone we learnt that the cause was a 6.0 magnitude quake at a depth of 5 kilometres with an epicenter 30km from Arthur’s Pass. The rolling feeling was due to its shallowness.
The rest of the group were about to head off for a 9 hour day to ascend Mt Bovis 1,252 m at the head of the valley but Liz and I opted for a rest day so I was still in bed .
Our group had had a 14 hour day on New Year’s Eve which resulted in us making camp after 10 pm in the dark and the rain on a steep hillside 200 metres from the "The Old Ghost Road" track - A New Year’s Eve to remember!!
On 27 Dec part one of our trip had begun innocuously enough, with the shuttle dropping our party of 9 at the end of Matiri West Bank Road followed by a 3 hour tramp to Lake Matiri Hut. This was followed the next day by a 4 hour very steep climb to Poor Pete’s hut where we had lunch on the 1,000 Acre Plateau and then a 3 hour amble over the tussock to Larrikin Creek Hut. Liz and Dave were unlucky enough to get multiple stings early in the morning at the bottom of the climb and huffing and puffing up to the plateau was a timely reminder of the need to be fit for these trips.
We hoped for views of the Needle, Haystack and Mt. Misery up on the 100 Acre Plateau, but not to be as the weather clagged in but once we got to the hut and started exploring Larrikin Creek we discovered beautiful rock spa pools suitable for bathing, and "a view to die for" as the water suddenly plummeted over a vertiginous 200 metre escarpment.
Clear skies greeted us the next morning and the group spent a wonderful day climbing up to the 100 Acre Plateau and ascending Mt Misery, the Needle and the Haystack. The numerous sink-holes provided sheltered gardens for the alpine vegetation set off by beautiful prolific buttercups and kept Margaret busy photographing their glories.
Picture (Margaret) - descending from Mt Misery with views across the 100 Acre Plateau to the Needle and the Haystack
After a second night at Larrikin Creek we made our way back towards Poor Petes hut and then on past to the edge of the plateau with a view to camping there before dropping off it the next day and navigating on a bearing to Stern Valley Hut. As we were uncertain how difficult this would be we decided to continue on for another 4-5 hours and camped by a dry stream bed on what Margaret named "the 50 Acre plateau".
Picture (Margaret) - a tricky descent to a stream crossing on the track from Larrikins Creek to Poor Petes hut.
It rained heavily that night so the next morning was a great opportunity for us to test our skills at packing up in the rain. After a few hours’ tramping, our 50 Acre plateau had turned into a 50 Acre bog and the only way to progress was by stepping (often unsuccessfully) from one wobbly tussock to another. Stream crossings were another challenge as streams unmarked on the map were now raging torrents.
Standing in the pouring rain while Pieter checked bearings and GPS readings are another abiding memory of the day. His mantra "we are where we want to be" began to grate. There were plenty of places I wanted to be and this trackless wilderness wasn’t one of them!
Finally, after 14 hours, much of it" bush bashing" and stumped on a particularly recalcitrant knoll, we had to admit that the only safe option was to make camp. Garry scrambled up the slippery slopes and pronounced that there were 2 or 3 spots where we could put up tents so we pitched the minimum number and spent the night squeezed onto an inhospitable, steep and lumpy hillside.
That is, except for Andrew who actually rolled downhill and after fighting claustrophobia spent the night in his bivvy bag. The rest of us had varying degrees of success sleeping. Liz was the big loser among the 3 of us huddled in my tent. She spent all night sitting up while the other occupants happily slept oblivious to her stoicism and discomfort.
On New Year’s Day the rain had stopped and with hands wrinkled and smarting from cuts, bodies covered in scratches and bruises we packed up and reached Stern Valley Hut and The Old Ghost Road in 20 minutes!
What a birthday treat and thanks Tony for the barley sugars you handed around for the birthday "shout". An extended breakfast improved everyone’s spirits especially after the lack of dinner the previous night.
Pieter commented on how well we had coped under pressure but he was the one who had the ultimate responsibility and who had stuck steadfastly to our route.
The Old Ghost Road is an 80 km mountain bike track from Seddonville to Lyell currently under construction and we were now following part of it out to The West Coast. Navigation was no longer an issue but there was still a nasty saddle to climb after little or no sleep and then an easy tracked walk to the historic Goat Creek hut that day.
By mid-afternoon we had reached the hut (a couple of the team were a bit later as they walked past the turn-off) and we spread ourselves and our gear out to dry. After a restful night we moved on to Mokihinui Forks hut luxuriating in the bush, the rivers and the bird life.The walk was an easy 3 hour wander through beautiful forest alongside first Goat Creek and then the Mokihinui River which has been saved from the proposal to dam it.
In the middle of a bridge across the river a gate stopped possums accessing the other side and spreading the news to their cuzzies that the Powelliphanta or giant land snail were a tasty snack ! 20 minutes before the hut we came upon a "Resurgence" where swirling, green pools bubble up from the depths and had a remarkably mesmerizing effect.
Catherine who was joining us for Part 2 now met us at the hut and was stunned, first by the odours and then by the tales of our adventures and was doubtless wondering what she had let herself in for. Our last day was the most breath-taking of all as we followed the river gorge for 20 kilometres .
Picture (Tony) one of the bridges over a gully along the Mokihinui Gorge.
There was also plenty of historic interest from the gold-mining days along the way. The Seatonville site along the way was once a settlement for the miners working on "The Red Queen" mine but was now marked only by rusting machinery. A former local character, Johnny Cake, serviced the settlement by pack horse and would balance a child on each side of his horse in a gin crate as he carried them in. A creek along the way is named after him.
We also saw the remains of a road bridge over the gorge, which was the route to Karamea until the Murchison earthquake in 1929. But the most amazing sight of all was the track end and seeing Hazel, Tony’s wife, with a bag of cherries and her offer of a lift to save the 5 km road bash into Seddonville!
End of Part 1.
P.S. Liz deserves special mention as she did the road bash so that more battered and suffering got a lift.
And the Inland Pack Track - Seddonville was a quaint and historical respite after the previous 8 days and we had a comfortable billet at the old school .
After a cleanup and a sort out we were off to the pub for beverages and tasty pub food including whitebait fritters. This was a lot more like it and we were feeling refreshed as next morning we piled into our shuttle and were off to Punakaiki for Part 2 of our tramp.
Barry our shuttle driver was on a tight schedule but Pieter was suffering with badly chaffed legs from our nightmare day so he allowed us 5 minutes at Westport Hospital. This was enough for a smiling Pieter to emerge with his battle wounds dressed and a new found faith in New Zealand’s public health system so we were ready for the Paparoas and tropical river valleys, spectacular limestone formations, narrow gorges and interesting caves.
Arriving at Punakaiki we said goodbye to Andrew, who was off back to Auckland, and settled into our cabins at the Beach Camp before heading up to The Pancake Rocks for a huge Café lunch and to check out the DOC Office and the Rocks followed by the pub for dinner. What a welcome change from dehydrated meals but we were here to tramp and the next morning starting with a road bash, we entered the southern end of the Inland Pack Track.
After gorging on water cress, walking amongst the devastation and ugliness of the extensive tree fall from the storm last April, seeing the beautiful rivers, surviving the heat and taking in the somber verdant beauty of Cave Creek we eventually made camp at Bullock Creek. It was at Cave creek that 14 young people lost their lives 20 years ago when a viewing platform collapsed and, though tired, I was pleased that I had visited the site.
At our night’s camp a metre long eel nibbled my leg in my washing spot, Dave woke up with a weta in his hair and we were all on constant surveillance against the wekas. We were living in exciting times, especially with the earthquake the next morning and that’s not even mentioning the sandflies! Obviously not enough excitement though for 7 of our team who spent the next 9 hours climbing Mt Bovis in the mist and reported back that it was both steep and extremely gnarley at the top.
Liz and l were quite happy as we lazed and explored around the camp and were well rested the next day as we headed back to Punakaiki by the scenic Pororari River Gorge. The Southern Rata, was particularly spectacular as we were there for the peak of its 7 year flowering cycle. Arriving back at Punakaiki we were shuttled to the northern end of the Inland Pack Track to walk into the Ballroom Overhang via the Fox River.
Picture (Tony) All our 9 tents and a lot more were able to fit comfortably under the Ballroom Overhang - later on we had a camp fire there as well.
Lots of river crossings, an extremely interesting diversion to the Fox River Cave, watching a pair of weka for 20 minutes locked in mortal combat or maybe it was mating, and then finally the "Ballroom" to camp for the next 2 nights. It is aptly named as it is about 100 metres long with a cavern and towering arched ceiling. After dinner we entertained ourselves by watching a party of 9 from "Trek New Zealand" who arrived for the night with their leader, a very capable "blokess".
Next morning was a day to enjoy and explore our way up Welsh Creek only 5 minutes from camp. Why is it that the most exciting things that happen are often the diversions ? As we clambered up the creek, through the narrow walls of the gorge festooned with vegetation, it suddenly disappeared into a cave and Sally discovered, stashed in the bushes, inner tubes, pump and a paddle that had been untouched for a long time. We weren’t game though to launch ourselves into the dark and watery cavern!
Pieter and Garry tried to find a way around to the entrance of the cave, but the ongaonga (stinging nettle) put them off so back to the river and on up Dilemma Creek for a day of meandering up streams and exploration, before spending a second night back at the "Ballroom". The final morning we retraced our steps back down the Fox River and our pick-up for the 4 hour drive back to Nelson.
It had been a perfect Part 2 with time to reflect and unwind, sit by streams and chat, all in a stunning environment and a perfect complement to our fairly challenging first 8 days. Thanks Pieter for all of your planning and great leadership and the rest of the team for making it such a great trip.
We were: Pieter Holl, (Leader), Liz Ware, Catherine Doyle (Trip 2), Garry Williams, Margaret Law, Sally Johannesson, Tony Walton, Kay Willcocks (Scribe), Andrew Murdoch (Trip 1) and Dave Best.