Extended Trip - Friday 22 February 2019 to Tuesday 26 February 2019 (5 days)
by Christine Major
Fox Glacier - 22 February
Having exited the Landsborough valley a day early to avoid rain we scored a day at Fox Glacier.
The downpours of the night eased to light showers and mid-morning we drove to Lake Matheson under a brightening sky. With heavy cloud still shrouding the mountains this iconic walk was not as busy as expected but we nevertheless enjoyed the reflections of the bush and flax in the dark waters from many viewpoints as we circumnavigated the lake. We also marvelled at the huge trees that dominated the podocarp forest, so different to the beech of the Hooker-Landsborough area. The sun was shining for lunch at the cafe and then for our return to the backpackers to dry out our very wet gear.
Copland Track - 23-26 February
Carpark to Welcome Flat Hut (total time 6hr 20min)
Groundhog day - we commenced our tramp under a cloudless sky crossing Rough Creek but this waterway soaked our boots unlike that feeding the Clarke River. Definitely not groundhog day though was the well-defined track as we progressed through the rain forest hearing piwakawaka (thriving on abundant namu), korimako and cicadas. Botanic highlights included autumn orchids and a stinkhorn fungus.
After a view of the confluence of the Karangarua and Copland Rivers our trail took us down to the edge of the turbulent grey-green water of the Copland strewn with massive boulders. We scampered through a soaking section where water falling from ferny cliffs doused us and inspected the pleasant camping and hut before the mighty swingbridge over Architect Creek. Lunch was in a sunny spot with ripe blackberries on hand but cloud was now sneaking around the rocky peaks of the Karangarua Range. Finally the track climbed up from the river and we crossed many steep, rugged creeks on bridges before reaching Welcome Flat Hut.
Catherine was soon sitting in the hot pools next to the sole other bather but the rest of us failed to find a sweet spot that was not uncomfortably warm for standing in for more than a few minutes. Gradually the spacious hut filled with young people - all looking remarkably clean - but hey we were clean too. The little soiling of our boots in the infrequent muddy patches had been wafted away in the innumerable pristine streamlets and our clothes were not sodden, stained and strewn with vegetation. Even our fingernails were clean!
Welcome Flat Hut to Douglas Rock Hut (total time 3hr 15min)
Although the cloud had receded revealing the broken Sierra Range before dark the previous evening, the day dawned grey with raindrops borne in wind gusts for our crossing the 1918 bridge across the Copland River. Travel was easy across the open river terraces of Welcome Flat crossing several streams, the largest of which was Scott Creek.
The remainder of the morning we tramped in the bush above the now gorgy river with only occasional glimpses of the tossing current but with the roar ever present. Thanks to a recent work party the trail was wide and clear, and after a final undulation we were crossing Tekano Creek Bridge to arrive at Douglas Rock Hut with Mt Sefton towering behind. We were to have our two chilly nights in this hut to ourselves. Tony kept warm collecting firewood for future visitors.
Towards the Copland Pass (total time 9hr 15min, 5hr up, 4hr down)
Clear skies greeted us and recent fresh snow was evident on the peaks. After a short bush section we emerged into open scrub as a kea flew above us and we continued up valley gaining height relatively gradually and traversing many streambeds - a couple of which required negotiating huge boulders. Snowy glaciated peaks of the Main Divide loomed at the head of the valley and beyond were the lower peaks of Aoraki Mt Cook. To our right, blue glaciers hung above us high on the ramparts of Mt Sefton.
After our morning break we began climbing in earnest in alpine grassland and as our route turned east we trudged up talus and scree iced by the recent snow. At our turnaround time of 1pm we had reached an alpine basin at 1800m with a large patch of old snow and a view of the skyline near the Copland Pass still 350 vertical metres above. Looking back down the lofty steep-sided valley there was the Tasman Sea! What luck to have such a clear day and to arrive just after the track was re-cut as earlier hut book entries complained of progress being severely impeded by a very overgrown, poorly marked route. Returning we were entertained by sliding about on the recently cut vegetation rendered crunchy and slippery in the hot sun.
Douglas Rock Hut to Carpark
(total time less than 9hr)
Another sunny start and there were excellent views of Sefton, the Sierra Range and other mountains that popped into view at various locations. Later we observed that the Copland River was now blue and more smoothly flowing in the absence of recent rain. Apart from managing to loop de loop on the track between Douglas Rock and Welcome Flat we were speedier going down valley than up.
Walking below Welcome Flat I contemplated the excellent work that has been done on this popular track - impressive stone stairways and ramps, stone-lined drainage ditches, the many bridges and several charming moss covered deep cuttings. This track, that traverses steep bouldery hillsides subject to frequent slumps, slips and rockfalls and is subject to torrential rainfall, has remarkably few tricky sections that slow travel.
By the time we reached the carpark the clouds had lowered, heralding the upcoming rain, and the namu were vicious so no time was wasted jumping into the car and heading to Haast.
We were Catherine Doyle, Michelle, Christine Major and Tony Walton (leader).
Our thanks are not only to Tony for his superb organisation and leadership but to Hazel for all our weather reports and bookings as we modified our plans.
Photos - Christine