Extended Trip - Wednesday 11 January 2017 to Tuesday 24 January 2017 (14 days)
In the beginning there was Plan A - From Lake Ohau exploring - Maitland - South Temple - Huxley (including Brodrick Pass) - Hopkins and then home again after a relaxing overnight in Twizel. All built around the assumption that the weather would be benign. But by the time we arrived at Lake Ohau, we knew that was a vain assumption.
However it all started swimmingly - Chris Burnett, recently licenced, provided a pleasant drive on a fine sunny day from Christchurch via Pleasant Point to Fairlie(1), for the best pies in the country and bags of fruit from Central Otago. And then onto the shores of Lake Ohau for a drop-off on the Te Araroa trail at the Glen Mary Ski Club (oh yes, you DO have to start tramping now), for most of the party to head up to find campsites in Freehold Creek. Chris and Tony joined them after a while, after taking the bus further up the road to the Lake Ohau Lodge. A very pleasant campsite was found under the beech trees not far short of the bushline for a great start to the trip.
The next day the plan was to stroll up and over a saddle to camp at Dumb-bell lake, and then have an afternoon exploring the surrounding tops. Well - yes, the sun was shining and the mountain and lake views were increasingly expansive, but today was one of those cold NW gale days, so in exposed places people were being blown over by sudden gusts, so travelling in pairs was needed at times. After going over a 1900m saddle, a sheltered spot of sorts near Dumb-Bell Lake was found for lunch, but definitely not a place to stay for long, so on we continued with the Day 3 trip down the valley all the way to the Maitland Hut, arriving in slightly damp conditions. Some in the hut, some camped under the beech trees.
The weather forecast indicated the next day was going to be the best for a while, so with two saddles scheduled for this day, this was not time for a rest. Compass navigation through the first patch of bush was required (no track) to get us on the right path that took us out through the bush to a stream to the west of the hut, and then it was a steady ascent alongside the stream to the 1830m saddle at the head of the valley.
Spectacular views at this point, including of the long scree slope that was our next section of the route, first down into a tributary of the Watson Stream, but quickly turning N from there and sidling up a huge rocky valley, and round to a saddle at 1930m.
Large patches of snow on either side, and two lovely tarns on the descent, with more patches of snow to provide variety to the very rocky landscape. Time was getting on, but the promise of camping near the bush 3-4 kms down the valley kept the party on the move - in the end this was an 11 hour day .. and we did reach a lovely patch of bush beside the unnamed stream (a tributary of the South Temple) with campsites for all under the trees.
A more leisurely start the next day, and an unexpectedly pink tape marked track had us arriving at the South Temple hut just before midday, providing the opportunity for a relaxing afternoon in the hut surrounds. Endless camping opportunities under the trees - evidence of large groups having been there at times, but all neat and tidy.
Now back on Plan A, which involved a second night at the hut so that we could explore up the South Temple valley, with some interest in Gunsight Pass ... until the weather forecast yet again contained NW gales. Many of the group did walk up the valley, checking out Gunsight Pass from afar, and then were chased by the NW showers back down to the hut again.
The next day involved an easy walk down the South Temple to the Temple campsite / shelter, where Chris was to be picked up and taken to collect the bus, and everyone was to reprovision before the walk up the Hopkins Valley to Monument Hut. The weather was showing its true colours - miserable cold and wet NW gales blowing down all the valleys. Reinforced by the weather forecast printout Chris returned with, confirming these conditions were going to continue for many days
Ummm ... not enjoyable ... time to activate bailout options .. where next ? Of course - an unscheduled night at Twizel to give us time to replan. Checked out the Hopkins road end on the way - confirmed as really miserable - see you next time ...Warm and sunny at Twizel, and all appreciated the chance for a scrub-up, a great meal in a local pub, and some fresh food from the supermarket.
Decisions taken - the main group was to head off to Mesopotamia Station up the Rangitata, Christine with knee problems was returning home, and Andrew was staying in Twizel because of a pre-planned climbing variation at the end of the interim. Off in the morning for a stop in Fairlie (pies, fruit), then up to the middle of nowhere on the river flats of the upper Rangitata River to the point where Te Araroa people can officially join the trail again after getting there way across or around the Rangitata River.
Sunny ... but very windy as we packed ourselves out of the bus trying not to lose any stray plastic bags to half way down the valley. Further upstream it was just like the Hopkins - cold and wet gale NW winds - but by the time we reached the shelter of the westward Bush Stream, the sun was warming the afternoon up and we were able to enjoy the valley walk up the stream, but disappointing to see a lot of didymo that was not there a few years ago. A scrambling climb over a bluff, back down to the stream, then up the other side to Crooked Spur hut, for a still pleasant sunny afternoon. Two of us opted for our tents, but as forecast, around bed time, it started to rain and blow.
The rain continued into the next day, as expected, so this was to be a hut day, with the tent folks moving inside when there was no sign of it letting up.
The following day the plan was for the party to continue on to Stone Hut, enjoy R&R there, and then return a day later. However Chris volunteered to return to the bus, let the rest of the group continue onwards to Lake Tekapo, where he would then meet us. With Chris and Dave B returning to the bus, that left a party of 6, as we continued on to Royal Hut, arriving there just as it started snowing (similarly for Chris as he returned to Crooked Spur hut on that evening).
The next day dawned clear, with a lot of new snow on the peaks around us, and colder temperatures until the sun cleared the mountain tops. The next section of TA involves a climb over Stag Saddle, at 1930m the highest point on TA. From the top there are superb views down the length of Lake Tekapo, a few tarns, and on this occasion, quite a number of snow patches to make it a truly memorable spot. I thought my watch had stopped because we were taking noticeably less than the standard time - the climb from the hut is only 600m, mostly gradual, and by now the party were in great form on their way to their 4th saddle over 1800m for the trip !
After a couple of hours we arrived at the historic / rusty / quaint / compact Camp Stream Hut (Built 1898). The water supply is a stream a noticeable way downhill - Fay did a great job replenishing the containers at the hut.
The next day was a half day walk out to and down the Round Hill ski field road to where Chris and Dave were waiting for us in the bus.
With 2 more days spare, our next destination was to the 26 bunk Woolshed Creek hut behind Mt Somers - a good opportunity to get out of the rain the next day, and also having some shorter tramping options. So back Chris drove us through Fairlie again (no pies, as being Saturday, the queue was out the door already, and even the fruit lady did not have any Central Otago apricots this time - cherries still great though ....).
Our hearts sank when we arrived at the Woolshed Creek carpark full of cars, so off we set, expecting that the hut would already be full. But in the event there was plenty of room. Another wet and windy night and morning, and even the charming little stream immediately outside the hut was a torrent of water. Day walk deferred until after lunch for a few people - a chance to walk on the Mt Somers Walkway as far as the saddle where you can see out to the Canterbury Plains. Some spectacular rock formations along the way.
Our final day on the trail provided an opportunity to walk out along the track towards Mt Somers itself, with some of the group opting for the full cross country route to the summit to see the patchwork Canterbury Plains laid out before us, and towards the mountains the Arrowsmiths, Mt Cook, and the Winterslow Range - again with a new coating of snow from the day before - what a great way to finish such a varied tramping trip that provided some unexpected treats.
The party was Andrew Murdoch, Chris Burnett (driver supreme), Christine Major, Dave Best, David Holl, Fay Zhong, Freya Burnett, Grace Burnett, Kay Willcocks, and Tony Walton (leader, scribe). Photos - David H, Christine and Tony