29 January 2011

A journey to the west (without monkeys)

13 January
Straight up the Deception from the flood bridge.  My pack is heavy with a week's worth of tramping food, and two days of 'town food'.  Going to base myself out of Arthur's Pass and do the Cass/Harper as a two day tramp, then push on to Methven.

Travel is a lot rougher than I'd expected, given that it's part of the Coast to Coast route.  It's easiest to just stay in the riverbed, although I miss the Upper Deception Hut altogether.  Trying to keep my toes dry, I sidle into the bush a few times to avoid deeper crossings of the river.  One sidle takes about 45 minutes to proceed 50m as I'm bluffed out in greasy scrub -- fuck dry feet.

At Goat Pass Hut by 3:45pm -- a great hut, punching well above its standard classification.  Took a short trip up towards Lake Mavis, but took the wrong side of the stream issuing from it and ended up on the ridge to Mt Oates.  Nice views down the Mingha and over to Temple Col.

Westerly wind is now belting -- must be approaching 100km/h over the pass.  One other occupant, a hunter from Timaru.  Played hide and seek with a kea, who's now so worked up that he's carrying on bashing the roof and squawking.  Cloud base lowering.

Goat Pass from the Deception

Moonrise over unnamed AP choss

14 January
The track down the Mingha is just that - a track, in contrast to the Deception - and I make the road in 3.5 hours.  From there, up the Bealey riverbed for another hour and a half to the village.

The forecast for the next few days looks bad -- heavy rain warning for tomorrow and the 17th.  It is generally a poor sign when the prevailing weather has a name, ex-TC 'Vania'.  I'll continue through to the Cass, as it's ~15km east of the divide and should be sheltered from a fair bit of it.

15 January
Shuttled to where SH7 crosses the Cass.  Raining steadily.  I walk up a farm track beside the river for about half an hour until it occurs to me that this is quite shit and that the river is marginal besides.  So I turn around and hitch back to the village.  It takes a while in the rain, but eventually I get a lift from a girl from Outward Bound.

Heading into ChCh tomorrow to do a big resupply while I wait out the weather.  Boots alone need decent replacement shoelaces, someone who can sew leather with something better than dental floss to have a go at fixing some holes in the lining, and a general proofing.  Gaiters are a few weeks away from throw-away, but I'll wait until they totally fall apart before I bother.  Nothing saves them in the scrub.

In more serious news, my dirty facial hair might have a slight ginger tint to it.

Such is life.

It has rained.  And poured.  Then cleared up just in time for it to piss down some more.  It's pretty frustrating, but I'm learning that there's not much I can do about it -- have to take it as it comes, and stuff myself full of bakery products.  My plans have changed again.  I'm reversing my route through central Westland and breaking it into two, which should give me a bit more of a chance with the weather.

Currently in Hokitika, waiting for the rivers to go down so that I can get into the Whitcombe valley.  The forecast looks as good as it gets on the coast -- a few days of drizzle clearing to a few fine ones before the next front comes over.

20 January
The Whitcombe valley is officially the wettest place in New Zealand.  NIWA gauges in its tributaries record 14-18m of rain annually on its steep slopes, and consequentially the rivers move a bit.  Not today, though, with cool sunshine left by dying southwesterlies.

Nicola from Hoki Taxis drops me off at the Hokitika Gorge at 8:15am.  Another half an hour on a farm track and I'm at a sign indicating the start of the track up the Whitcombe.  The river is big and glacial.  It appears to be a theme of the valley that all DOC signage has been vandalised by morons to appease their inadequacy at taking much longer than the stated times.  I don't know what they expect out here.

First adventure of the day is to cross the Whitcombe by cableway.  A cableway (or 'cage') is basically a small box that runs across a single wire suspended across a very big river.  For groups, there's an additional wire 'loop' that allows a party at either end to spin a wheel and carry the person in the cage across.  When you're solo, there's a little jig that allows you to move your little cage 50cm at a time so long as you keep continual pressure on the wire -- otherwise you slide back to the middle.  This one is in good order and I make it across slowly and deliberately, the only challenge being getting out of the thing while maintaining pressure on the jig.  The wire loop on the TL has been pulled clear, so after having awkwardly squirmed out without being propelled into the river upside down -- I reshape it and fix the chain on the cableway so that it reaches.

A quick few minutes to Rapid Creek Hut, and then Rapid Ck itself.  Rapid Ck has a nasty reputation, and it was concern about its fordability that's kept me in town for the past few days.  It still looks pretty bad down near where it runs into the Whitcombe, but there's a good crossing up near where it gorges.  A bit of a clamber over a big boulder followed by a jump onto a gravel bar.  Still, a good fourty-five minutes goes into that problem.

Upstream, the track has slipped away completely.  Unable to get down to the riverbed, I traverse the vegetated terrace for a while.  Fairly slow going through vines, although a line of pink tape shows that I'm not the first.  The terrace eventually slumps back to the riverbed and boulder travel.  As the river starts to gorge, a sidle track emerges, ending at a swingbridge high above the gorge.  The wire bridge is nervously strung - a 'four wire' design with no supports - and is thus more 'fun' than the cableway.  Continuing the adventure, getting off the wire at the other end involves a chain and ladder on grubby rock, and in the process of not falling off I manage to tear a gash in my leg.  Peering at it, I can see white flaky stuff that probably doesn't get to see the outside world too often.  Having cleaned it and closed it, it's pretty high on my leg and out of the muck and I'm not too concerned.  Just as my toe came good -- something else to baby!

I make the junction with the marked route up to Frew Saddle at 1:30pm and have lunch.  As for the vandalised signs: it took me 2 hours to Rapid Creek Hut and then another 3 to Frew, including the sidle.  Your mileage may vary, but that's pretty much what the signs originally said.  Stick to writing up 1080 conspiracies in hutbooks.  The sign marking the Frew route has ben taken to as well and says 7h.  I assume this means it will take about 4.  The route is well marked, and travel is steep but fine although crossing one of the Frew tributaries is pretty shitty.  The upper valley starts to level out around the scrubline and the surroundings turn spectacular.  I have one of the most pleasant afternoons I've ever had in NZ -- splashing up a creek on the tops on a fine day.  At the Frew Saddle Biv by 17:30, making it 3hrs 45 from the junction.

It is very cold up here, with the southerly still blowing strong.  Light snow is falling.  There's a lot of clag hanging around the divide, but by some bizarre reversal it appears to be hanging to the eastern side.  I'm having problems with the new gas cartridge (MSR brand) -- the pin design appears to be incompatible with my stove and has this habit of cutting out.  I'll run the stove fast to try and get the pin down as much as possible, hardly ideal given the temperature and the ~15g of gas I have to burn per day.

[ed - that was horrible to transcribe because the stupid bic clik pen didn't work in the cold]
The mighty Whitcombe in normal flows

Frew Ck

Buttercups in Frew Ck

The infant Hokitika - my route for the next day.

21 January
Slept fitfully for the cold and roaring wind.  The little biv had a tar seal, which didn't keep much out.  There's more fresh snow on the tops

It's a slow descent off the saddle into the head of the Hokitika -- mostly because it's steep and slippery, but partly because of thick patches of spaniards thrown in for sport.  From there, it's easy going in the riverbed.  I surprise a pair of whio by nearly treading on them; they whistle at me and dabble their way downstream, where there's another pair.  None have banding that I can see.

As the Hoki starts to drop into a gorge, I pick up a track on the TL which leads onto a terrace and the new Bluff Hut.  It's a new build in a beautiful location, although the toilet pit hasn't been enclosed properly -- to the great excitement of weka, who appear to enjoy scattering the toilet paper.  3 hours to here.  It's then a pretty grubby drop down to the Hoki/Mungo Confluence -- basically straight down on loose mud and leaf litter.  It keeps clear of bluffs though, and there are plenty of trees for handholds, so all is well.  1 hour 20.

I cross the Hoki on a new bridge and spend the next two hours covering as many kilometres up the Mungo; most of that spent on a few hundred metres of slips.  A few are fairly recent, but none are too big or seem all that active.  There's a definite sulphur smell to the Mungo.

I arrive at Poet Hut in light drizzle.  It's pretty disinterested, so I push on for another two hours up to the Toaroha Saddle Biv.  Another ~9 hour day, so I will make tomorrow shorter and stop at Cedar Flats.

Quite taken by the old bivs -- horribly exposed, brilliant little things.  This one is luxurious -- foil lining, and I can nearly stand up in it.! The wind is still up, but the drizzle has gone.  It should be warmer tonight.

Frew Saddle from the upper Hokitika

Whio (blue duck)

Gorge in the Hokitika

Upper Hoktika, to Steadmans ridge

Peaks of the main divide.  Sir Robert Stream prominent.

Not a bad little biv: Toaroha saddle.

22 January
Biv was nice and cosy and I slept well.  Weather dawned clear, but the peaks are still clouded in -- assume there's an easterly blowing?  No high cloud about to tell.  Still, can't complain.

It takes a while to get off the shoulder of the saddle into the creek draining it.  Not so much steepness this time, but the thickness of the tussock and holes that lurk udnerneath it.  It's picky going in the riverbed, with a few sections of cut track where it gorges.  Top Toaroha Hut is well appointed, and below it the river progressively grows with each side creek.  The track is good, with a bit of slippage requiring care.

There are twelve people at the Cedar Flats Huts (!?) -- more tramping club sorts, weekenders from Timaru.  Most are good sorts, but a few appear totally deranged and nobody does much to reign them in.  I'm not all that impressed by the behaviour of tramping clubs I've seen so far on my traverse.  There's a certain species.

Two more ladies arrive from Wellington, and after a lot of huffing and sighing the club sorts set up one of their tents and clear out the older two-bunk hut (having taken the mattresses out of it, and the spare mattress from the big hut -- so that some of them might have two!) for them.  I chuck my stuff on the floor of the older hut with them.

Most of the afternoon is spent soaking in the hot pools up Wren Creek.  Fifteen minutes of manual labour and I have a good sized pool with two channels leading through the gravel -- one letting in cold water, the other one hot water.  I fashion a 'tap' out of a flat rock and lay back and relax.

Toaroha biv

My leg is still defying attempts to heal

Hot pools in Wren Ck

23 January
Pretty good night's sleep on the floor.  As I'm sitting outside rolling up my mattress quietly, one of the Timaru lot walks up and starts yelling: ARE THOSE GIRLS UP YET?  Um, no.  Shush.  WHY NOT?  IT'S NOT EARLY.  Because they want to sleep?  He then pushes past me into the hut and makes sure that they're awake.  They tell him to piss off.  The three of us stand at the door with bleary eyes, wondering what his problem was.  Maybe it was meant to be a joke, I offer.  A very poor one.

I'm away by 8:30am, out of the bustle and back into the slackcountry.  It's steep going on a good track and I reach Adventure Biv in 1hr 45.  Through the power of dance, I get a weak Voda signal and call Dad to check in and get a forecast.  Fine tomorrow, cloud moving to rain, then rain clearing to showers.  Great news.  If it holds, I've picked an amazing weather window for this part of the world and should get past most of the problematic crossings in reasonable conditions.

Beyond the biv, a sparsely marked route sidles off the ridge and across a few vegetated gullies to another spur.  Straight up this one to the ridgeline north of Zit Saddle.  I'm in no hurry, but am surprised to find it takes me 3 hours.  The views from the top are great -- all the way down to Hokitika town.  I eat lunch and play with five local hooligan kea.

I suspect the track to Top Kokatahi Hut is meant to go down the ridge past the old biv, but not finding any markers I just stick to the main drainage.  2 hours.  The hut is the first proper one I've been in this tramp -- and a nice new one at that.  Cedar Flats might have had 15 last night, but this one has only had 15 in the past two years!

Nice sunset.  Nice weather.  Bloody weka.

The full stretch of the Toaroha and Hokitika, from Zit Saddle

Kea over the Kokatahi

24 January
Up and away by 7:45am.  Weather is great.  The upper Kokatahi is mostly scrub, although a very large recent slip has wiped out about half a kilometre of it.  I ford the river five or six times -- more than the map would suggest is necessary, but the swift flow and bouldery holes aren't much of a worry today.  A tributary cuts in after a little while and the valley widens, allowing riverbed travel.

The smell of sulphur hits and I test the temperature of streams as I cross them.  One runs warm and I follow it up to the mythical Kokatahi hot pools.  They're issuing from a small, one person sized hole that would fit one person nicely.  Co-ordinates below, if anyone's interested.  The river eventually gorges and starts dropping quite steeply, whereupon I pick up a sidle track on the TL and about a million hookgrass seeds.

The cableway across the Kokatahi.  I test the cage by winding it the full length of its journey away from me... crash.  It hits the side of a steep bank on the opposite side.  Towards me... crash.  It hits the bank about 5m below me.  Well, that's the cableway out -- if I did make it in or out of the cage, I'd probably lose an arm.  I find a passable ford upstream of the cableway; deep but slow.

+1 to the weather god.

Pop in to sign the intentions book at Crawford Junction, and then up to Farquharson Ck -- the last big 'barrier' if any rain comes through.  How fortunate I've been on this trip.  Crossed it on easy gravels and had some lunch.  It's another two hours from here to the Top Crawford Hut, first climbing and then sidling, and another one and a half across some new slips to the head of the Crawford valley.

In full sunshine, it's quite hot.  I take to the river and splash straight up.  Once the biv is in sight, I have a quick swim to clean up and wash most of my clothes.  It's a nice little biv, and perhaps apart from the crew who will remove it in a few [ed - week's] time as part of a DOC consolidation -- I am probably the last person to ever stay in it.  Traffic is about 10 people per year.  A pleasant afternoon in the sun.

Will be up early tomorrow to get over Lathrop before the forecast afternoon rain.  Not that the forecast I got off Dad a few days ago is going to be worth much, let alone to an accuracy of twelve hours, but it's as good as anything.  High winds from the NW, although the clouds aren't up to much.

Kokatahi River

Crawford River

Intentions @ Crawford Biv

Crawford biv

25 January
If I stare at the OSM bar, perhaps the world will start to make sense.  Away by 6:30am.  The climb is steep through thick tussock, picking up an occasional marker.  The snowgrass is much easier, and the scree above it is fairly chunky.  There's a marker on the next spur over -- which can only lead onto bluffs further down?  Anyway, my route is fine, and the cloud breaks as I ascend.

The saddle itself is a mini glacial U valley, with a few tarns and a lot of shattered rock.  The Styx side of the saddle is already crapped out with cloud.  I call Dad again to check in and get some more weather.  Fine today, rain tomorrow and the next day.  I'm getting my money's worth.  I let him know that I have enough food left over for a few days in the relative luxury of Grassy Flats, if it comes to that.

Down a very attractive spur in the mist, which breaks to reveal Browning biv sitting on the bushline.  It's a very well kept biv, and I sit around for a few hours reading from its little library.  I'm covered in flax pollen.

At Grassy Flats Hut by 3:00pm.  It's nice down here, and the hut gets more use in a week than those I've been visiting do in a year.  The cloud is building as the light fades -- but I don't really mind.  Another day here might be nice.  I have heaps of food.  Although a beer would go down okay.

Crawford, Kokatahi

26 January
Happy Australia Day, me.  I look for someone foreign to discriminate against, but sadly there are none available.  I'm awake at 6:00am, as my sleeping pattern decrees.  Looking out the window, it's pretty heavy but not raining -- so instead of going back to sleep, I figure I may as well get out and sleep in town.  Away by 7.  The Stx is such ridiculously easy going that I'm at the roadend after three hours.

Right.  Now to get into civilisation, 35km away.

As I trundle up the road, one car passes but doesn't stop.  That's about it for today's traffic.  I get to farmland after about an hour, where a bloke gives me a dink on his bike for a few k's.  He's out checking calves, but there's a bloke around the corner who's probably in his shed.  More road plod.  I wander into the yard of the next house and am greeted by three dogs who proceed to carry on.  I stand there.

Bloke: out of it.  Back! Leave him alone.  I said BACK.
Me: I think I've just been penned
Bloke: They get a bit excited.  Never know if they'll bite but
Me: Yeah.

He's happy to let me use the phone.  A nice guy, and we chat while the taxi arrives.  $60 later, I'm in civilisation.  I collect my junk from storage, find a room for the night and drop in to chat to DOC.

Next?  Well, the forecast is awful.  Pennance for the high that must have sat right above me over the past eight days is that a large system of lows built up behind it, and will lash the west coast for the next little while.  I'd like to go over Popes Pass into the Julia and tie a bow around this part of the traverse; or maybe head up into the mythical shangri-la that is Ivory Lake; but I need a small weather window to even bother.  I might head to AP or Fox to wait for another window, stay in the NZAC lodge and bludge a bit.  Fox, probably.  There are a few small climbs down there that I can cut my teeth on -- I wouldn't mind Mt Adams.

We'll see what happens.  First things first: beer & pizza.


  1. Epic fortnight by the sounds of it.

    Stay safe Clint. Hope the rain over there isn't as bad as it was here.

  2. "If I stare at the OSM bar, perhaps the world will start to make sense." - love that line.

    Great work Clint, keep going strong!

    Man, what an awesome adventure (I think I have probably said that in every comment I have left on the blog). How long do you have left?

    Lots of people at work are 'rooting' for you dude - whenever I start to type a comment I seem to get a flock of people wanting to know where you are up to and how you have fared.

    By the way, you haven't posted any more photos of yourself. How is the weight situation? If you need some Gabby's just give me a yell!

    All the best,


  3. thanks for the kind words. i'm going to opt out of making a 'rooting' joke because the thought of anyone in canberra reproducing makes me physically sick.

    i was thin, okay, thin, and now i'm on the road to relative obesity (had a packet of mint slice and some cheese for breakfast today).

    in blah news, looks like i'm stuck out of the mountains for a while (a week?). the weather is very bad. have been at fox glacier for three days ice cragging & laying around reading as the fronts pass over... 170mm rain last night. 130mm forecast for tomorrow.

    i might go to christchurch and consider my options until this cyclonic system goes away!

    please pass on my regards to all!

  4. nick ~ if i can get even vaguely ok wx for a few days to stitch together aickens to hoki i will be halfway. roughly. either side of mt cook is prob the roughest travel i will have until fiordland. no huts big rain big rivers some ice. got really lucky last week and now hoping v strongly that i can get it half as good so i can get out in the mtns before i go stir crazy.

  5. Love the driftwood sculptures on Hokitika beach. Stay safe.


  6. Love the writing, the journey and the pictures, great work!

    Looking forward to the next instalment.