KAHURANGI NATIONAL PARK
Flora, Leslie/Karamea, Whangapeka and Cobb Valley Tracks
29th October to 12th November 2002Our tramp this year was to the South Island and we planned to walk several tracks in the Kahurangi National Park.
Leaving Whangarei on Tuesday 29th October five ladies (Loma, Sylvia, Marjory, Ruth and Margaret) flew to Nelson where we were met by Jane and her husband Godfrey, and ferried to their son Stephen’s place in Richmond where we stayed the night. Next morning Godfrey and Stephen drove the six of us to the start at Flora Carpark at the end of the steep, unsealed Graham Valley Road.
Day 1; Flora Carpark to Splugeons Shelter, Wednesday 30th October.
It was a fine crisp morning as we started on the track at 8.40am. The Mt Arthur range had snow on the tops, and there were patches of snow on the ground as we followed the 4wd track to Flora hut. At the hut we found a forlorn snowman standing in the shadows, I don’t think he would have lasted the day. Continuing on the track we suddenly found a "Friends on Flora" vehicle behind us, which we saw again at the first swing bridge. We made good time on the easy track and our first stop was to see the Gridiron Shelters. At the first shelter we sat on the swing seat and imagined a warm fire in the fireplace, but we couldn’t stay long so it was off to the second shelter with its high bed. Ruth had stayed here and had found it comfortable. These shelters are well worth a look, as some thought has gone into their construction.
Across the second swing bridge the 4wd track ends but the walking track is well maintained. You can walk across the rivers at these two bridges, but our feet were still dry and we were keen to keep them that way. The track continued upward through beautiful bush and we stopped for lunch a little after the Growler Shelter. We had been following the Flora Stream but left that at the Upper Junction and now Balloon Creek was below us. Gradually the trees thinned and we were out in the open with snow still between the clumps of tussock. At the next turnoff we dropped our packs, all except Jane who was having trouble with cramp, and went up to see the Dry Rock Shelter. Some kind person had left a plastic bucket under a drip coming off the edge of the rock saving a walk to the nearby stream. Back on the main track we soon passed the site of the old Salisbury Hut and walked on through bush and snow to the new hut. Here we had a long sit in the sun, though snow lay in the shadows, even on the veranda. The toilet here is ‘Space Age’ set up high with steps up to the very clean toilets. Today the steps had ice on them. The toilet design means all the liquid evaporates away and the solids are eventually turned into compost.
At 3pm we shouldered our packs and set off through a fairyland with snow piled on the branches of the stunted trees and on the ground. Out in the open however the track was rather slushy and running with water in places. As we walked up on to the Tablelands the wind was cold. Ruth tried the cell phone in several places but there was no reception. Down the Leslie/ Karamea track the path was under a layer of icy snow, which made the going slow. Those of us who had walked the track before had told the others how nice it was, I think they were starting to doubt our word. The bush was beautiful and in several places there were long views down the valley to distant mountains. At last Spludgens (Spurgeons) rock shelter came into view and we quickly settled in. This shelter has three tin walls, and roof, with the fourth wall made of heavy plastic that can be rolled up in fine weather. It has an open fire, dirt floor, four bunks, and a sleeping platform suspended from the roof that we oldies could find no easy access to. The shelter sits above the track with a view over to bush clad slopes with the Peel Stream far below. Water was close by and a wheelbarrow provided for collecting firewood. Only trouble was it had no wheel. It had been a long day so we were in bed soon after tea, with two sleeping on mattresses on the floor. Although there was old rat sign in the hut there were none to disturb our sleep.
Day 2; Splugeons Shelter to Karamea Bend, Thursday 31st October.
We woke to a strong dawn chorus of Bellbirds, a fantastic sound.
The morning was fine but cold and we took advantage of the hats Loma had knitted us the week before. Along a short twisting path, most goblin like and attractive, was the toilet which had a novel door made of windbreak material, weighted at the bottom, keeping it aired but private.
Setting off at 7.40am (no need to sweep the floor) we quickly came to our first tree fall, there were to be plenty more. Scrambling around the top we soon regained the track, which proved to be steep, tricky under foot, and wet. When we reached the Leslie River Loma and I wanted to explore upstream to the old gold mining area but were outvoted. Up the Leslie River is Arthur Creek, where Henry and Annie Chaffey of Asbestos Cottage fame lived when they first came to the area in 1913.
It was nice to be down in the valley, and it was easier underfoot. There were clumps of clematis in bloom and lush new growth with the beginning of flowers on many plants. No one had dry boots after Wilkinson Creek and they were to stay wet for the next week. Leslie Clearing was a welcome spot for lunch; there is no hut there now as some careless person burned it down. It was the fourth hut on this site, which had also been home to Salisbury’s old log cabin in the early days.
After a good stop in the sun beside the Leslie River we carried on to Karamea Bend. As we left the clearing I saw the only wasp spotted on this trip. Last time the trees were laden with them, but we were much earlier in the season this time so they may not have become active, perhaps too cold?
We reached the new Karamea Bend hut at 2.30pm. This was a very nice hut, which sleeps 20, built to replace the old existing hut and the Leslie Clearing one. The sandflies were still there though. It was easy to agree to stay the night here instead of carrying on to Crow.
Day 3; Karamea Bend to Venus Hut, Friday 1st November.
A 7.15 start on a cool and overcast morning. After 5-10 minutes we reached the DOC workers hut where we had to put on our coats, it continued to rain quite heavily for most of the morning. There was also thunder and lightning, and we became concerned some of the rivers may flood. The track was very boggy with slippery roots and rocks. We lost some time when I lost the track going up a dry riverbed. We had trouble here last time as well, so had Ruth and Vic on an earlier trip. At last we smelt smoke and Crow Hut came into view. The resident fishermen were not in view, so we went in to make use of their fire as by this time we were very wet and beginning to get cold. Just as well we hadn’t carried on to this hut yesterday as eight people and all the fishermen’s gear would have made a tight fit in the six-bunk hut. There was no room to sit to have our lunch! John and Richard soon turned up, they were due out that afternoon by helicopter after a couple of days of reasonable fishing, mainly catch and release. Warmed by a cup of soup we set off again, pleased it had stopped raining, only to stop at the nearby creek which, although not wide, seemed to be a bit deep and swift for our old legs. After watching for a while we returned to the hut to wait an hour for the water to go down a bit. As we had no chance to use the phone and in view of the heavy rain and rising rivers etc. delaying us, we took the opportunity to ask the fishermen to phone Stephen and Godfrey when they returned home and postpone our rendezvous by one day. Setting off again at 2pm, Rick came with us in his waterproof clothing and with his helping hand we crossed with no trouble. More bush and river views, and of course bogs, roots, and difficult bits.
We reached Venus Hut at 5.30pm, it had taken us an hour and a half longer from Crow than the track time. We had the hut to ourselves so lit the fire and festooned it with wet clothes, most of which we got dry. As there were only four bunks upstairs, Jane, Loma and I slept down below. It was a bit tricky walking down the muddy slope to the lower room in the dark and wet! An early night as it had been a long day.
Day 4; Venus Hut to Thor Hut, Saturday 2nd November.
Although it rained during the night, the morning was fine and we had a late 9.30 start, as it was a short day – maybe! We were soon delayed by the first of several tree falls and the rough track had several awkward places and lots of small stream crossings. We enjoyed the times we were out on the river boulders. In one place a wire rope was welcome along rocky bluffs that were quite slippery. We saw robins in the bush and had also seen them a few days ago. More swing bridges, the last one just before Thor Hut most welcome, we were two hours longer than track time today. A late lunch in the sun was cut short as it began to rain again but it didn’t last long so we were able to gather some small firewood. The axe was not sharp and all the dry wood was large, but then we found a small homemade saw someone had left behind which worked very well on smaller pieces. We eventually split some of the bigger pieces with the axe and a wedge, so were able to leave dry wood for the next wet visitor. A robin sat on the track sign looking nice for a photo, but a bit of finger trouble with the camera spoilt that. Early to bed as there was no room to play dice or cards.
Day 5; Thor Hut to Helicopter Hut, Sunday 3rd November.
Cool but fine this morning. An early 6.30 start as we are anxious about taking up to twice the track time. Wet socks again but as we had a number of creeks to ford that was a small discomfort. There was plenty of light in the bush at that time of the morning.
Apollo Creek was not too deep but swift, so Loma gave us all a hand in the worst place. Marjorie slipped on a rock and half fell in, but with Loma’s strong arm pulling her out it was the briefest of dips. Thank goodness for polyprop.
‘We need horizons’ said Jane.
We passed Moonstone Lake and later emerged on the edge of the Karamea. To our relief it looked OK to ford even after the rain so off we set, knee deep or a bit more for some. Although the water was cold, the riverbed was flat with no boulders to worry about and the flow not too swift. Once out of the water we followed the marker poles along the stony riverbank, crossed another small stream, and then had to put on coats. In spite of more bogs we enjoyed being out in the open and being able to look around us. Across the river we could see snow capped peaks, possibly Mt Herbert and Mt Kendall with the area of Kendall Creek between. At least the Kendall was one river we didn’t have to worry about crossing this time. We were making better time now, only ½ hour longer than track time.
Luna Hut is old (1958) but sound and soon to be shifted to a farm. It was the first hut to be transported into the park by helicopter, and workers had recently been in to check if it was safe to fly it out. Trevor Carter Hut, across the river, is threatened by a slip so both huts will be replaced by a new ten-bunk hut on the Luna Hut site, and a swing bridge built across the river to it.
We had an early lunch here, some on the riverbank as the sun had come out, and the rest in the hut, soaking up the history. An hour later we set off up the Lost Valley. The track was well marked and easy to follow. The area was very different and we appreciated its beauty as we criss-crossed the steep river, which was almost a series of waterfalls, pausing often to look back down the way we had come. We saw some orchids in bud that I’m sure were a type of Pterostylis, perhaps Pterostylis foliata that is rare in most regions. Why didn’t I take a photo!
Taking lots of stops we reached the saddle at 2pm.The landscape changed once more and after walking down through tall trees we crossed the Karamea again, about knee deep, the flow swifter this time. There on the far bank was Helicopter Hut, a welcome sight. Anette from Germany shared the hut with us, and we had a brief visit from a tall Canadian, ‘Cracked Canuct’ who arrived from Kiwi Saddle. He decided to carry on - we do tend to make a hut seem full. He lived on the West Coast and seemed to know the area well. We were intrigued with his small pack with bits and pieces hanging off it. He told us rain was forecast.
If we had stuck to our original plan we would have been at this hut the night before when there was a party of 9 trampers. Now that would have been cosy.
Most of us had a cold wash in the river, which was certainly refreshing.
Day 6; Helicopter Hut to Stone Hut, Monday 4th November.
Starting walking at 7.30, it only took 2 minutes for our semi-dry socks to become soaked in Waters Creek. We lost count of the river crossings today but none were so deep that we had to use the three-wire crossings. Sometimes they were deep and swift enough to have us carefully suss them out before we crossed. We enjoyed the easier walking underfoot and following the upper reaches of the Karamea was rather pretty. Again we saw Prince of Wales ferns en masse. A marked detour around a large slip was steep but safe; the slip has taken the track at least twice and is still active. We had now left the Karamea behind and our last river crossing before the saddle was Chime Creek.
Overall it was a gentle climb to the Wangapeka Saddle. Once at the saddle signposts indicate routes to Luna Hut via Big Tops, and one to Nugget Knob and beyond, which Ruth didn’t have fond memories of. The track down from the saddle was steep but lovely through the ‘Ghost Forest", and we had lunch in a sheltered spot above another stream that was a bit awkward to cross due to a slip. Just before Stone Hut we crossed a huge old slip, from the 1929 Murchison earthquake, with fascinating lichen covered rocks. I think we all enjoyed this hut and its surrounds. It would be hard to run out of firewood here. Across the river, which was the North Branch of the Wangapeka, a track follows Stone Creek to Mt Luna. There was plenty of room to spread out in the hut as once again we had it to ourselves.
Day 7; Stone Hut to Kings Creek Hut, Tuesday 5th November.
It rained in the night, and was still raining when we left at 7.30am. We crossed several streams, a wire bridge over Luna Stream – that seemed strange as Luna Hut was two days back – and a wooden bridge that had a dip in the middle and needed a drain hole as it held a large puddle. The bush and the river were very pretty but as it rained steadily we pushed on, reaching Cecil King Hut in the track time of 2 ½ hours.
The rain let up enough for us to have a look around this historic hut built in 1935. I am so glad it has been preserved and I hope people respect it. We spent some time inside trying to imagine what life was like here for him, a number of tools that I guess could have been his were still there. Cecil King died in 1982, and his ashes were scattered at the hut.
The rain started again so on to Kings Creek Hut, passing the track to Kiwi Saddle Hut. There were two DOC hunters in residence with their three quiet friendly dogs (outside), the youngest dog found us a bit strange looking for a start!
We were wet and beginning to get cold, so we gathered firewood and got the fire going. These huts had new coal burning stoves that were very efficient; this was the only hut with any coal though. Tramping in wet weather would be much more uncomfortable without fires, and we thank DOC for them. It was interesting to hear the hunters talk of their jobs; one knew the area we had been in well. They were going out the next afternoon. There was plenty of time to play cards and dice as the rain continued with some thunder and lightning. Tea that night consisted of leftovers as we had taken an extra day on the Leslie/ Karamea. It was no problem as we always carry extra food for just such a situation.
Day 8; Kings Creek Hut to Rolling Junction Hut, road end and Flora Hut.
Wednesday 6th November.
A 7am start, and it was still raining. There were small creeks to cross but nothing major. The Wangapeka was alongside us all the way and looked fearsome.
We saw another robin, a greenhood orchid (Pterostylis) in bud and many bird orchids in flower (Chiloglottis cornuta). After about 2 hours Sylvia slipped badly and sat down very heavily. She was quite shocked but after arnica treatment bravely strode on. This caused her some pain for the rest of the morning but after some pain relief she began to improve. The track was easy and the nice grassy flats made a change for walking. Occasionally cloud cleared to show blue sky patches and the peak of Mt. Patriarch. Just before the shelter, there was a stunning arch of clematis over the track – a vision of absolute beauty. We were at Rolling River Junction at 11.15, but there was no sign of Godfrey and Stephen. We started off, expecting to have to walk the 8kms to the Dart Ford, but met them after 30mins.They had seen a truck cross the ford, so after a bit of experimentation they had crossed in their 4wd cars. We were glad of the ride, and then suddenly saw a fit young man running up the road. He told us we wouldn’t get through the water; and was very pleased when the drivers told him they had just come across. He hitched a ride back to the ford (on the towbar!) ran up the ladder on to the swingbridge, ran across and down the other side to his vehicle. Oh for his energy! He was going in to pick up the DOC workers, so they would be pleased they didn’t have to walk out. We also crossed over the bridge, the cars crossed with no problem but the water wouldn’t have needed to be much deeper to make it impassable. Fresh bananas and apples were very welcome, and then it was on to Tapawera where most had a hot pie (very nice) and stocked up on a few supplies. We drove back to the Flora Carpark and restocked our packs for the next five days. (We had used one of our days for this part on the Leslie/Karamea and were very grateful to John and Richard, the trout fishermen, for ringing Godfrey to say we would be late.) It was cold, and with poor weather forecast for the next few days the men thought we would abandon our plans, but not so. Sylvia was feeling better so we set off for Flora Hut arriving at 3pm – in the rain. There was a crowd of people at the hut and we thought we would be rather cosy if we had to share, but they were only there for afternoon tea. They were 12 young people from all over the world with their guide; they had been overnight at Dry Rock Shelter and loved it. They seemed amused that most of us wore shorts, as they were well wrapped up, and took our photos as we chopped wood. It kept raining, and the hut was cold in spite of the fire, so we were soon in bed watching its glow. Some heard a female kiwi call.
Day 9; Flora Hut to Balloon Hut, Thursday 7th November.
7.30 start and wet socks immediately. There had been thunder in the early morning but the rain had eased. Morning tea was at the turnoff to the Gridiron Shelter, and we had another stop at Growler Shelter. Passed the wonderful gushing waterfall at Growler Creek and walked in very slight snow until we reached Salisbury at about 11.15am. We had lunch inside the hut this time and made use of the stove for hot drinks. There were no views today, it was a shame we wouldn’t be able to visit the area where some of ‘Lord of the Rings’ was filmed, but I guess there is always next time. We left for Balloon at 12.45 and thought the bush quite beautiful with a wide variety of coloured moss and lichen and wonderful patterns of branches and bushes. It was raining and very cold and we were all glad of the extra layers we had put on. The track was still slushy and running with water as we reached the Tablelands. We detoured to Bishops Cave briefly and for a few moments the sky cleared and we saw distant hills Takaka way. Balloon Hut was welcome at 2.15pm; we lit the gas fire and again tried to dry gear. The fire took a while to heat the hut but we all had a cosy night – what a contrast to the night before at Flora.
A 7.30 start in warm clothes and rain coats. There was low cloud and you could only see from pole to pole. The snow was ankle deep on the track with ice on the puddles, so care needed to be taken. As we dropped below the ridge towards Lake Peel we were out of the cloud and wind and into sunshine. We had a pack stop near the lake and soaked up the view. The long sidle up to Peel Ridge was OK, as long as you avoided the Spaniard Grass, which was very spiky. On the way down to the Cobb we looked for and found some trilobites, then we were into the Beech forest and enjoyed this downhill stretch. In places there had been massive tree damage, I guess by wind, off to the side of the track. By 11.30am we were sitting in the sun at Myttons Hut, which is cared for by a group of volunteers. Freshly painted, it was in good condition complete with teapot. A note about the fire-damaged wall was a reminder how careful you must be with fires in huts. It was hard to leave this sunny spot, in a few months the grass would be covered in flowers. As we followed the track to Myttons carpark and the road, the wind became quite strong and we were disappointed the track to Trilobite Hut through the bush was closed. There were several vehicles in the parking area but no one else at the hut. Because of the cold wind no one sat in the sun but we were able to get our boots dry at long last. The Ranger paid us a visit, told us there was rain forecast for the next few days, and there was apparently no axe at Fenella. When we said we would carry one up for him, he came back about 6pm with one, the head very well protected. While playing cards by candle light about 9 that evening, the conversation came around to how safe road end huts were. Loma was all for pushing the table against the door, saying that although the door opened outward, we would hear anyone coming in. Suddenly there was a knock, the door opened and in walked two hunters! They must have wondered why we fell about laughing. We had seen them earlier across the river. They were father and son, and the son may have been embarrassed by our reply, that this was our tenth day, when he asked if we were here for a ‘Girls Night Out’! Our ages this trip ranged from 55 to 73 years so I guess he looked at our grey hair and wrinkles and thought us too old to do much.
Day 11; Trilobite Hut to Fenella Hut, Saturday 9th November.
A 7.15 start, the hunters had left before us. The morning was fine and the walk to Chaffey Hut, through beech forest and open meadows was enjoyable. We took turns of 15 minutes each carrying the axe, and Ruth pointed out the route she and Vic had taken on the ridge across the valley. We had memories of very boggy patches on our last visit and were not looking forward to them, although we were hopeful work had been done on the track as the track times had been changed. We were very pleasantly surprised as a lot of work had been done and this made the track much more enjoyable. Thank you DOC.
We had a stop at Chaffey Hut, and thought it looked a little sadder than last time, but not too bad. This hut was built in 1953 by ranger Jack McBurney, in his spare time, from slabs of red beech and took its name from the nearby Chaffey Stream. Carrying on up the valley, finding many of the streams bridged, we reached Tent Camp with its permanent tent and started to climb towards Fenella, now swapping the axe every 10 minutes. As we climbed there were quite a few boggy areas and we could see the clouds gathering on the tops. We had another stop at Cobb Hut, and were amused to see light sockets in the ceiling and switches on the wall. The floor has a bit of a slope, and there is no stove or fireplace. There were several streams to cross and a rocky area, which could be tricky in the wet, then we were at Fenella having walked 4¾ hours. About 2 minutes later the heavens opened and it poured. Elizabeth and her son Chris were in residence, and later Adrian and John arrived in the rain. It got quite cold so the fire was lit and Loma made her famous scones. It had been said scone mix shouldn’t be taken this time as we were trying to keep our packs light, but Marjorie, Loma and I squirreled some away. Everyone tucked in and they soon disappeared.
Day 12; Fenella Hut, Sunday 10th November.
It was a wet cold morning and Adrian and John set off for their vehicle after chopping some of the large knotty bits of firewood. Even with the sharp axe it needed a stronger arm than mine or Loma’s to make them any smaller. Elizabeth and Chris left about lunchtime, and we lit the fire, as there was no chance of going to Kakapo Peak as we had planned. We even spring-cleaned the hut, windows, ledges, and floor, Elizabeth had done some the day before so the place really shone. Cards and 500 filled the rest of the afternoon, then about 5pm the rain lifted a bit so on with coats and boots for a walk to the swimming hole – ‘2 furlongs, 400 meters’. Sylvia stayed behind, as she was still feeling sore from her fall. The track to the hole was like a mini waterfall in places but the area was very pretty. The change of air was good and we returned to the hut 40 minutes later refreshed.
We woke to snow and sleet, leaving the hut at 7am. The streams were higher and care needed to be taken crossing them, as well as on the snow covered exposed rocky areas. Luckily the sleet was on our backs as we more or less route marched back to the Trilobite. The bogs were a bit deeper but that didn’t matter now, and when we got to the flats we had to walk through floodwater lying across the track. On either side of us in the valley the snow was lying on the mountain tops, down to the bushline. It was much lower than two days ago on our way to Fenella and a dramatic sight to we Northerners. It took 4 hours to reach Trilobite where we were glad to change into dry warm clothes and have a cup of soup while we waited for Godfrey who was with son Michael this time. Light sleet followed us as we drove past the Cobb reservoir and any idea of going in to Asbestos Cottage was forgotten. Leaving an axe head from Fenella at the Cobb Shelter for the ranger to pick up we said goodbye to the Kahurangi National Park.
In spite of the rain, snow and very wet conditions under foot we all had a good time. The conditions and lengths of some days were challenging to us all, but I for one would like to go back.