MistyNites

My Life in Motion

Archive for the tag “tramping”

Mount Isobel

After 7.5 years living in Canterbury in the South Island, I’ve managed to get up a good few mountains in the region’s Southern Alps. I have a few favourites that I go back to, but every now and again I’ll try something new. I’d known about Mount Isobel for some time, but it wasn’t until November last year that I finally got around to hiking it. The mountain sits overlooking the town of Hanmer Springs, what used to be a 90 minute drive away from Christchurch, but realistically is longer now with the speed restrictions that were introduced after the Kaikoura earthquake of 2016. With weather forecasts for the mountains being vague, I was hopeful for a clear day when I set off, but the reality is that you don’t always know what you’re going to get until you reach the mountain. The closer I got to Hanmer, the more I could see a thick bank of cloud sitting atop the range to the west and it was only on the final approach to the town that I could finally see a clear summit, separated from the cloud bank by the Clarence Valley.

There are several routes up Mt Isobel, and I drove through Hanmer and out the other side to turn onto Clarence Valley Road, a steep, winding and unsealed road that leads deep into the Southern Alps. I don’t have a 4×4 or a fancy traction system in my little car and have previously lost traction driving up a steep unsealed road, so I’m always a little nervous taking my car on some of New Zealand’s back country roads. It was only a few kilometres to reach the pull-in for the Mt Isobel track but when I got there it was full, and I had to pull up on the verge just a short distance away. For me, the initial part of the hike was rather uninteresting. It started across a deforested section of slope, where there was a glimpse of Hanmer Springs in the valley below before it disappeared into the trees; a narrow, rough, and at times zig-zagging path up the slope. Intermittent breaks in the foliage gave views of a town getting smaller and smaller, but I have to admit I found this lower section a bit of a drag.

 

After about 50 minutes, I reached the junction where the Dog Stream Waterfall track met up to share a route to the summit. There was no signpost here to direct but it was clear that up was the way to go and as the track broke free from the trees and onto the alpine slopes, I started to enjoy the hike a little more. Even although the track was steep here, by the time I’d reached the ridge and the junction with the Jacks Pass track, another 30 minutes later, the views had really started to become delightful and I loved this upper section.

 

I’d already passed a few people coming down from the summit. The early start from Christchurch had me at the start of the track late morning, but clearly those with the benefit of staying more local had managed an earlier start than me. I could see a couple of groups of people ahead of me on the ridgeline, and even though it is classed as a route rather than a track from here onwards, it really isn’t difficult to follow at all. The well trodden route follows the contours of the rising ridgeline towards the summit proper, and to my left I had mountain peaks disappearing into the distance, and to my right I had the plains of the valley with the buildings of Hanmer Springs.

Only near the final ascent did the alpine plants thin out a bit, and a scree slope had to be crossed to reach a rocky climb up to the summit marker at 1319m (4327ft). I’d made it up in just under 2hrs, less than the track sign at the start had listed. Surprisingly I had the summit to myself and made the most of it, taking photos and eating my lunch in solitude, admiring the view. From the summit, it is possible to walk down to Jollies Pass Road to the east, and one of the groups ahead of me had continued this way. After about 20 minutes to myself, a couple of other hikers arrived, so I started back down the mountain, leaving them in peace.

 

The view on the way down was full frontal mountains and valley and without the exertion of the climb, it was much easier to take it all in on the way back. I passed several people working their way up the slope as I descended, and as the alpine plants became replaced with trees and I once again reached the lower track, I found myself hurrying to complete this uninteresting section once more and I was back at my car a little over an hour from leaving the summit behind. The downhill return to the town was easy and quick and I found myself at a new cafe hidden down a side street where I enjoyed a post hike coffee and cake. But the best thing about Hanmer Springs is the thermal spa in the middle of town, and this was the perfect place to soothe my post-hike muscles, something that became a recurring theme after the next weekend’s hike.

Otira Valley

When it comes to hiking, I’m utterly spoiled in New Zealand. From short walks of a few hours to multi-day tramps, there’s plenty of choice, and I’m a particular fan of getting in amongst, or up on top of, the many peaks of the Southern Alps. The west coast road that spans between Christchurch and Kumara Junction has offered me some incredible hikes, but one that had eluded me until last October was the walk up Otira Valley in Arthur’s Pass National Park. The marked trail looks quite short on the map, so to make the over 90 min drive from home worthwhile, I decided to combine it with a few nearby tracks. Parking up at the bottom of the Temple Basin track, I passed the bottom of that walk to cross the road to join the nature walk that lead onto the Lake Misery track.

Despite the proximity to the state highway with its regular traffic noise, the surrounding peaks seemed to pull my mind away from the noises of civilisation and frankly I was surrounded by a stunning landscape that was difficult to ignore. There were a few other people on the nature trail that had walked from Arthur’s Pass village but as I continued on to the lake, I felt more and more on my own. Looking back across the road as the trail gained a bit of height, I could see a great waterfall spilling down the opposite mountainside, and the zig-zagging Temple Basin track headed up the slope at its side. According to the Department of Conservation (DOC) website, the boardwalk that passes Lake Misery can be under water. It was such a gorgeous sunny day, that even though there had recently been rain, I was hopeful that there wouldn’t be any issues here, and thankfully the walkway was high and dry. At the far side of the lake, there was a large rock wall to climb up and over and now I was at the end of the Otira Valley look up at distant snowy peaks.

 

The track is poled but is also well-worn and easy to follow as it skirts the slope of the rock wall I’d climbed over to get there. The alpine vegetation was coming to life in spring, and below me the babbling waters of the lower Otira River accompanied me as I cut up the valley. A few places were rougher than others, including a few spots where the track had collapsed a little creating the occasional steep drop down, but otherwise it was a decent meander to reach the little wooden bridge that leads to the far side of the river. A DOC sign here marks it as the end of the track, the upper reaches of the valley deemed fit for mountaineers only. Everyone else on the trail with me turned back at this point, and I scrambled up onto the bridge to cross it and sit on the other side. It was such a lovely day, I was happy to just watch the running water for a while. But as I looked up the valley, I could make out a well-trodden path and far in the distance I could see a couple of people following it. It really hadn’t taken me that long to reach this point, and with time on my side and a blue sky above, it seemed like a good idea to keep going. And boy am I glad I did.

 

Following the path of the river for the most part, it hugged the slope as it headed upstream. Behind me, the road seemed so far away and the peaks of Mt Temple dominated the background. As the track hit a wide section of scree, the still-obvious track followed the natural curve of the valley and the road disappeared out of view and the incredible peaks of Mt Rolleston appeared. Cutting down towards the river, a series of small waterfalls created a stunning foreground to the view. It was hard not to get a little giddy with it all and it was also hard not to want to keep going. Despite clearly being in an avalanche zone, there wasn’t enough snow to be concerned, and I decided I’d just keep walking until the track stopped. Despite the lack of poles, it was well worn and therefore easy to pick a route past large boulders that littered the river side.

 

A myriad of waterfalls streamed down the steep wall of rock to my left and in front of me a basin became visible, surrounded by steep snowy peaks. I saw the pair far ahead of me trudging towards the snow, and after reaching the end of a flat area strewn with boulders, I found a spot to sit down and have lunch. As I ate, I was privy to the sight of several small avalanches skipping down the mountainside. The sight and the sounds were as incredible as each other, the basin causing the sound to magnify. Not far ahead, the track appeared to fade, but from my vantage point, I watched the pair cross a section of snow and clamber up another rock field to reach the true basin, and I watched in awe as they sat for a while, the avalanches coming down right in front of them.

 

I sat so long there that they headed back whilst I was still ogling at the view. When they reached me, one of them stopped for a brief chat, congratulating me for being out on my own. I’m never sure if it’s because I’m female or hiking solo (or the fact that I’m both female and hiking solo) that seems worthy of congratulating me for but these are the occasions where the male dominance of the hiking world becomes clear. I’ve taken my freedom for granted all my life, and thought nothing of taking myself up mountains on my own or heading off with a tent on my own, but every now and again I’m reminded of how I’m in a minority. But this man encouraged me to head up to where they had been before leaving me alone, and as I watched them disappear down river, I looked up at the beautiful white snow and decided I’d go the extra distance.

Thanks to their footprints, I could pick a route across a wide bank of snow, a couple of times dropping deeper down into the snow than anticipated. But once I was at the other side, I was greeted by a large boulder pile that I picked my way up to find myself staring at the backside of Mt Rolleston. The whole time I was there I was nervous. I hadn’t seen a single avalanche reach this far whilst I’d been sitting having lunch, but all around me were signs of recent avalanches and I was acutely aware of the fact that no-one knew I was there. Whilst I love hiking solo, it does make me heavily responsible for my own safety and at the mercy of my ability to make rational judgements. But the whole time I stood there, the nervousness was mingled with the thrill of the view in front of me, and the excitement and rush of having it all to myself.

 

This is definitely the kind of place that would be totally different to hike on another occasion: the view and risk changeable with the season and the snow level. Spring was a great time to be there, with the flowering alpine plants, the sunshine in the sky but the snow still present in the higher reaches. I cut back down the boulder field to the snow bank I’d crossed earlier, trying a different route to avoid the dips I’d fallen into on the way up. The view was just as phenomenal on the way back as it had been on the way there, and it was hard not to keep looking backwards as the basin grew further away and then disappeared out of sight as the valley curved back towards the road.

 

There was not a soul to be seen as I made my way back down the valley towards the little wooden bridge. A couple of people were on the marked trail as I continued back towards the road, crossing a lower scree field before reaching the turnoff to Lake Misery. Even with the road and power poles cutting across the landscape, there was no escaping the beauty of this place and it was a pleasure to retrace my steps past the lake and towards the nature trail. Only the cold of the shaded trail on the way back to my car reminded me that it wasn’t quite summer yet, but I was elated to have finally walked this track, and I was equally glad I’d had the guts to keep going up the valley. The Otira Valley track is now officially an Arthur’s Pass favourite.

Christchurch Coastal Pathway

Although its moniker is the Garden City, Christchurch has some great coastline within its reach. Several of the eastern suburbs sit on either the banks of an estuary or overlook the Pacific Ocean. The Port Hills behind the city provide many resident with their weekend playground, and while I enjoy getting up there myself, I also love to breathe in the salty air from sea level. The Christchurch Coastal Pathway forms part of the lesser known Christchurch 360, a path still in its beta phase, which circumnavigates the city. Spanning the foreshore between Ferrymead and Sumner, it is a nice flat gradient to follow, and is a great local walk to do on a sunny day. I’ve now walked it a few times after first discovering it in August last year, and always park in Ferrymead to walk first in the Sumner direction before returning, using Sumner as a great spot to break up the walk with a coffee or lunch. This is purely preference though, as it doesn’t really matter where you join the walk, whether you walk one-way or return, or which direction you start off in. The Sumner bus serves the route, making it easy to do as much or as little of it as desired.

From the little parking area in Ferrymead near the road bridge, the route cuts across the road bridge that was completely overhauled after the 2011 earthquake. The shared walking/biking route that hugs the road as it follows the estuary margin is also a new addition after the local road system was upgraded as part of the area’s rebuild. Depending on whether the tide is in or out, this first section can look very different. When the tide is in, the water is right up at the sea wall, and when it is out, there is a large mudflat that often has herons or shags hanging out on it, and occasionally the odd cockle gatherer will be brave enough to head out. Between Mount Pleasant and Redcliffs, the road and walkway form a causeway.

At Redcliffs, the path diverts away from the main road so there is less traffic accompanying you as you skirt through then round some swanky houses. The view across the water is to South Shore, at the south end of the New Brighton beach spit. Where the path turns to cut back up to the main road, a small beach is tucked in to the corner. The path now follows the main road for the rest of the route out east. Skirting past the leading edge of Barnett Park, one of the city’s many green spaces, it curves round into Moncks Bay where the opening of the estuary into the Pacific Ocean becomes apparent.

 

The section that sweeps round Moncks Bay into the western end of Sumner beach is still to be upgraded and is much rougher in comparison (although not really that rough at all). It is in the process of being upgraded as the road is, and the final sweep round Moncks Bay has already changed from when I first walked this track. Under a brilliant blue sky with the sun overhead, the colour of the water, like so much of the sea around Banks Peninsula, is a stunning shade of blue, and when I first walked it last year, there was a frame of purple flowers in bloom at the far end of the bay. Sometimes people fish off the rocks below here, and this is also the section where the path is at its narrowest, making it a bit of a squeeze if there is a lot of foot traffic.

 

Once at Sumner, you can choose to cut down onto the beach and walk the sand, or stay up on the path and follow the road. Either way, Sumner offers plenty of choices to replenish yourself in reward for the exercise, with a multitude of bars, cafes and ice cream shops. If the tide is out, I always take a meander through the cave that divides Sumner beach in two. Sometimes I take the steps up to the top of the rock to look down on the beach and get an elevated view over the many beach goers. When you’ve had your fill, you can either hop on a bus or make your way back the same way.

 

The first time I walked the route I took a detour at Barnett Park on the way back. A few tracks lead off from here including one that cuts up the hillside to Summit Road on the top of the Port Hills. One of the park’s main tracks has been closed since the 2011 earthquakes, and as such is no longer being maintained, but this doesn’t stop people following the now unmarked route that splits off the track up to the summit. As I hadn’t done it previously and because it is unmarked, I initially missed the turnoff, climbing higher up than necessary before working out where I’d gone wrong. Once on the right track though, there was a little bit of light bush bashing as parts of it were overgrown, hiding your foot fall. It was rough and muddy in places and the narrowness of it on the slope made it interesting in places when there was the need to let someone heading in the opposite direction pass by.

 

When the track comes out below the cave, it is especially apparent why this track is listed as closed: the steep wooden staircase that heads up into the cave is missing multiple steps and part of the bannister. In my opinion, hiking and outdoor adventures should always be at user risk. I can understand why the city council doesn’t want to be held responsible for incidents that occur in its area of jurisdiction, but I also think that a walker should be as able to make a risk assessment to follow a track as a hiker would out in the wilderness. In other words if you’re fit and prepared for the route that you’re following, it should be your decision to take it. So if using an unstable staircase is outwith your comfort zone, then this track is not for you. But there are plenty of people that still enjoy this track, many with children, and once you’ve scrambled up into the cave you can see why: it’s a great view down into the park and the estuary across from it.

 

Once back out of the cave, the track loops round to head down on the opposite side of the valley. Shortly after leaving the cave behind, a large boulder sat where it found its resting place post-earthquake, blocking the route. Foot passage over the years has worn out a detour, and this return stretch is as rough and overgrown as the way up is. Glancing back from time to time, the cave grows smaller before disappearing round the corner, and eventually back at Barnett Park, I cut back across the road to rejoin the Coastal Pathway and make my way back to my car at Ferrymead.

Taylors Mistake to Godley Head

Being able to look out over the sea and hear the sounds of the ocean makes me happy, so it probably comes as no surprise that one of my favourite local walks to do is a coastal gem. Heading east from Christchurch’s city centre, the road soon joins the coast of Pegasus Bay and follows the coastline to Sumner, a popular outer suburb. Cutting through to the far side, the road cuts steeply and hairpins its way up and over the headland to reach the end of the road at Taylors Mistake, a beach nestled deep within a bay. There is little here aside from the beach itself and an amenities block, but with a walking trail, mountain bike tracks and surf breaks, people are drawn here in droves and the car park can often be overflowing.

The coastal walk to Godley Head takes about 3hrs return to follow the same track in both directions. It can be made shorter by taking a short-cut back across the shared-use bike tracks but I always like to maintain that closeness to the sea. The start of the track can either be reached by cutting across the large green field and behind the row of beach shacks, or by going down to the beach and walking to the far end where a set of stairs cut into the hill lead you up to the same place. Once on the track, it quickly leads away from the beach, providing a multitude of views back over the beach itself.

 

The headland varies from green to brown depending on how dry the season has been, and it is regularly cut into by the sea creating a weaving track as it hugs the coastline above the dazzling blue water. There have been a few upgrades since I moved to Christchurch in 2012 and as it is so popular, it is a very well maintained track and usually busy with people, especially on sunny weekend days. Eventually it passes a cut-down to a bach that is down the hillside and nestled among the trees, and beyond this side-trail, the main track starts to zig-zag up the hillside to reach the eastern end of the Port Hills. Suddenly, the entire Pacific Ocean opens up in front of you and the track begins to cut south.

 

With the expanse of the Pacific Ocean to your left, the mouth of Lyttelton harbour becomes increasingly visible and beyond that, the disappearing coastline of Banks Peninsula. Again the track ziz-zags up the hillside where it reaches the remains of a World War II gunnery. The port within the harbour was protected by this coastal armament in case of attack from the ocean or the air. More often than not the main part of the World War II remains is locked up behind a chained gate, but sometimes it is open to the public. The last time I walked the track, it was closed for an undefined period for the purposes of preservation.

 

Once past that, the track cuts briefly inland past some buildings and through a small copse of trees before snaking its way towards the mouth of Lyttelton harbour, and from here, it passes yet more World War II remnants as it hugs the harbour coastline towards the car park at Godley Head. Godley Head marks the end of Summit Road, the road that traverses the summit of the Port Hills, and as such, this track can be approached from either direction. Near the Godley Head car park, a small bench provides a glorious view, and if you time it right, there may be some ships going in or out of the harbour to offer an added bit of interest. Then, it is simply a matter of either reversing the route back round the coast, or crossing the road from the car park to join one of the shared-use mountain bike tracks to take the short-cut back.

Washpen Falls

About an hour outside of Christchurch, on the back road that leads to Rakaia Gorge, there is an unassuming turnoff that leads to a farm where you can join the crowds that park up at the unassuming Woolshed. The track to Washpen Falls that leads from here is on private property and as such there is a $10 fee per adult to walk it. This had put me off exploring this for many years but finally, last May, I decided to see what the fuss was about. I’ve seen photos and heard that this waterfall was pretty and worth visiting, so I duly turned up to find the parking area packed, and it took a bit of maneuvering to find a spot to pull in out the way. The day I visited, the Woolshed was manned, and it is important to pop in here first to pay your fee. I have to admit I was surprised at the number of people there considering the charge.

Following the marked track past the Woolshed, the track was quite muddy as it headed into the forest and started climbing. The track effectively follows an anti-clockwise route round the valley formed by Washpen Creek. Breaks in the treeline allowed a view across to the thick bush on the opposite side, and being well into autumn, the lower sun meant the side I was walking on was in shadow. Cutting back into the trees again, a natural shallow cave is passed before a flight of stairs passes by the side of a small waterfall trickling down the rock face.

 

From there the path climbs up and into the sunshine as it reaches the top of the hillside that surrounds the creek. The path effectively arcs round in a horse-shoe shape and as it does so, the expanse of the Canterbury Plains becomes evident. It was a gorgeous day and the many visitors were littered all over the track, several of them stopping here to admire the view and have a snack. As it was though, the wind started to whip across the hillside as the track continued over it, and at the main viewpoint up here, several of us were buffeted whilst a couple of children had to work hard to walk against it.

 

To reach the waterfall, the track cuts down from the hillside to reach another branch of the valley, most of which was in shade. This was another busy stretch of track but I paused here in a couple of places to listen to the bird sounds. The track starts off winding down the valley side before reaching a steep staircase that leads down to Washpen Falls. The downside of hiking the track at this time of the year was that the waterfall was completely in shadow making it difficult to photograph. There is a good viewpoint of it from the staircase as well as at the base of the falls itself. There isn’t a lot of space to accommodate the amount of people that were on the trail that day, so once I’d taken some photographs, I moved on to allow others the chance to get some shots too.

 

The track continued down the far side of the creek below a tall rock face. At one point, drips of water fell from the cliff above and a small side-track led to the bank of the stream. Beyond this, the track climbed a little again into the forest where a side-track led to a small cave, then beyond here it cut down through the forest, until eventually it reached a green pond with a shelter nearby. Several families had stopped here for a picnic and it was a pretty little spot. I left them to it, following the far side of the pond and rejoining the main track at the far end.

 

Aside from a small ruined waterwheel, the rest of the walk was just a meander through the forest. I was surprised to come across a sign in the middle of nowhere reminding passers by to enjoy the sounds of nature. I had a bit more solitude here as I made my way back to the car by the Woolshed. There were still plenty of cars parked here, and I returned glad to have finally done this walk. The whole loop track took me 1hr and 45mins, and although a muddy and rough track (which may put off those with very young children), it was a very easy to follow hillside walk that would suit families.

Rakiura Track – Oban to North Arm Hut

Before man discovered New Zealand, it was a land coated in dense forests brought to life by the sounds of a cacophony of birds. Over the hundreds of years since the first settlers arrived, large chunks of the forest were felled and burned to make way for villages, grazing and farming. With the habitat destruction, the hunting, and introduction of pests and diseases that followed, modern-day New Zealand is a far cry from its natural state. But in some parts of the country at least, there are pockets of nature which feel like a snapshot of the past. I’ve been to some predator-free zones where the bird life sings stronger than elsewhere, and I’ve been to dense, expansive forests where you could really feel lost within were it not for the guiding path through it. And whilst Rakiura (Stewart Island) has not been saved completely from the impact of humans, you only need to look at a map of the island to see how little of the place has been touched. Here, so far south, it is possible to feel a million miles away from civilisation.

Ahead of me lay 3 days of tramping across the headland at the back of Halfmoon Bay, the Rakiura Track, one of the Department of Conservation (DOC) Great Walks. Despite its remoteness, like the other Great Walks, the huts on this route book out far ahead, and with Southland being the wettest part of the country, any trip here is at the mercy of the weather Gods. So whilst I was disappointed to wake to grey skies and inclement weather, I wasn’t surprised. Kitted up in my waterproofs from the beginning, I set off from my hostel in Oban and started the march to Lee Bay. It is possible to organise transport for the 4km trip to the start of the hike, but I like several others, decided to include this as part of the walk. Cutting up over Church Hill, the road skirting behind Bathing Beach and cut down past Butterfield Beach before climbing up and across another headland ahead of Horseshoe Bay.

 

I was accompanied by a steady drizzle so my camera and phone were tucked away to keep them dry, but even through the rain, Horseshoe Bay with its large expansive curve of sand was beautiful, and aside from another hiker far ahead of me, and a couple of hikers some distance behind me, there was not a soul in sight. At the far end of the bay, the road cut inland across yet another headland, and climbed up over a hill and down to Lee Bay and the official start of the track. Here there was only the raging Foveaux Strait between the bay and the South Island of New Zealand. The rain was whipping in here, and the sea rolled into the beach below it. Off to the side was the massive chain-link sculpture, a twin to the one at Bluff I’d seen the day before, and once through here, I was officially on the track, the rain accompanying me into the forest.

 

At an undulating altitude, the track sticks close to the coast, although the varying density of the trees affected the level of views from one section to the next. It cut down to a small beach where a boardwalk crossed a river and here the path had a low-tide and high-tide option. As the sea was well out, it was safe to walk across the beach, finding some steps back into the forest at the far side. As the path continued on its snaking route to Peters Point, the rain got heavier and heavier and I was reminded of the fact that my 10-year old hiking boots were no longer waterproof. I hadn’t found a replacement pair since this discovery whilst walking the Mount Somers track a few weeks prior. Eventually it cut down to a river mouth and I had the option of wading across the river or heading up a high-tide route. I knew there was a nearby shelter, and being hungry, wet and cold by this stage, I was keen to get to it sooner rather than later so opted to pick my way across the river as best as I could to reach the sand of Maori Beach in Wooding Bay.

 

When I reached the shelter and found it packed with a group of fellow hikers I was rather dismayed. There was simply no dry space for me. I saw a sign that pointed to a historic site just behind the shelter so went to look at what was left of an old sawmill before cutting down to the same river a little further upstream. By the time I got back to the shelter, the other hikers were leaving and I was able to get under the roof to eat some food whilst staying dry. I was just finishing my lunch when a few more hikers arrived and suddenly the shelter was back at capacity again. It was only fair to get moving as soon as possible and give the new arrivals some space.

 

From the shelter, the track followed the beach to an estuary at the far end. The rain was getting a little miserable and I was glad to have had my GoPro with me or would have had no photos from this first day of the hike. Near the far end of the beach I stumbled across an eel in the sand, slithering across a patch of water streaming down the sand. I wasn’t sure whether to leave it or move it, but as it seemed perfectly mobile and partly submerged, I opted to leave it be. Beyond this, the track cut round the bend to a long suspension bridge that spanned the estuary and led the path back into the bush.

 

The track gained a little altitude and felt deep within dense forest, away from the coastal views. Eventually it reached the junction in the track where the Rakiura Track cut inland, and the North-West Circuit cut back towards the coast. Although I was walking the Rakiura Track, the first night’s hut involved going down to Port William where the Port William Hut serves both tracks. I was just eager to get to the hut with the rain still falling, and when I eventually made it, it was already buzzing with the activity of those hikers who had left the shelter ahead of me. It also wasn’t long before other hikers trickled in and soon the hut was full of hikers stripping off wet clothing and trying to find a dry place to hang their stuff up. When the rain finally eased by the evening, I stretched my legs by taking a wander around the immediate vicinity of the hut, taking in the view of the bay and looking for wildlife.

 

The next morning started off with better weather and once packed up it was time to move on. I was one of the last people to leave the hut but I was in no hurry to get anywhere, taking my time to walk along the shore of Port William and going out to the wharf to enjoy the view under the sunshine. It took me some time to make it back to the track junction where the Rakiura Track cuts inland, and by this stage the rain was back.

 

It was heavy as I reached the remnants of some log haulers, another historic site detailing life for the early settlers to the island. I didn’t hang around long, eager to get into the thick forest where I hoped the foliage would offer a little protection from the elements. The theme for the rest of the day was intervals of showers followed by sunshine. My waterproofs were on and off repetitively and under foot, the path was quite churned up in places. The walk threatened to become a little monotonous in places, but then something would spike my interest like an unusual looking tree, or a river to cross, and overhead the foliage changed quite a lot.

 

One such curiosity was a ball that someone had hung from a tree marking it as the half-way point of the hike. It seemed so out of place there in the middle of the natural forest. On and on the track went, past more quirky trees, more streams and eventually coming to a downhill section that was in the process of being repaired, but meanwhile was an utter quagmire. I had heard that the Rakiura hiking tracks were notorious for being muddy and this section was a challenge trying not to get stuck or slip in the various bogs and mud patches. I was glad to finally reach another track junction and realise I was close to the end of the day’s hike. My second hut, the North Arm Hut, also accommodates those hiking the North West Circuit and was once again booked out for the night.

 

The forest of Rakiura is beautiful, varying and thick, but I’d still found the hike of day 2 comparatively dull with little in the way of views other than the immediate foliage around me. But now I was back at the coast, this time that of Paterson Inlet and with an evening and another day’s hiking ahead of me, there was still so much of Rakiura’s beauty to see.

Mount Somers Track – Day Two

New Zealand’s network of back country huts are the welcome sight at the end of many a hike, although they vary in size, style, and comfort level. What they all have in common is a lack of electricity, meaning that when the sun goes down at night, everybody tends to go straight to sleep, and in the morning as the hut lights up with the morning sunlight, the first stirrings of the early risers awaken the rest of the occupants from their slumber. And so it was as I lay asleep under the kitchen bench top in the over crowded Woolshed Creek Hut at the back of Mount Somers. I don’t know if it was the light or the early risers that stirred me from my slumber, but soon the whole hut was bustling with activity. The vast majority of the hut occupants had hiked in on the shorter Miners track from the car park off Ashburton Gorge Road, which makes it a suitable walk for families. I however, was parked at the Sharplin Falls car park on the directly opposite flank of Mount Somers and had a full day’s hike ahead of me to get there.

Being in February, I had picked an exceptionally hot weekend to do the hike, having hiked in on the Mount Somers track in 27oC. For my return leg, the temperature would peak at 29oC and the majority of the return leg was exposed to the elements. I’d gotten a little deflated at the end of the previous day, having taken 7hrs to hike what should have been a 6hr trek. With the return route listed as an 8hr trek, I set off that morning already feeling a little deflated again. First things first, there was no point even putting my boots on upon leaving the hut as I had to wade across the stream back to the far side to rejoin the Mount Somers track.

 

Starting off with a wander along the valley floor, the track skirted up a low ridge to face a deep gulley across which, a long swing bridge spanned the gap. The plaque denoted that it had replaced a ladder and I wondered if that meant that previously the river had had to be forded. This seemed like it would have been a rather dodgy affair if it had. I was glad of the bridge to take me safely across, and from then onwards, the climb began. First up and over an exposed ridge from where I could still see the hut in the valley behind me, and then into a little forested section. After wading across a stream in my leaky hiking boots, I climbed back out to come across a side track leading to a waterfall. Deep in shadow, it was difficult to get a decent photo of it, but it was definitely worth the short side trip to go and view it.

 

Once back out the forest, the next section of track was probably my favourite, despite the constant climb that went with it. It was exposed but this meant the views were incredible, and as it climbed and hugged the edge of a steep gully, I could see mountains rolling off into the distance, including some distant peaks that still had snow on them. There was only a couple of other people on the track ahead of me, otherwise it was a quiet trail, and from my vantage point I could see some of the other hut occupants walking out on the lower trail they’d come in on. As the track reached its highest point for the day, it cut directly under a rocky overhang where a cut out in the rocks was known as the Bus Stop overhang. Someone had even attached a Bus Stop sign to the edge of the rocks which I passed after taking a rest to enjoy the view.

 

It wasn’t far before the track descended steeply, and suddenly the vegetation changed dramatically from the scrubby bush to reams of tussock before the stumpy trees reappeared briefly whilst the track cut down to another stream and cut back up the other side. It was then an almost flat trek across more tussock, from where there was a final view of Woolshed Creek Hut in the far distance before it disappeared out of sight. Still on the western slope of Mount Somers, I eventually came across the track junction with the Rhyolite Track which cuts steeply down to the same car park that the other hut occupants would reach on the Miner Track. For me though, it was time to cut round to the south face of the mountain and push onwards.

 

There was next to no shade on this south face, and having overtaken the couple of hikers back in the tussocks, it was just me and them some way behind me on this track. For the rest of the day, the trend was set, with a constant undulation up and down in altitude the whole way back to the car. The view south was also less interesting than the view west or the view north the day before, and under the beating sun, it didn’t take long for me to start to get frustrated again. I’ve done many hikes, including 8hr day hikes, but this was my longest hike with a full pack on my back. I’ve also let my fitness reduce and my weight increase, so it was as much frustration at my self for letting myself lose condition as it was about the monotony of the hike in the blazing heat. But there were some interesting sections as the track followed the contours of the mountainside, passing or crossing multiple streams as it went, and the vegetation was by now back to the bushy scrub or the occasional copse of trees.

 

I had my eye on a little shelter where I planned on having lunch, but as with the day before, it felt like it wasn’t getting any nearer, and eventually I decided to stop to eat in the shade of a small copse near a stream. When I finally reached the little shelter I did a quick nosey inside before continuing, realising to my dismay that there was a rather steep incline ahead. Thankfully it turned out that most of it was in the shade of a woodland, and despite the perceived exhaustion, it was actually not too bad to negotiate in the end. After reaching the top of the incline, it skirted yet another corner to suddenly open out of the trees onto the top of a large scree field. Picking my way across it carefully to avoid creating a stone avalanche, there was just another small incline until finally I found myself at the junction with the Mount Somers summit track.

 

It was all downhill from here, and I told myself gleefully that I was nearly finished, but as the sign at the junction attests and as I consulted my map to remind myself of the next section of the track, there was still 1/3rd of the south face track to walk! There were a few more people on this part of the track with those coming off the summit heading home too. I just focused on the thought of my car and picked my way down the lowering ridgeline before I finally entered the forest for the final section. I passed some older gentlemen that had come off the summit and they started congratulating me when they found out I’d walked the circuit. I’m never sure if it’s a genial hiker’s praise or a surprise at the fact that I’m a solo female hiker, because I’ve been stopped a few times by fellow hikers (always males) who seem surprised or overly congratulatory about my intentions or achievements. Certainly, I come across far more male hikers (solo or otherwise) than I do fellow female hikers (solo or otherwise), so probably I’m still in the minority.

 

When I reached my car, 8hrs 40mins after leaving Woolshed Creek Hut behind, it wasn’t long before the same men completed their hike and we shared in each other’s elation. In the intense heat and exposure, I had run out of water about an hour before finishing, as I had done the day before. This hike was the first time that had ever happened and I reflected on the fact that I had underestimated the hike. In the end though, I felt more proud of myself for completing it, having ticked another Canterbury hike off the list, and feeling far more prepared for the 3 day hike I had to come in a few weeks time.

Mount Somers Track – Day One

After New Year came and went and the days of January started ticking by, I had the sudden realisation that I had a multi-day hike just around the corner in February and I was generally unfit and hadn’t done much training. I’d struggled upĀ Ben Lomond on my recent visit to Queenstown, a mountain which I should have coped with well in my peak fitness, so I realised I was in need of an overnight hike, or tramp as it is called in New Zealand, to give my body a practice run. So I decided to do the Mount Somers Track in Canterbury, a track that wasn’t a drastic drive away, was just a 2 day hike and seemed perfectly achievable, being as it went round the slope of Mount Somers without actually summiting it. What could go wrong? I knew that the hut I wanted to stay at could be busy at weekends as it is accessible also via a shorter walk and is therefore very popular with families as a reasonable walk when kids are involved, so with a long weekend, I decided to hike Sunday to Monday, thinking I’d have a better chance of getting a bunk. I didn’t have a tent to take with me as a back-up, but I did take my camping mattress just in case.

For many reasons, the trip just didn’t go the way I had anticipated. I was a little lazy getting myself going on the Sunday morning, so I was setting off later than I really should have. I left my car at the Sharplin Falls car park near Staveley, and noted the 6hr time on the Department of Conservation (DOC) sign to Woolshed Creek Hut, my destination for that night. For my general level of fitness, I find these DOC signs very generous with their estimated times, so I knew I should make the hut at a reasonable time to have a chance of bagging a bed spot if it was busy. I set off over the stream and up the winding pathway into the bush, setting my sights on Pinnacles Hut which was just a little over halfway. I planned on using it as a lunch and rest spot before pushing on to the second hut. The track was rough but obvious as it negotiated tree roots and an undulating altitude and for a while I could see little more than the bush around me. I passed several people who were hiking out from wherever they had spent the night and at one point a man stopped me and asked me where I was staying. He explained that the Woolshed Creek Hut had reached double capacity the night before and it had been rather chaotic and cramped. He wished me luck for that night and continued on his way. I continued to hold onto the belief that it was Sunday, so it had to be quieter. Shortly after, I fell on my arse.

 

A break in the trees allowed me to see Mount Somers, the mountain that I was hiking around and have previously climbed up. It was a beautiful sunny summer’s day and it was getting rather hot, peaking at 27oC. There had recently been some heavy rain so as the track dipped down to Bowyers Stream there were fresh landslips to negotiate and the water level was higher, flooding small sections of the track. My trusty hiking boots have been a reliable part of my life for nearly 10 years. I knew they were coming to the end of their life, but when the water started seeping in to them as I crossed some small streams, I realised that this hike was going to be a problem for them. In the deeper patches where the stepping stones were well submerged, I was forced to take my shoes off and wade barefoot: not an ideal situation, but it seemed the better scenario than hiking in saturated shoes and socks. Further up a stream a swing bridge offered a decent crossing across a wider section but even after this there were a few more zig zags across the water.

 

The heat was beginning to get to me and I had a feeling I wasn’t making progress at a rate that I was comfortable with. I put these thoughts aside when I came across a waterfall that the track went behind. Dripping off the moss and vegetation on an overhang, the light flow of water glistened in the sunshine and it was a nice distraction from the slight monotony of the bush. Given the roughness of the track and the use of chains to negotiate a few sections, I was a little surprised to see a family with young children swimming in a pooled section of the stream which the path came really close to. I had seen this area on the map and had decided it would be a good place to have lunch given that the hut still seemed a bit away, but when I came out of the bush I saw the children were naked and it felt inappropriate for me to stop there, so I pushed on till I found a clearing with a rock to sit on.

 

But at some point it really became evident that I should have reached the first hut by now. I’m normally a lot quicker than the DOC signs state, but once before I have been caught out by the time estimate being more realistic than they typically are, and I was coming to the realisation that this was going to be another one. It led to a bit of frustration kicking in and my tiredness was becoming a little more pronounced. It was dawning on me that I still had hours of hiking ahead of me, and I was going to get in later than I’d thought. The final lead up to Pinnacles Hut is dramatic though – the bush opening up to reveal the sheer wall of the north face of Mount Somers and some large rocky prominences jutting through the trees. As I finally neared the hut, I could see some people climbing the largest prominences a little way behind the hut. I peaked inside as I like to do when I pass by and I spied an updated time estimate sign and looked in dismay at the lies which it portrayed: It had taken me longer to reach the hut and I knew it would take me longer to reach the next one.

 

From Pinnacles Hut the track climbed steeply to reach a pass and followed the natural curve of the slope for a while. The bush was minimal now so it was a stunning view that I tried hard to enjoy through my growing tiredness. I passed some more people heading in the opposite direction before I finally reached the beginning of the long descent. The shadows were starting to stretch a little and I was eager to get down to the hut in the valley below. It was a straight-forward descent surrounded by mountains disappearing into the distance in several directions with the hulk of Mount Somers as a constant companion to my left, its appearance changing as the terrain around it changed. As the path levelled out, I was sure I had just a few more corners till the hut would appear, but again when I consulted the map, I proved to be sorely wrong. I still had a good 45 mins of hiking to go. I was quite deflated by this stage, disheartened with the miscalculation of time, irritated by the heat, and disappointed at the failing condition of my hiking boots.

 

Despite all this, when a little side-track appeared as the path skirted a tributary of Morgan Stream, I took it to cut down to the water and look at some faux caves where the rocks created some channels and pools for the water flow to negotiate. It was tempting to have a wade but I really needed to get to the hut. The path cut down to Morgan Stream proper where I was startled by a large hedgehog scuttling into the bush, it having gotten as big a fright from me as I had by its sudden movement. Where the path disappeared into the stream and out the other side, I had to de-boot once more to cross it. After climbing back up the far slope, over the ridge and down the other side, I was beyond ecstatic to finally see Woolshed Creek Hut at the bottom of the hill. There were a lot of people milling about and I realised it was going to be busy. I almost skipped the last section of the hike only to be brought to a standstill when I realised Woolshed Creek stood between me and the hut. Off the boots came again and I didn’t bother putting them back on, dumping my stuff on the decking and popping inside.

 

The hut was a hive of activity, full of children inside and out, which seemed so foreign to me at the end of a long hike. I love seeing a new generation get into hiking and the outdoors, away from electronic devices, but it wasn’t what I wanted to find after a 7hr hike. It had been an hour longer than the DOC sign had stated meaning it was almost 2hrs longer than I thought it would have taken. I looked into the bunk rooms to discover that all the mattresses were spoken for and I realised I would be kipping on the floor. I wasn’t even the last person to arrive, with a few other groups of hikers having walked in on the shorter track. We all fought for space to prepare food and eat, and once the kitchen area was clear, I set up my camping mattress and sleeping bag under the workbench where I thought I’d be out of the way. The bugs kept me company for a bit, and I read a magazine in the torchlight before one by one, all of us that were sleeping on the floor settled in for the night. I was exhausted and mentally drained, and the next day I still had to make it back to my car.

New Zealand’s Ben Lomond

The inevitably of New Zealand being settled by the British is that there are a lot of common place names between New Zealand and the United Kingdom. When I discovered that there was a mountain called Ben Lomond, it seemed only natural that I should hike it when the opportunity arose, even though at the time I hadn’t even summited its Scottish namesake. In 2016, I made it up to the cloudy and wet summit of Scotland’s munro, and finally the time came in December 2017 to summit New Zealand’s version which dominates the skyline over Queenstown in Otago.

My original plan had been to hike up on Christmas Day. By this stage 6 years into my life in the Southern Hemisphere, it is still a novelty to have Christmas in the summer, and with my partner on shift work through the holiday season, I was spending the festive days on my own. But the weather forecast wasn’t the best for Christmas Day so I made the decision to hike on Christmas Eve instead and I was rewarded with a glorious day for it.

The track starts a little past the YHA Lakefront hostel where I was staying, almost immediately before entering Fernhill. A track and road cut away from the lakeside to reach a historic power house. From here, the One Mile track begins its zigzag through the dense forest, and this is also one of the routes up to the Skyline Gondola. I’d walked this track already with my brother the month before so it was familiar and for the most part well marked and obvious. The day my brother and I had walked it last time, we’d cut down to a waterfall and ended up having to rough it a bit to rejoin the track. I made sure not to make the same mistake again.

 

At a small dam on Wynyard Creek, the track turns upwards towards the mountain bike park, and from here onwards, the mountain bike trails criss cross the walking track at regular intervals meaning having to keep your ears open to avoid being taken out by a zealous rider. The forest here reminded me greatly of some of the cultivated forests in Scotland, the trees bare of leaves and the ground littered with pine cones. It is so different from the wild bush that I’m more accustomed to when out hiking in New Zealand. The forest opens up a little where the service road to the Gondola cuts through it and soon after, the Ben Lomond walkway begins and I was plunged back into the forest once more. The view was a little monotonous until eventually the tree-line was reached and from here onwards I was totally exposed to the elements.

 

Now, the summit of Ben Lomond was in sight and as I worked my way up the track, it became clear that it was going to be a populated hike. After a few bends, Lake Wakatipu came into view behind me, and some distance later, a side-track to the Skyline Gondola cut away. Then the long slog began as the curve of the mountain was followed, the lake growing larger behind me and Ben Lomond being a constant at my side. Despite the ever gain in altitude, the summit failed to look like it was getting any closer, and as the time passed, I came to realise how much I’d let my general fitness slide. I’m an avid hiker, but the last couple of years I hadn’t done as much summer hiking as previously, and I’d allowed myself to gain quite a bit of weight. Even before I was half-way up, I was sweating buckets and feeling like I was making slow progress.

 

After a few lower ridges of increasing altitude, the track finally reached the saddle at 1316m (4317ft) where the track makes a T-junction: the Ben Lomond summit track to the left, and the Moonlight track to the right. There was a bit of a congregation of hikers here, and for the first time, I could see over into the valley and mountains behind Ben Lomond. This is a world that is very much hidden from Queenstown and all I could see was the mountains of the Southern Alps stretching into the distance. Now I turned to face the summit push, and watched the dots of people in the distance grow smaller and smaller.

 

The summit track was tough going and I was finally realising that I needed to work on getting myself back in shape. But the view was spectacular with the mountain ranges to my right, and Lake Wakatipu to my left. Initially the track followed the brow of the ridge but eventually at about 1600m (5249ft), the track skirted behind the summit and became much more rough under foot. Most of the hike till now had been following a wide path, but here it was narrow, and where people came the other way, it necessitated balancing off the track to let them pass. I could see a large boulder field grow nearer and before I knew it I was amongst them, diligently following the route to the other side.

 

Now the dark water of Moke Lake came into view and as I curved round a little below the summit, Lake Wakatipu popped back into view as well, and finally I just had the last little incline to reach the busy and rocky summit of Ben Lomond (1748m/5735ft). The summit was so busy in fact that it was hard to find a spot to take a seat and people were wandering around taking photos, with bags strewn around the place. I ended up with a great view over Frankton and Lake Wakatipu to enjoy my lunch. Queenstown itself was almost totally hidden from view but I could see the tiny shape of the TSS Earnslaw steamship ploughing the waters between the town and the station on the far side of the lake. I took my time at the summit, enjoying the sunshine and the view. I normally hate busy trails but this time I actually quite enjoyed listening to the chatter and the buzz from everyone who was at the summit. It was a real mix of seasoned hikers who’d found it relatively easy, and those who were so proud of themselves for making it to the top when it had been tough for them.

 

The descent to the saddle was relatively quick despite the still steady stream of people hiking upwards that necessitated pausing on the trail. I didn’t linger at the saddle too long before retracing my steps back down the mountainside. This time I took the side track to cut across to the Skyline Gondola. I was tired and my legs were sore, and this section felt longer than it probably was. I was relieved to finally reach the Skyline Gondola terminal where hordes of people were everywhere ogling over the famous view. After pausing here for a while, I took the steep Tiki trail back through the forest down the hillside. My legs were really feeling the steepness and I was a little jelly-legged by the time I made it back into Queenstown about 8hrs after I left it, but I was thoroughly satisfied to have ticked another New Zealand summit off my list.

Helicopter Hill

I love the image of hiking through snow under a beautiful blue sky with the yellow orb of the sun shining overhead, but the reality is that getting out into the wilderness in the winter months takes skills that I don’t have. So inevitably, my hiking has a season, and come April it is starting to wind down as the days get noticeably short and the weather turns. Without the northern hemisphere’s luxury of having Christmas and New Year to break up the winter blues, I spend the winter months here counting down till September, the start of spring when I can start thinking about getting back to the mountains. The previous summer I’d managed to tick off a lot of mountains on my wish-list, leaving just a handful within reach of Christchurch still to summit. Unfortunately the weather of the summer just passed fell short and I barely had much opportunity to get into the mountains. So when a lovely April Sunday presented itself, I was keen to get into the Southern Alps and tick one off the list.

It takes about an hour to even reach the mountains from Christchurch in New Zealand’s South Island, but on the west coast road, State Highway (SH) 73, there are plenty of mountains to choose from. Passing Trig M which I’d hiked the summer before last, I continued for another half hour past the rock feature of Castle Hill, and the lookout at Cave Stream Scenic Reserve, before turning in at Craigieburn Forest Park and parking up at the campground. As it turned out, I hadn’t paid much attention to the starting altitude, looking only at the summit and feeling it was a good one to add to the list of mountains >1000m (>3281ft) that I’ve hiked in New Zealand. With the car park at 800m (2624ft), it turns out this was a good cheat hike: the stunning views but without a lot of climbing. I was up and down in 3hrs.

As the sun was noticeably low at the end of April, upon entering the forest at the start of the Mistletoe track, I was plunged into a cold shade on the lee of the mountain. In places some dappled sunshine broke through the trees, but it was almost a little chilly in the shaded sections. Sticking with the Mistletoe track at the track junction, it was a pleasant enough forest walk and there were actually several other people on the trail. Eventually as the track hugged into the cold, shaded flank of Helicopter Hill, it began its zig-zag up the mountainside. Only after gaining about 250m (820ft) did the trees open up to give a hint of the view.

 

Whilst Helicopter Hill’s summit is 1256m (4121ft), it is absolutely dwarfed by most of the mountains that surround it. Looking out at this first view point, I could see over the top of the forest and beyond to the tree-less slopes of the Craigieburn Range that include the Broken River ski field. The sky was a beautiful cloudless blue: a gorgeous day to go hiking. Beyond here, there wasn’t much further to go to reach the turn-off to the Helicopter Hill track that leads up to the summit. This junction meets a mountain biking trail and there were lots of bikers out that day too.

 

The whole way up the summit track there was a view to be had in at least one direction if not more. Rocky and loose under foot in places, it was an easily followed path through shrubbery and open vegetation. The peak behind me had a distinctive cone-like summit and as I gained altitude, I could see the buildings of the ski centre in the distance more clearly. I reached the summit just as some of the bikers were leaving and I had it to myself, or so I thought. Some rustling drew my attention to a tree near the summit and I saw a bird of prey sitting majestically at the top. It took to the wing before I could get a photo, and I watched it thermal out of view, leaving me on my own.

 

The view was beautiful. Far below me SH 73 curled through the valley, and the tiny vehicles occasionally glistened as they caught a bit of sun. Many of the surrounding peaks have no name, but there wasn’t a shortage to look at. After enjoying my lunch in the sunshine, I started to head back down the rocky track, passing a group of bikers carrying their bikes up the track. I lost traction in a couple of places underfoot, catching myself before I fell, then before long, I was alerted by some noise behind me to the bikers hurtling down the track towards me. There are many shared hike and bike tracks in New Zealand, but this was probably the most dangerous one I’d been on. The bikers gave no consideration to me hiking the track and I had to keep ducking into a bush to get out their way. Not an always an easy feat when the bush is at the top of a large drop off the mountainside.

 

Back down at the track junction there were even more mountain bikers. None of the hikers I’d met on the Mistletoe Track were anywhere to be seen, but there was a plethora of people out riding that day. To make the hike longer, I chose to return via the Luge track. This stays on a roughly even altitude plane for quite some distance before eventually dropping down the mountainside towards the road that leads up to the ski field. This track though was the main descent for the bikers, so I had to give way time and again as they sped towards and past me. At the bottom, there was a bubbling stream to cross, and out I popped onto the unsealed access road. From here, it was just a matter of following the road down the hill to where I’d parked my car. A much shorter mountain hike than I’m used to, it was a nice autumnal stretch of the legs. A great view for comparatively little effort. What more could you want from a hike?

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: