2 - 9 February 2019
We’ve had several attempts to run this trip and this one got quite complicated at one point, but in the end it came together with two groups of four walking from each end. We swapped cars before we left Christchurch so the two groups had the flexibility to adjust their tramps as needed (we were expecting some heavy rain mid tramp).
After a cruisey drive to Tapawera and a meal at the local pub, we retired to our little motel to drink a bottle of wine and finish off the container of ice cream we had started earlier. It was a tough day!
We had heard there could be problems with the Dart ford after rain so we had taken a bike and Kevin was planning to drop us and packs, return the car on the other side of the ford and bike back. However the ford in question was a great concrete construction a good metre or more above the river and crossing would only be an issue after a major storm. After some discussion, (after all it wasn’t our car) we decided biking would just not be sensible and we left the car at the start of the track with all the others. This meant we should get to Stone hut for the night rather than just Kings Creek.
There were several highlights of the day, the first being the massive patch of ripe blackberries at morning tea. We enjoyed them again for pudding that night as I decided that fresh blackberries would go better with chocolate instant pudding that the planned dried cranberries. It was getting really hot by lunchtime so we hunted out a lunch spot where we could get down to the river for a quick dip to cool off. The afternoon continued hot, but occasionally we would cross shaded gulley’s that channelled a cool and welcome breeze. Hilaire had commented that leaving the shade was like an oven door opening so we decided that these cool gullies had to be the fridge. We enjoyed a break at Kings Creek Hut (there’s a picnic table in the shade) then again shortly after at the historic and wonderfully restored Cecil King Hut. That night we were joined at Stone hut by two other trampers, and as it turned out this was the only time we shared a hut (and we only met 5 other trampers in total).
The next day we headed uphill to the Wangapeka saddle for morning tea. Despite the track being in good condition we hadn’t made the stated track times the previous day (even deducting our long stops) so we had decided that the option to continue up over Biggs tops and down to Trevor Carter Hut wouldn’t be best for this group, and continued on to Helicopter hut. If we got there in good time we could still drop down lost valley track to meet the others at Trevor Carter hut.
Sketch of Helicopter Hut by Hilaire Campbell
As it turned out we didn’t make any better time this day and stayed at Helicopter Hut that night (a dip in the river to cool off being much more attractive than another 1.5- 2 hours of tramping). Until it reached the Karamea River the track had seemed to still be maintained, but from then on it seemed to become more overgrown - though the track itself is still quite intact.
The track from Helicopter hut to the Taipo River was an interesting, cutting into some bluffs at times. Though we found it pleasant, in the rain, it would have been less so, and the chain across one gully would have been a necessity rather than a just a convenience. Walking alongside the Taipo River we came upon a huge swimming hole – and then realised that we were only seeing half of it. There was a deep gorge (10m deep?) feeding into the swimming hole and together they would have made the best swimming pool I ever seen (you could swim lengths!). Unfortunately, we didn’t take a swim as the weather had turned cooler that day, and in fact it started to rain later that afternoon. Luckily, it was a short tramping day and we were well settled into Taipo hut by then.
Day four was the longest day and the one that the rain was forecast for so we were very pleased that it had rained during the night instead. It didn’t rain that morning but dripping trees and wet flax and grass found us wearing raincoats anyway. It was a steady uphill to Stag Flat bivvy for first morning tea. A nice bivvy, but unfortunately the clouds hid any view of Stag Flat and the mountains we had glimpsed from the hut the night before. After a short walk, along an unexpected board walk, we continued uphill through wet vegetation until we came out onto the open Wanganui saddle. This was a magical spot and we lingered to take in the view of the two tarns. The clouds added to the atmosphere although they obscured the view to the coast seen by the other group.
A bit of steep downhill then a zig zag down saw us enjoying lunch at the brand new Wangapeka Biv, comfortably seated on plastic chairs in the hot sun. When clouds started to blow back across bring some light drizzle we headed onwards. A large diversion up and over a cliffy section slowed us down but we got most of the way to the hut before the drizzle turned to light rain – though as Kevin pointed out, in West Coast terns it was a mere “bit of moisture in the air”. We were pleased to reach Belltown- Manunui Hut that afternoon, and we enjoyed watching the resident weka with her 4 small chicks. Being a wet evening, we also appreciated the boardwalk connecting the hut to the toilet.
Our final day was fine and warm and we got to enjoy some more blackberries on the way. On the drive to Westport we debated the merits of coffee vs ice cream vs beer so were pleasantly surprised to find that the café in Granity could supply all three. I don’t think anyone had all three, but Kevin and I enjoyed both a beer and an ice cream.
After overnighting at the Westport YHA we had a leisurely drive back home with time to stop to check out some shops in Reefton and surprisingly good pies in Culverden for lunch (and more ice cream!). Thanks to Chris for making this all possible by leading the other group.
West to East: Heather ( leader) & Kevin Hughes, Hilaire Campbell, Anne Hunter
East to West: Chris Leaver (leader), Joy Schroeder, Vesna Mojsilovic, Alison MacColl (HH)