Author Archives: rachel

Kanangra Main (14 Jan 2023)

Kanangra-style canyons aren’t really my cup of tea. I’d much rather be in sculpted sandstone slots than on narrow quartzite ledges. Which probably explains why it had been 14 years between visits to Kanangra Main!

With 3 weeks of big hills in NZ (and a bunch of moving about on sketchy slopes) we were keen to use some of that fitness before it vanished again. We managed to pull together a crew of 5 at fairly late notice for a descent of Kanangra Main.

I expected we wouldn’t be the only ones out there with limited rain in the past couple of weeks and a brilliant weather forecast. There was a party of two heading up the road as we pulled into the Walls car park just after 7am. And then some more cars drove in as we were walking up the road a short time later.

Views on the walk in

The party of two were on their way down the first abseil when we arrived. I turned around to talk to whoever from my party was behind me only to find it wasn’t someone from our group! A group of 3 had caught up with us – they were clearly motivated to get in front of a group of 5 old farts and were quickly suited up and heading down. It was unfortunate timing as we were the only three parties for the day.

Someone’s here ahead of us

Since the wall was occupied we figured we may as well avoid the exposed gully and abseil down instead. It was a nice warm up on a low consequence drop!

Warming up (avoiding the exposed gully) [Our abseil 1]

We had to cool our heels at the top of the wall for a while as the party of 3 got down the first 52m drop. We had decided to split the first drop into two – 15m/39m. Tom & Jon headed down the 15m and set the longer drop. Then Smiffy & I went through with our second set of ropes to set the next drop.

Looking down the wall [Our abseil 2]

Smiffy abseiling to the pinnacle [Our abseil 4]

So far (not very) our sequencing of ropes and people was working out pretty efficiently. The group in front weren’t moving much faster as we kept catching them. Unfortunately getting to the pinnacle was about as far as our planning had gone with who needed to be where when. The wheels fell off the efficiency bus at the pinnacle when we didn’t send the ropes down as soon as they were available. You can tell the group hadn’t done much canyoning together/of this nature recently!

Smiffy leaving the pinnacle [Our abseil 5]

That left me & Smiffy with 4 of the ropes we were carrying, with the 5th set on the abseil, and the rest of the group waiting unable to set the next abseil. To compound matters when we’d pulled the ropes from the pinnacle one of the ends had been pulled downstream and caught in something in the falls. We couldn’t free it from above but fortunately Smiffy was able to abseil part way down, and free it before continuing on.

Smiffy abseiling down to try and free the rope stuck in the falls [Our abseil 6]

We were more conscious of which ropes needed to be where after that! Though there were less abseils directly on top of each other so sequencing was less important.

Smiffy abseiling again [Our abseil 7]

Toni abseiling [Our abseil 8]

After a bit of creek walking most of us used the in-situ handline to get down to the boulder where I set the 9m abseil. Toni and I rapped it – it’s somewhat awkward, definitely looked like going down the chute would be easier.

Jon jumped from the boulder, unfortunately I wasn’t quite ready with the camera, my photo just looks like he’s sitting on it… so it didn’t make the cut for the blog. I was expecting Smiffy and Tom to both jump as well, but the need to protect a camera (Smiffy) and a knee (Tom) meant they abseiled as well.

Smiffy swimming as Tom prepares to abseil [Our abseil 9]

Next up was Tom & my nemesis set of abseils. On our only previous visit we had spent 2.5 hours here, as Tom had needed to prusik up this drop as our ropes wouldn’t pull.

Tom abseiling [Our abseil 10]

This time things went much more smoothly, though the drag on the ropes for the 56m abseil made it hard work getting down.

Tom abseiling again, while the rest of they party look on [Our abseil 11]

Smiffy abseiling – the rest of the party tiny specks at the bottom [Our abseil 11]

The next photogenic drop caused much dissension as all the photographers wanted to get down the bottom. Tom was about as decisive as I’ve ever seen him by getting the rap set and going first. I sacrificed my photographic needs by going last – though my camera went down with Jon hence a photo of me on the drop!

Tom abseiling [Our abseil 12]

Me abseiling! [Our abseil 12] (photo: Tom)

I helped Tom with the rope pull for this drop – it was super hard work. I thought my arms were going to fall off by the time we’d finished dealing with the ropes. In the meantime Toni & Smiffy had bypassed the next drop, but since Jon had set the rope the rest of us abseiled it.

Jon swimming, Tom abseiling [My abseil 13]

Then we abseiled from the tree on the left, though Tom did go scouting for the bolts only finding the single bolt on the right.

Smiffy abseiling [My abseil 14, Smiffy’s 13th]

Finally I set the last abseil since Toni’s scrambling route on the right looked far too vegetated to be any fun. Though checking the notes later supposedly it can be scrambled on the left as well – I didn’t look very hard for a route down.

Tom abseiling [My abseil 15]

The rock-hop down Kanangra Creek was very enjoyable (well maybe for those of us who didn’t bash up our shins just before the exit) and we had great views of the walls. There is something to be said for taking your time through the canyon because then it isn’t so hot for the walk out!

Toni in Kanangra Creek

Tom & Jon in Kanangra Creek

We discussed our sequencing for the exit (somewhat in jest) but knowing that things would be a bit loose. Subsequently I found myself at the front following an initially fairly clear pad up the ridge. I lost the main route at some point and found myself traversing under a bluff higher than I should have been, though I was able to rejoin the more trodden route.

It was a lot less pleasant than I remembered from previous uses – I think post-fires it has changed a bit. However, all my clinging onto vegetation above large drops on the Dragons Teeth two weeks earlier had put me in a good frame of mind for this exit!

The Spires from some way up Manslaughter Ridge

Happy to be at the track at the top

At the top at 6:20pm I headed out to the lookout to wait for the others. We all had the mandatory visit to the lookout and eventually wandered back to the car park almost exactly 12 hours after we’d left it this morning.

It was great to be able to just drive back to (the very quiet) Boyd River Campground and dig into snacks. The other highlight was my clothes being pre-warmed from being in Jon’s car all day – like getting into clothes that have been sitting on the towel-warmer!

So many snacks consumed that we didn’t eat dinner. Eventually fatigue overcame me and I had to retire as the rate of yawning to not-yawning was way out of proportion. An excellent day and evening.

Nelson to Christchurch (3-7 Jan 2023)

Nine glorious days of fine weather had to come to an end at some point. We thought it was at the end of the our 9-day trip, but the good weather still existed on the other side of Takaka Hill. In Nelson we had a glorious dinner by the river the night we finished, and then a lovely (if we ignore the sore feet) walk towards Tahuhanui.

Sunset in Nelson

A relaxed start the next morning had us meandering towards Murchison where we enjoyed “caesar salads” (with the non-traditional ingredients of cabbage, carrot, tomato..) – I didn’t care about the unusual ingredients I was just happy to be eating fresh vegetables! Post lunch we had a short stop at Maruia Falls, before our indulgent night of the trip at Maruia Hot Springs.

Maruia Falls- created by earthquake uplift

Unfortunately no one gave me the memo to bring my fly face net – it would have been perfect. Submerged in the outdoor hotpools it was just my face that the sandflies had access to. Next time it will be an essential item on the packing list – and to be honest, might be something worth throwing in for any NZ trip in summer.

Maruia Hot Springs

The weather was meant to be worst the two days we were in Arthur’s Pass. We tried to be ambivalent about it – after all we had just had the most amazing weather for the part of the trip where it was most important. Heavy rain warnings were in place for much of the North Island and parts of the northern South Island. While we weren’t under a warning there was still the potential for plenty of rain. On the bright side we were in a motel not a tent!

Lookout Keas about!

Those pesky keas

A guilty looking culprit

The rain set in not long after we arrived in Arthur’s Pass village. When it eased off a bit we took the chance to walk to the Devils Punchbowl (waterfall).

Devils Punchbowl

This was followed by an early dinner at the Wobbly Kea. Arthur’s Pass seemed to have the most pronounced staff shortages of anywhere we had been, leading to reduced menus/opening hours and at times poor customer service (not at the Wobbly Kea which was excellent despite its challenges). I understand the issues and have sympathy for the individual business owners, but it does make travelling a bit of a drag. How’s that for first world problems?

The next day we’d been hoping to do Avalanche Peak but with the conditions there was little point. Checking the MetService forecast in the morning we saw there was 38mm of rain forecast for Avalanche Peak for the afternoon, but only a few millimetres for the morning. Better get out and doing something in the morning then. Though then we checked some other forecasts which suggested the afternoon would be better than the morning. Who to believe? In the end we got going and had a relatively dry walk up the Arthur’s Pass Walking Track. At the top we even climbed a bit of a way up the Temple Basin track to get a view of a waterfall (when the clouds cleared enough).


Large daisy

Part way up the Temple Basin Track

We were somewhat bemused as we started seeing a string of people just starting out as we got nearer to the village on our way back – one commented “what a stunning day”. I guessed she’d driven from Christchurch which was still having good weather (but look out the next day). We looked very overdressed in our tramping rain jackets – which admittedly I did need to take off just before the end as I’d got too warm. A small part of me was wondering if we should have waited – but then about an hour after getting back to our motel it poured. And poured. And poured. So much so the smugness threatened to overwhelm our motel room. Eventually it eased off enough for us to run across the road for a coffee. And do a bit more wandering the small tracks around town. Once again glad I wasn’t in a tent.

The next morning we set out in wet conditions towards Christchurch. I had picked out a walk but it involved a 2000m+ peak which seemed a bit pointless/masochistic given the weather. I would have liked to give the Cave Stream Creek cave a go – but at 13°C it didn’t seem like the most sensible option for the day either. Instead we just checked out the inlet and outlet – next time.

Cave Stream Creek exit (creek entrance)

Funky scenery

We also stopped at Castle Hill and did the tourist walk there – the rock formations were great. Eventually we found ourselves at the Botanic Gardens in Christchurch – where randomly we bumped into 2 people we’d met at Fenella Hut on 1st Jan. And there endeth the holiday.

Douglas Range Traverse (Dragons Teeth “High route”) 26 Dec 2022 – 3 Jan 2023 (Days 7-9)

Continued from days 4 – 6

Day 7: Lonely Lake Hut to Fenella Hut

As seemed to be the case almost every day on this trip we started the day with a stiff climb. I was surprised how quickly we exited from the bush and started getting views. The weather was amazing and I was thrilled we had been able to sit out the previous day – I couldn’t help but think of the 9 others who’d left Lonely Lake yesterday who probably didn’t get any views.

Once we left the bush line we followed dramatic ridge after dramatic ridge. Views in every direction! Valley cloud – Tom’s favourite! So many photo stops.

Valley of cloud – can you spot the Brocken Spectre?

Approaching Lonely Lake from the north we didn’t get a view of it until we were almost in it. Whereas if you approach from the south you have many views from quite a way out.

Looking back – Lonely Lake the hanging Lake on the mid-right, Dragons Teeth prominent back left

There were some less than pleasant sections. In particular going over spot height 1610 – this was our first encounter with Golden Spaniard (aka speargrass) for the trip. Up until then I’d been pretty comfortable grabbing hold of whatever vegetation was in front of me when I felt the need. No longer. Some particularly pathetic yelps came out my mouth as I managed to get Golden Spaniard spikes into the scrapes on my knees from the previous days.

All in all this was a magnificent day of walking – but not a good one to do in bad weather. There was still enormous exposure in some sections – and at times I was a bit uncomfortable, I do like having three points of contact and when you’re just walking on a narrow ridge top you only have two!

Climbing the slopes of Kakapo Peak

Traversing the screen slope below Kakapo Peak

A new view! (towards the Cobb Valley)

I saw a few of these through the trip

The closer we got to civilisation (Fenella Hut) the more elaborate the cairns became. Then we started bumping into people. Aagh!

Someone went to a lot of effort with that cairn

The sidle around Waingaro Peak was surprisingly taxing – maybe we’d mentally switched off by that point thinking we were almost done.

Sidling around Waingaro Peak

Fenella Hut

I got more sandfly bites in the first 10 minutes at Fenella Hut than I had in the rest of the trip. We soon retreated inside to escape. Then we walked the “2 furlongs” (400m) to the swimming hole. The write-ups had made a big deal of the swimming hole and with good reason. A tarn perched on the ridge-top with easy access on rock in and out, deep & long enough to swim laps in it. Amazing.

The amazing swimming pool (tarn) near Fenella Hut

Tom with Xenicus Peak behind him

We had been a bit concerned about how busy Fenella Hut was going to be. There had been 12 people there the night before. Neither of us sleep very well in huts with other people, maybe we’d get used to it if we did it more? So even though there only ended up being 6 others we decided to set up the tent. It ended up being a good call as we both had the best night’s sleep we’d had on the trip.

That didn’t stop us socialising with the very chatty group that were in the hut. Three of them had come down from Auckland specifically to spend New Years Eve with Nelson-based friends. One problem – the local friends had not been at the trailhead when they arrived and had not turned up in the 3 days they’d been staying there. We got introduced to the blocks of cheese – Zoe and Zac – named after the missing friends. There was a fire sale that night on all the spare food which had been carried in for them.

Day 8: Fenella Hut – Mt Gibbs – Round Lake – Cobb Lake – Cobb Hut – Fenella Hut (day walk)

Since we still had an extra day up our sleeve (thanks to the amazing weather) we opted for a second night in the vicinity of Fenella Hut.

We had talked about getting up early to do a day walk – mainly to try and get some of the walking done in the early morning before the sun got too intense. But when I looked out the tent there was low cloud so there didn’t seem to be any hurry. Eventually we got up and it looked like the cloud was going to clear so we got going.

I was expecting to feel like I was bouncing up the hills with only a day pack. Sadly that was not the case. The 500m ascent to the Mt Gibbs ridge was just as hard as any other climb we’d done (if not worse).

Views down the Cobb Valley – our exit route the next day

Tom a mere speck on the ridge connecting Xenicus Peak and Mt Gibbs

It turned into another stunning day, and we enjoyed our two morning teas. One overlooking Xenicus Peak from the end of the rocky ridge before the saddle, and the other after summitting Mt Gibbs, overlooking Island Lake.

Contemplating what we walked over the previous 7 days

Views over Island Lake

By comparison our lunch spot at Round Lake was a bit boring.

Descending to Round Lake

We’d considered moving into the hut for our second night to avoid having a wet tent to pack up in the morning. However as more and more people arrived that didn’t happen. The second night had 11 or 12 in the hut, and 5 (including us) camping. One group of 5 had come over the high route like us and we enjoyed debriefing the trip with them. Another adventurous couple were on day 10 of a 15 day circuit around Kahurangi and they were now needing to rush the Douglas Traverse (low route) to try and beat an incoming severe weather system later in the week.

Day 9: Fenella Hut to Trilobite Hut (road end)

Even though our pick up wasn’t scheduled until 1:30pm we decided get away early-ish so we weren’t under any time pressure on the walk out.

The historic Tent Camp on the walk out

The first couple of hours were dry but eventually, in a first for me on the trip, we had to put our raincoats on. It was pretty incredible that for a 9 day trip that was the only time I used my raincoat. There had been rain on a couple of occasions earlier but it was either overnight or on our rest day.

Hmm, do we need to get the raincoats out?

Since we seemed to be making good time we did have our customary two morning tea stops. At the first one a robin came to visit. It was very bold and eventually started pecking Tom’s pack!

Robin intent on pecking Tom’s pack to bits

Even with our two breaks it only took 4 hours to walk out which meant we had ages to wait for our pick-up. The group of 5 that we’d enjoyed chatting with the previous night arrived and hung around for a while so that helped pass the time. And it turned out there were 2 others also waiting for the same shuttle. They were an interesting couple based in Westport who had a lot of local tramping knowledge.

The Cobb Valley trailhead (Trilobite Hut)

Bang on 1:30pm our shuttle arrived dropping off 2 people and collecting 4 of us. As we chatted on the way back it transpired the two people who had been dropped off were the infamous Zoe and Zac – they had made it just a day after their friends had left!

A few hours later we were back in Nelson well satisfied with an amazing trip.

Douglas Range Traverse (Dragons Teeth “High route”) 26 Dec 2022 – 3 Jan 2023 (Days 4-6)

continued from Days 1-3

Day 4: Adelaide Tarn Hut to Anatoki Peak tarns

The crux day had arrived. It dawned clear and I tried to prod Tom into action at 5am (first light). He was unimpressed and refused to move until 5:30am. We were away by 7:25am in clear but breezy (cold) conditions.

Dawn at Adelaide Tarn, with Mt Olympus just in the sun

Climbing to the saddle above Adelaide Tarn

On the map we had approximately 2 kilometres to cover for the day. Time estimates from JC were between 5 to 9 hours. The second half of the route had the potential to be the slowest per km rate we’d ever covered.

Almost immediately we were over thinking the route – not far below the saddle there is a steep descent down a chute – a bit of faffing about before realising it was easy (or would have been without a pack) and more importantly the way to go.

we just need to get around those peaks…

The first section is relatively straight-forward, sidling below Mt Douglas and then following forested sections along the main ridge towards the Dragons Teeth.

On to the main ridge below Mt Douglas

Easy walking in the forested ridge

Then it was a matter of staying on course as we meandered up and down and around various open sections, bushy sections, exposed sections. The cool day quickly warmed up with not a cloud to be seen. As we were traversing the eastern side of the range we were getting the full sun – amazing conditions but almost too nice.

Crossing the first slab

As we started descending along side a cliff line we came to what seemed to be a relatively recent slip*. I was over the shale slip before Tom got there – it was fairly sketchy. Rather than him come across if it wasn’t the right way and both of us have to reverse it I kept going to see if it seemed right. It was well trodden under foot but no cairns or markers.

It kept going a fair way so Tom came across, and we kept heading down. As I started climbing down a vegetated bank (well-trodden but probably not likely to last that long due to the erosion) Tom had a look at the GPS which had an OpenStreetMaps route loaded on it. It suggested we were off the route by 30-odd metres. So he headed back up. Just below the slip there was a ribbon on a tree which we’d missed. So he came back and we went back up with our packs. Climbing up at the ribbon I then found a tin lid on a tree on the ledge we were now on.

Some way below a relatively new dodgy slip – we initially missed the route climbing up to the right after it

So in theory back on track. But that ledge got skinnier and skinnier and I wasn’t overly game to edge out and see what happened. But there didn’t seem to be any other options. In the end I climbed up a vertical bank of vegetation (not a regularly-used option!) and got onto the spur. Tom did a similar but slightly less scratchy route. According to the GPS we were in the vicinity of the route.

We forged our own route up a wall of vegetation to get over this spur

From the spur we had a good view of what was coming up. Consulting JC’s notes we couldn’t really make that much sense of what we could see in front of us based on his description. Nevertheless we followed them and found ourselves back with some markers going into the bush.

Back on the “route” heading over another set of slabs

The route then traversed some narrow ledges, with quite a few climb-ups using trees as we made our way around the base of one of the long buttresses. The route was somewhat airy – there was just a line of vegetation between you and a significant drop.

The route alternated between being surrounded by bush and more open sections

The orange tags were a welcome site as they confirmed we were where we were meant to be (we hoped!)

Tom on one of numerous exposed climbs

Looking back to the saddle (far left of the photo) where we started from. Tom a speck down the slope

Eventually we popped out onto an open snow grass section. At which point Tom realised that we had not come anywhere near as far as we thought we had – which is why the notes hadn’t matched what we could see. We were now where we had thought we were an hour (or more?) earlier. The notes made a bit more sense now!

We had continued to be baked as we traversed the east-facing slopes and having had a fair bit of sun over the previous 3 days we agreed lunch needed to happen in the forest. This was a shame as there were some really great spots to stop, but none of them had any shade.

We found a reasonable spot in the forest for lunch before arriving at JC’s “open shale area”. It was fairly evident where to turn off, so maybe several years of his notes being available have helped with the route finding in this section. That said soon after as we exited from a rocky gully the pad appeared to vanish. There was clearly an orange tag indicating to go into the bush but then not much evidence on the ground. After a bunch of pushing through vegetation (and undoubtedly confusing things for future parties) Tom found some orange markers. Thank goodness – this route is fairly committing and having come this far the thought of reversing it to go the low route was almost unthinkable.

Tree trying to swallow a marker

After some easy bush travel we hit the final “very steep climb”. This was around 150-200m of many 2-3m climbs, normally needing to haul on at least one tree if not two. Without the vegetation the route would be perilous – fortunately the vegetation, for the moment, is solid.

Near the base of the final 150-odd metres of scrambling ascent to get onto Anatoki Ridge

Looking down from where you “top out” from the vertical stuff

There was a palpable sense of relief when we finally topped out. I think Tom’s first words were “Well, that was terrifying”. My response was “I have no desire to do that route ever again”.

Somehow we came around that spur immediately behind Tom!

We tried to put our finger on why we felt like we’d underestimated the route. It was within our capabilities but we hadn’t enjoyed significant sections of it. It was way more airy, and the climbing was pretty sustained in sections. None of the moves by themselves were overly difficult – we did all the moves with our (still quite heavy) packs on. But the need to haul on vegetation over and over again with very large drops below you was mentally taxing. The warmth/time in sun also didn’t help general fatigue.

We’d had a big drink before we’d left camp in the morning, and then sculled another litre at one of the streams we’d crossed, in addition to carrying 2 litres of water each. Tom ran out of water just after we topped out, and I finished mine just as we got to one of the tarns below Anatoki Peak. Some comments I’d seen made me wonder if there was more water than usual when we did it – we crossed several running streams and there were lots of tarns below Anatoki Peak – so finding water wasn’t an issue for us – but I don’t know if some of those dry up at times?

If you’re going to attempt this route, every party member needs to be a confident scrambler with pack on, and fine with exposure. Pack-hauling would be quite sketchy/difficult. You do not want to get part way through the route and find you need to turn around.

One of the groups we met later in the trip told us of a solo walker who was behind them in this section. A helicopter appeared and went straight to a spot on the route so they assumed the walker had called for help/set off a PLB. Others we met later on had heard that the walker had got stuck with no way to go forward but couldn’t reverse.

Tom on Anatoki Ridge, with the Dragons Teeth behind him

JC said the tarns (with great campsite) were at the top of the K on the word “peak” on the map. Once we had a drink at one of the low tarns I didn’t have any desire to spend any longer than necessary finding a campsite. So I asked Tom where this “K” spot was in relation to where we were. At that point Tom realised he didn’t have the GPS on a NZ Datum, and so despite having map and GPS, it required him digging into his pack and fiddling with his phone for a while to come up with an answer. Both of our feet were suffering by then as our socks and boots hadn’t dried out from the day before. Oh to get to camp and get them off!

Tom trying to work out where “k” on “Peak” on the map correlates to on the ground

We had made it in around 9 hours (including 2 morning teas, lunch, and a water sculling stop and of course much photo taking). We didn’t feel like we’d wasted much time route-finding other then just below the shale slip. Travelling with heavy packs definitely slows you down – hats off to JC’s group who did in 6.5 hours presumably with similar-sized packs.

We didn’t discover the “great campsite”. I climbed a ways further up, and there were so many tarns, but I couldn’t see anything obvious from a camping perspective. Maybe our expectations were too high.

We continued to be baked for a few hours as with the way the rock slopes there wasn’t really any shade – and the sun doesn’t set until 9pm! Ah some relief when the sun went below Anatoki Peak!

I rejected Tom’s tent site selection, and convinced him to set up near a photogenic tarn. Being wedged between two rocks made pitching the guy lines a bit tricky. It didn’t seem to matter too much at the time as there wasn’t much wind…

Our campsite below Anatoki Peak

However the wind swung around and picked up by the time we went to bed. So it was blowing directly into the big end of the tent. We had a somewhat disturbed night as the front pegs got completely blown out a couple of times. Fortunately we managed to locate the pegs each time! When it happened again at 5am I suggested we just call it quits and pack up.

Day 5: Anatoki Peak tarns to Lonely Lake Hut

Camp spot chosen for photo potential rather than protection from wind

We picked up the cairns near our campsite and easily followed them along the eastern slopes (more baking in the sun to come!). JC made mention of a difficult bit, though easier than anything we’d done the previous day. By comparison the sidle on a narrow ledge was very straight-forward!

1 of 2 slightly sketchy sections between Anatoki Peak and the Drunken Sailors

I got us slightly off-track thinking I’d seen a cairn well above us when in fact it was a goat standing in a saddle. But besides that the only spot where we had any issues with the route was the second slightly sketchy section for the day. This was climbing up the slopes of 1564 and needing to traverse around to the saddle below the twin peaks.

I had seen a cairn from a distance but then once we got in below the bluffs I couldn’t see it and there were multiple pads on the ground. The more obvious route along a narrow ledge was difficult to get on to. Eventually we came back to it having exhausted other options and I realised there was an easy(-ish) place further along to get on, and from there it was no worse than, say the ledge traverse in Myall Creek in Morton NP. There was a second section of narrow traversing around the corner which then took us to the cairn I’d seen some time ago climbing up.

The second slightly sketchy section (cairn in left foreground)

JC had suggested the twin summits worth climbing were at 1564. After morning tea we ascended the twin summits – one each!

Tom on one of the twin peaks at spot height 1564

We continued sidling and eventually we were in the saddle below the Drunken Sailors. I guess at that point we could say the High Route was complete, as that is where you would re-meet the route if you did the low version.

Tom with the Drunken Sailors in the background

Vegetable sheep

I was (as always) keen to push on to the hut – as it felt like it should be just around the corner. Tom wanted to do yet more foot surgery. But once I realised the hut was a lot further away and I found some shade (a rare commodity) we stopped for lunch. It probably illustrated how little shade the previous 4.5 days had offered that we were so happy to be able to enjoy lunch without worrying about getting burnt. The spot was absolute bliss, next to a delightful running creek.

Lunch in the shade!!!

Eventually we tore ourselves away from the shade and continued down towards Lonely Lake Hut. It took a long time for us to get a view of the lake, but I loved following the creek down beside numerous cascades. The hut itself is set well away from the lake on the bush edge. It is a great spot with views, a picnic table, and to our immense relief a flat, sheltered tent spot. There are other camping options nearer the lake but after our windy night we were just happy to have somewhere we would get a peaceful night’s sleep!

There were already 3 people at the hut when we arrived – having walked in from Fenella Hut that morning. They highly recommended a swim so we didn’t waste much time heading down to the lake. I was excited to find a nice pool below the outlet.

A beaut swimming hole below the outlet of Lonely Lake

We quizzed the others on the weather forecast and they suggested it was supposed to be reasonable until at least the 3rd or 4th. This was excellent news as it meant we could spend 2 nights at Lonely Lake. We were both ready for a rest day.

As we were all settling into dinner another 2 people arrived. George and Holly put our efforts to absolute shame. They had left Adelaide Tarn around 9am, and come the whole way, including climbing one of the Teeth, and got in at 6pm. Though they were carrying packs that looked far more like day packs!

They said there was another group of 4 also on their way – this group arrived some time later looking much more like what we would’ve done if we’d tried to combine the two days. They headed down to the lake to camp so we didn’t chat much to them. But between the original 3 and George and Holly we had a very convivial evening out at the picnic table, even though the mist had turned quite wet. The damp was what eventually sent us to bed.

The very cute Lonely Lake Hut

Our sheltered, flat campsite next to the hut

Day 6: Lonely Lake Hut (rest day)

Knowing we didn’t need to go anywhere was amazing. So amazing that we slept in till almost 9:30am – that’s 12 hours in bed. The mist/mizzle from the night before had just got denser overnight. There was little to be seen and the other groups left it late to depart in the hope that the cloud would lift. As it was they all set off in less than stellar conditions, and by 10am we had the hut to ourselves which meant a nice dry (very late) breakfast. We had intended to climb the Drunken Sailors but as we remained in the cloud for almost the entire day I wasn’t unhappy that there didn’t seem to be much point!

No views for most of our rest day

Between reading the hut log books going all the way back to 1973, doing a quiz, screwing up a sudoku and almost finishing a cryptic crossword, the day passed rather quickly. A group of 4 did arrive later in the afternoon having come through the low route due to the drizzly conditions – they camped down by the lake so we had the hut area to ourselves for New Years Eve. Not that we made it up very late!

The evening ended up being quite lovely

The view sans-cloud!

*confirmed to be <4 years old by someone we met later in the trip. He had done the route 4 years earlier and it didn’t exist then.

The trip continues here.

Douglas Range Traverse (Dragons Teeth “High route”) 26 Dec 2022 – 3 Jan 2023 (Days 1-3)

We’d been thinking about the Douglas Range Traverse for a few years. We decided this was the year, and having a read a bit about the “high route” we thought it was definitely up our alley. After all, we love scrambling routes, particularly if it means you can bypass a 700m ascent/descent (the alternative if you go the “low route”).

John Chapman, well-known Australian bushwalking guidebook author, had published some notes for the high route. Having used JC’s notes for the Western Arthurs and Frenchmans Cap in the last couple of years we were familiar with his style, and had some gauge on how our walking times correlated to his (including breaks we were generally about the upper end of his estimates). We took on his advice to allow extra days to give us the best opportunity of good weather for the crux days.

Having booked everything in September we were then beholden to the weather. I tried to avoid looking at it in the weeks leading up – particularly given how inaccurate we’d found the forecasts in the preceding two weeks. I allowed myself some cautious optimism when it seems a slow-moving high was due to arrive on Christmas day. All I could say to people was “the forecast was about as good we we could have hoped for”… knowing all the time that once we started we wouldn’t have any way of getting any updates (other than from other walkers).

Someone inconveniently left a van in front of the starting sign!

Day 1: Trailhead (Bainham) to Beatham’s Clearing

So laden with 9-days of food, Tom’s fancy camera, and 3 litres of water each (! this is NZ!) we were dropped off at 10:30am the trailhead for Boulder Lake. Needless to say our packs were on the heavy side. And it was forecast to be a hot day.

The most challenging route-finding of the day was the first 50m, but soon we were on track. Plodding would probably be the best description of our movement for the day. The trail wound its way through 7-foot high manuka for much of the morning. This is not high enough to give any shade, but high enough to keep out any breeze (not that there was much). It felt much like a sauna.

The route to Boulder Lake used to start from a different spot which made the walk into Boulder Lake shorter/easier. We intended to take JC’s recommendation to split the day into two – our drop-off driver suggested we’d have enough time to push on to Boulder Lake, given there’s so much daylight. We discussed the situations where that might happen – “if there’s no water at Beatham’s Clearing”, “if we’re both feeling amazing at Beathem’s Clearing”, “if there’s no room at Beatham’s Clearing”. All fairly unlikely.

The interesting parts of the day were the limestone karst country – crossing numerous deep slits in the ground. And I saw two pigs, and heard/smelt plenty of goats.

Morning tea on the track – the body language says a lot about how oppressive it is

As we approached Beatham’s Clearing Tom declared there was no way he was going any further. I agreed. Perhaps a sign of how fatigued we were, we got to the “Water” sign – and rather than even walk 5m down the side-track to see if that was where the camping was, we decided to keep walking. We probably only went 5 minutes, but it felt like a lot longer before it became apparent there was no camping coming up. I felt like a complete idiot when I got back to the “water” sign to find that looking from the other direction on the track you could pretty much see the clearing. Anyway, we were there, no one else was. There were some water sumps. We didn’t have to go any further.

There was a well-trod path beyond the sumps, that I was doubtful would yield any better water, but we followed it anyway. Down, down, down we went, we did find some flowing water. (After all looking for water is probably a skill set we utilise a lot more than the average NZ tramper). Somehow we managed to siphon 4 litres out of a very small pool that the water was trickling into. Didn’t realise Tom had that trick up his sleeve. So armed with drinking water for the next day we used the sump water for cooking (not that I think it would have been problematic for drinking). We were both feeling pretty average and dinner had to be forced down – if only to reduce the weight on our packs!

Serviceable camping at Beatham’s Clearing

Day 2: Beatham’s Clearing to Boulder Lake Hut

I slept like a log unsurprisingly. Tom was also feeling a bit better so it was back to it early to try and beat the worst of the heat. The forest was taller in this section so we weren’t directly in the sun like the previous day.

Views back towards Farewell Spit

It was another beautiful day and the views from Cow Saddle were outstanding.

Our first look at the Dragons Teeth from the slopes of Brown Cow

Tom had read a few things which suggested the sidle below Brown Cow was a bit dodgy. JC barely mentions it, so I wasn’t expecting anything much. Admittedly we had perfect conditions but it was nothing of concern to us. Like most things it could be a bit more daunting in torrential rain and wind.

Traversing below Brown Cow. You might (just) be able to make out Tom on the track

Slopes of Brown Cow looking towards Boulder Lake

After the long, tedious descent to Boulder Lake we decided we should do the side trip to the lake outlet. I stumbled into someone’s campsite as I turned off the track. My guess was he had got in very late the night before having mis-estimated against the DOC times – given he was only just packing up at 11:30am!

The side-trip was worthwhile. The old dam wall was quaint, and the waterfall below it was impressive (if hard to get a view of). We had a wash in the stream there, not realising there was an amazing waterfall and pool behind Boulder Lake Hut, before heading back to our packs and having lunch. I also scored a walking pole, which had been left sitting on the edge of the lake well away from the main track.

The old dam at the outlet of Boulder Lake

Arriving at Boulder Lake Hut at 2:30pm there was a couple either just arriving or just leaving – turned out to be leaving. They had also mis-estimated the effort to get in, and so were splitting it up on the way out.

As if on cue the rain started just as we arrived (and they left). We thought we might have the hut to ourselves, but a group of 3 local women arrived later so we enjoyed the evening with them – even if our internal thermostats were very different. They decided to light the fire, after we’d had the windows open all afternoon to try and cool the hut down!

It continued to rain on and off for the rest of the evening, at times quite hard. We all went to bed quite early and I’m not sure if I was the only one still awake when a solo walker arrived just on full dark. She must have been very relieved to get to the hut after what I’m guessing was a very long day.

Boulder Lake Hut – the only hut we slept in

Day 3: Boulder Lake Hut to Adelaide Tarn Hut

We were up very early, and decamped to the verandah to try and avoid disturbing the other 4. We knew it was going to be a wet morning as our first task for the day was making our way up a tussock filled valley. My newly acquired walking pole was invaluable here allowing me to prod for all the holes that exist between tussock.

We’re heading towards the saddle in the distance. What you can’t see is the tussock is saturated after rain the night before.

Once we started up the ridge out of the valley a foot pad became clear and we slogged our way up before, what became a regular occurrence, of “first” morning tea. Our feet were saturated so we gave them the chance to dry out even if they had to go back into wet shoes and socks afterwards.

Almost at the saddle. Lower half completely soggy.

We thoroughly enjoyed the next section of ridge, a bit scrambly, amazing views and once again great weather. The narrow ridge definitely reminded me of the Western Arthurs. Second morning tea was taken after the narrowest section of ridge where we could appreciate the views looking back over what we’d traversed.

Dragons Teeth are getting closer. The next part of the route follows the ridge line.

The next goal was the Eye of the Needle – the pass below the Needle that leads to Adelaide Tarn. Thinking we could see it from a long way out, we were pleasantly surprised to find what we’d thought we were aiming for was much further away than where we were actually going! Many things I’d read in advance had suggested getting into the Eye was tricky. Maybe the footpad used to be more indistinct, but we didn’t have any issues (once we’d worked out where we were!). We got over Needle Pass and got the views of Adelaide Tarn with the Dragons Teeth looming behind just before the cloud descended.

Nearing the Eye of the Needle

First views of Adelaide Tarn

The rest of the afternoon was pretty gloomy.

Adelaide Tarn – the tiny hut perched on the other side of the tarn

Adelaide Tarn Hut is a tiny 4-bed tin hut. The bunks are old-style with metal mesh for the mattresses to go on – and if you’re more than about 5ft 5 you’re going to struggle to fit on them lengthways. Having seen the interior of the hut we didn’t take long to decide we’d camp – which was to Brenda’s benefit when she arrived a few hours later. She ended up with what looked a very comfortable set up (double-mattresses and being of a suitable height).

The inside of the hut was rustic.

I didn’t particularly enjoy hanging out at Adelaide Tarn. The hut is perched on the edge of the tarn, with the toilet above it. The area immediately around the hut and toilet is very muddy which makes it difficult to go exploring once you’ve taken your sodden shoes and socks off. Apparently there were nice campsites near the outlet but we didn’t get over there.

If it had been sunny I could see there were some nice swimming options (I did have a brief dip below one of the waterfalls). So, all in all, I was very glad that the weather was such that we weren’t needing to sit out one of our extra days there!

Low cloud makes for a moody afternoon


Continue to read about the next 3 days…

Kapiti Coast (22-23 Dec 2022)

Yet again the weather forecast leading in had been unfavourable, but by the time the day arrived things were looking good. Our bus/train/bus combo got us to Paraparaumu Beach in time for a coffee before we sailed to Kapiti Island. (Only because we chased the bus across the Coastlands car park until we worked out where the bus stop was!).

For those that don’t know Kapiti Island is a predator-free nature reserve and as a result has a large population of bird life.

I don’t think the water could have been flatter for our trip across and so we arrived ahead of schedule. We got an interesting talk from the ranger and then we were free to explore until our boat left that afternoon.

The boat launching machinery!

Tom & I decided to walk up the Trig Track (ascent-only use), only I got about a third of the way up and realised I’d left my camera in the toilet so I got some extra ascent/descent for my day. And Tom got some slow track walking time to try and get bird photos.

Tūteremoana, the highest point on Kapiti Island, is 521m, so it was another big hill for the trip. We enjoyed the views from the elevated platform at the top before nabbing some shade for lunch.

Absolutely stunning day on Kapiti Island (South Island visible in distance)

The Weka was clearly used to people lunching and was out and about hoping for anything he could find. A young lad at the summit said he “wished that the weka would come that close to me” as the Weka was making a nuisance of itself under my feet. I assured him it probably would as soon as he started eating lunch. That was the only bird I bothered photographing – you’ll have to wait for Tom’s photos for all the good bird shots.

My token bird photo (weka)

Tom descending the well-graded Wilkinson Track

Our trip back a bit choppier and we got to watch some tractor rescues at the beach on our return. The rising tide playing havoc with a smaller tractor that was too far out. There’s no jetty and so all launches seem to be done with the aid of tractors.

We stayed the night in Paraparaumu Beach. With a deteriorating weather forecast we got away early the next day to do the Escarpment Track (but not before the best coffee I had in NZ – shout out to The Common Room). We had a much more successful bus/train connection getting to Paekākāriki and it wasn’t long before we walking.

Ooooh we were also doing part of the Te Araroa. Apparently some people get a kick out of that!? Frankly if I was doing the Te Araroa I think this section would just annoy me as it has so many stairs and you’re walking alongside a train line…

Near the start of the Escarpment Track

Looking out to Kapiti Island

The views are pretty good – but they are much the same for the whole walk. And the whole thing is very exposed so we were glad to have got two-thirds of the way along (and past some of the more dodgy sections) when the rain/wind came in.

Clouds starting to look ominous

Some slips along the way made some sections a bit dodgy

We encountered a number of groups coming from the other direction looking like drowned rats in a variety of jackets – not many of them what I would consider raincoats.

Swing bridge as the weather closes in

The kilometre at either end of track which takes you to/from the stations is particularly uninspiring, but on a nice day you would forgive that for the rest of the outing. While the highpoint was only 220m, I think we went up and down enough to say we got another pretty good hill workout.

A great mini-break on the Kapiti Coast.

Remutakas (18-19 Dec 2022)

We had hoped to the do the Tararua Southern Crossing but with an uncertain weather forecast and too many logistics we ended up going with a logistically-easier option in the Remutakas. We carried our overnight packs for both days, even though for the first day we didn’t need to. Good thing we did though as our legs were definitely telling us about the lack of pack walking in the last few months.

It was a drizzly day when we got dropped off. The forecast said it was going to clear so we opted to start with the Orongorongo walking track with the hope that by the time we got up on the ridge later in the afternoon we’d get some views.

The start in the drizzle

After fun times playing with the wind-up bird calls near the start we soon got underway. I could soon see why this is “one of New Zealand’s most popular walks”. The forest was delightful and largely kept out the rain. A most enjoyable morning of walking before morning tea at the confluence of Turere Stream and the Orongorongo River.

What is the average weight of these 15 people?

Morning tea by the Turere Bridge

The weather didn’t seem to be going anywhere as we set off up Cattle Ridge Track.

Heading back up the track after morning tea

Another stiff ascent (this time ~400m with packs) rewarded us with absolutely no views. And the track got more overgrown as we went, so by the time we started descending Butchers Track our shoes were sodden.

“magnificent views of Wellington Harbour” said the track description

The campsite was not designed for walkers in mind – another few hundred metres down the road before we found the entrance. We found a nice spot in the small tent area that I’d reserved – though when we were arrived we were the sole occupants of the whole place so we really had our pick of anywhere.

We were glad to find a large covered area (well large for 2 people) where we could dry out. The rain largely let up and we got a little bit of sun.

Tom not minding the rain since we have a herb garden at the campground!

Fortunately we can dry out under cover

We were beginning to think we’d be the only ones for the night when around 7pm various parties began arriving. We watched on fascinated as a family pulled up in their new-looking ute and proceeded to pull out what appeared to be brand new camping gear. And then blow up their tent – no poles required it seems? Who needs television.

Our second day involved walking out to Wainuiomata where we could get public transport. Five Mile Creek Track also had wind-up bird noises so that delayed us getting going. Five Mile Creek Track was an enjoyable ascent to where it met the Clay Ridge Track. From there things got a bit steeper – but that was what we were there for – getting hills in our legs. Eventually we walked over the summit of Mt McKerrow (706m) – though there is just a knee-high metal pipe to mark the spot. We were fortunate that the cloud lifted enough for us to get views on the occasional spots where the forest opened.

Forest walking the next day

Glimpses of Wellington Harbour

Woohoo, some views!

Unfortunately once we started descending off Mt McKerrow the track deteriorated into bog. Every time I thought we might be through the worst of it we hit another patch. I’m not sure which surface I dislike walking on more – sand or mud – either way they are very close to the bottom of my least favoured.

Unfortunately much of the second day was like this

Eventually the mud reduced and we made good time in the bottom section fortuitously popping out at Hine Road 5 minutes before a bus was due.

Beautiful weather by the time we got to Wainuiomata

Queenstown walks (14-15 Dec 2022)

Nearing the longest day of the year and being a fair way south meant we had a lot of daylight to play with. So arrival at our accommodation at 5pm (somewhat delayed) was the perfect time to go for a 3 hour walk! (well… 1.5 – 3 hrs depending on who you believe) After all the dinner reservation wasn’t until 8:30pm.

We hadn’t been able to get as much walking (particularly hills) into our legs as we would have liked in preparation for this trip. And didn’t the Queenstown Hill Track let us know. The footpath out of the town centre and up to the official part of the walk was probably the steepest bit. Queenstown lies at 310m above sea level, and the Queenstown Hill Summit at 907m. A tidy 600m climb before dinner if you don’t mind.

Basket of Dreams sculpture

Drizzle came and went as we powered up and in the end we got some lovely views over The Remarkables.

Not a bad view

Is this where cairns come to die?

Road cone storage or art?

The next day we had hoped to do some climbing in the Remarkables but with a dodgy weather forecast we concluded an early-ish walk up Ben Lomond was a safer option. Early turned out to be not so early as the first gondola wasn’t until 9am. We decided with over 1,000m ascent even with the gondola skipping 400m we were hardly making it into an easy day.

The start (yes, we got the gondola this far)

Despite the weather forecast the morning was absolutely stellar. This track doesn’t give you a let up – you are almost always ascending, until you’re almost always descending. Good thing there’s so many views to stop and look at!

What a view!

Toilet decorated to blend in with the landscape

Tom appreciating the views from the saddle

Looking a bit weary

Flatter section close to the summit

Lunch views at 1738m

With the weather forecast to close in and deteriorate from mid-afternoon we thought we might be some of the last to summit. For whatever reason there were not many people arriving on the summit after we did and we had it largely to ourselves for lunch. I was subsequently surprised to start encountering plenty still trudging up as we got about a third of the way down. The weather never really got foul so they would have been ok, and this was the start of our distrust of the weather forecasts for the trip…

On our third day in Queenstown we cycled from Arrowtown to Gibbston (all we had time for before our flight). I don’t have any photos of that though as I left my camera with our luggage. Oops.

Blue Mountains Canyoning (10 Dec 2022)

The forecast was decidedly unsummer-like. A cloudy 19°C in Katoomba wasn’t inspiring but somehow I found myself agreeing to an exploratory canyoning trip anyway. I think because exploratory canyoning seems like it’s likely to be drier since there probably won’t be much canyon.

Anyway… a balmy 11°C when we left the car.

It wasn’t long to wait for some canyoning – pretty much where we dropped in was canyon. If I’d been happier to get wet I think we could have downclimbed the first drop, but wedging oneself in the water flow to get down was not a particularly attractive option.

Getting into the creek

The shallow canyon continued on and off for quite a way. There was often multiple ways around things. I tended to go for the higher (=drier!) route, while Tom was happier to suffer.

Short climb down

How are you going to get down from there?

Looks wet!

Hello down there!

Looking back into the dark section

more wet!

OK, maybe not that wet

I was going to climb around this section as well but Tom convinced me to go through it. Just over belly-button deep so I guess not *that* bad. My feet were already numb after all.

Another abseil

We went for an explore up a couple of the tributaries as well. At least that warmed me up enough to be able to enjoy lunch! Things had taken longer than expected so given there was a bit of Christmas shopping to be done I decided we would need to leave the rest of the plan for another (hopefully warmer!) day.

Beautiful section of more open canyon

Climbing out

A surprisingly good section of creek and good (cold) times were had.

Waterfall of Moss (4 Dec 2022)

I had thought I might make a last minute plan with some of the women at the Summer Slaydies weekend for Sunday, but that didn’t happen (and I didn’t try very hard), so I was left with just Tom as a canyoning partner for Sunday. Tom declined to make a firm plan before we went to bed on Saturday night, which didn’t bode particularly well for actually doing something the next day.

But we were both awake pretty early, and after farewelling Jo who was off to do Yileen (without a whistle – oh my), we agreed we should do something just to get some more fitness in our legs. So off we went to Waterfall of Moss. I’d only done it once before in 2009 so it was almost like a new canyon. Particularly given Tom only had the print out of an old version of his notes – which pre-dated his last visit… and at times it felt like were written for a different canyon! Not trusting the rope lengths from the dodgy notes we ended up rigging a bunch of the drops with our longer rope unnecessarily – which meant I had a dry rope at the end of the canyon.

Tom on the third abseil

Looking back up the arch and the third abseil

Tom abseiling

More of Tom abseiling

Is this abseiling?

The conqueror? (I think it’s supposed to be yoga?!)

Tom abseiling the Waterfall of (once was) Moss

As the water temperatures are still pretty chilly we’d taken wetsuits (in dry bags) through the canyon just for the 200m of Wollangambe. So my dry rope went into the wetsuit dry bag and stayed dry! We ended up having lunch at the Waterfall of Moss/Wollangambe junction while Tom wrote up all the changes to his notes – which of course we found out later had already largely been updated.

Swimming down the Wollangambe to the exit

Tom & friend admiring the views

Seas of flannel flowers are everywhere at the moment

Back at Mt Wilson there were still tents up everywhere – presumably drying out while their owners were off adventuring. We packed up and headed home via scones at Mountain Bells. An excellent three days of canyoning.

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