“And in the news, a circus performer falls overboard while trying to perform acrobatics on the handrail of a fast ferry last night”.
The radio news continued as I headed to the airport to pick up 2 punters, while the other 3 were travelling by car, having crossed on the fast ferry the previous night. Roger Bolam had been one on the ferry crossing, though this seemed obvious by the news reports!
At the airport, a first encounter with the Tararua’s before meeting Pete and Andrew. Less than an hour later, Eric, Garry and Roger (denying any antics on the ferry) arrive in Christchurch and we set forth. Arriving in Glenorchy we again meet the Tararua’s, so avoiding them we wander off only to bump into another group of Tararua’s!
Although heading into a remote area, the Five Pass trip began with 10 minutes stroll along the Routeburn (impressing all others with the ice axes we were carrying, though, as it turned out, their only use was for digging toilet holes!). We then took the non-signposted sidetrack, which offers a steep grunt up Sugarloaf Pass with views towards Earnslaw and also down to Lake Wakitipu. Pass 1 was now behind us and the sun was out in full force as we enjoyed lunch on the tussock-clad pass. Post lunch, we began by tackling a steep descent through the bush, followed by a gentle meander up the narrow Rockburn valley that led us to a beautiful campsite at Theatre Flat where the valley opened out dramatically.
The tranquil surroundings were overpowered as Garry unveiled his designer label tramping apparel – rainbow long johns with the contrasting rainbow codpiece and the green foot condoms. Theatre Flat was a wonderful spot and justified comments written in guidebooks as the steep faces of rock left us in a grand natural amphitheatre.
The following morning began with a 3-hour walk to the top of Park Pass (pass 2) and while the Peter “The Old Man” Wills had a snooze, the others in the party made a side trip to Park Pass glacier. The short scramble led us to the glacier and turning around, some superb views down Hidden Falls Creek. After returning to pick up our packs at the lunch stop, came a bush bash down to Hidden Falls Creek and within 10 minutes of reaching the valley floor we had found a great campsite. Garry ‘Gazzo’ DeRose, the resident mountain goat, while scrambling amongst the dense bush for no apparent reason, stumbled across an excellent rock biv. Rumours suggested he might have been searching for the mysterious Hidden Falls Creek hot pools. Cavemen Bolam and Squires then inhabited the cave for the evening after having trouble deciding who would squeeze into the tiny minaret tent with Gazzo.
A third pleasant day greeted us as we headed up Hidden Falls Creek to Cow Saddle (pass 3). The red rocks of the area made an interesting contract to the golden tussock as we left the flat saddle and tackled Fiery Col (pass 4). We enjoyed great views extending both north and south and a good rest on top before tackling some deep tussock as we made our way to a great campsite on the Olivine Ledge. With no wind we enjoyed a pleasant evening making great use of the long daylight hours by lazing in the sun reading books. Radioing in, we received a mountain radio message from another, nearby club trip inviting us to Jonathon Kennett’s birthday party on the Snowball Glacier for New Years Eve. Bugger off, that sounds too serious!
We awoke to see a group of 8 trampers heading towards us, a group from the Hutt Valley club (a.k.a. Woburn Wanderers) and then we set off on a short day to the spectacular Fohn Lakes adjacent to the main divide. During the afternoon we headed up Sunset Peak and further on for the mountain goat, Gazzo. Views stretched from Mt Tutuko to Lake Wilmot in the Pyke and towards the Olivine Ice Plateau. Radioing in on New Years Eve at 8pm we received the confirmation of bad weather, the 4 days of fine weather had disappeared. Unfortunately the onset of 2000 was greeted with mist and some wind as all 6 trampers lay in tents.
No sunrise on New Years Day as 6 cold damp trampers slowly packed up. We then headed over the 5th and final pass, Fohn Saddle, in the mist, loosing the route on the way down. A scramble through deep tussock on the steep slope led us to the Beansburn and along to the rock biv for lunch (yep, another long day!) and the night. The multi chamber cave allowed plenty of room for the group of 6 cavemen. Garry even managed to pitch his tent in one of the caverns.
The light rain hung around on Jan 2 as we made the haul down the overgrown Beansburn track to the Rockburn hut (the dungeon), meeting a group of fun yak canoeists at the hut. Roger’s proved he once was a lawyer, his manipulative talking ensured that we all managed a cup or two of orange juice with dinner; after he tried to convince us he had carried the 3-litre container for the last 6 days.
We awoke shivering on Jan 3 due to snow down to the bushline. We followed a cruisey track out via Lake Sylvan to scones and jam at the road end.
The only Y2K bug to have hit us was the loss of fine weather. Few other trampers spotted in 7 days, great views from the tops and plenty of silly antics ensured we had enjoyed ourselves. After a wilderness experience, Queenstown just seemed crass, the stop, just long enough for the basics before heading to Wanaka in search of more tramping.