Ferry booking mix-ups and more than an hour’s delay to board meant it was well after 10pm when we arrived at the Matiri Valley West Bank road end. The hydro scheme construction works mean the walk in to Lake Matiri hut is now only 50min mostly on construction road, which during working hours you need to radio in your presence. It made navigation in the dark pretty easy, especially the bridge that now gets you across the West Branch of the Matiri river which could otherwise be a tricky crossing particularly in the dark.
We awoke to a beautifully still morning with cloud sitting around the hills and lake.
Having arrived late, we chose a comfortable 8:30am start aiming for Larrikin Creek hut for Saturday night. The morning was a 600m climb, pretty steep and muddy in places, up onto 1000 Acre Plateau. I hadn’t quite judged the group weight distribution correctly so half way up we shuffled some weight for a more even group pace. We had tents and a lot of vegetables to lug up the hill so no wonder it felt like a bit of a slog. On the way we watched patches of blue sky come and go, all hoping the patches would merge to give us some nice views from the plateau. There were numerous mushrooms along the track of all different colours, shapes and sizes… many more varieties than I have seen before.
Climb done, we stopped at Poor Pete’s Hut for lunch. This is a two-bunker with substantial deck and porchway but not huge amounts of flat camping, especially for a group of nine. Everyone compared lunches – we had the whole range from Tararua biscuits to cheese and crackers to sardines, avocado and dried bananas!
After lunch it was a 3hr muddy but otherwise fairly easy tramp to Larrikin Creek hut which despite lots of undulations in between is only 20m higher than Poor Pete’s Hut. The mud definitely deserves a mention here given it managed to swallow parts of each of our limbs at various points – Scott ended up pretty much waist-deep in one pool/swap and Nikita’s legs would’ve made a good advert for one of those mud pack beauty treatments.
From the track we got some impressive views of the cliffs that mark the edges of the various plateaus and beautiful waterfalls flowing off some of them.
Having bumped into a few people already we were starting to wonder how many groups were aiming for Larrikin Creek. On arrival there were only two others there (it’s only a four bunk hut) but within about half an hour I think we had 17 people in the tiny hut chatting and warming up (thanks to Scott’s fire-making skills) and together establishing a roster for access to the cooking bench. It was a wonderful atmosphere despite feeling just a little claustrophobic and not exactly the reason many of us head into the hills! Here we met Pete and Claudia who had the extended (mis-)fortune of sharing huts with our group for two nights running – they are an extremely lovely couple and lots of laughs were had. We are keen to see the photo they took of the hut party!
Most of us found very comfortable tent sites under the trees but the last arrivals may have been camped on slightly sloping ground. Maj-Britt did a great job of being head chef for the evening with many of the group helping chop the supplies of vegetables we’d hauled up the hill. So many vegetables in fact that we couldn’t finish them all – the leftovers made a great hot lunch on our return from the Needle the next day.
Next morning we awoke to clear skies… yay! Except that by the time we’d finished breakfast it had clouded over somewhat. This didn’t deter us though and we set off to climb the Needle at 8:15am. There’s a good, although muddy (notice a theme?), track up from the hut onto a mini plateau from which it’s an easy climb up the ridge to the Needle itself. The clag was looking pretty set in so three sensible members of the group decided to turn back to the warm hut while the rest of us pushed on.
The clouds continue to come and go enough for us to get a sense of both 1000 Acre and 100 Acre plateaus below us but never enough to actually describe it as good views.
Watching a couple of kea at a very close distance was pretty cool though, as was standing at the top of the needle with at least ten other people all willing the clouds to part.
They didn’t part and we started to get cold so we descended back to the hut for that yummy hot lunch.
At 12:30pm we set off back across the plateau and all the way down to Lake Matiri hut, making it back there by just after 5pm pleased not to have to use our head torches on the muddy and rooty descent.
Once again we played a game is how many people you can fit in a hut – this time 15 people in an 8-bunk hut and once again a lovely atmosphere and a good warm fire. This time Amanda took on the head chef role and coordinated the production of a delicious and perfectly portioned risotto which we followed up with some luxury Belgian chocolates that Nikita had hidden away in his pack – what a treat! (Chef’s note that the risotto needs more water than the recipe suggested and Leader’s note that the risotto recipes in the online and print versions of the cookbook are different enough to cause some vegetable quantity confusion so more than necessary were carried up and back down the hill).
I enjoyed retreating to the cool and quiet of my tent for another long sleep while the rest of the group worked out how best to fit into the bunks and floor space still leaving room for a safe passage for those inevitable trips to the loo in the night.
Next morning we were all ready to go by 8:30am, motivated by a short walk and a cafe stop in our near future. As we came into cell service the organizing of logistics started as we worked out with the other two groups how to get everyone to Picton on time, given an impromptu trip to Nelson hospital. The Commercial Cafe in Murchison provided some delicious post-tramp sustenance for us all ranging from huge burgers to more modest scones.