Kahurangi Tablelands 2012

table3Seven keen folk explored Kahurangi Tablelands for four days in exceptionally fine weather and had a thoroughly enjoyable time.

We arrived at the road end, where we dossed for the night in the shelter, around 12:30am Friday morning, after a three hour ferry crossing and about a three hour drive. Another WTMC trip group arrived soon after us and camped in the car park.

Day 1: We roused in the morning to a gorgeous day and headed soon after 8:00am for Mount Arthur. Conditions were faultless: clear sky, breathless and a dry track underfoot. First stop was Mount Arthur Hut where we stopped only briefly. The track to this point passed amongst typical beech forest flora punctuated by the occasional mountain Naenae, (which always remind me of Dr Seuss stories). The track from here abruptly changed to open grassland, which accompanied us for much of the day.

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Packs were dropped at Gordon’s Pyramid junction for us to ascend Mount Arthur less burdened. Around late morning we arrived at a bare rounded summit that consisted mostly of fragmented limestone. There was a low rock drywall made to offer shelter  and largely superfluous on this glorious day. The views from the summit were remarkable, with not a cloud in the sky they felt near limitless. We lunched back at the junction before pushing on for Salisbury Lodge via Gordon’s Pyramid. The cool alpine air was a welcome accompaniment to the unhindered sunlight.

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Coming down from Gordon’s Pyramid we passed through some grass flatland. The track for a short duration became quite sandy. Sundew plants and pixie cup lichen were to be seen trackside. After stopping to take a few photo’s I found myself separated from the rest of the group and hurried to catch up only to encounter an intersection in the path and no sign of the party. I wasn’t particularly concerned, as I knew I was within a short distance of the hut. I did however head the wrong way and was amused to encounter some primary school aged kids who put me right. Nice one. Our esteemed leader was less amused.

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We arrived at Salisbury Lodge around 5:30pm. This was a large Hut, sleeping approximately 22 in bunks. For this night the lodge exceeded capacity and 4 of our party tented. There were several other tents in use also, meaning that good tent site ground became scarce and a healthy discussion ensued regarding the merits of camping on the area designated for helicopters. The conclusion of which is likely not fit for publication. With tents pitched efforts were steered towards our evening meal. Simon and Rowena had other ideas however and with some small effort erected a pair of HF radios and proceeded to pursue prearranged sched.’s, (not sheds, which makes no sense at all). All of the meals were great (all WTMC recipes) cheers Spence. After protests to the contrary we managed to polish off for pud the good part of two ginger loafs topped with custard, yum. I concluded my day with Spencer with some moonlit evening photography and later retired for the evening very satisfied with the day.

Day 2: Discussions the night previous had us revise our general route; the objective to tramp the length of the Cobb valley and summit Mt Cobb was forsaken in lieu of giving us a more conservative fourth day, the upside being that we had more opportunity for side trips. This day therefore started around 8:00am with a short loop walk to the Sphinx Valley Cave and surrounding sinkholes. Walking back across the grasslands was spectacular with the morning light glinting off of the frost endowed tussocks. We spread out a bit as some of us took to capturing the moment in pixels and regrouped again at the mouth of the short Sphinx Valley where we mused the loss of the sphinx head from the rock formation. It was pretty cold in the shade and I soon regretted not bringing a warm top. Some rock clambering became necessary to gain access to the valley, many of the rocks were slippery with ice and I gained first hand appreciation as to the hazard this presents. Thanks to Rowena, whose firm grasp prevented a larger fall.

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Four of us gained access to the cave mouth, which we explored via camera flash as would you believe it nobody thought to bring a torch. Much amusement was had, which upon reflection may not have occurred had we bought torches. I am sure there is a moral to this story and am hopeful that some reader will work this out and be kind enough to share it. Our walk continued around many large sinkholes, which were great to behold. There was one moment when our silhouette was cast nicely across a sinkhole to its other side and much body contortioning ensued as we endeavoured to represent various acronyms. J.

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Back at the Lodge, at about 10:00am, we quickly packed up our now dry tents and headed of to Balloon Hut, where we stopped only briefly for a snack and to hydrate. There was a sole fellow tramper here, who was enjoying the peace and quiet and the magnificent outlook over the tablelands. We left him to it and continued up to Lake Peel. Here we deigned to travel the marked track in preference for circumnavigating the lake and visiting the summit of Mount Peel. This was a great choice as there was much to be seen and experienced. The sunlight reflected of the Lake as we passed south of it and it sparkled spectacularly. So much so that I surmised that it may be due to silica particles suspended in the water. A theory disproved later when viewed from the North.

The climb to and the summit were very much like Mt Arthur, with a rounded ridge populated mostly with limestone shards broken only by the occasional band of alpine plants working together to resist the effects of erosion.  At the summit we encountered a delightful wind vane clearly constructed from found objects – bicycle parts and a supermarket trolley. The route along the North of the lake was punctuated by large rock outcrops, the largest of which had our party split in two as we sought the easiest way around. Upon regrouping we suffered our only casualty of the trip: Paula’s boots were losing their soles (souls). With a liberal application of strapping tape by Dirk and Rowena they were given a new lease of life. Great stuff.

Descending down into the Cobb Valley and back into beech forest the path seemed to steer to the East for an excessively long time before finally turning back. We arrived at the valley floor with the late afternoon sun and concluded the days walk with a rather dull ½km trek along a metal road to Trilobyte Hut, arriving, I am told, at 5:32pm. With room in the hut to spare, 4 of us still elected to tent. The day wound down with another grand meal listening to the radio wave junkies and dining on Easter eggs and chips. Ta very much folks for all the treats.

Day 3: Started brass monkey cold. Frost covered everything outside, including tents and the edge of my boot that had poked beyond. Even the resident weka was single foot standing to offer his other foot relief from the cold. At about 8:15am after a quick breakfast we abandoned our gear to the camp and spent the morning walking up to  a decrepit Chaffeys Hut. The walk proceeded through a mix of alternating open meadows and beech forest fragments with each consecutive meadow displaying less frost as the day warmed. The track followed the Cobb river up valley at a very gentle and even gradient and we arrived at the hut in good time. The hut was great to see and reminded me of a Canadian architect and his habit of referring to old buildings as elders.

Chaffeys Hut looked positively geriatric: weatherboards exhibited a generous peel back exposing framing at advanced stages of decay. The floor undulated as the framing sagged either side of the rocks that were used as foundations. To the rear an aged fireplace with holes banked on the outside using stacked river stones and with a well rusted and patched flue held in place with fencing wire. Tired indeed. A little beyond was a pile of building materials, which we learned were to be used to restore the hut, though I doubted that any of the existing could be saved. Investigation of the interior was not possible as we disturbed a young hippie couple, who had taken up residence in spite of the huts worn condition, and who were in the region for some ‘Rainbow Festival’.

Returning once again to Trylobite at about 11:00am we packed our now dry tents and gear, had some kai, and braved the road again in search for the alternate route back out of the valley. Having passed during the mornings walk several reasonable swimming holes I was reluctant to pass up a dip before leaving the river. I found a suitable spot and bathed briefly in very fresh water in a spot just shy of the reservoir. Not to be outdone Simon, Kevin, Spencer and Paula followed suit with Paula impressively donning a bikini for the occasion. That no one dallied is a fair indication that the water was friggin’ cold.

Nicely cooled we resumed our tramp, not far from the swimming spot we left the road for the Bullock track. This turned out to be the steepest part of the four day tramp and for 30 minutes we did less talk and more grunt up a quick 200m climb. This was followed by a pleasant and gentle descent through beech forest. For a period this part of the track was well littered with beech tree debris, and for a while the sound of twigs crunching underfoot accompanied each step. This in contrast to the delightful call of a bellbird which joined us for most of the journey to Lower Junction where, after a brief deliberation regarding the nights sleeping options, we elected to head up to Asbestos Cottage.

My mind now turned to the health hazards of asbestos and whether there should be any need for concern, (which transpired to be a needless concern according to hut literature). Certainly there were moments on the track were the rock formations looked more fibrous and crumbly and I was prepared to accept that this might be natural asbestos, (equally likely though just another fallacy of my imagination). We arrived at Asbestos Cottage around 4:15pm. From the exterior this looked a very simple board and batten hut with a couple of small windows looking eastward over  the valley. Interestingly the timber siding seemed to have been conditioned by charring, a practice which I had believed exclusive to traditional Japanese construction. Inside we were treated to an array of memorabilia from the Chaffey’s time and the mining era. This was greatly enjoyed by all and the knowledge of lives lived there in time gone by added much to the atmosphere of our brief stay there.

As per previous nights Simon and Rowena set to erecting their radio equipment and I enjoyed listening to them as they talked to friends and strangers alike over the air. This evening they managed to speak with some folks in the Cook Islands. Brilliant. The evening was relatively balmy and once the food was cooked we dined outside to another excellent WTMC meal.

I must say with the windows being so tiny it was quite dark in the cottage even when we arrived at 4:30pm. This impressed upon me how grim it would have been living here through the winter months. As Mr Dagg would say: “We don’t know how lucky we are!”. Nice one. Adjacent to the cottage clearing and under some tree cover was a nice little tent site which Kevin and I took full advantage of. Another great day.

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Day 4: We woke to a mild morning, no frost on the tent and our trip leaders esteemed voice rousing us to action, (lest we be late). With the road end to be attained before 1:00pm we found ourselves bagged up and on the track by 7:30am. Yawn. Lucky we had been getting early nights. We retraced our steps back down to Lower Junction and then continued where we had left off the previous day for Upper Junction and then the Gridiron Rock Shelters. The walking was easy, broken only by a couple of swing bridge crossings over some nice looking streams. The rock shelters looked great and if Asbestos Cottage hadn’t been so good I would have been sad that we hadn’t stayed here. As it was it was certainly a nice spot to stop for a moment.

We stopped again soon after to check out the Upper Gridiron Hut, which was also very cool, a little hut, with a couple of bunks, constructed within the wedge under an  overhanging rock. Outside its own little terrace complete with swinging bed/seat and fire pit. About the only detraction, other than I suppose the risk of not wanting to leave, were the profusion of stinging nettles  on the path side nearby. Back on the track we were fortunate to spy a pair of Whio in the river below us. If we had had more time I would have been happy to stay a while and watch them. As it was we needed to be moving on which was probably the best for them.

As we neared our objective we encountered twice in short succession reasonably large moths being attacked by much smaller single wasps. In both instances the wasps had attached themselves to the front of the moth and were attacking the moth just under its head. We were unsure why this was happening but felt that this didn’t bode well for our native moths, who appeared defenceless from this kind of attack. This added to my sense of melancholy felt as our great trip drew to an end. We had a brief stop at Flora Hut and I got a quick peak at the pretty river nearby before arriving at road end around 12:30pm. We lunched by the van, ever alert for foraging weka, while we changed for the journey home.

And thus ended a very enjoyable tramp. Cheers guys, I look forward to future tramps with each and any of you.

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