Kākāpō Peak – with no unicorns or doughnuts left behind

A 4 day hiking trip up the Cobb Valley and climbing Kākāpō Peak in Kahurangi National Park

Start of Cobb Valley track

‘Where are the Kākāpō? Where are the kea?’

Suddenly I am surrounded by a blessing of five unicorns sitting next to me on the summit of Kākāpō Peak.

Well if I couldn’t find any of those elusive parrots for International Parrot Day, a blessing of unicorns is the next best option. 

Our original trip plan for the long weekend had been to go to Ellis Hut and the Twins but the weather forecast for rain on Saturday changed that plan and then a delayed ferry had thrown out plan B of Mt Fell in the Richmond Range. After much discussion we eventually settled on a plan C to Fenella Hut and a day trip to visit some peaks, one of which included my personal favourite, Kākāpō Peak, and seemed very fitting given that Friday had been International Parrot Day. The closest I had got to Kākāpō (or ‘moss chickens’ as they are sometimes called) was waving hello to Whenua Hou while tramping the North-West Circuit on Rakiura, so visiting the peak named after them definitely motivated me.

A donut sign in Takaka

Lynsey had started us all off on a doughnut marathon in Wellington while waiting for the late ferry so after a quick stop in Motueka to get yet more doughnuts, we were finally off to the Cobb Valley. The drive through the Cobb Valley wasn’t too bad. As the driver I was very much aware of the steep drop-offs and very glad I didn’t meet an oncoming car on the narrow sections but it wasn’t as  bad as driving the Richmond Range Staircase Road. 

We made quick work of the walk into Fenella Hut passing by Trilobite, Chaffey, Tent Camp and Cobb Huts. Lynsey and Anne were still carrying doughnuts (or rather Anne was carrying my doughnut and I wasn’t complaining about her having Sherpa duties). It was an easy walk up the valley on a non-technical track through tussock and beech forest interspersed by colourful fungi and the odd wily weka that wandered out to investigate us. The forecasted rain set in after the historical Tent Camp Hut. This hut initially looks like a standard hut and then you see the back of the hut has the sleeping quarters set up in a tent.

Tent Camp Hut in the Cobb Valley, Kahurangi National Park
Tent Camp Hut

Four hours later we arrived at Fenella Hut to find it a hive of activity and a welcoming fire. Having recently done Rakiura’s Tin Range and sitting out a storm in my tent on it, a warm fire and gas stove were luxuries that I hadn’t had for a while. Anne thought she might need to tell me to act “normal” after I expressed amazement at these things. I don’t think we passed the “act normal” test because a few minutes later Emily found some party hats and after putting them on, we played a simple game of “Old Maid” that we found at the hut. The gender stereotypes in the game were atrocious but we still had fun with the cards ranging from everything from gardener through to astronaut, magician and witch. I eventually ditched the Old Maid Card and was trying to win the Mountain Climber card off Emily. Afterwards I decided to help with dinner by peeling the onion by juggling it along with the lemons.   

The next morning we started the climb up towards Kākāpō Peak. It was a well trodden route with cairns and a good footpad. As we got higher, we had little patches of snow. I was enjoying the views as we had a bluebird day. We could see the Dragon’s Teeth, Drunken Sailors and the Lockett Range – and even Taranaki! Passing by a family of vegetable sheep, we finally hit the summit 3½hrs after leaving Fenella Hut. I started jokingly looking everywhere for those elusive Kākāpō. We know they are good escape artists as they have naughtily parachuted themselves off tall trees and over the predator proof fences of Maungatautari Sanctuary in Waikato multiple times (see here). Realistically, I was hoping we might see some kea as I have often seen kea in Kahurangi NP including my circus of kea that rolled rocks down on me (see here) but no parrots were about. Instead Emily produced the party hats and Old Maid Cards she had secretly carried up in her pack and suddenly we were a group of six unicorns sitting on the summit of Kākāpō Peak holding our cards from the night before. I later found out that a group of unicorns can be called a blessing, marvel or glory. 

Trampers wearing unicorn party hats on the summit of Kākāpō Peak
Unicorns on the summit of Kākāpō Peak.

After spending a long time soaking up the views on the summit, we eventually started our descent. Some of us decided to keep our hats on and made it a fun game to see if we could get back down to the hut without being “de-corned.” On the way down we did a short 20 minute side trip to climb Waingaro Peak. 

Once back at the hut, we walked up to Fenella Tarn. Anne, Emily and Jamie were all brave enough to go for a quick swim. Jamie described the coldness like a “1000 knives.” That night we played another card game we found at the hut called “5 Alive” and even got one of the other trampers in the hut playing along with us.  

Sign pointing to the swimming hole in Cobb Valley, Kahurangi National Park
Tarn in Cobb Valley, Kahurangi National Park
Tarn above Fenella Hut

On Monday morning we were out the door of Fenella Hut just after 7am and headed back down the valley. We made a quick 10 minute side trip up to Cobb Lake before continuing on our way. Elizabeth got singled out by the wily weka at Chaffey Hut who tried to pinch everything from her snacks through to her pack. 

As we drove over the Takaka Hill, Emily started a tally of the number of doughnuts that had been consumed by the unicorns – it turned out to be 13 doughnuts. Lynsey said they were magical doughnuts but I’m not entirely convinced. The unicorns might need to go on another tramp to test this theory!

The view over Kahurangi hills to the distant Tasman Sea
Kahurangi view

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