Magical Mole Tops

Condensed version.

The trip plan as submitted on the intentions sheet was:

  • Friday evening – ferry and travel to Murchison.
  • Saturday – drive to Mataki Lodge and walk up the valley to Mole Hut.
  • Sunday – walk up to Mole Saddle and Mole Tops. If the weather is OK camp at Mole Saddle, otherwise Mole Hut.
  • Monday – back to the road end along the ridge track. Pick up medium group from Lake Rotoroa and return on ferry.

And that’s exactly what we did.

More descriptive version

The weather forecast for the weekend looked good, so we met at the railway station with expectations that we might actually be able to go tramping AND have more than one consecutive day of good weather. The ferry crossing was calm and uneventful. However during the drive to Murchison we noticed the effects of the Kaikoura earthquake and the closure of SH1. The additional traffic is breaking up the road surface on SH63 and as a result there are lots of roadworks. Also the road is narrower so overtaking heavy trucks can be scary. Thanks to Paul from the medium group for driving the night shift.

We had a comfortable night at the Riverside Holiday Park in Murchison and after breakfast we drove to the start of the track. The track started across farmland then entered the forest before heading up the riverbed. Then there was a further stretch through the bush and we arrived at Mole Hut shortly after lunch. The weather was average so we decided to stay at the hut for the remainder of the day. It was pleasant enjoying the patches of sun but in the evening the clouds came in and it started to drizzle.

Dinner was Moroccan cous-cous, carrots and cashews; we decided to have it early so we could get a good night’s rest. Mole Hut only has four bunks so it was cosy and we had to be careful not to step on Nick who was sleeping on the floor if we had to make a comfort stop in the night.

Sunday dawned clear and calm, just as forecast. We emerged from our warm sleeping bags, had breakfast and were ready to go at about 8:30. The plan was to tramp to Mole Saddle where we would find a suitable camp site and leave our packs and then have the rest of the day to explore the tops. We climbed up from the hut and into the sunshine, arriving very quickly at the saddle. This is a largish area of gently rolling tussock hillside interspersed with boggy patches and tarns. It took a while but we eventually found a site that met our requirements: relatively flat, dry and near water. We dropped our packs then sat and contemplated the climb to the tops.

1 mole saddle tarn

We certainly were not going to get there by sitting down so we took the obvious route up the ridge to the tops. We arrived at the first summit about lunchtime. It was a beautiful summer’s day – warm and clear with a light breeze to keep it bearable. We had no timetable and no further destination that we had to reach so we spent the next couple of hours meandering along the ridge, stopping frequently to look and admire the view. At the end of the ridge we stopped and just sat for a long while to make the most of the day and the view. Tramping doesn’t get much better than this!

2 On the top

3 admiring the view

However we couldn’t stay up there forever. We retraced our path back to the saddle and our packs. The weather was great for camping so we set up the fly and got organised. One thing we had not realised in our search for a camp site was that the saddle is home to large numbers of small black flying insects – most were not sandflies but just midges that liked to land on unsuspecting passers-by and crawl all over them (and there were a few sandflies!). We were torn between enjoying the surrounding and wrapping ourselves up to escape the insects. Jane was prepared with a mosquito net headpiece but the rest of us were exposed. We wondered if there might be a market for an insect-proof burqa.


4 camping

Dinner was simple – rice and tinned tuna followed by dried fruit salad. Most of us retired early to escape the insects. It was beautiful evening with a light breeze and we could watch the shadows lengthening from the comfort of our beds.

On Sunday we had a target to pick up the medium group from Lake Rotoroa by 2:30pm. If we moved quickly we would have time for real coffee and real food at Murchison. With that in mind the group did not need any more motivation to get going. By 7:45am we had finished breakfast, enjoyed a hot drink, packed our gear and were set for the track. For a variation we went back down the ridge track. It was a well graded track apart from a few windfalls so we made good time. A quick change of clothes and we were off to Murchison. Three out of the four punters who went to Rivers Café recommend the beef and red wine pie with salad. Note for the historically minded: did you know suicide bombing was invented in Murchison in 1905 – another NZ first, check it out.

After running out of things to do in Murchison we got back in the van and drove to Lake Rotoroa, trying to arrive on time but not so early that we would be eaten alive by sandflies. We didn’t get it right and acted as sandfly bait for about fifteen minutes. The medium group returned and rushed into the van. Then it was a quiet drive to Picton and the ferry home.

All in all, good tramp – that’s what the weather is meant to be like in summer.

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