The serious bit for those wanting useful details:
We took the 6:30pm ferry to Picton, and drove 1hr 30mins to camp overnight at Kowhai Point beside the Wairau River ($6pp).
Saturday morning we drove 2hrs to Flora Saddle road end. There is a phantom bridge across the Motueka River marked on the road atlas. Make sure you cross at either Woodstock or Ngatimoti where real bridges exist! The Graham Valley Road up to Flora Saddle is steep in places – take it slowly and watch for slips after heavy rainfall.
There’s a fully-enclosed shelter at the road end car park, a toilet and a tap.
We started our tramp at 11am. For our EM group it was less than an hour’s gentle climb on a very good track up to Mt Arthur Hut (signage suggests 1.5hrs). From Mt Arthur Hut to the turn off to Mt Arthur summit was another hour; from the turn off to Gordon’s Pyramid took us about 2.5hrs. The track is well marked all of the way; there are a couple of very small tricky downhill sections where it was necessary to downclimb with care.
From Gordon’s Pyramid to Salisbury Lodge was a further 1hr 15mins. A little longer than the signage suggests.
At Mt Arthur Hut signage suggests 3-4hrs to Salisbury Lodge. For our EM group of 12, in relatively good weather, it was more like 5hrs.
Sunday we walked to Balloon Hut (1hr 10mins) and back. Then to the Hard Rock Shelter (15mins from Salisbury Lodge) and back.
Monday we walked out to Flora Saddle from Salisbury Lodge, past Lower and Upper Gridiron Shelters. Track is in very good condition and wide (4wd for some of it). It took 3hrs 45mins in heavy rain.
The fun bit for those wanting the gossip from the weekend:
The forecast was for heavy rain to dampen our trip on Sunday and Monday, so we took the decision to make the most of the clearer weather on Saturday and tramp to Salisbury Lodge via the up-and-over route. We’d wasted a bit of time trying to find the turning for the road end so we were keen to get on our way. After a brief lunch stop at Mt Arthur Hut we headed out of the bush and into cloud on the tops.
As we passed the junction for Mt Arthur summit, the cloud cleared and we were treated to fantastic views of Mt Arthur and the surrounding limestone karst landscape.
Coming down into the Horsehoe the sun was out and the views so good that a rest-stop was demanded. We sat on the warm rocks to snack, thankful for the well-marked track which kindly led us safely between the many sinkholes in the area.
By now it must have been 2pm, and we did want to be at Salisbury Lodge before dark so we reluctantly lifted ourselves off the warm rocks and continued negotiating our way around the sinkholes towards the not-very-pyramid-like Gordon’s Pyramid. Twelve trampers spread out along the skyline made for some intrepid-looking photos.
Ascending Gordon’s not-much-of-a-Pyramid involves first descending a short but fairly steep section of track.
For a few of the party, this proved a little tricky, but everyone made it down safely in the end with helping hands lended where needed. We reached the top of the pyramid and took the opportunity for another snack break.
The last part of the walk for the day proved rather longer than any of us were expecting, with a few more sections that involved clambering rather than walking.
Some late afternoon sunshine hitting our faces as we came out into the open grassland near Salisbury Lodge pumped some life back into everybody. We bounced the last few minutes to the hut with fingers crossed the infamous mice had left us at least twelve spare bunks. Only as we arrived at the hut did we come to understand the Egyptian name for the mound we’d just tramped over; Gordon’s Pyramid is most definitely a pyramid when viewed from this angle.
Bunks claimed, and rehydration underway, we set about cooking dinner. Feeding twelve takes a lot of chopping and two billies is only just enough cooking capacity. Luckily Salisbury Lodge has a gas supply so we didn’t need to worry about whether we were going to run out of fuel. Wei-Min and Yao get a special mention for going over and above their assigned dessert-bringing duties; we all enjoyed ginger cake and custard even if it was made with the wrong sugar! After dinner tall volunteers got to work hanging our food bags from the most unreachable points on the ceiling in the hope that we could keep the mice away.
Sunday morning dawned dry, but the forecast rain soon set in.
Keen for a leg-stretch anyway, eleven of us took a wander to Balloon Hut for morning tea, with four extending their explorations as far as Lake Peel. I think we all wished the weather was clearer as we crossed the open tussock of the Tablelands area. We stumbled across Bishop’s Cave and took a clamber through it on the return leg from Balloon Hut. On our way back to Salisbury Hut we took a small detour to check out why we weren’t overnighting at Hard Rock Shelter. While overhanging rock kept the fireplace and sleeping platform dry, we all agreed it would have been pretty cold and damp sleeping there in current weather. Back at the hut we made the most of the gas supply by brewing up several rounds of hot drinks to warm up and dry out. The rest of the afternoon was spent between various card games and bananagrams contests. Three of us did venture out again to check out the Sphinx Valley – an hour’s loop walk from the hut – and some more sink holes.
Sphinx Rock hasn’t been very Sphinx-like since it toppled over in the 1929 Murchison earthquake, but it was a pleasant pre-dinner stroll none-the-less.
Another mammoth vegetable-chopping mission ensued as we prepared dinner. Some lively discussion about the correct way to cook rice achieved very little in terms of perfectly cooked rice; the challenge of mixed rice varieties, plus liquid with pre-soaked vegetables, plus zero spare billy space meant less than ideal cooking conditions. It all turned out alright in the end though, and mega-sized packs of Timtams for dessert helped us forget about the odd slightly crunchy rice grain. More card games kept many of us amused until way past tramping bed-time.
We made an early start on Monday morning to ensure we were down that steep road and on our way to the ferry before the rain had a chance to cause any major slips. There were a few reports of mouse-like activity during the night, but none of them seem to have got to our food. We headed out in heavy rain and were glad of the first rock shelter for a snack break. The side-streams on this section were all gushing, but thankfully all bridged so there were no issues with crossing them. We got wetter and wetter as we made our way past the two Gridiron Shelters; two guys who’d spent the night at Lower Gridiron were just rising as we arrived and I was very glad we’d opted to stick to the lodge. A night in a rock shelter can wait for a dry and warm summer trip.
The vandalism at Flora Hut alerted us to the fact that we must be nearing the road end. A quick snack and a further twenty minute walk and we were back in the shelter at the car park. A great long weekend despite the wet weather, and an enticing introduction to the Kahurangi National Park.