A dawn chorus of korimako wakes us long before the sun hits our shaded campsite at Courthouse Flat. The results of a successful predator trapping campaign soon become evident as we headed off into the eastern side of Kahurangi National Park. It’s like stepping back in time as korimako, piwakawaka, toutouwai, kereru and miromiro swoop around us. I wait for a Moa to step out from behind a beech tree.
The birdsong is accompanied by a dull hum of wasps, but the pesky foreigners keep their distance. After exploring some of the old mining relics we leave the river behind and head up towards the high point. It’s a decent climb – over 1200 meters in just a few hours. We’re all feeling the lactic acid burn when we clamber through the limestone crags that mark “the tops”.
A ramshackle descent off-track through spaniards and scree brings us to our campground for the night below Culliford Hill. The soft peaty ground is a welcome relief for scratched legs and aching muscles, and a quick dehy meal is just the ticket before falling into bed.
Once again we’re up and about before the morning sun slips down the craggy hilltops to our campsite. Hot cuppas all round to warm the fingers before setting off towards the day’s destination. We pitch camp around midday next to the Sentinel Hill tarns, and relax beneath Mt Owen’s impressive limestone crags. The view from the summit that afternoon is glorious. We’re on the highest peak in the park, and the bluffs, valleys and coastline spread out below us.
Heavy rain hits during the night, and glistening rock faces emerge through the mist the next morning. A break in the weather lasts long enough for a bit of “off track” exploring through the rocks and holes near the base of Owen, but we’re soon back off the mountain to de-camp. We make a dash for Granity Pass Hut, hoping yesterday’s crowds have been put off by the forecast.
At the hut we gleefully claim five bunks, finding just one other couple waiting out the weather. However the place soon fills up as various groups opt for a solid roof in the downpour. Before long the windows are steaming and the stragglers are finding sleeping spots on the floor.
Our final day in the hills includes a “warming” climb up the Devils Staircase. The birdsong returns for the descent to Courtyard Flat. The journey home is only slightly marred by a flat battery (restored to its former glory by a heaven-sent pair of trampers with jumper leads that arrive in the nick of time).