We had to delay our start by 2 days as the Easter rains were causing considerable flooding, making the rivers impassable.
Still, we got away on the Monday and got dropped off at Huxley Lodge, not looking forward to the 2 long hours of drudge getting to Monument Hut. Luckily a local hunter picked us up in his 4x4. Considerable time saved and good conversation had. It’s a pretty easy walk to Broderick Hut, so long as you take the river bed rather than the track from Huxley Forks up the north branch. The track climbs high to skirt around slips and guts. A lot of unnecessary energy wasted as the river is an easy option.
The hut became pretty full that night as 6 climbers from Wellington arrived a couple of hours after us. We saw them earlier and wondered at their destination. No more wondering required! I think they would have had a wasted trip as the conditions never really got to a level they would have been able to climb. They were looking at Mt McKenzie and Mt Strauchon, the two mountains Broderick Pass intersects.
We headed off around 7.30am the next morning and left them too it. There was low cloud and mist, giving limited visibility. Although the route to the pass is poled, at one stage near the top of the pass we got a little disoriented and needed to reassure ourselves with the GPS, as poles are somewhat spread out. There are also plenty of cairns towards the top. Once we crested the pass it was clear on the other side looking down into the upper basin of McKenzie Creek, a lovely sight.
As Moir’s Guide suggests, you need to head right from the top of the pass before descending into the river. There is a fairly new pole with a triangle on it overlooking the basin. I suggest you go further right than here to go down, although it is quite possible at the pole. Just as we headed down we came across three big Thar that were very close. An awesome sight to see these animals take off in three different directions, skipping over the scree and boulders and speed. Too quick for us to get the cameras out!
Once in the basin it is a straight forward boulder hop for some distance following the creek until you get to the first bush on the true right, not scrub but actually trees. Just before that you will find a large cairn and a small obvious slip on the true left. The cairn is not at the slip but suggest you climb up the short slip as it is a more direct route to the campsite above. Great lunch spot!
After we had a good break and felt refreshed we followed the trail of pink ribbons onto an obvious track leading up to the ridge coming off Mt Strauchon. After 20 minutes or so you are at the top. The track doesn’t actually get to the very top although there is a continuation to a lookout and great photo spot. We dumped our packs and went the few minutes further with cameras in hand. You will not be disappointed if you have good visibility. There it was, the Landsborough Valley for the first time. An awesome sight and a long way down! You can clearly see back up to Broderick Pass as well. Always nice to see where you have come from.
Back to our packs and the start of a very steep descent. Glad it wasn’t raining as it would be tricky in places if wet. Others have made reference to a steep drop-off part way down that is well under-cut. The track runs right next to this spot. Any experienced tramper would give this a wide berth so not really worth going on about it.
The track down isn’t marked as such but there are the odd markers and ribbons here and there. It is clear enough most of the time. A couple of times we had to back track a little as false trails can lead you off in the wrong direction.
Eventually you come out into the true left branch of McKenzie Creek. We followed this down until it met the true right branch, then a little further but the going in the river bed was getting more difficult so went into the bush on the true right. Easy going through here right down the the river flats. After hitting the flats we were at the hut in about 5 minutes, only to find it fully occupied by hunters, damn!!! No-one home at the moment though. Next task was to setup the tent and have a soup. After an hour, two hunters turned up who turned out to be great sorts, particularly as they offered us a Speights. They flew in a few days earlier, as hunters tend to do and had enough gear to start their own franchise.
Next morning we started around 7.45am and headed down the Valley. It started to rain about an hour into our day and never stopped. We followed the river until we reached Golden Point at Upper Gates Gorge. Here there is a clear orange pole marking the start of the trap line we intended to follow all the way to the other side of Harper Bluff. If you are following the river you can’t miss this marker. It stands out clearly, with an obvious start to the track. I got a copy of the trap lines from DoC which proved invaluable, from memory the first trap here was number 129, we were following through to 195. I am happy to pass this map on to anyone who is considering the tramp. Email
The track starts off with a pleasant bush walk but that is not how it continues. At times it is difficult to follow and requires care at seeing the next blue trap line marker before proceeding. Still much easier than finding your own way. There are two difficult spots that break the track. The first you will come across is a deep gut, you need to look to your left, well up the gut to see the next marker and the way across to the other side. The second is a big creek fan of around 200m across. The is no marker to pick up. We took a while to find it again, dropping down towards the river and cutting back up until we cut the track. About a third of the way across the fan a tree has a marker hanging from it, from here if you look left you will see a clearing on the far bank, head for this and you will find the track again. Save you a bit of time looking.
Just before the climb up Harper Bluff we spotted a big Doe munching away but quickly scampered at seeing us. The climb up Harper Bluff would have been straight forward in good conditions but it was very wet and slippery. There are steep drops to the right which we needed to take great care negotiating the narrow ledge that passed them. Once at the top it is a much easier tramp down the other side and out into the open. Harper Flat was a welcome sight, time to find a campsite for the night. It is never easy putting your tent up in the rain and getting the house keeping sorted but one of those things you just have to do.
The rain stopped during the night and we awoke to a beautiful misty morning that you just knew was going to burn off into a clear warm day, which it did! Before long we were tramping with the sun on our backs, a refreshing change from yesterday.
Although it only takes around two hours to reach Strutt Bluff, it felt longer as we couldn’t see the bluff due to mist hanging around it. There is one spot around half an hour from our campsite that you need to wade in the river to get around a steep bank. We were getting waste deep at times. It was a short section and not concerning as there was little current, still if the river was up further you could find a way over the top.
We arrived at Strutt Bluff just as the mist around it finally disappeared. It is an awesome sight with very steep sides and sheer rock faces that drop directly into the river. I have heard horror stories of people trying to get over Strutt Bluff but we felt confident with the directions from Moirs Guide in our hands, saying it only takes 45 minutes and the start is marked with some pink ribbons hanging from a tree 10 to 20 metres from the river. Sure enough there they were. Time for a break before tackling the steep climb.
It turned into a bit of a nightmare. The track had about 3 pink ribbons, just enough to entice us on, then nothing. The sides were more than steep and very wet from the rain of the previous day. We would have been ¾ of the way up after some genuine scrambling and effort when I suggested this is madness. It was getting very dangerous and no sign of improvement. At one stage on the way down I was hanging from a horizontal tree lining up one below and let go hoping to grab it between my legs without any of the obvious injuries such an action can do to a man. Needless to say a difficult descent back to the river bed. We had decided on two alternatives, crossing the river further back where it is at its widest point or swimming around the bluff, which we have done similar things before. The deep water running around the bluff is only about 30 meters and not too swift. The went for the river crossing first which wasn’t as bad as we first thought. Got across with little difficulty and back over the other side again with even less difficulty. From the Landsborough Homestead side of Strutt Bluff, there is a very clear start to the track with a large orange triangle and orange pole. Not sure where it ends up though!
Of course we took what seemed the most difficult path to the homestead, across fields of long grass that felt like you were wading through water the whole way. Seemed to take a generation to get there but a sight to see when you do. The two 4x4 vehicles from our hunters were parked there as they got their helicopter from that point. The building is a sad sight as it was obviously the pride and joy of the station owners at some stage. It has broken windows and semi trashed in places. Just too easy for a 4x4 to get to I am afraid, what a waste!
A few quick photos and off to the main road where our pick-up was waiting. There are a few creek washouts that would prevent a 2 wheel drive from coming in. It was a hard trek out as we were tired from the days difficulties and at the end of our expedition but a wonderful sight to see the car parked on the road as we came around a corner.