As the winter months slowly drag into spring I find more and more of my time at work is spent day dreaming about possible tramping trips for the upcoming summer, and the spring of 2013 was no different. I tend to plan for week or longer length trips so with only 3 or 4 of these possible a summer my time was spent wondering where I should go.
The big news event for 2013 was the Fiordland Monorail project that was dragging on and on instead of being vetoed by the minister of conservation, and so I found myself more and more studying the Snowdon Forest area through which I was certain the monorail would be bulldozed, approved by this National government. A plan slowly began to materialize that would take me through Snowdon Forest as well as some awesome looking mountainous terrain, as I do get sick of beech forest after a couple of days of it!
On the Milford road, a dozen or so kilometers northeast of Te Anau Downs a track called Boyd Creek rises all the way to bush line on the Countess Range. Moir's Guide South talks about this and intriguing trips into the upper Upukerora. However, there was another track branching off Boyd Creek which headed south to Dunton Swamp, through which the monorail would be passing. If I followed this unnamed track to Dunton Swamp I could connect with the Upukerora just down from Army hut, and from there head down to the Whitestone river on another track which eventually leads to Kiwi Burn hut. Kiwi Burn also featured heavily in the monorails plan as it was going to pass right outside the hut.
DOCs website has a pdf (http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-visit/southland/southland/snowdon-forest/) about the Snowdon forest which says the track from Kiwi Burn to the Whitestone is unmarked (untrue), that the track from the Whitestone to the Upukerora is “wet and muddy” (no mention of the track being poorly marked with good route finding essential), and the Boyd Creek to Upukerora River track isn’t mentioned at all.
I emailed DOC Te Anau about the Boyd-Upukerora track and got a reply back saying the track was no longer maintained but exists as a route only that skirts private land and “good luck”. Moir's Guide also mentioned the route from Boyd Creek to Kiwi Burn in a few vague paragraphs, so armed with this I had a start of a trip planned. From Kiwi Burn, the open tops of the Livingstone Mountains beckoned strongly.
Danilo Hegg’s Southern Alps Photography website (http://www.southernalpsphotography.com/Tramping) is one of my favourite websites on the net and I like to dream about trips while viewing his gorgeous photos. On one of his trips he had accessed the southern Livingstones from the Kiwi Burn swing bridge and gone up to Peak 1425 and then on to Mts Cerberus, Eldon, and Richmond. If I replicated this I could push on to the Acharon Lakes, and the Windon Burn, and then over into the East Eglinton, and then Cascade Creek, and finally along the ridge to Key Summit and out at The Divide. Yes, the plan was perfect. Leave was booked for the end of December 2013 to early January 2014, travel plans to Boyd Creek made, and gear was packed. What could possibly go wrong?
Day 1: December 29th 2013
The Tracknet shuttle dropped me off on the Milford road opposite the gated entrance to Boyd Creek a short time after 8am and roared off to drop its handful of fellow early rises further up the road at The Divide. Cloud hung about the tops of the Countess Range, remnants of last night’s rain but watery sunlight shone down on where I stood. I crossed the road and after going through the gate, headed up Boyd Creek which starts off as a 4WD track.
I was soon past a car park which had a couple of vehicles in it and on up the 4WD track until after about 15 minutes a snow pole, like the kind that mark tracks above the bush line, was spotted on the south side of the track. A trail crossed a small grassy clearing and disappeared into the trees, and so with a small amount of trepidation I plunged into the bush not knowing what to expect. To my surprise, the track I was on was wide, well maintained, and very well marked with orange triangles. After a few minutes of following this I even crossed a bridge across a small creek. What the hell was going on? I thought the Boyd-Upukerora track was going to be an unmaintained wilderness?
On and on this well groomed trail went. I had my GPS out taking position fixes and things were going great until after maybe 20 minutes the track clearly branched. The well maintained one veered east, a faint trail continued southwards over a pair of crossed branches… the universal sign for “don’t go this way”. After hesitating I continued to follow the well maintained track but checking my GPS revealed me heading further and further way from the dashed line of the Boyd-Upukerora track. After walking for a couple of hundred metres I stopped, now well east of where I wanted to be, and after a moment of fretting, back tracked to the intersection. I stepped over the crossed branches and pushed through regenerating saplings and wet undergrowth. The new trail soon opened up enough to follow it as it snaked its way southwards. Checking with the GPS I was now back on the right track and my confidence returned. As I made my way southwards the differences between what I had been on and what I was on now were clear. I must have been following a circuit walk from the Boyd Creek Lodge which utilizes the start of the old Boyd-Upukerora track. That explains why it veered eastwards, and it probably later turns north to reconnect with the Boyd Creek track.
On what I was following, however, the orange triangles were gone, replaced by pink tape and the occasional permalot marker. The tape varies from dense to non-existent so it was a constant battle trying to spot the next dangling bit of tape through the regrowth. The track was little more than a trail through the undergrowth. In places the thick regrowth almost blocked the way, wet from last night’s rain. In others the beech forest opened up into mossy glades and while pleasant to traverse they made it difficult to follow the track which was little more than an animal trail. Despite this I made steady progress.
30 minutes from leaving the circuit I arrived at a large grassy clearing, several hundred metres in length. Rather than trying to bush bash my way around I simply walked across the middle. Sheep droppings indicated that this flat was grazed although how stock got here was not clear. Once across, pink markers picked up the track again and from there it was short walk to reach the Dunton Creek north branch, a small creek that trickled between mossy rocks. Once across the creek the marked track climbed southeastwards, and my periodic GPS checks revealed me getting further and further east of the trail. The track was well marked but had clearly been rerouted from the old topo map track at some stage. It ended up being about 500 metres east of the mapped route, making me glad that I didn’t lose the markers during this leg as the map could have been of little use. It eventually dropped down off the hill to the south branch of Dunton Creek where I stopped for a break. It had taken some 3 hours to reach here from Boyd Creek.
South of Dunton Creek the route climbed steeply up a hill which at the top the markers deposited me at the edge of a large rolling clearing. Felled scrub and trees littered the perimeter, the clearing mostly dirt with smaller patches of scrub. It had obviously been cleared at some stage and left for some odd reason. The view northwest to the Earl and Franklin mountains around Lake Te Anau was good.
My GPS indicated that the track went around the outside of the clearing to run southwest down the hill so I headed out across the clearing keeping an eye out for markers. Nothing was spotted in the clearing so I scouted around at the south east corner and pushed further and further into the bush there. Nothing. No markers or any indication of a trail. I zigzagged around slowly making my way southwestwards but still found nothing. I back tracked to the clearing and hunted around at the edge in a more westwards location but still found nothing. My GPS told me I should have been standing right on the track but it was thick scrubby bush. Getting frustrated I began to push south westwards down the hill deeper into the bush… I had to run into the track at some stage according to the map. I began to wonder if this was going to be another place where the marked track doesn’t follow the mapped track.
I eventually blundered into the trail as I wallowed through a swampy patch of ground, the track running northwest to southeast. While I was relieved to have found it I was nowhere near where the GPS said the track was, and there was no way I could have missed it if it had followed the mapped route around the clearing. I can only guess it crossed the clearing and reentered the bush much further southwestwards down the hill then where I was looking. As I followed the track it again veered up to 500m east of the mapped track until it hit the northwest corner of the second, larger grass clearing, this one about a kilometer in length. Again, I choose to cross rather then follow possibly non-existent routes around the fringes. Grass, tussock, and a bit of bog made for slow progress but as I reached the stream that flowed across the flats I made better time. I stopped for lunch on a gravel stream bank as sunshine warmed the valley.
At the southeast corner I hunted around looking for the normal pink tape or permalot markers but saw nothing. Suddenly something caught my eye which didn’t quite look right. A large mark caused by bark being scraped off on the trunk of a tree. Nothing unusual there in a beech forest, except the tree a couple of metres from it had the same thing at the same height, as did the next tree. As my eyes moved from tree to tree I saw a line of trees with bark scraped off them disappearing up the hill… blazes!
I began to follow the blazed line up the hill. There was no trail evident so as I weaved around fallen trees and humps and hollows in the ground I repeatedly lost and found the blazed line until losing it for good about 20 minutes along. Not to worry, the line had pointed directly towards Dunton Swamp which the map showed I was close to so I just headed on a compass bearing towards it until finally the bush cleared and I found myself standing at the edge of it. Tussocky wetness stretched for hundreds of metres. A large sign a few dozen metres out in the open caught my attention so I headed out into the swamp to get a closer look. It was a police sign warning poachers that the area was monitored. Not exactly sure how, but regardless, the combination of the sign and the wet boggy conditions indicated that this time the best travel would be in the bush.
Backtracking to the trees I noticed some pink tape which seemed to head eastwards around the top of the swamp so I began following this but the tape soon ended. More fruitless hunting around failed to turn up any more markers so I headed southwards making the best progress I could. Dense scrub eventually forced me towards the swamp and so I kept to a line which followed the bush edge. The ground was often sloped and firm near the tree line making for good progress, but other times it was flat and the swamp reached right up to and into the trees making for slow progress. Rain arrived too while I was making my way down the swamp and continued in patches on and off for the rest of the afternoon. It was now after 4pm, I was exhausted and my moral was low but I kept at it, finally rounding the last of the trees and reaching the Upukerora River at 5pm. Here was a 4WD track which I began to follow up river, an old wooden sign catching my attention. Its moss covered boards proclaimed that I was going in the right direction to Army hut, and that Boyd Creek was only 5 hours away via the trees east of Dunton Swamp it was pointing at. At 9 hours 15 minutes for my travel time I found this amusing. The 4WD track crossed the river and it was another 30 minutes up the true left to finally reach Army hut.
Army hut is frequented by 4WDers and hunters and so lives a hard life. There was lots of extra furniture in it which was nice… a bed expanding its capacity to 5, a couple of armchairs and cupboard unit that was well stocked with a variety of crockery, pots and pans, and even canned goods like baked beans. On the downside the fireplace was chocker with rubbish, the shelves were covered in empty beer bottles and the hut in general just felt unsanitary. Still it was dry and comfortable as the rain settled in properly for the night.
Day 2: December 30th 2013
I awoke on the 30th to light rain and cloud swirling low about the bush. The air was incredibly cold with an arctic breeze blowing down valley.
Later, as I was washing my breakfast things in the river the cloud lifted enough for me to see the Livingstone Mountains from the hut. The tops were dusted with fresh snow! No wonder it was so cold. The rain was beginning to get heavier so I made the decision to stay where I was. It would give me a chance to recoup from yesterday’s 10 hour mission anyway. I cleaned out the fire place and using the well-stocked firewood lean-to got the fire going.
It was late morning as I was reading hunting magazines near the fireplace when there was a knock on the door and a “hut ahoy” from outside (Army hut has one of those doors that only stays shut by locking it, either from the outside or inside). I opened the door to let in a sopping tramper who, as he got his billy going, told me he had come down from a campsite further up the Upukerora.
He was a DOC worker who also went tramping for fun and had traversed down from the East Eglinton, up Annear Creek and down to Army hut, and was heading out at Takaro Lodge. He stayed for a cuppa, we yarned about his trip and about what I hoped to do, and then he was off to make his pick up by his wife.
My solitude returned, I noticed the rain had stopped and so pulled on my gear and went up the river a bit to have a look. Above Army hut the bush opens up to a large grassy area beneath the big slip on the north flank of Snowdon Peak. I climbed maybe 80m up above the river and took some photos, but the next rain front arrived, this one laced with hail, so I bet a hasty retreat back to the hut and my fire where I remained for another night.
Day 3: December 31st 2013
The 31st dawned cool but not raining. I packed up my gear, gave the hut a bit of a tidy, and was on my way as early as practical. My GPS showed the dashed line of a track entering the bush south of the Upukerora so I soon began my mission of locating this. Naturally, it didn’t exist where the GPS said it would be, so I spent frustrating minutes walking up and down the bush edge looking for any indications on where one might be.
Eventually, near a flood channel I saw hole which seemed to penetrate the scrub on the bush edge and climbing up to it found I pushed through easily and there was a pink tape hanging off a tree. I was right beside the stream that flows north into the Upukerora so the more easterly track on my GPS was a fantasy. The topo map shows the track ending about a kilometer from the Upukerora, but regardless, pink tape marked a trail up the true right side of the stream so following this I headed off. It was more of the same from two days ago. The tape varied from well-marked to non-existent. The ground trail petered out and flourished alternatively.
In several places I dropped down into the creek bed where there was good travel except for on big sweeping left hand bends which diverted the main flow to the true right side. The maps, both my GPS and the topo, indicated that the trail crossed the stream multiple times. At no stage did I ever see a single marker on the true left side of the stream. Even when I lost them on the true right there was no indication of any sort of trail on the true left. I suspect that that too is fantasy. The whole way from the Upukerora to the Whitestone I kept to the true right or the stream bed.
When the stream veered away to the west there was sufficient markers to keep heading south to cross the low saddle at 597 metres and arrive at the grassy flats of the top of the Whitestone. The grass flats north of the Whitestone are one giant swamp like the Dunton Swamp so I again followed the bush down towards the river. This time the markers were followable pretty much the whole way. I lost them shortly after where the route swings eastwards but open space was visible through the trees so I pushed down to arrive at the Whitestone River.
It had taken about 4 hours to get here so I stopped for lunch on a washed up tree log. The sun was warm but even now there was a passing sun shower. Moving on I forded the river and headed up the true left river bank weaving around thistle patches and walking on the river bed where possible. I was soon under the trees where the topo map shows the track going up river but I never saw any kind of track markers for this leg. The bush was very open and it was pleasant walking beside the river. As I left signs of farming behind there were lovely looking camping spots on both sides of the river. I crossed and re-crossed multiple times as the river snaked its way up valley.
East of Point 1085 large grassy flats stretched northwards and it was way up here that the east wall of the valley dropped away to reveal a grassy valley sloping down to the Whitestone from the southeast. I left the Whitestone River behind and began climbing up this valley beside a swampy stream.
The swampy ground was soon left behind as I climbed higher and as I was making my way up near the northern side of the slope I stumbled across a deserted hunters fly camp site under some trees beside the stream, another great camp site. From here the top of the grass slope was visible and a large DOC triangle stood out on the bush edge so I continued up to it. Pushing into the trees here I was soon on a track marked with orange triangles which ran straight up the hill.
At the top was a small clearing with more evidence that people had camped in the past and from here the markers led down into the Kiwi Burn. The track was surprisingly muddy, the whole way down to Kiwi Burn hut. Wasn’t expecting this much mud. The first large flats encountered just north of the circuit track junction were a giant swamp that that the track skirts around. From the track junction the track improved a little bit but was still muddy as it led down through more bush to the Kiwi Burn flats. This here was one giant swamp that just varied in intensity. The track crossed the creek and then meandered down through tussoky grasslands and along the river bank.
Kiwi Burn hut was finally in sight as the stream was re-crossed and then the markers led me right through the thick of the swamp just north of the hut. It was knee deep mud and slow going. Wtf? I thought Kiwi Burn was a place people brought their families to learn how to tramp? What new person wants to be wallowing around in knee deep mud in site of the hut? I found this last 3-400m stretch on what had been a very long day surprisingly frustrating and so it was with some degree of anger, exhaustion and relief I finally stumbled up the stairs to the front porch of Kiwi Burn hut after what had been another 9.5 hour day. The hut was deserted, which also surprised me as I thought tramping at New Year’s would have been a thing for at least someone else other than me. Regardless, I washed the mud off me and my gear in the stream behind the hut and settled in for a quiet New Year’s Eve.
Day 4: January 1st 2014
The first day of 2014 dawned to misty rain with the clouds right down swirling around the bush. I watched them out the front windows while eating breakfast. Well, this poured cold water on things! I had hoped to head up onto the tops today, but the combination of the 30th’s snow and today’s rain and cloud put paid to that idea.
I gloomily packed and left the hut, heading southeast on the Kiwi Burn track towards the Mararoa River. This section of track was certainly in better nick. Once across the unbridged Kiwi Burn the track was well graded and marked and so speedy time could be made down to the Mararoa where a sign was encountered warning Te Araroa walkers that the Mararoa needs to be crossed down river and if it looks un-crossable they need to backtrack to the swing bridge 20 minutes back along the track (I was heading towards this bridge). Really? It’s left until well past the bridge before warning people they should have crossed the bridge 20 minutes ago? Why not tell them at the bridge and route the Te Araroa down the true left side of the Mararoa???? The mind boggles sometimes at stupidity like this. I looked at the Mararoa with its dark swirling waters and couldn’t tell if it was knee deep or 10 metres deep. Glad I wasn’t trying to ford it!
Carrying on northeastwards I was soon past said swing bridge and following the good track through beautiful red beech forest and grassy flats. The rain gradually eased off over the course of the morning and after a couple of hours the river finally opened up and I found myself at the bridge across the foot of the South Mavora Lake. I dropped my pack off and crossed the bridge out onto the middle of the span to look up the lake. Greyness everywhere. Grey clouds obscured grey peaks above the grey water.
My solitude of the past couple of days was interrupted by the sounds of vehicles on the nearby road making their way to and from the Mavora Lakes campsite at the foot of the north lake, and by a couple of day walkers who crossed the bridge behind me. “Did I bring a fishing rod with me?” they asked. There was apparently a big fat trout right beneath the bridge. I exchanged a couple of pleasantries with them then as they headed off I re-crossed the bridge and looking down into the calm water, sure enough, there was a giant trout holding position in the gentle flow of water leaving the lake.
I ate an early lunch underneath the trees on the western side of the outlet and then headed north, following the track up the western side of the lake. I encountered more walkers on the journey northwards through the trees, then cleared the head of the lake and had to wade through nearly waste deep grass that was saturated from all the rain before arriving at the Mararoa as it flows out of North Mavora down to South Mavora.
It was a short walk through more trees until the bridge across the foot of the north lake was reached. Here I was rudely greeted by civilization again in the form of the massive Mavora Lakes campsite. Tents, campervans, 4WDs and people sprawled across half a square kilometer. Misty drizzle couldn’t deter what looked like half of Southlands camping New Year’s holiday, with some of them having clearly been drinking for quite some time. A confusing maze of gravel roads led in multiple directions so I vaguely headed north until I found the lake and dropped down to what was clearly the boat ramp.
Smoke drifted in the still air from camp fires and a chorus of dogs barking came from further along, as well as the growl of a boat somewhere up the lake. While the idea of stopping to camp did appeal, this location did not. Looking at the map the 4WD track up the eastern shore of North Mavora was going to be a long slog to Careys hut. Resigned to the fact that I had another 10 odd kilometres to go I headed off.
I soon left the noise of dogs and engines behind as I headed through the trees. The 4WD track undulated near the lake edge with deep water filled potholes so I alternated between walking on this to walking on the lake shore which was pebbly and caused a portion of each step to sink into the stones, losing power, and making it more tiresome to walk on.
After some 3km the track cleared the trees and began to move inland and climb above the lake. By this stage in the afternoon the clouds had cleared a little bit and even some watery sunlight shone on me so I had ditched my raincoat in the top of my pack. The odd passing rain shower still blew through though so I still wasn’t completely free of the weather. As the track climbed higher the view up and down the lake was superb, driving me onwards as I tired. I met 3 groups of 4WDs coming down from somewhere higher up and it was with some relief I finally reached Careys hut late afternoon.
There was a truck parked outside that belonged to a young couple who had driven up here in order to go mountain biking. They told a confusing story about wanting to mountain bike up to Forks hut up the Winton Burn but had gotten deterred by the state of the 4WD track higher up (I only figured out what they meant when I walked this way the next day) and the rain and the need to cross the Mararoa.
Careys hut clearly led an abused life in reach of 4WDs and boaties but is unusual in that it has an outdoor shower heated by a wood stove in the hut. However, there was no firewood present and judging by the cobwebs the setup hadn’t been used in sometime. The boyfriend spent a bit of time mucking around with the pipes seeing if he could figure out how to make it go but like I said there wasn’t any wood. I went down to the lake and jumped in for a chilly swim instead.
As the cloud lifted in the late afternoon I had a fine outlook across the lake. Peaks 1777 and 1662 stand above one of the routes I had planned to use to get to the Acheron Lakes but I could see they were dusted in snow. At some 1200 metres I knew it was going to be as cold as charity up at the lakes, I was rapidly running out of enthusiasm for that leg of the journey.
While we were eating dinner a boat pretty much ran itself aground just below the hut and it wasn’t long before four 18-20 year old Southlanders burst into the hut and started exclaiming loudly how this was the nicest hut they had ever seen and how great it must be to stay here. The stink of alcohol soon filled the hut. They went on and on about how good the fishing was and then offered me a fish. When I politely refused trying to explain I wasn’t equipped for fileting or cooking (or storing) a fish they seemed to get offended. Thankfully they left shortly afterwards much to the relief of us three sober ones. Out the hut window we watched them tipsily re-launch their boat and roar off down the lake, no life jackets to be seen, naturally.
Day 5: January 2nd 2014
The rain was back for the 2nd of January. The couple was heading back down the road to the campsite and out, but I headed north. The 4WD track climbed up and around a spur, the northern side of it exposed to a strong wind that was blowing the rain down the Mararoa Valley. I soon encountered where the old 4WD track branched off down towards the Winton valley. A sign proclaimed that it was unsafe due to washouts. As I dropped down to the valley floor again I could see how angry the Mararoa looked and wasn’t surprised the couple hadn’t wanted to ford it. I wasn’t going to either. I had one last look up the Winton and to the Livingstones around the Acheron Lakes and resigned myself to the fact the weather had defeated me this trip. However, the Mavora Walkway was new country to me (as had everything up until now) so going up the Mavora was a consolation of a sort.
The 4WD track continued on and the rain began to ease off and eventually stop. A single 4WD vehicle passed me heading down valley. As I got to Boundary hut and read the hut book it was clear that a family of 5 had stayed the night here last night. I backtracked slightly to the bridge across the Mararoa and was soon heading up valley on the true right of the river.
Through a gate I was now on farmed Ngai Tahu land as the herd of cattle and calves near the gate proclaimed. The cattle acted like I was the scariest thing they had ever seen and took off down the track but refused to get off it, so for the next kilometer or so it looked like I was cattle rustling. Finally they caught up to the rest of their herd and left the farm track to head down by the river, and I continued on in peace.
I sheltered in the lee of a cutting while I ate lunch (the rain was gone but the strong wind was artic) and studied the map. My map and GPS show the Mavora walkway following the river for most of the way to Taipo hut. Topomap.co.nz shows the Mavora Walkway following the western wall of the valley, and indeed once on my way again the farm track soon dropped down to the river and I was left on the western side of the valley following snow poles. The Mavora must have been rerouted in the last couple of years. The track was basically non distinct. For all intense and purposes I was walking across open grass and swamp land following snow poles. The snow poles were very stretched out, 100-200 metres between poles, and I found the orange tops seemed to blend into the background grass. I don’t know if it is just me, but struggling to see the next pole and the lack of a ground trail meant I had a devil of a time following the Mavora Walkway.
Somewhere along its length I encountered a multi-wired permanent fence completely blocking the track. The top two wires were barbed and there was no gate, stile, or other such way to cross. The Mavora Walkway was completely blocked. This infuriated me no end, as I had to lift my 20+kg pack up and over my head before throwing it over the fence, then squeeze through between a couple of the wires. Yet another bad impression for foreign visitors and Te Araroa walkers with the lazy locals prepared to spend the time and money to fence the valley but not provide a simple way for people to get past.
It was an extremely long 4 hours between Boundary and Taipo huts, not helped by the bitterly cold wind and damp conditions. It was with great relief when finally Taipo hut came into view and I splashed my way across the large unnamed stream south of the hut and crossed the last couple of hundred metres to the bridge over the Mararoa River. Taipo's porch was completely exposed to the northerly wind and as I eyed a big hole in the porch decking I envisioned my gear being blown off their hooks and swirled around the porch before going down the hole, under the hut, and being blown down into the Mararoa. I took everything inside instead and jerry-rigged a clothesline using my walking poles, the hut broom and a ball of string I always carry with me.
Taipo was deserted and so I settled in for the night with the temperature dropping rapidly to match the wind gaining in strength. The rain was back and combined with the howling northerly, water was soon being blown under the hut door and across the floor. I periodically pulled myself out of my sleeping bag to mop it up with my old socks from the start of the trip. The floor in Taipo hut is water damaged and starting to warp. An entry in the hut book said the internal hut sink leaks but I suspect the water damage is due to the wind blowing the rain in. In the evening the wind reached gale force and the hut was shaking on its foundations as rain pelted the window. I didn’t know it at the time but this night of the 2nd January a massive storm blasted the whole Wakatipu head waters culminating in the massive landslide that dammed the Dart River and forming New Zealand’s newest lake. (http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/9581911/New-lake-blocks-Dart-River-track) It was certainly wild enough where I was on the Mavora. Glad I wasn’t in my tent somewhere in the Livingstones!
During the evening boredom got the better of me and while listening to my iPod I penned the following ditty in the Taipo hut book to the tune of Alice in Chains’ “No Excuses”. Sing along if you like: (http://youtu.be/r80HF68KM8g)
Sitting in Taipo hut
Got no more gas left for tea in my cup.
While the storm blows
No more hiding from the miles left to go.
Everyday Mavora hits me out so cold
Sitting in Taipo by myself, no excuses that I know.
Had a bad day
Boundary to the Greenstone is harder then they say.
Black and blue
I bleed for you
The mud so deep well you’re drowning in it too.
Yeah it’s fine
Tramping down the line
Leave all the rain and cold, trade for warm sunshine.
She’s the Mavora
I don’t adore her
But if I get out of here I’ll raise a beer to her anyway.
Day 6: January 3rd 2014
The wind died down sometime after midnight but I’m pretty sure it rained all night. As the 3rd of Jan dawned it was certainly still raining. I packed up my gear and was soon heading north across waterlogged flats in the vicinity of Pond Burn.
After a couple of kilometres I encountered a gate beside some trees where suddenly there were some orange triangles leading initially westwards up the side of the valley. Off in the distance to the northeast was another snow pole like what I had been following the whole way up the Mavora Walkway. Consulting the map I saw two dashed lines diverging down the Pass Burn towards the Greenstone, one on the true left of the valley and one on the true right. But which one should I follow?
Topomaponline says the true left is the Mavora Walkway. My GPS (which I now know are based on the old topo 50 maps) said the true right. Orange triangles certainly indicated a DOC track, but I had been faithfully following snow poles for the past two days. As I stood in the rain dilly dallying I had little inkling as to what an important decision this would turn out to be. Guess I should have studied the map harder under the current environmental conditions.
I finally chose snow poles over triangles and started heading northeastwards around the northern most lake on the Pond Burn saddle. A distant snow pole led me to a gentle climb up the eastern wall of the valley where a good ground trail headed off into ankle high scrub and tussock. That would be the last marker I would see for the next couple of hours.
As I made my way northwards it dawned on me I was following the old cattle track that Davy Gunn and the like had used when they drove their cattle from the Hollyford to Mossburn. A series of animal tracks made an obvious trail running with surface water through the low scrub, but were quite easy to follow. They meandered their way northwards a good way above and to the right of the Pass Burn, which as I made my way down valley grew in size, and grew, and grew.
I was soon confronted by the eastern branch of the Pass Burn, under normal conditions probably just a trickle, but today it was a sizable stream in its own right and clearly in flood. I stood on the bank and poked my walking poles into the water to get an idea of depth and current, and then leaning heavily on them shuffled my way across. Thankfully the water only came up to my knees but the current was very strong. A slip wouldn’t have been pleasant.
Once across to the northern bank I was soon back to following the cattle trail. After less than a kilometre I spotted orange triangles coming out of the bush on the distant side of the Pass Burn and then reached the spot where they climbed up the true right side to connect with the trail I was on, forming an intersection. As I pared down at the Pass Burn I saw a raging maelstrom of angry brown water thundering down towards the Greenstone Valley and no bridge where the official Mavora Walkway crossed it.
When I was standing in the rain back at the Pond Burn, umming and ahhing about which side to take, if I had gone with the true left I would now be confronted with an impossible river crossing and a 4 hour backtrack to get to where I currently was standing on the true right. Why was the Walkway even routed down the true left? The true right is perfectly followable. In fact hut entries I read later in Greenstone hut say that travel is actually better and faster on the true right. The true left track seems to me to be a waste of time, and money installing it, especially if they didn’t bother to bridge the crossing at the bottom for bad weather. Te Araroa walkers must roll their eyes at things like this.
Anyway, I now followed an orange triangle marked route into the dripping forest and along the flanks of the Greenstone valley. A distant view of it from a clearing revealed a swollen river with clouds swirling low around the mountains. It was on down through more trees to arrive at Greenstone hut, about four hours from Taipo.
Smoke from the chimney revealed a bunch of Australians who were settling in for their 2nd night here after making an attempt this morning to go up Steele Creek and over to the Caples. They had apparently looked at a raging Steele Creek where it pours out of its canyon beside the Greenstone and thought better of it as they would have to cross Steele Creek higher up. When I mentioned they could have stayed at Steele Creek hut they told me they only had the 2 nights available for the circuit and the weather had put paid to that.
Over the course of the afternoon a steady trickle of people arrived with similar weather related stories of flooded side streams and watery woes. The father of one Israeli family had had to stop and make multiple crossings at every stream they came across coming down from McKellar hut to ferry packs and two small boys of age 6 or so across. It’s a recurring theme you run into with tourists on tracks. They never seem to allow themselves bad weather days. If a track is listed as 3 days then 3 days is the amount of time they set aside for it and not a minute more. Frankly they would have been better off staying in McKellar for another night. I guess the same could have been said for me staying at Taipo. But anyway, the rain eased off in the afternoon and the hut filled up with people even camping outside by bedtime.
Day 7: January 4th 2014
I was up at 7am on the 4th Jan and was packed and ready to go by 8am and no one else had even emerged from the bunkrooms. Out of consideration of others I had moved all my stuff out of the bunkroom and packed in the communal area to keep noise down.
I headed off down the hill and was soon on the Greenstone track proper heading north. The sun was almost shining so at least it wasn’t raining. The side creeks were all full but nothing was in flood anymore, it was just surface water everywhere. Flattened grass revealed where the flooding had been as did massive pools of water on the flat ground.
It had been 6 years since I was last in the Greenstone so despite the conditions it was a pleasant journey up valley. I ran into a few people coming down from McKellar but other than saying hello we didn’t really stop to chat. It took an age to get through the long boring forested part north of Rats Nest hut and I finally arrived at McKellar hut early afternoon.
I had my heart set on a mythical 5pm bus at The Divide which I didn’t realize at the time only runs when booked, so I didn’t hang around. I arrived at Howden hut on the Routeburn about 4pm and as I started the climb up around Key Summit I was soon overtaken by a pair on English lads with day packs on. Asking them if they knew if a 5pm bus was coming, they didn’t, but kindly offered me a lift in their car which was parked at The Divide.
Gratefully accepting, I struggled to keep up with them under the weight of my still heavily laden pack and the fact I had been on the go for 8 hours. Finally we arrived at the car park and true to their word they dropped me off in Te Anau while they headed off towards Queenstown.
So, my week long adventure was at an end. Heavily dominated by the crappy weather, a recurring theme at New Year’s for me, I hadn’t gotten to do most of what I had wanted. The Livingstones, Winton Burn and Acheron Lakes remain unvisited but are still high on my to-do list.
However, I had successfully negotiated unmaintained backcountry tracks in Snowdon Forest and visited things the Fiordland monorail was threatening to ruin. Thankfully at the end of May 2014 the monorail proposal was declined and hopefully put to rest for ever.
The monorail had been the catalyst for me to visit Snowdon Forest and its demise has been the reason I’ve finally decided to write about my trip. Not that I think it was in any way extraordinary, but that, all things considered, I did enjoy myself in the end and it has fueled my passion for the area. The Upukerora is a beautiful river and I want to get back there and explore its headwaters, as well as getting up onto the southern Livingstones.
I hope that by putting my thoughts to keyboard it might inspire other people to get down there and check out this piece of the country that was very nearly lost to us because of one man’s greed.
Anyway, if you’ve made it this far then cheers for reading!