This circuit was concocted to enable us to visit 2 named high points for our Top-o-the topo's project. A device which leads us into visiting places we may not normally consider whereby we summit the highest named points on the NZMS 260 series. Some summits are a drive or stroll and others not so easy.
On this trip we earned our summits due to the weather conditions. As a side benefit, we got to check out 2 new refurbished ex-musterers DoC huts – Nicholson Hut and Boundary Hut. Checking out the map revealed easy-looking terrain that could virtually be tramped across at any point.
We cheated and drove 1200m up Symes Rd to the top of the range. We were concerned that at this time of the year there may not have been room for us at Nicholson’s Hut. Plenty of 4WD day trippers were about. It is possible to drive over the range to Piano Flat and Waikawa – a route recently publicized when a large convoy of 4WD’s got stranded in deep (and forecasted ) snow towards the end of the previous season. Folks had to be rescued by a hastily rehabilitated snow mobile and there was a bit of criticism of the SAR operation by the locals. Eventually the 4WD folk got permission to rescue the vehicles as well. All good.
We met up with some MTB’ers who said they hadn’t seen anyone else travelling the circuit on foot or bike so we were hopeful. In any case, if the hut were full, we could always have travelled on to Boundary Hut.
It had been a hot day but on the top of the range at 5pm, it was starting to cloud over and an unpleasant wind was coming side-on from the south. We plodded along the dull 4WD track and I was wondering why we hadn’t left these summits for when we were in our 90’s and tackled something a bit more remote and challenging. After an hour, we were virtually at our first summit, Hyde Rock. As it was windy and completely clagged in we sheltered in the lee of the rock (hyding at Hyde Rock) and Frank layered up a bit more while I scoffed a snack bar.
We had agreed to drop down to the picturesque Earnscleugh Stream which gently flowed downstream to Nicholson Hut. We were glad to begin our descent to get out of the wind from where we retraced our steps to a point where the 4WD track changes direction from north to northeast. The flattened ridge consisted of lumpy moss which was nice and springy to walk down. We travelled lower into high tussocks with visibility improving, Frank leading the way sidling as we dropped in a pretty much northerly direction.
As soon as I could, I left the tiresome tussock sidling for the very pleasant springy but dry valley floor. The valley vegetation was very attractive with russet and golden patches amid the green. Our boots remained dry as we found places to jump across the stream. The hut is marked wrongly on some maps and Frank’s GPS but it was correctly marked on my smartphone mapping software. We climbed a bit from the stream onto a tussocked covered terrace and found the hut.
I had surmised there might be fuel for a fire there with the hut being so close to the end of a 4WD track and the first thing I saw when entering the hut was kindling and chunks of wood under the bunks but no fireplace. I cooked tea and selected a book from the capacious library then settled down for a chilly night in my lightest sleeping bag and no thick down jacket.
I woke cold and had to retrieve part of my pillow; a permaloft jacket to wear in the bag. The pillow of thin down jacket and my wet weather gear was comfortable enough and my feet were still warm, especially since I’d put my tramping trousers over the usual night-attire. I can sleep cold and shivering but it’s very hard to sleep if I’m too hot.
Frank had declared it wouldn’t be cold enough for a fire but in the morning we woke to frozen ice-covered tussocks. I thought it was a heavy frost but Frank said it was the sleety snow. We never got to find out as it thawed very quickly with the ensuing light drizzle alternating with sleet flurries. We weren’t in a hurry to get going as the weather seemed to be improving as the morning progressed but eventually set off in intermittent very light spit/sleet gently ascending 200m up the tussocked slope to the 4WD track that leads off to Boundary Hut, our lunch stop. We could hear trail bikes whining up on the track as we climbed.
By the time we got to the 4WD track, the sun was shining intermittently. Frank stopped to photograph a patch of celmisias flourishing where a shallow ditch had been constructed to help drain the track. Then we took the turning for the hut and dropped down to where it was sheltered, tucked in by a pretty wee stream. The hut had a deck and had been refurbished in the 1990’s by locals: Bruce Mason of Public Access fame and Doug Forster, who created the Freshmap software, had helped masochistically sled in a toilet in the winter. Since then DoC had come to the party with further embellishments that Bruce believed were unnecessary such as a metal bench. It was a lovely spot for lunch on a sunny day.
Finding 4WD tracks tiresome and a little jarring on my hip, I announced I wanted to travel cross-country directly to the next objective: The Obelisk. Frank and I plotted a route or should I say I suggested one then Frank outlined a more direct route slightly more down valley and pointed out it was only 20m lower in altitude where we crossed the stream. Aside from using GPS, our handrail was a bump along the spur we needed to descend. Alongside our spur was another with an even larger bump which was a rocky outcrop like our spur had but we were on the right spur.
We dropped down to the stream and filled our bottles for the 400m climb up to Obelisk. It was now a hot sunny day but the wind was refreshing as long as we stuck to the crest of the spur. I was pleased to see Frank put a good litre in his bottle as one time he got sunstroke from not drinking enough and not travelling via the cooling crest of the spur. On that trip he had proposed a drop-off a viciously ablated cheese-grater vertical end of a spur (Boundary Col trip). I’d redirected us to a safe scrubby alternative.
We climbed up and passed 2 rocky outcrops which made for attractive waypoints. At the second outcrop there was a lone resident wether, hoping to be the next Shrek? His fleece had a long way to go though. I think he’d only missed one muster but imagine being a flock animal without a flock. How lonely and vulnerable he must feel. This was the only ruminant we’d seen up there aside from old cowpats down in the head of the stream the night before.
We travelled alongside a fence then I noticed the quad bike tracks from when the fence was constructed and decided it was easier walking there than on the mossy hummocky ground so crossed over into these tracks. I climbed up the fenceline until Frank gave a shout to indicate we needed to be sidling over towards the Obelisk via a gentle saddle. I stopped to photograph a mysterious plant but soon realized it was a small leafed celmisia when I saw a specimen in flower.
We got to the summit where Kopuwai is dwarfed by an enormous transmitter and then set off for a half hour walk back to the car and our starting point. Along the way was some information ‘about the tussocks’ – a successful revegetation trial where the blade of the bulldozer had disturbed the land. Thank goodness for the off-track travel to make this circuit more attractive and interesting.