Trip Report: Hope Valley to Lake Sumner

Recently I attended a Southern Region Boys' Brigade Camp commemorating 120 years of BB, at Waipara in North Canterbury. One of the options I requested was (surprise, surprise) tramping. Partly because I enjoy it so much, and partly because I have never tramped in the South Island before (except for a few short walks on holidays with the family).

Having been armed with a list of possible overnight tramps (thanks to the webmaster, Matthew) in the region, I arrived at camp and on the Tuesday night went to a meeting where we were informed on the tramp details. The designated walk was from Lewis Pass to Lake Sumner via the Kiwi Saddle, an overnight tramp. We would be split in two, with each group driving in to each end, and swapping keys at halfway. We would stay in tents (so we didn't have to pay hut fees) and eat meals as a single group. My group decided to start from Lewis Pass and walk through to Sumner, allowing the other group to visit a hot spring site once they were out. We also had the joy of filling in a RAM sheet (Risk Assessment Management, not Random Access Memory). After dividing the loads between us, we moved on to evening devotions and bed.

The morning saw us awake and quickly packing that gear we needed, and leaving that we didn't behind, before we crammed into the van and the Landrover, and headed off to our respective starting destinations. Our group reached our starting point at the Poplars Station, at about 11.15am. After briefly stopping for a morning snack, we picked up our gear and headed off down the track, crossing the river via the swingbridge, and finally threading our way along the track, through some scrub and finally into the bush. Boy was it a relief to get in there, as it was stinking hot and humid, even with cloud cover. Once in the bush and with our temperatures stabilised, we ploughed ahead along the track, making quick progress into the Hope Valley. Somewhere about 1pm we stopped for lunch in the trees, and tried to guess where we were using a 1:80,000 park map (a lot harder than with a 1:50,000). Then we picked up our guy and strode off down the track, through what was relaxing and charming bush, though occasionally intermingled with farmland from the station across the river. Eventually we passed out onto a serious bit of farmland, and walking along it eventually fell upon the Midway Hope Hut, about 3 hours after we left. Here we had another break, inspected the rundown hut (which is really a last ditch shelter with no facilities except a bunk to sleep 6 with 1 mattress, and a longdrop. Reassuring to know it is there, however) and attempted to find a place for the thirstier among us to fill their bottles. With no source forthcoming, we sat and talked a bit in the relaxing conditions, then heaved to and once again began our pilgrimage. Some minutes later we left the bush for a long expanse of grassy flats, where water bottles were filled up (and no, we did not get any nasty bugs from it).

Progress up the flat was quite fast - not that surprising really. It was flat, easy walking and flaming hot from the sun which had now burnt through the clouds (or had they retreated?), providing excellent excuse to shake a leg. Occasional shadowy patches were gratefully received, and plenty of water was consumed. We also took the chance to have a nice break on the flats, as by now the less physically built among the group were getting more and more tired (providing the rest of us with a good chance to work on the old tan). Somewhere along here was a hot spring marked on the map, and as we walked along the flat we kept our eyes and noses open. Somewhere along here, probably in about the right place, a couple of us noted a sulphurous smell, but the spring must have been off the track, as we missed it. About 1.5 hours after walking onto the flat we reached the end of it, and passed into a slight bit of forest, before getting to a swingbridge which was duly crossed (the view down to the bottom was cool, with big rocks and strong flowing water currents and...oh, what's that sorry? You're afraid of heights?), and once more we hit the track (although we waited for everyone to cross the river before continuing. Single occupant swingbridges provide a great opportunity to allow the stragglers in the group to catch up) around and down through a slight bit of bush and back out onto more, you guessed it, farmland! Thankfully this part was not of great duration (as we had had enough farmland that day, thank you very much) and despite an attempt at finding a shortcut failing (using farmland) we backtracked and quickly walked into bush for the final 30 minutes to the hut. It is about this time that one or two of our members became drunk with the knowledge of a nearing hut, and took off (with the obvious result being that I had to take off after him to try and keep a link with the rest of the group). After climbing a small hill we came into view of the hut, and eventually arrived, about 6.5 hours after leaving the Poplars (including stops), though not before I managed to lose the track and decide instead of walking up to the stream crossing, that I would try out my new boots and go straight across anyway.

We were greeted at the hut by a couple of other groups of folks who had come through to enjoy the hot springs, or to get across to Arthur's Pass on the other side. An hour or so later, the second group arrived from the other direction, and we set about cooking dinner (which was sausages, dehy veges and dehy mashed potato) before some of the group decided to blind each other in the near darkness with their camera flashes. Interesting photos resulted. With night arriving and our tents beckoning, we retreated to sleep.

Morning greeted us with cloud, rain, and the usual cacophony of mosquitoes and sandflies. After breakfast (cereal) and de-pitching our tents, each group struck off their separate ways. We headed down the Kiwi Valley to Kiwi Saddle, along farmland and skirting wide to avoid walking through an area of swamp. Occasional stops were made along the way, the most notable personally when I stopped to put a bandage on a blister (I was being the hard man and using a 27km tramp to break in a new pair of boots, you see). We also took the opportunity to talk - the walking, whilst quick, was not particularly taxing. The major items discussed were revolved around a new badge system being introduced in the Company Section (11-18years) of Boys' Brigade. Boring, one might say? Well, it lasted for 1.5 hours, so you decide. Eventually we reached the end of the farmland, reaching a sign broadcasting Kiwi Saddle as being only a few minutes away. So in traditional fashion we climbed up to the saddle, and stopped for a well needed break. After downing dried apricots and chocolate, we set off down the other side, sidling around a mountain with a name which is no longer culturally appropriate, until we finally hit flat land some 1.5 hours later. During this period we stopped to snap some photos of Lake Sumner from a lookout.

Once on the flat our pace diminished slightly, no doubt due to the nature of the walk - at this stage there were a few obstacles, such as a tree high enough that it reached the limits of my stepping-up-onto ability. There were periods here where it was muddy, enough so that boots disappeared into the mud (the previous day, one member of the other group just about lost his shoe in one particular specimen). Winding around, and having crossed Three Mile Stream swingbridge, we carried on until reaching the bush edge at the head of Lake Sumner, some 45 minutes later. Here, after snapping shots of the lake (mine also has a mosquito in prominent position featuring), we decided to take a "shortcut" across the Hurunui River and walk up the 4WD track to where the Landrover was parked, instead of following the track up to the swingbridge and sanely crossing there. Of course, due to the heavy rains that had occurred in the catchments, the Hurunui was in flood (but not being experts of the river, we were not able to discern that) and so when we crossed we got very wet, and (I, at least) almost lost our footing due to the swift current. We crossed over the little sidestreams off the river and finally reached the track. About this time the heavens opened, and a deluge of Noahic proportions quickly turned us into very wet little critters (we didn't have our jackets on, and it was not worth getting them out). Finally we reached the Landrover, where clothes flew off in a flurry.

And that was the trip, mostly. The 4WD trip out is another story, as is the size of the hot springs that the other group found. However, the tramp was thoroughly enjoyable, even when factoring in the deluge, the river crossing, the blisters and the bugs. I will hopefully return one day, to complete the rest of the journey over Harper's Pass.