We drove the 2WD to a dry creek and walked a short distance to the site of the locked cable car and derelict hut site. We walked on for another one and a half hours or so to the second cable way and crossed it one at a time. There is a gizmo on a chain that allows this cable way to be operated solo. Rapid Creek hut had the uncherished appearance of a hut that is within a couple of walks from a vehicle.
Rapid Creek has the potential to rise and become impassable. A much needed bridge is soon to be re-installed. After crossing a footbridge back to the true right of the Whitcombe, we travelled on exquisite serpentine boulders to the old Frews Hut site where the side track leads to Frews Saddle. A few minutes later we were at the newer Frews Hut where we met Bryan and Anne Dudley, a soon to be retired couple of relieving teachers. We soon found out that Bryan is Mr Ultralite Tramper and had a good discussion about gear etc. He and Anne have done the North-West circuit with his carrying an 11kg pack and Anne carrying less! They were excellent company.
In the morning we wandered up the bush track that leads to Frews Saddle and had some crossings of very deep side creeks where we were glad to have the bridges. There was one crossing where the pole bridges had collapsed and we had to take care. It began to rain lightly and I was keen to stop in a sheltered spot but our leader wanted to stop by a water source so he compromised shortly after with no water supply and a bit of shelter for me at least. We noticed the rain had stopped by the time lunch was completed. We caught up to Bryan and Anne just before the saddle and found out they were intending to stay at the little 2 person biv at Frews Saddle.
At the biv we brewed up a cup of tea then relinquished the biv to the other 2 travellers. I was not going to then spend 5 hours hanging around a fly in the light rain and wind so persuaded the others to go down to the Hokitika and we could either camp there or carry on to Bluff Hut. So we headed for the saddle. I noted just before the saddle it was more sheltered but didn't see a water supply handy. The rain had stopped once again and it was straightforward descending via a poled route into the Hokitika.
We regrouped in the Hokitika and travelled downstream, seeing a track to the Steadman Spur that we'd been warned about as it was festooned with speargrass. The Frews Saddle biv hutbook advises to travel close to the river if possible instead which we did to good effect. The river bed was easy travel and very attractive. There was the odd suitable campsite observed. I spotted the poles leading to Bluff Hut in the saddle of an outlier, an obvious route above the bluffs of the true left of the Hokitika. Our leader,who we constantly waited for, disappeared at the point we were required to leave the river bank and gain the tussock terrace so after a bit of thought and reccying, we climbed to the terrace knowing we would all reunite at the forementioned pole at the saddle (E2356875 N5792327).
Not long after this we spotted our lost leader just before the ascent. The track has been recut by DoC with the destroyed Bluff swingbridge now replaced. On our trip the track to Bluff Hut was visible from the pole at the saddle as a light green path of tussock through scrub . It must have been sprayed with herbicide in former years to be so visible. At the time of our trip It was initally a bit rough in places but not too bad and easy to follow if you have any claims to competence. Halfway on this route the track entered heavy scrub, and if it weren't for the cruise-taping done by various permolat members, would have been impossible to follow. I replaced snapped off and fallen cruise tape and bent over the tops of scrub. The lads copied my example but we didn't put a lot of effort in as the track would soon be recut.
It took us a couple of hours to reach Bluff Hut which was in an attractive location at the scrubline. It hadn't been visited for 4 months. There was no water tank as detailed in the notes on this site but adequate water and a stream 5 minutes back up the track. Our leader got a fire going using half a candle as a firestarter. No wonder he had such a heavy pack. Most of us will use the half inch remnant of a spent candle or a piece of rubber if we need a firestarter. There was plenty of dry fine turpentine scrub around and the previous visitor had cut some really good stuff.
Paul made a delicious meal using rice and a sweet and sour sauce with finely cut dehy pineapple and dehy vegies. I made custard and added rehydrated pineapple which Paul didn't want as he'd gone to bed. The leader couldn't manage his share of the pineapple so cast it in the flames which surprised me as most unwanted food is offered up to others on tramps. So a few days later I left the large amount of dried fruit he'd relinquished to me to carry in a remote hut for others to appreciate (and I appreciated it when I went back to that hut!).
The next morning we retraced our steps and did a bit more trail marking as we went. The previous evening I'd spotted a possible scramble route up to the tussock right at the confluence of the true right bank of Steadman Spur and the Hokitika. We crossed the Hokitika, stocked up on water as it was a beautiful hot day and climbed up this easy route, soon spotting Bryan and Anne on the speargrass sidle on the official track. As the tussock steepened, poles showing the route up the spur became visible. I led on animal trails which suddenly morphed into a track, allaying Paul's anxiety.
The guys climbed up this track and I spotted a waratah lower. I went to investigate and found a snapped off, wooden, permolatted pole. I'd seen a few of these on the way to Bluff Hut and was curious how they'd been snapped off from the waratah. I resited it against the waratah wedged by a rock cairn and made my way to the next pole. Here I figured out what had happened. The pole, waratah and all, had been pushed over by the snow and when strong brutes had tried to straighten it up, it had snapped at the point where the attachment screws went through. I cairned this one and caught up to my companions.
We climbed up in the heat, keeping an eye on the poles which veered away from the ridge. Paul went on ahead while I waited for the leader who was taking a rest at the highest point. I was instructed to tell Paul to wait but instead called Paul who had wandered off route, down from the ridge to the poled route. Shortly after this we stopped for lunch at a point where I could see no further poles ahead. Here Paul found the bible I'd stashed in his pack. He gave us a very short reading and consigned it to the safe keeping of a crevice in the mountain of Sodom (as the leader called it). During this time, Bryan and Anne arrived and joined us for lunch.
I saw the suggestion of a path across the scree and ran down to find yet another pole lying on its side which was soon resurrected, braced against the waratah and surrounded by a cairn. Further poles were visible on the skyline so I took a direct but steep beeline across the tussock. I noted that the poles continued up the ridgeline and Paul said they were heading to a turn-off further up the mountain to the Sir Robert Hut. We chose to leave that destination for another time and head further down to Poet Hut.
It was a very hot day and fortunately there was an open 20L canister of water on the track downhill so the leader and I availed ourselves then we came across a tarn and took on another litre. After this I realised the canister had originally been a bottle of Roundup! It must have been well flushed out. I found out soon after this that the 40 gallon drum barrels on West Coast tracks are there to accumulate water for diluting Roundup for spraying on the tracks and it's still being used. Our leader gave Paul and I permission to go ahead and said something bizarre like "I'll soon catch you up". Well if he did that would be a first considering we had to stop and wait for him at regular intervals, the entire trip.
We descended through pleasant forest of different vegetation zones - nei nei, rata,and kamahi to the river valley, occasionally leaving the track to bypass windfalls. When the track flattened out, there was one section where the track had slipped away and we had to thread our way through fallen trees. It would be a challenge for people going the other direction up the track. I was looking forward to washing myself and my clothes when we hit the river. I peeled off and used an isolated pool in the sand. There were footprints here from someone with the same idea. When I went to the main river, it was very cold so I was lucky to have my warmer pool.
On the way to the hut, we noted flour bait at the foot of trees and a trap by one. I had approached the tree to purloin a strip of cruise tape and noticed the trap. Luckily I didn't get to notice it the hard way! In the clearing was the hut with Paul on the deck surrounded by young muscular males. He was in heaven and they'd given him cups of tea. They were the track cutters of Bushworks, who'd done such an excellent job i.e. cleared the debris off the track, not nailed the markers all the way in or placed them on dead standing trees, and left the bases of saplings at steep and tricky sections for trampers to utilise for footing and hand grips. Permolat and DoC take note!
The lads offered us the use of their tent as the 4 bed hut was fully occupied by them. I looked forward to a night away from Paul's snoring so put up the Olympus fly on a level mossy section of track near the trap. I prepared a back country cuisine meal which the lads appreciated and Paul made a dessert of lime jelly with 2 cans of peaches which we also shared with the ultralight couple who'd arrived sometime after us. Anne had braved the chilly river, not nice! I was gobsmacked to think he'd lugged those peaches but in the morning I found out they were a gift from the track cutters. They had a few beers and some rum that was 50% proof. One got a bit inebriated and announced he was going to Chch for his 30th birthday and was planning to visit all of the 6 strip clubs in town. I remarked I'd always wonder what sort of person patronised those places and warned him of the physically debilitating effects of alcohol that I encounter in my work.
He was one of 2 tossers for the man with the chainsaw. A real professional, his usual job was tossing fish crates for Talleys. He was quite outgoing and candid and I wondered how Anne was coping with his frequent use of the F-word but it turns out, she didn't notice. The guys were very friendly and hospitable. I was offered the raincoats to sleep on but left them for Paul who spent a glorious night immersed in testosterone. Our leader got changed and presented a fine picture in striped longjohns with the arse hanging down on the back of his skinny thighs. The track cutters were aghast at this sartorical and physical spectacle but I remarked "trampers don't care how they look".
I was offered the fadge to sleep on as well and was keen to have this as I didn't have my thermorest, only a section of closed cell foam as it was lighter. I was warned about the aggressive possum but didn't envisage it would be an issue. How wrong I was. I could have cheerfully planted my ice axe in its skull given the chance but I think this gorilla-sized female ended up in another trap close by after bouncing on the door of the fly by my head a few times in the night trying to get to my snack bars.
In the morning they were off to cut the final section of the track to Munro Hut and plied us with more food. I took on 2 heads of broccoli and managed to give one away to the lightweight couple but they soon gave it back so I lugged them up the hill. Our leader got a head start and said he'd wait for us at the turn-off to Toaroha biv. When we got to the junction he wasn't there so I thought he'd gone on ahead but when we failed to catch him I thought he may have missed the turn-off. The track up the hill had honest height gain punctuated with more bottles of Roundup, chain oil and drums of water.
After one and a half hours I reached the biv seeing Paul fetching water from the nearby tarn for a brew. Our leader arrived 10 minutes later and indeed he'd had gone past the turn-off only to be put right by the track cutters who'd overtaken him on their way to cut the track up the valley. I wonder how far he would have gone if they hadn't been there! Refreshed, we carried on down into the Toaroha. It was a stinker of a track, tussock booby-trapped with holes and speargrass. To our relief, the track cutters had come to the rescue with their weedeaters, having chomped an open track down to the river. At this stage, I was without my Whitcombe map as it had slipped from my waist belt the day before. I foolishly failed to check the map to see what the track did. Our leader who'd done this section before, continued down the stream as it began to rain and then stopped to consider perhaps he'd gone past the turn-off leading uphill to gain the other tributary.
This is what happens when you relinquish your role in the driver's seat. We travelled back upstream for 10 minutes to gain the track, a short way down from where it had descended to the river. The route to the Top Toaroha hut was quite pretty. We got there and had a nice lunch break and another brew. I got the fire going to dry out my wet long johns I was wearing. The ultralights caught up yet again and we said farewells and carried on down the track to go to the Crystal biv turn-off. This time I'd memorised what the track did and was soon able to use my Kaniere map anyway.
Our leader caught us up as we waited for him at one section and said he'd probably opt to go down the valley, and not up to the tops as he was getting pretty tired and our pace was a lot faster. For some reason I reassured him we'd go slower so that he could keep travelling with us. So I began travelling at his pace while Paul went on ahead at his. When we got to the Crystal biv turn-off, it looked as though it was Paul's turn to fail to notice the turn-off! I did a quick search down the track for him but was unenthused about making a steep descent and catching him up. I opted to write a note on a section of permolat I'd saved and flag it with 2 strips of cruise tape
We began the ascent of the track to Crystal Biv, looking for signs of Paul's passing. The track floor was mired in snippings of small saplings that Mauricio Lloreda had pruned as he'd recut the track. I went ahead and stopped at a dogleg to transfer a barrier of prunings from the track to the ambiguous option to clarify the right route. The track steepened to the extent where I wondered aloud if we were still on the track or if this was just Mauricio's faulty interpretation of the track from precedent on the Rangi-Taipo track he has cleared but also unfaithfully re-established as a vertical slide down ferns where no track has ever existed because he couldn't be bothered persisting with tracing the original benching. However there were permolat markers as we climbed.
While I intermittently waited for our leader to catch up, I cleared some of the prunings that Mauricio had discarded on the track as he'd pruned and climbed after I'd squeezed and contorted my way through them. There was no way I would wish to descend the track in the state he'd left it. Frank had nearly experienced a penetrating chest injury on the Rangi-Taipo track when he'd slid on Mauricio and Simon's debris into the butt end of a trimmed sapling covered by ferns. The stick had impaled itself a few millimetres into his skin. However Mauricio's cutting has clarified and accordingly saved the lower end of the track in the short term.
Eventually we came to Andrew Barker and Andrew Buglass's cut sections which were considerately well cleared of debris. Beyond this was the tussock section which has been periodically cruise-taped and partially snipped where able to clarify the route. In sections it didn't follow a logical straight line, and I knew at this standard and in the low light, Paul would have difficulty finding the biv.
We got to the biv and I informed our leader that Paul was carrying the stove and fuel so he began to construct a fire to put on a brew. There were no mattresses, just 2 camp-stretchers and a wooden platform for our leader to inflate his thermorest on. I put on wet weather gear as it began to gently spit and selected gear and rubbish that would serve as a guide for Paul to follow to the biv on a compass bearing. Fortunately as I got down to the obvious cross marker I heard Paul blowing his whistle so he climbed up to the biv. We were very pleased to see him. He was only 50 minutes later than we and had done it in very good time. I was well positioned in the biv to cook the pasta meal.
The tempo of the rain increased. Paul assembed the second camp-stretcher and put it in the space where we'd cooked and all had a comfortable night's sleep. In the morning it was clagged in at intervals and both lads expressed their probable reluctance to travel over the top. Paul felt buggered from his impressively rapid ascent to the biv the evening before. Our leader wasn't keen to travel on potentially exposed terrain in reduced visibility. I led them up the obvious spur from the biv with my compass and map at the ready. One side of the ridge was near-vertical thick scrub and the other was gentle scrubby tussock. I went slowly as our leader had requested and noted the change of bearing from NE to N as we ascended the few hundred metres it took to gain the plateau.
On the way up the clag cleared to reveal the head of Crystal Creek where it saddles with the Kokatahi. Soon we were at the plateau. Paul was saying, Yeats Hut, Yeats Hut! I checked in with our leader and he wanted to go there too so I began to plot a bearing even though there was the strong handrail of the edge of the tussocked plateau contrasting with the vertical scrub as shown on the map that would lead us to the spur that takes you to Yeats Hut. Our leader began to instruct us on the correct bearing but I tuned his comments out as irrelevant instead showing Paul, at his request, how to plot the bearing for the route. He is keen to improve his map and compass skills and often consults me for assistance.
Paul and I came up with a grid bearing of 344 degrees and converted it into a magnetic bearing of 322 degrees as this is what Paul works with. As a mountain safety instructor, I am comfortable with teaching and using both types of bearings and different methods of navigation as I am required to be. Our leader, however came up with a mystifying bearing of forty something degrees magnetic which would make our direction of travel ENE. This plainly demonstrated his inability to get his head around the basics of navigation i.e. he couldn't do map and compass work. Disturbingly, he attempted to argue the point which consisted of saying we were higher up the mountain than I thought.
I came up with 3 pieces of objective data, which were a) the bearings we'd travelled b) the nature of the spur which was a strong handrail in itself and c) the unique nature of the gently undulating 300m tussocked plateau we could see, and asked him for his data. Being unable to supply any, he accepted that we were where I said we were and when we travelled for a few minutes from this discussion, arriving at the waratah marking the descent to Yeats Ridge he congratulated me on what I thought was an extremely rudimentary display of navigational skill. This did make me wonder what level of skill he was used to...
We began to follow the waratahs down the spur. At one stage our leader continued to reveal his level of navigational competence by announcing he thought we should be travelling on a humpy spur to the true left that anyone who is capable of interpreting the location of a marked track on a map would know is the wrong spur. After a few waratahs, the route left the spur slightly to descend more on the left face and was marked as a pink ribbon on a waratah. There was a ribbon beyond this so I headed for that and looked around for and found yet another ribbon tied to a koromiko where the scrub began in ernest. Our leader voiced doubt that this was the route but I could see a further cruise-tape downhill of this a few metres on and invited him to suggest where the route might be. As he was unable to, we set off to this final ribbon and descended what appeared to be an occasionally snipped but plainly implausible vertical heavily scrubbed descent that was never the original route.
Proof of this was the wooden standard spotted at the bottom of the descent further to the left. Hmmm...I waited for our leader as Paul struck out down the catching feature of a spur where occasionally standards were spotted through taller scrub. I decided that as we were going to be hanging around Yeats Hut until the next morning, I may as well reascend this route from the hut after lunch to identify and mark the original route to the left of where we'd descended. As Paul and I descended to the hut, we could see 4 people walking down to the hut. Damn, thinks I until I realise this early in the morning it would only be daytrippers from Cedar Flats Hut, possibly including people from our club.
Paul and I went on ahead as we thought our leader now capable of finding his own way to a visible hut in the basin below and joined members of the Avon Tramping Club for lunch. I'd met 2 of them previously. Soon we were invaded by the Peninsula Tramping Club day-trippers and socialized with them. Paul decided to carry on out to Cedar Flats with them for the night to ensure a ride to where he'd stashed the bike, saving himself a 34km bike ride back to the car. Our leader opted for a snooze while I set off up the hill on my route-finding mission.
I wandered around checking out various possibilities and getting needled by speargrass. No more standards so I climbed up a more open initially tussocked route back to the waratahs and traced them back down the hill. At the second to last ribbon where our leader had queried whether this was the route, I found a possibility of a route to the hard left and followed it. It seemed to be feasible, going down a dry narrow watercourse but didn't terminate at the wooden standard although the standard was plainly visible from this route. I marked this route with permolats I'd carried and snapped off scrub to make it more obvious. At the bottom where it terminated, I nailed in a permolat with writing and also placed one at the wooden standard, instructing that the track commenced 15m down from this. Since then one of the permolat boys has gone in and clarified the track. Satisfied with my improvements, I returned to the hut after washing myself and clothes in a sheltered spot by a small tarn.
I cooked half of the second back country cuisine meal for our leader and me and later on he constructed a fire once again using half a candle as a firestarter. This time I learnt something from him - or rather it reinforced what I'd seen Geoff Spearpoint do on one occasion when he'd got a fire going for a quick cuppa. Our leader used the small bank above where he got the fire going as the base of an anchor point for a branch. Where I would have used the stones I provided him for a barrier against the water of the fire base vapourising and extinguishing the fire, he used these stones to anchor the stick. He used 2 short fat logs to contain and confine the fire under the stick to focus the flames. However, when he got the water to boiling I piped up that I thought it was boiling so he removed the billy to check it. Of course, removed from the flames, it was no longer boiling and in the meantime the vapour arising from between the logs at the swampy base extinguished his fire, effectively smothering it by depriving it of oxygen.
Out came another of his extravagant firestarters to get the fire going again with lasting success. Our leader likes to gaze at the glowing embers even if it means the fire is small and very smoky so I gave up trying to dry my socks and retired for the night. In the morning our leader set off an hour earlier than I and I left round 10am after doing a lot of tidying up and cleaning. The PTC had said there were a lot of windfalls on the track but the descent was very pleasant with sidle tracks cut by anonymous benefactors to avoid the downed trees. Towards the junction with the main valley track, I was suddenly gobsmacked. One minute I was on a NZFS track with ancient permolats and the next minute I was following orange cruise tape in an uncut section. WTF!?
I came on to a section of NZFS track and climbed up it, finding the the start of the deviation I had followed. It was a little stony creekbed leading into untracked forest which someone had cruise taped. Towards the end of this section were more modern permolats. Why had someone seen fit to construct this deviation? As the NZFS track was more gentle I can only surmise they failed to notice the proper track or thought this direct route was an improvement. Well after a few minutes work of transplanting permolats and cruise tape no one should have any difficulty recognising the proper track now.
The main track led me to a stunning gorge and the anticipated footbridge leading to Cedar Flats. At the gorge I lingered, thinking if Emma was with me on a hot summer's day like today, we'd be packfloating through that gorge. I crossed the bridge and along the track heard a familiar noise of flapping duck wings. There was a little gap leading to the river where I saw a pair of blue ducks, whistling and so close to the hut. The huts were like a ghost town: the previous night at least 31 people, half in tents according to the PTC. I checked the hut book in the main hut and wrote the genuine occupancy figure in for DoC. At the old hut, I decided to go in and yes, our leader had left me his promised message saying he'd gone on to the road end.
I thought I was too short of time and too hot to bother with the hot pools and then I thought bugger it, I've missed out on the tops travel, why miss out on the hot pools too? So I took a much shorter route up the river to the confluence with Wren Creek and crossed because the river was very low. Someone had written in the hut book about a cairn in the river marking hot pools but none was in evidence. Maybe they didn't know the difference between a creek and a river? After a short stint up the creek, I arrived at the hot pools or in this case a very well constructed hot pool. I was pleased to see it was deserted.
I stripped off and removed the watch. No sandflies...Yeah, baby - the temperature was perfect. I sank in and lingered for about 2 minutes. Then it was across the creek to dry out and eat lunch. I retreated to the shade and was beginning to cool down by the time I finished my lunch. Still no sandflies. This was shaping up to be one of the best times I'd had in the hills. If only it was more remote. That would have made it a real peak experience. I saw cruise-tape on the true left suggesting a route marked following the original track up valley before the 2 footbridges were constructed but left that exploration for another time. I see Doug Forster has been along here as I have his gpx. files of exploration around this area loaded on Freshmap. I went back some time later and followed that old track. It ends abruptly at the edge of the terrace then there's a vertical climb of around 3m down to the edge of the creek.
I heard talking as I dropped down the track to the footbridge junction. When I emerged in the open riverbank to travel to the road end I saw a couple stopping for water at the river so went over to them to say hi. After a sustained chinwag we worked out we were members of permolat, the online group to preserve remote huts and tracks. They had been the ones to cruise-tape the permolatted route I'd grizzled about. They hadn't realized the original track was there and in good order. We talked about the route down from the tops to Yeats and they said they were pretty sure the waratahs continued down to the left of where I'd found the last one so maybe I still haven't found the original route. Well, the route I've consolidated is a big improvement on what we used. Route guidance has previously just described it as a gap in the poles through thick scrub. Not good enough to be left as the status quo.
I kept with this lively couple as they made the trip more interesting ahd time passed quickly. They'd parked their van as close to the track as they could so that saved me quite some time not having to trudge along a cow track. We picked up our leader at the cow shed. As we drove by, he recognised Paul's car parked, unoccupied with its windows down. Not long after this we saw Paul biking down the 4WD track from where he'd stashed his bike. So we united, farewelled our benefactors and drove into Hoki for a bite to eat before the drive home.