Forest Creek, Bullock Bow Saddle, Bush Stream Circuit
This circuit has a tedious 10km road bash so it’s best to leave a bike at the finishing point for a shuttle back to your car. From Forest Creek car park, climb over a currently locked pedestrian gate (duh...awaiting a resolution from the landowner, Ben McLeod Station) to follow a poled route up Forest Stream. Feel free to choose your own route if you prefer a less bouldery route. You may at times cross and re-cross Forest Creek.
At the junction of Butlers Creek ascend the low terrace on the true left to visit a plaque commemorating the site of Samuel Butler's 'V' hut. Reverse steps to Butlers Creek and continue upstream. Stone Hut will be noted on a terrace on the true right of Forest Creek, halfway to Felt Stream junction. This is a private hut belonging to Ben McLeod Station.
Eventually you will encounter the 4WD track that the poles have been guiding you away from. Follow this across Forest Creek to where Felt Stream emerges. You will have travelled a tedious 13km river bash by this stage which took us 3 hours. The recently cut DoC track through beech forest is marked with poles then intermittent fading orange cruise tape in a poor fashion that leaves you wondering which way to choose. Take the steeper option at each junction to be eventually reassured that you have made the right choice. Thanks DoC!
When you emerge in open tussock, go uphill until you are above the bush-line or shortcut through a gap a bit uphill in the beech forest. Either way, you will sight the next red polyethylene sleeved waratah. Follow these poles above the bush-line to the head of Felt Stream. This is a very pretty stream with the odd booby trap speargrass including Scott-Thomsonii.
You may divert to Felt Stream hut which is privately owned by Malcolm and Sue Prouting of Mesopotamia. Their kind permission can be sought to stay at this hut. I suggest if you do, you bring rat poison with you as this is sorely required in its current state and a hearth brush and shovel. The fire smokes unless the door is left ajar. The bunks and mattresses are good and there is an outdoor bath nearby which has received good reviews. Be sure to beat the mats outside, sweep the place out, including mouse shit on bunks and shelves and barbecue! and replenish firewood, including kindling - not like those slack horse trekkers, Duke of Ed students and 4WD'ers that like to stay there and state they have cleaned the hut. Yeah, right!
Follow the 4WD to the saddle, enjoying spectacular views. The odd shortcut can be made with a discovery in autumn of succulent molar-like snowberries off-route. Once at the saddle, enjoy the new vistas and descend what has now becomes a foot route only to Bush Stream. If travelling to Stone Hut, a very pleasant 2km shortcut can be made via gentle rolling spurs to Bush Stream from the area where the tarns are. The tussock is quite open for easy travel.
Sorry, I have no information on the route from the junction with Te Araroa to Royal Hut. There may be a 4WD track running upstream on the true left of Bush Stream. The route will be intermittently sign posted with poles. This hut was visited by HRH Prince Charles at one time. I hope it was in better condition at the time than Felt Hut is now!
The route to Stone Hut is very attractive and follows Bush Stream which is crossed a few times. Poles are planted now and again but you will find yourself scratching your head at times...The hut is up on a terrace and is wonderfully clean with the scent of newly constructed bunks. It has DoC mattresses with the hard side thoughtfully labeled, an open fire with scrub nearby, comfortable chairs around a table and a pantry with a cornucopia of still edible food from former musters along with crockery and cutlery. Definitely thanks, DoC! The time stated to get from where you arrive onto Te Araroa to Stone Hut is one hour and from the start of Felt Stream to Te Araroa is signposted as taking 5 hours. We took 5 hours all told for this section to Stone Hut.
Leaving Stone Hut to get to Crooked Spur, you will cross a wooden vehicle bridge which is only rated fit for 1 person at a time (scary thought) and ascend a 4WD track to sidle and gently gain height to a swampy open basin. The poles lead you on the true right of this to a higher point, and a descent to cross the very scenic Sweeps Stream then some height gain to a saddle for more views before descending to cross the pretty Packhorse Stream. Poles are few and far between so it pays to have a map and a good sense of where you ought to be going. If visibility was poor, the poles would be very much inadequate.
A final ascent is made to a saddle in scree to the north. The route starts on the boggy true right of a small stream which then climbs to cross a small spur coming from the NW, sidles round then descends to the final tributary and a climb on the eastern flank of an open basin to the saddle in sight. An obvious animal trail in scree on the western flank isn't used but the marked route though verdant fell fields is very attractive and easy going.
Descend from the scree saddle into the initially broad tussocked valley leading to the hut. There are good poles to guide you through tussock or you may utilize the scree for a faster descent. From here on the poles become quite frequent through initially treacherous ankle-breaking tussock. Perhaps DoC may gather up the unused ones stacked in Stone Hut at some future date and utilize them where they are very much required. The tussock opens up a bit and then the track sidles out to a little spur from where the Crooked Spur hut can be seen 100 meters distant. The time stated to do this section from Stone Hut is 5 hours. We did it in 3 ¾ hours.
The hut has sacking bunks, a well stocked food cupboard with cutlery etc. and comfy kitchen chairs. Although there is a fireplace, the nearby forest is on such a steep slope that twigs etc. roll out of reach down the hill. People have got the notion that these fireplaces are some form of rubbish bin but unless the old tanalised odds and ends under a bunk are used, there’s no firewood available. I don’t fancy the chances of the old wooden gate nearby remaining for long. The bunks used to have sacking which was ripping away from the nails every time you moved because there was no batten to spread the anchoring. Now DoC have replaced them with standard bunks and mattresses. Nice one.
The unmarked track down to Bush Stream leads on greasy clay around the edge of the plateau then goes down a sharp spur that has a pole placed halfway down to congratulate you on choosing the right one. It enters a fringe of beech forest then emerges at the bank of Bush Stream. As you go down the track, you will see a benched pack track climbing up the hillside from the opposite bank which is just as well because there is no marker on the opposite bank to indicate the existence of this track. The ford is good and immediately where you cross, go uphill through a fringe of clearing to enter beech forest where you will sight what is a lone orange DoC triangle nailed to a tree.
The track rises diagonally to a spur and winds around fairly level with the appearance of what are now unnecessary orange triangles on a strongly benched trail until it drops to the wide river valley, bypassing a short gorge. On my first foray down Bush Stream a few years ago, I failed to notice this pack track so we travelled quite happily and rapidly down through the gorge. It may have been here where we had to do a little climb out round a bluff or further downstream. I suspect it is only advisable to use the gorge at low river levels and as we intend to return to Crooked Spur and climb Mt Sinclair from the back via surprisingly easy tussock slopes I wish to confirm this. Frank however is adamant without having been there that this short gorge would be the fool’s way in but other people have come in via the stream here. Certainly the pack track is worth doing for the fabulous views of the gorge and the craggy, bush fringed stream that continues up to Brabazon Saddle.
The walk down Bush Stream is straightforward with one little diversion into beech forest on the true left. In the final section, the poles lead you stalwartly to avoid your straying onto the cockie’s 4WD track. A galvanized gate takes you to the road where an identical gate waits to lead you to the Potts River and further adventures on Te Araroa. A sign at Crooked Spur hut tells you it takes 3 and a half hours to get to this point from the hut. Frank was sick of valley walking by this time so we pounded it out down Bush Stream in 2 hours, 40 minutes. We have decided whoever put up the markers has no real idea of what purpose they serve. They were merely placing their quota but failed to even do that.