Ahuriri – Canyon Creek

Easter 1–5 April 2010

This area is now part of the Ahuriri Conservation Park which resulted from the purchase of Birchwood Station by the National Heritage Fund, a few years back. The park formation opened up full access to the valley, whereas this had been difficult at times in the past.

Perhaps because of a change of leader and only brief descriptions in Footnotes, there were only three of us in our party. But the Ahuriri had been on our respective wish lists since the park was formed. For me, tramping again with Dan Pryce was a happy reunion. Dan had moved to Wellington almost ten years ago, but the trips we did up to then, particularly some of the multi-day trips, are still special memories for me. The timetable for the trip was fairly open with the expectation that we could take our time getting up into Canyon Creek on Friday and then explore the upper ridges on Saturday.

We set out with the usual Thursday evening start, had a takeaway stop in Geraldine and saw a brilliant Easter moon over the Mackenzie country. We eventually drove on to Omarama and put the tent up late, in calm and balmy NW conditions, at the Top 10.

In no rush on Friday morning, we packed and left Omarama for the short drive south to the Ahuriri turnoff. The Birchwood Road is a normal gravel road right to the Birchwood Homestead, but after that, is 4WD to the car-park a short distance before Canyon Creek. At this time of year and in dry weather, my old Legacy managed the side stream crossings, just. They were substantially smoother and easier on the way out, courtesy of the volume of traffic over the long weekend. The 25km up-valley took us a bit over a hour.

We arrived at the car-park just as Nic and Marg Webb plus Malcolm and Lorraine Wilmshurst were leaving for a walk up-valley. They were tenting at the Base Hut, which we had passed a short distance back down-valley. We were walking by 11am with a moderate NWer blowing and still in sunny weather.

The approach to Canyon Creek looks impressive, with a tight ‘canyon’ at the exit. This is sidled up a steep terrace on the TR. Continuing up valley, the NW weather clouded progressively. Halfway up, a high step traverses the complete valley. This is climbed on the TR on a well cairned route. By 4.00pm we were at the bivvy rock in the top circ. The rock has had substantial additions made either side, but afforded only limited shelter in the now building, cross-valley NWer. Exploring up-valley a little, the end wall was black and vertical. It was topped off by the lower edge of the Thurneysen Glacier, which descends the southern face of 2455m Mt Barth.

The tent was a good option straight after dinner, but a wet and windy night was followed by a wet and windy Saturday morning. Eventually, we gave up and after a quick pack-up about 1.00pm, escaped back down-valley. By 4.30pm, we were back in the Ahuriri, just around the corner from Canyon Creek where we set up camp in the shelter of the bush-edge for the night.

The southerly change actually arrived about dusk. Not that we could tell from the wind; just that light rain started. The rain stopped at 3am, so Sunday morning dawned dry, if fairly cloudy. We packed and walked the 20 minutes back to the car park, with plan B in mind. On the short drive down-valley we called into the Base Hut to check it out and then continued to where an old 4WD track climbs a gully on the TR, up to the ridge and from there a route is poled down into the upper Dingleburn. The sidle down was easy, but the last bit was in the bush, straight down a step spur that would have warranted a zigzag. About three hours.

The Top Dingle Hut is at the bush-edge a little down-valley from where the track emerges. It’s a good spot and nice hut—a standard Forest Service six-bunker that has had the usual DoC upgrades, except for the open fire. The verandah had a Novaroof enclosure that would have been more appreciated had the afternoon weather not been as nice. The skies had cleared as we arrived, so now we could spend the afternoon spreading out the tent, packs, all sorts of gear, in the sun to dry. Although we didn’t light a fire that evening, it was satisfying to spend some time restacking and splitting more wood and bringing in kindling for the next visitors.

Dan had been quiet on the first day. Not himself at all, as I recalled our earlier trips. But it transpired he had started a bout of the dreaded lurgy Thursday evening in Omarama. Now in the sunshine in the Dingleburn, he was feeling a lot better and our leisurely afternoon continued on into a sociable evening in the hut.

Sunday morning was dry and clear in the Dingleburn, but there was valley cloud in the Ahuriri when we returned to the ridge. It burned off as we descended. Driving out, we caught up again with the Webbs and Wilmshursts.

Not much more than three hours tramping on each of the four days doesn’t seem much, but our trip was varied, to say the least. Obviously, we’re all keen to return to Canyon Creek in fine weather and continue the exploration in the valley head. The conservation park has clearly been a great success, judging by the numbers of bikers, hunters and trampers about. That includes trampers from South Canterbury/North Otago, out on day walks.

We were: Joy Schroeder, Dan Pryce and Merv Meredith (Leader). (MM)