Buckland Peaks

Queen’s Birthday weekend, June 2010

Objective: to explore the rocky granite tops of the northern Paparoas in clear, cold weather, typical of Westland winters we had been assured by our leader, Merv Meredith. Seven of us set off from Christchurch on Friday evening and headed over to the coast via Culverden for a quick tea stop. The drive over Lewis Pass was uneventful and we made good time arriving at the Berlins Café and Backpackers on SH6 at about 10pm. There we met up with Leo’s base-camp party who were using the backpackers as their base for the weekend. We also found out when we arrived that it was Liz Stephenson’s birthday—I won’t divulge which, but it was a major one—and she had a lovely desert wine and fruit cake to share with us.

The morning dawned with the Buller valley misty and atmospheric and we bid the base-campers, “happy tramping” and headed off to our start point which was sign-posted off to the left of the main road about 1.5km west of Omanu Creek, just before the junction with the main road heading south to Punakaiki, although that didn’t stop us missing it completely and heading south some kms before we realised and turned back. Our chief navigator was busy chatting!. At the car park, the DoC track sign indicated 5 hrs to Buckland Peaks Hut and 6 hrs to the tops.

The weather forecast had not given us much optimism—rain Sat eve and Sunday but clearing Monday—but we set off in bright, dry weather heading first along a wide curving 4-wheel drive track through farmland on to the Caroline terrace for about 8km and then turning off onto the track proper, up a very distinct spur through steep bush with a lovely mixture of trees including the mountain neinei, and lots of bellbirds. We got to a small clearing sign-posted as “Halfway House” for lunch with great views down to the Buller River and Westport. Although we were never far from the ridge-line, the track was very muddy in places—perhaps we’d be lucky and see this area in fine weather after all the rain! After lunch the gradient was more gradual and eventually we emerged from the bush and followed the ridge up and along to where we had a clear view of the hut down below to our left in a basin. No views of the tops unfortunately—still cloaked in cloud. Once we got almost above the hut, numerous warratahs led us down from the ridge—which at that point had almost disappeared into a much broader spur—to the new 6-bunk hut.

There was no marked route continuing up to the tops. The sun was out so once we got to the hut we had a brew out on the deck and tried to find somewhere for a couple of tents. The hut sleeps 6, there were 7 of us and we had seen another five so we knew we’d have to camp. We managed to pitch the two minarets for four of us on not exactly flat ground just by the hut. Soon after, several children arrived—the advance party of the other group of seven! With tent space being used up, the other party erected a tent on the hut deck for two of them and with the four children sharing two bunks we were all in, hoping no-one else turned up! The hut has no stove but with all the bodies, we were quite cosy. The other group comprised two families from Greymouth and Stoke and they had a slightly more up-to-date weather forecast, even less optimistic than ours—rain setting in this night and not clearing until later in the week! Rain started during the evening while we were having dinner courtesy of Liz. After dinner, we all sat around chatting and reading. One of the dad’s in the other party started reading a bedtime story to the children and one by one the hut fell silent apart from him as we all listened to the clever and funny 10pm Question by Kate De Goldi. After this we were all ready for our beds. Those using the tents had a rain-lashed night. The wind was gusting quite strongly but luckily the tents were in a sheltered spot. The hut dwellers said that the wind shook the hut throughout the night.

The rain and wind were still going strong in the morning so no-one rushed to get up early, we weren’t going to go anywhere in a hurry. Sunday passed with regular checks on the weather, forays out to the long-drop, which involved getting completely geared up. Between us all, we got on with putting the world to rights, interspersed with hots drinks and FMC quizzes. At one point, Stuart got cabin fever and decided to improve the steep muddy path up to the toilet by putting rocks in the muddiest bits. Tim and I set off to the ridge in one lull but turned back quite soon when it started pouring again. The families left us after a late lunch, so we had the hut to ourselves. We decided to take down the tents so we could try to dry them out a bit in the hut and we all moved in with Merv nobly volunteering to take the floor. Dinner was provided by Mary the second night and there was rather a lot of it considering we hadn’t had any exercise! The revised plan was now to hope for good weather in the morning and get up early to go up to the tops before heading down. With that in mind we had an early night, with no bedtime story. The wind gusted again and rattled the hut several times during the night.

In the morning we woke up to the sound of more wind and rain and Barney getting up to put the cooker on at 6 o’clock, to give himself enough time to be ready by 9am! The rest of us moaned about the early awakening as we obviously weren’t going to make it onto the tops, but by now we were all wide awake so we gradually got up and packed. In the process we found several items left by the children—torches, undergarments etc! From our conversations with them, we pieced together some surnames, where they lived and their professions, and once we got home Merv managed to re-unite the items with their owners (a long story involving tracking one of them down at Greymouth hospital).

We left the hut spic and span and headed back up to the ridge and down the muddy spur in the rain. When we got to the junction with the farm track, the rain had stopped and we even had a bit of sun. Looking back, the tops were still completely shrouded in thick mist and cloud. We got back to the cars at lunchtime, changed and headed back to Berlin’s café for lunch. The base campers had gone by then. We then said our goodbyes and headed off, arriving back in Christchurch early evening. Thanks to all it was an entertaining and relaxing trip, but the tops remain to be explored another time!

Thanks to Merv Meredith, Liz, Barney and Sam Stephenson, Stuart Payne, Tim and Mary Hines. (MH)