Harper Pass 26 Feb

2 March 2010

The bus dropped eight of us at Aickens corner on Friday and we started off about eleven am. The gods smiled on us with a beautiful day and low water on the Otira.

We had our first taste of the local sand flies—or they had their first taste of us—on the banks of a quiet Taramakau. I think they must have passed the word on that it was “happy hour”… or “happy 5 days”. When we kept moving, though, they kept their distance, as we strode up the broad Taramakau river-bed. Grassy flats interspersed the stone. Occasionally we crossed side-streams or the meandering river itself, arriving at the Kiwi Hut turn off, on the true right bank, about 2pm. Our party briefly detoured through the bush to the little old 8 bunk hut built on a 10 metre river terrace. It had seen better days, but was quite photogenic.

On up the broad valley with its steep forested sides, until, just past two large scree fans with the valley narrowing, a track sign took us into the bush. Within 10 minutes we were at Locke Stream Hut. It’s an old red 18 bunk hut, built in the 1930’s, in a small clearing. There is a nice outlook over the confluence of what appears to be three streams, but is where Dixon Stream enters the Taramakau River on the true right. The hut is on the left bank of the river. An information board in the hut notes the traditional hand hewn rafters and other timbers. It was cosy but with rather small bunks, giving limited headroom, especially for young Nic Webb. There were none of those fancy modern facilities like water tanks and sinks, just a steep little path to the stream for water.

Next morning, after an hour of crossing more river flats and minor streams, we got into a bit more bush. The track climbed steeply for some time before another clearing at the source of the Taramakau. Then just a wee bit more vertical bush, a false top, and one last effort to the pass at 962 metres—not quite Everest but higher than Arthurs Pass – just. It was 11am on another bright sunny day. We took time to admire the views, back to the west, and on down the Hurunui valley.

Heading downhill now, we arrived at the little orange 2 bunk Harper Biv. near midday. The journey from here to Cameron’s Hut was slowed by a succession of 2 or 3 large fallen trees on a steep section of track. We had a short photo-stop at this little old hut on grassy river flats and then walked on through an easy, pleasant section of tall open beech forest to No. 3 Hut, getting there about 4pm. This 1950’s hut has been recently relined with tongue & groove board, making it light and airy. It also had a new stove and a water tank – real luxury! It’s some distance to the river but very nice to have a refreshing – and much-needed cleansing dip under a hot afternoon sun.

It was at No. 3 hut that the serious card playing started. Brian Bonsell revealed his mis-spent youth by teaching us the wonderful games of “Oh Hell” and “Beannie”. These were made even more convoluted by using the hut’s pack of cards – made up of two part packs, with half the cards altered to give more or less full decks.

Sunday saw us rising late as it was only 3-4 hours to Hurunui Hut. The forest track is well marked through lovely clean beech with little sign of honey dew and therefore no wasps. We kept to the undulating track most of the time but still nearly missed the hot pools during a detour out onto the river flats. What a find they were! The small pool is nearly round. It is about 20 metres above the river level, backed by a steep rock face, coloured vivid greens & yellows with water-weed and algae, and hemmed in with ferns. Most of us stripped off, so far as decency permitted and languished in the balmy waters. I was entranced by Mary Jane Bonsell’s millinery masterpiece – a delicate green gauze model covering her head completely and pulled tight at the neck. It completely foiled our winged friends – the rest of her being under water. We lesser mortals had to feed the masses whilst she looked on amused.

Drying and dressing again was a race against sand flies. We were feeling soporific after our mineral water dip but managed the less than one hour’s walk to Hurunui Hut. The team lunched on the way and was still at the hut well before 2pm. We all went our own ways for the rest of the afternoon. I headed back to the hot pools for another dip. Some visited Lake Sumner and others the site of No.2 hut which burnt down some years back. A nana nap was the fourth option.

We had another lovely meal that evening and finished off the day with card school. Wayne, Murray and an American fisherman, all tried to sleep, whilst we caroused and fantasised about wine. Sorry.

I opened my eyes in the morning to a glorious sunrise filling the broad front windows of the hut. None of us could resist trotting outside semi-clothed to take the perfect picture. The book says 6 hours from Hurunui to Hope Kiwi Lodge. We took our time, first meandering through grassy flats around the head of Lake Sumner and then cruising up the not-too-steep slopes to Kiwi saddle. It was about this time that the bird life seemed to increase markedly. Maybe it’s because I am a novice tramper but I have never before experienced so many bellbirds in full song. This area is being made into a “Mainland Island”, and it shows, with vigorous undergrowth and abundant birdlife. I hope the proposed damning of the Hurunui, plus the raising of Lake Sumner is prevented, as this is a very special place.

We found a great lunch spot at the lookout overlooking the Lake and then just past the saddle some of us dumped our packs for a short detour down to Lake Marion. It’s a peaceful spot. We imagined that the specs we could just discern on the water across the lake were the Crested Grebes that Lake Marion is noted for – but they could have been anything. It’s mostly downhill from the saddle and a bit boggy. Eventually the track emerges into an extensive flat, grassed valley giving us a quite long, hot trudge, skirting wet areas, to the hut. Hope Kiwi Hut is a palace compared even to Hurunui Hut which was very good and spacious. The hut is of “Lockwood” construction with two large bunk-rooms plus 3 bunk/benches in the main room and extensive cooking and table space.

We were surprised by the army at Hope-Kiwi Hut. Not the whole army of course as some were in Afghanistan. A 6 wheeled “Pinzgauer” truck stood out front. Three soldiers headed off with packs by the time I got there. Brian was chatting with two non-coms who’d stayed to man temporary “headquarters” in the hut. We discovered that a 100 “Limited Service Volunteers”, plus 20 other soldiers were camping out somewhere between us and Windy Point. Just where the campers were became quite an issue. The three folk we had seen leave in the afternoon, arrived back just as we finished yet another nice meal. They had been unable to find the main bunch so the two LSV’s were told to camp in the back of the truck whilst the 3rd soldier took the remaining bunk in the lounge. Our senior trampers assisted the army to discover that a wrong map reference had been used and some were rewarded by a trip in the Pinzgauer later.

The first and only session of rain started just as we got to the lodge. It rained all night on the poor, soggy army campers but stopped in time for us to set off for the last day’s tramp to Windy Point. It was day 5 and Murray was eager to go as he was playing touch rugby at 6pm. Some people just don’t know when enough is enough! The track was soon into really pleasant beech forest again, with good views after a while, of the Hope River Valley below. Nobody could call this tramp boring. Next stop was Hope Shelter. ”No-Hope Shelter” was suggested as a better name. It was another “handyman’s dream”. Nic mentioned he had brought his wife here on an overnight trip as a special treat, on occasion. The word “cheapskate” springs to mind.

We found a nice lookout over the valley for lunch and all, except Murray, dawdled over the final “1.41 km in a straight line”, registered on Brian’s GPS, to the big swing bridge over the Boyle and to our kind drivers providing the ride home.

Hurray: we crossed the Alps but unlike Hannibal, no elephants were harmed in this adventure. Many thanks to Murray for leading the trip and taking care of us “oldies”. Also to Malcolm and Colin Wilmshurst, for transport home and to those who took turns cooking great meals each night. This is the first trip I have gained weight on—a full kg.

We were: Murray Hight, Leader, Sue & Stan Wilder, Mary Jane & Brian Bonsell, Wayne Thomas, and me, Bill Hambidge. (BH)