Labour Weekend weather on the West Coast is always a lottery and no wind for three days sounded positive as four of us headed for the Pukekura Backpackers on Friday night. Merv located the owners by phoning the pub, getting a Coaster’s response that the key is in the door and leave money on the table.

An early start on Allen Road through the dairy-converted lower flats and a quick chat to one of the owners saw us start on the old farm track at the edge of the river flats before dropping down to big boulder travel up the Waitaha. The amount of water leaving Morgan Gorge made us glad of the maintained sidle track that led us back to Kiwi Flat, four hours after starting. A 1000m height gain over 1.5km on the track to Scamper Torrent Hut tested our stamina and route-finding for five hours as re-marking and some clearing earlier in the year had been obscured by winter tree-falls. Bill’s pink shirt and red reindeer patterned shorts made him a useful track marker. We climbed out of thick cloud on the ridge above the hut where the full majesty of the Smyth Range and Hitchin Range to the north were revealed under a heavy layer of late-season snow. Clear weather for navigation proved a blessing as markers in the low alpine scrub were totally hidden in waist-deep snow and snow poles were rare. We managed to find the steep track down to the basin through thick alpine scrub amid the joys of deep, fresh snow on snowgrass. Despite the Scamper Torrent Hut’s delightful location on a terrace above the river we were surprised to find we were only the third party to visit in 2010.

Thick snow dampened our enthusiasm for the Smyth Range traverse and we set out on Sunday morning for a climb of Mt Durward into increasingly thick cloud. Two snow poles across from the hut indicate an easy ridge but small intervening ravines proved surprisingly difficult to traverse. We reached point 1397 after crossing some interesting gorges. The cloud turning to drizzle made a late lunch at the hut an attractive proposition.

Our early retreat allowed time for an afternoon descent to Kiwi Flat Hut. Only Bill enjoyed the climb up through the snow-covered grass and scrub belt but at least we were spared the snow pole lottery navigation through being able to retrace our tracks. The track down through rata scrub was even steeper than we remembered and the tree root footing was treacherous in light rain. Yvette slipped at one point and somersaulted down the slope at increasing speed, evading trees and Gary’s desperate tackle attempt. She finally managed to hook the back of her knees around the last tree, finishing dangling head-down over the edge of the ridge. Amazingly her only injury was an impressive black eye. The remainder of the descent was anti-climactic and we were glad to find only four others at the six-bunk hut with the fire well stoked, although not up to Yvette’s standards.

Heavy rain overnight raised the river and Merv’s anxiety levels. The first side-stream, Whirling Water, was appropriately named but a successful crossing gave us confidence that the others would be passable. The hot pools in Morgan Gorge could be smelled but not seen under an impressive torrent and a swim in the terminal pool below the gorge probably would be... The wet boulder hopping in the lower Waitaha caused us to seek more tracks along the terraces than on the way in but the attraction of lunch in Hokitika spurred us on.

We were: Merv Meredith (leader), Bill Hotter, Gary Huish and Yvette So. (GH)