Clarence Conservation Park

25-28 April 2013

A rainy forecast on the Wet Coast forced a re-think of our planned Toaroha, Mungo, Frews, Whitcombe circuit and we settled on Clarence Reserve up Kaikoura way. We met at Bill’s place with a view to taking his vehicle. My car would be secure in the garage. Attempting a slick backing manouvre into the garage my car wiped out the Templeton’s letter-box. Wendy kindly volunteered that the same thing had happened twice before so it seems the letter-box has a magnetic attraction for autos. The unflappable Bill got a hammer, straightened the nails and re-attached said box, and the four of us were away.

At the Kowhai River we turned onto the Inland Road and went south for 23km and parked at a locked gate 500m off the main road. As we were getting our kit together, three 4WDs rolled up and struggled with the combination lock securing the gate. We climbed the stile wondering if we would be the only ones who’d make

it up the vehicle track. Away in the distance we could see the track going up Driving Spur at a considerable altitude—rather daunting. The vehicles soon passed us and not long after that a convoy of seven Nelson 4WD club vehicles went by. Later there were assorted vehicles carrying hunters, guns and dogs. This was a long Anzac weekend and they were making the most of the four days. The DoC web-site has a good map of Clarence Conservation Park though Bill noted it had Bushy and Blind Saddles mis-labelled. From 1100m Blind Saddle onward the track is downhill and the view down Split Rock Stream and Seymour Stream is most impressive in this rugged terrain. In the distance we could see a few willows and poplars about to shed their golden leaves. We called in to historic Tentpoles Hut then on to spacious Warden Hut which is alongside historic Bluff Dump Hut. As we neared Warden Hut we were struck by the sight of a low sun illuminating a stand of tall poplars clothed in golden autumn leaves. I regretted leaving my camera in Bill’s car.

Warden Hut was empty of people when we arrived but as darkness loomed eight 4WDs rolled up for the night so we had fourteen guests. Of course they had heavy food and heavy cookers to prepare it. This they did outside on the deck. The tour leader from Kaikoura lumped a lead-acid battery into the hut and connected a modern LED light to it. He told us to be sure to make a 10 minute side trip to Black Spur Hut as we went down Seymour Stream. I looked on as a three-some played cribbage and put them straight on a few rules. Yvette chose to sleep on the floor on thin mattresses offered by the Nelson people and everyone was in bed by the ridiculously early hour of 8pm. Some of the motorised group slept on camp beds in the historic hut which has no bunks.

Historic Black Spur Hut was well worth the detour. It is made of locally hewn timber and is surrounded by a grove of poplars which had turned golden. The vehicle track goes down the Seymour’s stream bed, crossing the stream many times. With the stream at low-flow we were able to keep our socks dry. At one point, steeply dipping limestone forms a narrow gorge which soon emerges to join the mighty Clarence. We lunched at Seymour Hut just 15 minutes down from the confluence, then did an afternoon walk down to Quail Flat with its historic buildings. A 400m climb in from the flat got us onto the well-weathered volcanic Red Hill and then it was down a farm track back to the hut. Yvette and I gathered some good-sized mushrooms to supplement our evening meal. We thought Seymour Hut would be full with all the 4WDs in the area but apart from a brief visit by the Nelson crowd and some curious steers we had the hut to ourselves.

For day three we decided to head back to Warden Hut; we didn’t want a 30km walk to the car on our fourth day—12 plus 18km seemed more civilized. On the way back up Seymour, Ruth chose to climb a long dry ridge to 1481m Warder Peak. The remaining three had an early lunch at Warden Hut and then went exploring up a small stream near the hut. The stream was gorgy with some nice waterfalls. It cuts through interesting stratified sediments and we saw lots a small concretions embedded in the rock. To get a better view we climbed a spur leading out of the gorge. Half-way up Bill spied a pig with his binocs and we watched it for 5 minutes. Further up the spur the rock got shaley so only Bill went on for a better view. Down in the stream again we went further upstream until we came to a pool that called for wading, so again, only Bill went ahead. While making our way back down the stream Bill saw a pig busily feeding nearby and because the noise of the stream masked our footsteps Bill was able to stalk it with camera at the ready. He got a great close-up of pig with dirty snout, at which the startled animal shot up the slope like greased lightning.

On day one, Yvette was grumbling about being overloaded with club gear but then on the third day she found a bowling ball-sized concretion and put it in her pack to carry to the car, so now we know not to listen to her complaints. With an 8am start from Warden Hut and only 500m height gain needed to Blind Saddle, we made good time and Yvette and I cheated by accepting a ride when we were an hour from the car. The noble Ruth wouldn’t accept a ride. Yvette and I had time to kill, watching bees gather at the edge of a puddle. Our foursome drove back via Waiau and Culverden, happy trampers and glad that Bill had suggested this fine weather alternative to a drenching in Westland. This is a fascinating, rugged area with a mixture of volcanic and sedimentary rock—black through to white and browns of all shades. When you go, take your camera.

We were: Ruth Barratt, Yvette So, Bill Templeton and Kerry Moore.

Looking down Seymour Stream. Photo by Ruth Barratt

Black Spur Hut—made of slab willow. Photo by Ruth Barratt

Pig, willows and poplars shot by Bill Templeton