18-20 January 2013

The trip for the weekend was listed as a circuit in the Rolleston Range on the south side of the Wilberforce. But I didn’t like the forecast and was concerned about crossing the Wilberforce, so thoughts turned to options in the Kaikoura area. Why not have another try at the full traverse of Mt Fyffe? The others were happy, or indifferent, or unsuspecting. We planned for a Friday afternoon start.

The concept wasn’t original. In Jan 1987, a club trip lead by Iain Chinnery set out on the same circuit. Iain’s plan was to walk up the 4WD track from the reserve at the southern end on the Friday evening and stay the night at Mt Fyffe Hut. Then with an early start on Saturday, walk to the top, cross between the Gables and follow north-east all the way down Raven Spur, dropping into the Hapuku near the forks, turning back up the South Branch, passing Hapuku Hut, up to Kowhai Saddle and down to Kowhai Hut for the night. Sunday would then be an easy, short day down the Kowhai and back to the cars.

Although the 1987 trip started out from the hut at 7.30am Saturday, we hadn’t appreciated the density of the podocarp forest at the northern end. It was probably 2.30ish when we finally dropped steeply to the Hapuku corner for a late lunch and 4pm as we marched past Hapuku Hut. I think we were on the saddle at 7pm pre-daylight saving and soon ran out of daylight down the Kowhai. Then the fun started because we couldn’t see the bits of track and had to climb down the big boulders of the Kowahi River. Eventually, we were lucky enough to shine the torch on a sign up on the terrace pointing back up-river to the hut only a few hundred metres away. At 11pm, we obviously were relieved to be there, fifteen and a half hours after starting!

That trip has been reminisced about many times since and it kept niggling at me, so in Jan 2000 I tried it again. We drifted well right of Raven Spur and dropped to the lower end of the Hapuku Gorge. Rather than heading all the way to Kowhai Hut, we spent a good evening at Hapuku Hut with Kathy Stanley, Peter Carson and their families.

In August 2009 I tried rerun number two in fantastic weather and firm snow but still dropped to the right of Raven Spur. On re-try number three in October 2010 we still dropped to the right of the spur and had an awful time getting out of the basin.

This time, on rerun number four, we must surely get it right, keeping to the left down Raven Spur.

Having left town mid-afternoon, we were walking by 6pm and was at Mt Fyffe Hut shortly after 8pm. Arnie, a Belgian, was in residence, taking a few days off from walking the Te Araroa Trail. It transpired that he works for an outdoor store in Belgium, so he and Aarn had a lot to talk about.

As planned, in fine NW weather, we left the hut at 7.10am Saturday morning, walking up through the ever-increasing wilding pines to the top, along to Gable, down in the dip and back up to Gable End. From there, we followed north-east along the eroding spur to point 1229m, then veered left down Raven Spur. Getting down to a clearing on point 927m for lunch is still OK, though as the years go by the scrub gets taller and denser.

After lunch, we tried to head more easterly to follow the spur but the now tall scrub and bush blocked any view, so we ended up paralleling the spur on the left and never regained it despite efforts to sidle. This proved to be the worst bush bash of any of the reruns. Nearing the river, it was far too late to sidle out to the right and we dropped steeply, or in Kerry’s case, vertically, to the Hapuku, well upstream of the corner. The good thing was that we had dropped to the muddy river where we could easily cross to the true left and walk a few metres up to the track, then 30 minutes up-river to the hut.

By 5pm we were at the hut and this time, Laura Haslam and Adrian Daly from the club were there. They had come up the Hapuku and were intending to do a Kowhai Saddle – Gables End – Humpbank circuit back to the Hapuku.

Sunday was uneventful in near-perfect weather. We had the usual scramble down to Kowhai Hut for lunch and the later plod down the lower Kowhai. We were back to the reserve a little after 4pm. So I STILL didn’t manage to stay on the ridge all the way down Raven Spur, but the weather was great all weekend and the round-trip is still an enjoyable, varied circuit.

We were, Ruth Barratt, Kerry Moore, Aarn Tate and Merv Meredith. (MM)

Raven Spur