Punakaiki Base Camp

6 - 9 Feb 2014

Stan’s your man if you want good weather on the West Coast. He had things organised really well for the Punakaiki base camp: dry days with quite a bit of sun but not too much heat, and some light rain in the evenings/overnight to dampen the dust on the unsealed roads. Even the sandfly count was under control most of the time too.

Thursday saw four cars drive over from Canterbury (with Miriam already there and Keith and Madeleine arriving from Ashburton). Most of us got there in time for quick sorties to Truman’s Track and/or up the Pororari River track before settling down to the serious business of pre-prandial drinks and nibbles. After dinner, some of us managed the 50-metre wander down to the beach to watch the sun sink into the sea prior to preparing ourselves for the ‘long day’ that was promised for the morrow.

Friday morning was a beauty and everyone was raring to go. We left the Bullock Creek car park at 9am for our Bullock Creek–Fossil Creek–Dilemma Creek–Fox River trip, initially following the Inland Pack Track through bush, then crossing the Fossil Creek (frequently) and dodging fallen trees. Lunchtime saw us at the junction with Dilemma Creek and from there we continued on to the Fox River, making a side trip up to the Ballroom overhang, from where it was about a two-hour walk out to the river mouth. We reached the Fox car park at 4.15pm and the lucky drivers were whisked off to pick up the cars left at Bullock Creek while the rest of the group waited for their return and dodged the sandflies by exploring the beach and the historic bridge.

It had been about 19 years since I’d been up the Fox to the Ballroom and I’d forgotten how beautiful the area is. Photos aplenty were taken on the tramp and, apart from occasional concerns about what would happen in the event of a shift in the Alpine Fault, we spent much of the time ooohing and aaahing at the strata and the high vertical rock walls. Stan’s handle on the weather meant that the river level was low, and rarely were river crossings more than knee deep, although Jill Fenner rashly followed some rather taller folk across a deepish pool, resulting in little more than her head remaining above water.

The 19km, seven-hour walk had whetted our appetites somewhat, but the pot luck dinner that evening was the usual gargantuan feast, and our appreciative murmurings were punctuated by much ribaldry as to the aptness of the ‘Fossil’ and ‘Dilemma’ sections of the day’s tramp.

Saturday morning saw us returning to the Bullock Creek car park for 9.30am, though this time we were to head south along the Inland Pack Track, taking in the Cave Stream site on a short detour, before eventually emerging at the Punakaiki River car park. The track to Cave Creek drops steeply by 100m and on our return to the main track a morning tea break was called for. Our group had swelled overnight from 16 to 17 members with the addition of a Slovenian visitor, who Stan and others had befriended the previous evening. She accompanied us until our morning smoko, at which point she left to complete the trip on her own, clearly feeling a need to travel just a mite quicker than we were.

We were off again by 11am and cruised along for an hour to reach the bridge over the Pororari River, where a halt was called for lunch. Two of our members were then reduced to begging for scraps as they had forgotten to pack their sammies. Needless to say, there was no shortage of donations. Lunch was a relaxed affair—it was 1pm by the time we shouldered our packs again to make our way through the bush and out to the main highway. We’d travelled just 14.5km in a total time of six hours, including almost two hours of drink and food stops.

Arriving back in Punakaiki, coffees and ice creams provided a good appetiser for the evening meal, which Sue and Stan were in charge of. With the leftovers from the previous night supplementing the Wilders’ ample offering, there was, inevitably, no danger of anyone going hungry.

Over breakfast on Sunday, people negotiated what to do with the rest of the day. Four cars went over to Moana/Lake Brunner for a short walk along the Bain Bay track, where the sun shone and a brisk breeze deterred the sandflies. (Would that it had also deterred the noisy fizzboats and jet skis.) From Moana, people made their own ways home, some more leisurely than others, but all having had a first-rate long weekend away.

The final day of the trip was rather more eventful for one car load, and you may wish to make note not to attempt the same drive. Stan, Sue, Trish and Graham reckoned they had spotted a ‘perfectly simple short cut’ on the Kiwimaps Driver’s Atlas, which involved turning off just south of Greymouth towards Dunganville and then joining the Stillwater–Moana road at Aratika. Undeterred by a notice after the goldworkings at Dunganville warning that the council no longer maintained the road ahead, they continued on past the car park at the DoC Woods Creek Track (said, apparently, to be the most fascinating short walk in Westland!) and were only mildly disconcerted by the encroaching gorse and the riverbed look (and feel) to the road. However, as the mismatch between the actual ‘road’ and what was shown on both the GPS and Freshmap increased, doubts surfaced. Pole gates then appeared across the road. Another route was tried and another pole gate encountered. The day was hot, the water supplies low, there was no shovel or chainsaw(!) on board, so the party decided not to try a possible route out through forestry and returned the way they had come. Too late by then to walk the Woods Creek Track, as they had to get to Bealey for the night.

We were: Stan and Sue Wilder (organisersextraordinaires), Brian and Mary Jane Bonsell, Graham Garden, Trish Faulkner, Keith Patterson, Madeleine Newall, Miriam Preston, Pat McIntosh, Margaret Clark, Rick Bolch, Lois Moore and Carolyn Catt. (CC with input from Trish)