Gable - Fyffe - Kowhai Saddle – Hapuku

3-6 April 2015

NZ alpine Club’s website, Climb NZ lists a number of ways to climb Mt Fyffe and the Sawyer Ridge route appealed because it’s close enough to the Hapuku car park to allow a round trip. Leaving Chch at 0800 wasn’t ideal because it’s a long ridge and leads to 1586m Gable rather than 1602m Fyffe. With the generous help of one of the Frost brothers we left our car at an implement shed and were driven by 4WD to the ideal starting point.

The cows were just being steered towards the milking shed at noon as we set off—once a day milking in force due to the drought. Our instructions were to follow the fence-line and this advice worked very well until we got off farmland and the fence stopped. Often we were surprised at how useful the deer tracks were but then we’d hit a patch of dense kanuka. Rocky patches were usually more sparsely vegetated and in places we had nice tussock land. A steep climb up through dracophylum scrub slowed us to a crawl so at 4pm with another 600m to climb we decided to save some of the torture for the following day. Yvette and Kerry pitched tents while Julie went down a gully in search of water, returning in twenty minutes with a good supply of the vital substance. In fine calm weather we made ourselves comfortable. We were thrilled to hear a stag roaring in the very inaccessible Waimangarara River nearby. We chose the easiest meal to cook outdoors—macaroni and cheese with butter beans thrown in. Large servings of traditional custard were appreciated by Julie and Kerry. Can you believe that Yvette doesn’t like custard or gingernuts?

In the morning we left our pleasant camp-site at 1000m with an imposing, steep hillside of scrub to negotiate. It was tough going until we found a drier, easier slope and made good progress. Above, the bare, rocky spur looked daunting from below but was wider and easier than we feared. On Gable we were exposed to a strong NWer and pressed on towards Mt F. As we got nearer to the high point we saw a number of people who’d come for the climb from Fyffe Hut. Many had camped near the hut. A 500m decent to the hut was rewarded with a long drink. We’d run very low on water. We lazed at the hut along with three well-armed but luckless hunters, then blew all our hard-won altitude descending Speargrass Spur to the Kowhai River. The sun was beaming directly onto the slope and with only a light breeze we were roasting by the time we reached the river. The walk up-river to Kowhai Hut was very pleasant with the sun now shaded by hills.

Dinner that night was lentil spaghetti then butterscotch instant pud. At 8:30 three head-torches attached to heads arrived from the direction of Kowhai Saddle. They were a German couple with their 6 year-old son. People had written in the hut book that the track was overgrown and hard to follow so the family did brilliantly to do it at night. They had tents but there are no camp-sites until you get to the hut where there are tonnes. The Germans had lived in NZ for three years and spoke very good English. The youngster was very chatty and hyped-up by his adventure. And yes they did have hut tickets.

At 12 midnight the club GPS’s alarm went off keeping everyone awake until we traced the noise. Was Garmin telling us to reset the clock as daylight saving time was finishing? At 1am an android phone rooster crowed to tell us to get up to see a solar eclipse but the moon was clouded over so we went back to bed. By morning a misty drizzle had set in so we got quite wet wading through tall grass and over-hanging shrubbery. It was good to be walking in cool conditions but on Kowhai Saddle a breeze made it too cold to linger so we made a rapid descent in tall tussock then on gravel. Where this branch of the Hapuku becomes rugged a delightful track begins through totara forest and goes to a branch of the river then re-starts, leading all the way to the Hapuku Hut with vegetation appropriate to the altitude. We were indoors by 3pm for a lazy afternoon out of the cool misty weather. Dinner was the good old lentil curry then custard for two.

Monday dawned fine and cool. We needed raincoats on as we pushed through wet tutu and rampant buddleia. The track has been re-cut closer to the hillside. As for the Kowhai River flats, buddleia is taking over. This fast-growing garden shrub should be declared a noxious weed. The section of track that bypasses the Hapuku Gorge was a welcome relief. It’s all-native with some big podocarps. The high waterfall near the gorge crossing was at an un-impressive low flow. An hour’s walk down a wide boulder-strewn river got us to the car-park where Julie put on her running shoes to walk/run the 4km to collect the car. Yvette had boiled water for a cuppa by the time Julie returned. Well-satisfied we drove all the way home with no time-wasting café stops to delay us. At Avonhead by 4pm were: Julie Wagner, Yvette So and Kerry Moore. (KM)