1,000 Acre Plateau

23-25 October 2020 (Labour weekend)

After a late afternoon departure from Christchurch on Thursday and a night at the Riverside Holiday Camp in Murchison, the crew set off from there on a fine and sunny Friday morning. Raymond timed our arrival at the DOC carpark at Matiri road end impeccably to coincide with the arrival of a friendly builder named Bob, who invited us to load our packs into his trailer, cram ourselves into his vehicle and then gave us a lift 2km or so up the 4WD road to the intake of the small hydro project, where he was going to be pouring concrete. No one minded having the shortened trip, and the engineering-oriented members of the party in particular enjoyed a brief tour at the site of the intake.

This headstart left us with just a short and easy walk to the Lake Matiri Hut, a spacious and pleasant hut with lovely view over the lake. Not too long after that the ascent to the plateau began, which, at least from the perspective of this prospective club member in the party, was neither short nor easy. After the initial steepish section leveled off, giving a great view back over the Matiri valley, I was assured by Gary that it would just be ‘undulating’ from that point on. Not too long after that, when the gradient steepened again, Gary’s credibility rating with Joanna suffered a corresponding downturn!!

After nearly three hours, we came out onto the huge and tussocky plateau. We followed a poled route across to Poor Pete’s hut, where we enjoyed a lunch break under the supervision of the resident caretaker wekas. The walk from there across to Larrikin’s Hut was (genuinely!) undulating and pleasant, although made a bit more challenging by the boggy ground underfoot. The last section immediately before the hut took us through some more beech forest, before coming out into the clearing under the shadow of the Haystack.

At the hut, we found some (off duty) Search and Rescue crew from Nelson, who’d arrived by helicopter and set up camp nearby. Angela pitched her tent, Gary and Raymond set up theirs, and Vesna and Joanna took over the hut. The billy went on and a refreshing cuppa in the late afternoon sun in this remarkable landscape reminded Joanna what this tramping lark is all about. Angela provided an excellent meal of mince, veges and noodles, and one of the S & R crew entertained us with some ‘behind the scenes’ stories of some of their recent deployments (and told us how Poor Pete’s hut got its name.)

Saturday morning dawned fine and sunny again. We set out to climb the Needle during the morning, before heading back to Poor Pete’s hut in the afternoon. This somewhat apprehensive prospective club member had a few qualms about making it up the Needle, offering to wait for the others at the base of the climb, but these reservations were overruled by the rest of the party, who with much encouragement helped her scramble up to the summit, for which she remains very grateful. Stunning views in 360 degrees all around. A slightly different route down made the descent a little easier. We arrived back at the hut at noon to find a new group of Wellingtonians settled in there.

After lunch, we headed back to Poor Pete’s hut, with a couple of stream-side breaks along they way. The ground seemed a bit less boggy than the day before, and it was a pleasant walk. Vesna and Joanna once again commandeered the two bunk-hut, Gary and Raymond took over the roofed porch, and Angela pitched her tent nearby. Not long after our arrival, three young women from the Nelson Tramping Club turned up. One of them had had her boots come apart at the sole and Gary did a masterful job of fixing it by cutting a couple of holes and stringing it all together. Apparently, it is not the first time he has provided this service, and the owner of the boot was very grateful for his handiwork.

Dinner was quite the feast – curry from Gary, nectarine crumble and cream from Raymond along with a little Japanese umeshu to clebrate the day, and some Rum’n’Raisin chocolate from Vesna to top things off. The sound of rain on the roof began during the night, confirmed the wisdom of Raymond’s decision to bring this trip forward from the originally scheduled date. We made our way off the plateau fairly promptly after breakfast as the wind and rain began to pick up.

The descent back through the forest was not as traumatic as I had anticipated from my memories of the climb up, but still involved a bit of slipping and sliding on wet tree roots and rocks, before we came out again into the clearing not far from Lake Matiri hut. The rain had eased off here and there was even some sunshine.

It was Sunday, Bob the builder did not materialise with his truck to take us back down the road, but it was an easy enough walk and Gary was able to show us where the original track had been less than 12 months earlier, before the road was put in.

Lunch at the Rivers Cafe in Murchison and an uneventful trip home. In spite of being regaled throughout the trip with tales of misadventures from previous expeditions (were they trying to put me off?) this prospective club member hopes to no longer be prospective by the time this goes to press. A very enjoyable trip to a unique and remarkable part of the country.

Who went: Raymond Ford (leader), Gary Huish, Angela Grigg, Vesna Mojsilovic, Joanna Frampton. (JF)

Crossing the headwaters of Larrikin Creek. The Needle in the background. Photo courtesy of Raymond Ford.

View from the Needle to the Haystack, 1,000 Acre Plateau, and Nelson Lakes in the distance. Photo courtesy of Raymond Ford.