Kahurangi Circuit

6-10 February 2020

As I was the only taker for Diane’s Three Tarn Pass trip, we were invited to join Chris, Graham, and Vesna for a circuit in the Kahurangi National Park. We left Christchurch Thursday morning and drove up to Tapawera Settlers Motel and Campground where we had two comfortable units for the night. There was time to explore the town and go for a walk before going to the Tapawera Hotel for a drink and a meal.

Day 1. The drive from Tapawera to the Rolling River car park the next morning took about an hour and although there was water flowing across the Dart River ford we had no trouble driving across. It is 11.4 km to King’s Creek hut where we planned to stay that night so there was no hurry and it was very pleasant walking along beside the Wangapeka River. In places we saw quite large fish swimming. There are trap lines beside the river and whio are now frequently seen on the Wangapeka, as we later read in a hut book, but we didn’t see any. We had morning tea sitting on logs by a “lake” which was formed when debris from a landslip created a dam across the river in October 2012. There were many dead drowned trees. There were also lots of wasps in the bush throughout the trip, and it is surprising that Chris was the only one of us to get stung. We had lunch near the swingbridge that crosses the Wangapeka River. From there it was a further 30 minutes on the true left of the river to the 20 bed hut. Here we had our first encounter with very audacious weka trying to steal food and anything else that looked appealing to them. We quickly made it a rule to keep the hut door closed after one entered the hut and had to be chased out. The afternoon was spent dipping in the river, visiting the nearby Cecil King historic hut, or just lazing about.

Chris, Graham on enroute to Kiwi Sadle Hut. Photo courtesy of Vesna Mojsilovic.

Day 2. We back tracked to where the swing bridge crosses the Wangapeka, and a little further on crossed Kiwi Stream on another swingbridge. We then followed the very gently graduated track on the true left of the Kiwi stream and climbed 700m to Kiwi Saddle Hut (1170m). We stopped for a leisurely lunch at a rocky stream about three quarters of the way up. Not far on from the stream Vesna and I heard some strange sounds and later on in the trip realized it must have been goats calling to each other as we saw several in the following days. Vesna was fortunate to see some kaka high up in the trees near the hut. We had the hut to ourselves as a couple who arrived later in the day chose to camp in the bush.

Day 3. A day trip to the Luna tops. From Kiwi Saddle hut the climb up to the Luna tops is mostly on the ridgeline. Once above the bushline we chose to stay on or near the ridge to a point where we lunched enjoying fabulous views in all directions including Luna Lake, Mt Patriarch, Mt Owen, Nuggety range and numerous other ranges.

Vesna and Graham decided to head back to the hut after lunch. Chris, Diane and I continued on along a razorback ridge for about 500m to point 1578m. We debated continuing on down to a saddle and then up Mt Luna (only 52m higher than the point we were on) but decided it may take longer than we imagined. Diane and Chris got out the map and proceeded to identify as many of the mountains and ridges as they could in all directions, including where the track went down to Stone Creek hut.

Back at our lunch spot we chose a different route down to the bushline via a very small tarn. This route was well used as the track was quite well formed back towards where we joined the ridgeline. The Kiwi saddle hut weka managed to steal Diane’s plastic bag containing her toilet paper in the evening while she was doing her teeth and despite extensive searching in the bushes near the hut we were unable to find it.

Ridgetop walking from the saddle. Photo courtesy of Sue Piercey.

Day 4: We woke to rain which later became confined to just the toilet up above the hut (orographic rainfall according to Diane). By the time we were ready to go it had cleared. We parted company with Graham who headed back the way we had come to collect the car for us. It took us an hour and a half mostly climbing in the bush until we reached a saddle above the bushline where we left most of our equipment to climb up Mt Patriarch (1701m). There was a reasonably well-defined cairned track with good hand holds in the rocky sections. It was perfect weather with no wind and no cloud swirling around. With fantastic views in all directions we took lots of photographs.

Back at the saddle we had a number of ups and downs along the Arthur ridge towards John Reid hut (1250m) enjoying the mountain panorama as we walked. At times, we thought how on earth we will get up there only to find that the track diverted from going over a rocky top to climb more gently on the north side with plenty of flax and other bushes to act as handholds (especially Point 1463). There was a tricky bit over a steep scree slide near Point 1507, the first point after the saddle, but it was quite narrow and we all got across without sliding down. When John Reid hut came into view we debated at what point to leave the ridge line and then came across a cairn, which proved to be an ideal point to start heading down through the tussock and then short scrub to the 6 bed hut. Once at the hut we could see several blue snow poles heading directly up towards the ridge. The water supply is a small stream about 20m from the hut. We designated the upstream above a plank across the stream our water supply and downstream below the plank for washing. After a cup of tea we all took the opportunity to wash ourselves and our clothing and to sunbathe. We cooked dinner outside that night, but the usual pesky hut weka meant constant vigilance as we ate.

Day 5. “Hey Diane, where are you going?” I called as being the first to leave the hut she was climbing back up towards the ridge following blue snow poles. She had walked past the large DOC sign pointing to Chummies track which contours from the hut and is also marked with snow poles. Which just goes to show anyone can make a mistake, however, experienced you are. After contouring for about half an hour the track reached the ridge and it was easy travel on a good track down to the end of the ridge. From there the track contoured down, steeply in places, until it emerged beside Chummies Creek. We had taken 4 hours from the hut. Crossing the Wangapeka was easy as it was only around knee height. Graham was waiting for us and we drove a little further down the road to enjoy a dip in some deep pools.

Chris, Vesna and Diane on the ridge to John Reid Hut. Mt Patriarch behind. Photo by Sue Piercey.

We stopped in at the Kowhai Kitchen Café in Tapawera for a late lunch before driving home. We were very impressed with the food, drinks and service. The cabinet food was very low by that time, but they happily made us salads and excellent sandwiches.

PS: Always carry some duct tape. I snapped the nose bridge of my glasses and they were able to be temporarily mended using duct tape.

Thanks to Chris for organizing this fantastic trip.

We were: Chris Leaver (leader), Graham Townsend, Vesna Mojsilovic, Diane Mellish, Sue Piercey (SP)