Wangapeka-Matiri Tops-Matiri Valley
25-29 March 2022
Keen to get away on a longer trip, I seized on Raymond’s Lake Jeanette, Wangapeka trip. It sounded interesting, and it was an area I hadn’t explored. Keeping a keen eye on the weather the week prior, it appeared like it was going to be a stunner of a few days away. It did not disappoint us.
Early Friday morning saw us meeting at Raymond’s place and heading away from Christchurch by 7:30am, picking Peter up along the way. We had a pleasant journey to Murchison with the obligatory coffee and snack before heading up the Matiri Valley to meet with our shuttle which was to take us to the start of the Wangapeka Track. We rode through the back roads of Tadmor Valley to the start of the track, so it was nice to see some new countryside, instead of the usual scenery from the state highway. Unfortunately, recent rains had caused damage to the Dart River ford on the Wangapeka road and the van was unable to take us the full way to the Siberia Campsite. Starting at 3.30pm, we had a 7km walk up the road to the camp-site but, oh bugger, wet feet in the first 50m to get across the ford! Arriving at 5pm to a beautifully kept DoC camp-site, we had a pleasant evening, setting up, eating and chatting before retiring to bed.
Up and away by 9am, our destination for the day was Stone Hut on the Wangapeka Track. Our lunch break on a very pleasant morning was at Kings Creek Hut where we also dried the tents. Nearby was the historic Cecil King Hut. Cecil King was a gold prospector, who built the hut with local wood and lived in it in the warmer months of the year. A plaque describes the local history. After lunch, it was an enjoyable afternoon walk, up a very well benched track, on an ever-narrowing Wangapeka River to Stone Hut. On arrival, we met another group, who had arrived from Kiwi Saddle. The hut would be crowded so they decided to move on down to Kings Creek Hut. We had a pleasant evening with the only remaining occupant, a fellow kiwi, usually living in San Francisco but during Covid working remotely from NZ. Since he had just come over the route we would take, it was a good opportunity to question him on our day ahead.
Sunday dawned fine and clear for our day over the Matiri Tops. We got up in the dark, to ensure a 7am start as previous accounts had estimated it would take around 12 hours. The first hour was up to the Wangapeka Saddle, then a left-turn directly up to the tops. A steep grunt to the tops through beech forest had my calf muscles complaining. We exited the bush to see a superb, clear day, with not a cloud to be seen, only valley mist. The Matiri Tops stretched before us, the path ahead clear to see, with all its up and downs. After a short break, it was a walk along the ridge to 1522m Nugget Knob. This part of the ridge was the more challenging for me, requiring a scramble below a rocky spur with Gary’s help. The others took the rocky scramble in their stride. After a brief stop on the top, we continued along the ridge, making steady progress with regular breaks to recover from the effort of the ups and downs. It was hot, sweaty and thirsty work. We had taken a lot of water with us, but it is never enough in such hot, dry conditions. We continued to marvel at the scenery before us. The large massif of Mt Owen, south branch of the Wangapeka River, the Karamea River, and the Haystack in the distance, all awe-inspiring. A slip by Gary in a dracophyllum bush caused the first broken pole for the day. We were relieved to reach the tarn near the southern end of the range. With a feeling of some relief, we filled our bottles. By this time, it was 4.30pm and we decided to travel on to Hurricane Hut. More ups and downs and sidles saw us gain the ridge leading directly to the hut. Down we went, through bush and swamp, where my pole disappeared into the mud and snapped, the lower piece never to be seen again. We were glad to reach the hut just on dark. This is a basic Forest Service 1950s style hut with four metal bunks. Feeling very tired after a long day, we retired for an early night after dinner.
Day 4 saw us travelling onto McConchies Hut further down-valley past Lake Jeanette. There was a lovely ridge walk above the river for a way but the rest of the track was either overgrown or a difficult sidle above the river. Raymond grumbled about the state of the track and lack of maintenance. His concerns were realized as parts of the track were overgrown with tutu, causing some skin scrapes on the legs. Other sections of the track lacked markers, which meant casting around in the bush trying to pick up the track again. At times it was quicker and easier to walk down the river than on the track. The river-bed walk was enjoyable, from lovely sandy sections to some stone hopping, to clambering around boulders. We arrived at McConchies Hut around 4pm to enjoy a relaxing evening after another stunner of a day.
The last day began in low cloud, but it cleared as the day warmed up. This day saw us walk down-valley to Matiri Lake Hut and out to the car. Again, it was a matter of trying to find the best route down the valley, either in the river bed or on the track which was poorly marked, or overgrown, or had slipped away. This day saw my second wasp sting for the trip. Sometimes it pays to be in front once a wasp nest is disturbed! Gary found the deepest mud on the trip, and struggled to extricate himself from a deep bog. His pole disappeared into the mud but was retrieved, still attached to the wrist loop. We were pleased to reach the junction with the Thousand Acres Plateau track, where the track improved dramatically. The final section was a pleasant walk through beech forest to Lake Matiri Hut where we had a quick break before walking along the new hydro road to the car, arriving around 2pm. Murchison provided drinks and snacks, then onward to Christchurch, arriving home before dark.
Thanks go to Raymond for organizing and leading the trip, and thanks to Gary and Peter for their company. It’s a trip I would highly recommend.
We were: Raymond Ford, Gary Huish, Peter Umbers and Angela Grigg [AG]