Mataketake Hut and Welcome Flat Hut

12 - 18 June 2023

This trip was ably organised and led by Sonja Risa. The dates were flexible to take advantage of any weather window, which meant bookings for the huts and accommodation were made closer to the time. Sonja did a group booking for Mataketake Hut and we did individual bookings for the one available night at Welcome Flat Hut. A second night at the hut was not possible. We settled on a night at the Ivory Towers Backpackers between the two trips and then a second night there to allow the drivers to rest before the 6½ hour drive back to Christchurch.

Three cars were taken. Helen came from Ashburton and John from Rangiora. We continued to the Stone Oven Bakery at Hokitika for lunch and thence to the road-end via Fox Glacier, where Sonja booked us into the backpackers for the three nights. Di was able to identify the various majestic snowy peaks we saw on the way. As any snow was well above the highest point of the range we could leave the crampons and ice axes in the cars. We had only a 1½ hour walk to Blowfly Hut, showcasing our individual preferred speeds for travel within this largish group. Raymond pointed out the micaceous schist en-route.

On arrival at the old renovated hut, we discovered the kindling was on the damp side, which was to be a theme for the trip. The MSR was a bit sluggish but responded when the jet was shaken, and with a bit of reaming of the fuel tube. A fire was coaxed into life, warming the hut eventually, thanks to many hands on the pump. Peter used his pruning saw as there was no functioning tool at the hut to cut the plentiful lengths of wood. With eight mattresses and several snorers, some opted to sleep in tents. Unfortunately not us snorers. Sorry! Raymond created a large laksa with silken tofu, salmon, prawns and plenty of veggies that any restaurant would be proud of.

We set off on the historic Haast-Paringa Cattle Track towards Maori Saddle but turned off onto the Mica Mine Track after 1½hr. The track to the tops zig-zagged a merciful twenty-three times to gain the bush line. Above the bush line we stopped for lunch on a group of rocks in the tussock, beyond where one of the racing sardines, Helen, had halted.

In places along the track, through tussock and occasional schist boulders, the only remaining traces of snow had been compacted and hardened on the south-facing slopes, which necessitated care. We passed a microwave station and shortly after, arrived at the magnificent, well-sited hut. The hut library is impressively well-stocked with a diverse range of genres but the woodshed, not so much, but fortunately coal was also provided. Once again the wood was damp, so the lads set to, slicing blocks into smaller slivers. Sonja, inspired by Fahrenheit 451, ingeniously snapped off bone-dry tussock seed-heads for effective kindling. Di provided a delicious meal and introduced us to 'zilch', a gambling game with six dice.

The next day we made various efforts to explore the tops and tarns further south along the range. Helen, Peter and Honora went towards Mt Smith to investigate a possible long-gone hut site at the head of Anybody Creek. They found only sloping terrain with no apparent hut sites. Others went to Lake Dime or a bit beyond. Most of the tarns were frozen. There was no animal sign, only faint trails but the going was easier further south of the hut, with curly snow tussock instead of the longer version.

That night we had dry wood to get the fire going. A variety of choice appetisers appeared and Sonja made us an appreciated chickpea curry on brown rice, with some leftover to enjoy the following day. We evaluated the morning's wind and decided on a traverse in the lee to the track, which took us down to Maori Saddle Hut for morning tea. We had made the right choice of going up the Mica Mine Track, because the track to Maori Saddle had big step-downs and was steeper. Maori Saddle Hut has a very similar design to Pinchgut Hut, near Mt Thomas, but with three tiers of sleeping platforms, instead of two.

The walk back to the Mica Mine Track turn-off was very pleasant on the broad track and good views as we travelled north. We had lunch on a sort of causeway of raised ground in the sun, then picked up our stashed gear at Blowfly Hut, got to the road end and drove to the backpackers for showers and a tasty couscous, vegetables and tuna dinner provided by Sonia D.

We continued our early starts, arriving at the Copeland Track car park and heading off soon after 8.30am for the seven-hour tramp in. We regrouped at a spectacular spot near a rock that resembled a seal or a dog's head, jutting out of the turquoise-coloured Copland River. I passed on the stove, fuel and necessaries for a brew at Architect Creek Hut but all good plans... They thought this was for the arrival at Welcome Flat Hut.

Keith was feeling under-par on the walk in, but rallied after a rest during our lunch stop at Architect Creek Hut. We carried on to Welcome Flat with people arriving in the now-established order, Sonja R and Raymond functioning as tail-end Charlies. The hut was cold and the floor recently washed, so windows were opened and dampish firewood obtained as there was only meagre but dry offerings provided. The warden appeared and promptly threw it all out, saying it was too damp to be useful. We discreetly retrieved it and used it to establish a limping coal fire, that is, until we discovered that opening the ash-pan door provided a transformative draw.

It was Helen's turn to wow us with her smoked salmon/dehi rice and vegie concoction, flavoured with piquant lemon and ginger-flavoured tuna. Then to top it off, she served chocolate mousse, reconstituted freeze-dried fruit and chocolate. This all will have us searching the supermarket aisles for more of the same. Oh, I nearly forgot the hot pools! We entered the hot one in various degrees of déshabillée, John wearing the masculine version of the burkini. In the hut we had reduced the coal bucket to grit and gravel, then realised there was more coal available.

A local trio had arrived and were wallowing in the coolest pool with Di. They soon found they had friends in common. Personally, given the choice, I'd prefer a functioning woodstove with copious fuel over a hot pool. The warden gave us the standard spiel, while acknowledging the experience of our group. The solar lights only ran for so long on this winter evening. This was another night of snorers serenading the unwise or unlucky, and another early rising with my lighting the fire with the leftover 'unburnable', now dry, kindling and wood that Peter had sawn up the evening before.

We walked out in our order, with the hares taking the opportunity for another session in the hot pool as we left. The warden had told us of a capacious rock bivvy near Shiel Creek, so that got visited and admired. Morning tea was on the frosted flats of Architect Creek Hut. Thirty-two young folk in assorted groups passed by, intent on fun times, including a birthday group led by a young woman in a purple tutu. I hadn’t noticed her attire, instead thinking her face looked familiar. Sonya D counted bridges.

We held out for lunch in sunny spots, with the middle group hitting the jackpot well after 1pm. We were out and back at Fox Glacier in good time to admire the quilting conference's displays and scope out Betsy Jane's for dinner. The meals were tasty and the pleasant service not obtrusive. After another amazing shower and a true-to-form night, we rose early and left before 8am for Christchurch, with leisurely stops at Hokitika’s Stone Oven, then a Taste of Kiwi at Springfield.

Many thanks to Sonja R for her consultative style of leadership and for organising the well-appreciated trip. We were: Sonja Risa, Diane Mellish, Helen Binnie, Sonya Donaldson, Raymond Ford, John Robinson, Keith Hoard, Peter Umbers and Honora Renwick. [HR]

We relax in Mataketake Hut

Mataketake Range

A wintery view across the hot pool