30 Dec – 2 Jan 2023
My passion for the mountains was thwarted by the pandemic that kept me away from the South Island for three years, so it was an absolute delight to see in the 2023 year, walking on the Mataketake Range with fellow trampers, Raymond and Kerry. It’s a six-hour drive from Christchurch to the start of the Haast-Paringa Cattle Track. The car-park was jam-packed with cars, so we knew we’d be needing our tents. It was only a one-hour tramp to Blue River Hut, affectionately known as Blowfly Hut. From the car-park a short, single track led to the junction of the historic cattle track, built in 1875, that led to the hut.
The hut was full with two groups of young trampers. It’s a cute wee hut, built in 1905 to service the cattle drovers, travellers and track workers who maintained the track. We camped in the nearby grassy meadow beside the Moeraki River. From the size of the area and recent vegetation growth, we decided that the area was originally used to yard the cattle before or after fording the river. Raymond’s celebratory laksa meal with truffle stock, salmon and prawns was a real treat. Yes, you missed a superb and delicious meal! Any thought of seeing in the New Year was discarded as sandflies quickly chased us into our tents. Surveying the tops, covered in cloud, we were a bit dubious as to whether we would have good weather for our jaunt along the tops the following day, however, the next morning was clear, with lifting cloud on the tops.
We followed the cattle track from the hut to the junction of the Mica Mines track that leads to the tops. Just over an hour’s easy walk on a wide track with a steady ascending gradient. We marvelled at the engineering skills of the men who cut the track through this rugged country in the early 19th century. We crossed many beautifully engineered culverts.
DoC has installed good signs along the track circuit, however, the track times posted are much longer than that taken by a tramper of medium and above fitness. The Mica Mines Track zig-zagged up the ridge towards the tops until the last 100 metres where it goes up a spur. Constant reminders of the track’s mica mining history sparkled in the rock exposed along the track. We visualised teams of men, horses and heavy machinery making slow progress to and from the mine, the location of which remained unknown to us. The mica was used in WWII in radio capacitors and spark-plug washers for aircraft. The forest is dense with ferns, mature beech, rimu and exquisite fungi. We frequently heard kākā, tui and many other birds calling in the forest.
Ten minutes below the tree-line we had a break. Suddenly I felt something beside me. To my surprise it was a medium-sized, very friendly dog, wearing a harness! The owner, who appeared sometime afterwards, informed us this is an area where DoC allows dogs, and she had a permit! We finally emerged from the tree-line to sunny, clear tops with expansive views of the Tasman Sea, the Haast River delta and Southern Alps from Mt Hooker and the Hooker Glacier and south to Mt Pollux. What followed was a magical and thoroughly enjoyable two-hour traverse along the tops to Mataketake Hut, through tussock, flowering celmisia species and small aciphyllas, and past numerous tarns of varying size. In the tarns we noticed numerous tadpoles of an Australian frog species. That night, camped by one of the tarns, near the hut we were lulled to sleep by the mesmerising large chorus of frog calls.
The Matatetake Hut, opened in February 2021 and funded by the Andy Dennis Trust, is a lovely 8-10 bed hut with expansive views. Interestingly, the majority of visitors recorded in the hut logbook were locals. By contrast, the temporary worker’s toilet remains as the only toilet and a trip to the loo was a very unpleasant experience that involved beating off swarms of blowflies, inside and outside the toilet. Be prepared, take fly spray! From the tops, a track descends to Maori Saddle Hut, reconnecting to the Haast-Paringa Cattle Track. Along the range to the south is Lake Dime, a pleasant spot for a swim with good views of the alps to the south of Haast.
We awoke to a clear, dewy, sunny morning, and decided to retrace our route across the tops to enjoy the views, instead of completing the circuit through the forest. Our morning serenity was interrupted twice by a helicopter delivering people plus supplies to the hut for a 70th birthday celebration over the next two nights. At the Mica Track junction, we met the remaining eight people, including the birthday “boy”, with their two dogs. Even on the easy cattle track the 12-year-old dog didn’t look very energetic. He looked like their weak link. The new hut needs to be booked, so is ideal for group celebrations.
Unfortunately, during our traverse along the tops cloud rolled in, late morning, replacing sunshine with white murk. During our descent to Blowfly Hut we met a diverse range of trampers, dogs, hunters and pack rafters. The trampers included a young family and elderly folk.
From Blue River/Blowfly Hut we walked out the following morning in light rain. Raymond did an excellent job planning the trip and arranged the best weather for traversing the tops. The circuit is understandably popular. It's historically significant, interesting and achievable by young and old with medium fitness. It includes three good huts and traverses through a spectacular landscape with awesome views from the tops. I highly recommend this circuit.
We were Raymond Ford (leader), Kerry Moore and Sonja Risa. [SR]