An Amazing Adventure
Our track or so it turns out is not a track but classified as a route? So what’s the difference? A route has no maintenance to speak of, is therefore wild in parts and not maintained! The area was hit quite badly with the Murchison earthquake and also cyclone Ita in 2014, the debris now forms huge obstacles for hikers. It came with some tough conditions, guaranteeing wet feet within the first 24mins and staying that way for 5 days. The difficulty of the track required you to constantly watch your footwork and assess carefully on occasions to ensure, there was no slip over the side or a face plant into the water, moss or mud, unfortunately the latter endured later in the hike). The undulating terrain varies from mud, rocks, entire trees, tree roots, river beds flowing and not flowing, moss and the dreaded fern/foliage covered track ensuring no visibility of your feet or what hazards lay beneath.ps watch out for that spikey orange plant with huge thorns, injecting unnecessary pain into my butt on the way down from LW saddle!
Day 1 consisted of a 1.5hr drive into the drop off point, and a step into the historical valley backcountry experience. Waved off by our driver Ray and 3 local fisherman who said “hope you’ve got repellant” and quizzically remarked “enjoy your 6 day stroll west hope it doesn’t rain for ya, sweet as”!
The track itself floods quickly and hikers (trampers can get stuck for days to wait for rivers to subside).
The forest was breathe taking, the emerald green, the iridescent colours, the variety of moss, lichen and old mans whiskers, the purple mushrooms, the vegetation changing constantly and new things to marvel at at every turn! After a 4 hour walk and 11.7 km we realised our packs were too laden down with “just in case gear”, this time of year we could have made do with a much lighter load and adapted if bad weather occurred. The Boy Scout Be prepared weighs alot!!! Staying in A backcountry Hut we were fortunate enough to have the hut to ourselves! I say fortunate for others as I think our tired snoring would have been enough to wake the dead. My throat was on fire and I could feel some ear pain from a recent vestibular imbalance. Not again and not now!!!!! Snug inside our hut for the night, the heavens opened and at this moment I was glad not to be hunkered down in a tent!
Day 2- we have planned our walking times on the maps and walking times provided so our ambition was to bypass Stone Hut, only 8.6km and had planned to also do 10.4km to Helicopter hut. Some of the most spectacular scenery distracted me of the fact that the first section measured 11.8km, and took 3 hrs, the next section even longer as we head off over wangapeka saddle at 1009metres for the suggested 4hr walk took another 6.5hrs! Grateful again to have the hut to ourselves with just 10 bunks it would’ve been pretty crowded! Throat no better and fluid filling my ears! Feeling a bit dizzy along some points of that track was not ideal! The landslide sections had me frozen in fear momentarily thinking about the consequences of one wrong foot placement or slight overbalance with a heavily laden pack! The best case would be broken leg or back but some of the extreme distances of the fall would be fatal! I can’t set off my PLB if I’m dead!
Day 3- Helicopter to Taipo! River crossings, river crossings and more river crossings. Constantly thinking and assessing the best place not to fall over in slippery rocks in the crystal cascading waterfalls! The water clean enough to drink (although we did sterilise) and cold water filling the boots and cooling down the feet! Beautiful and serene!
Day 4- Taipo to Belltown. Suggested 10.4km 6.5hr
Actual times 10hrs +
What an adventure, it certainly threw it all us today! The first 2km of mud, slosh and uphill but also do stunning, so the time and distance faded , then a 900metre steep uphill scramble hauling body weight and pack up slippery rocks, lifting feet to hip height to get a foot placement. Arms and legs burning & getting a great workout! Also rewarding the higher you got with that feeling of gorillas in the mist- green misty forest and curious fan tails, wekas and South Is robins watching and following our ascent.
Coming over little the saddle into the low clouds and then waiting 15 mins, the clouds rolling in and out giving glimpses of the mysteries of the surrounding views! Then the blanket lifted on one side revealing a stunning blue saddle lake and spectacular views of the west coast and beaches! A 360 view revealed the huge Mt Merrick and Mt Joyce both 1440 metres plus, .behind us for just a few seconds before they were enshrouded again with cloud!WOW wow and wow reminded me of Milford, Routeburn and also Overland Tasmania.
The Downward going was typical alpine with rock and pools of deep mud! We hit the lake level and over the other side, then the downhill was nothing short of treacherous, slippery and sliding with every second step. Deep concentration needed and eyes firmly on the footwork and impossible long step downs with short legs and a big load were difficult! Not to mention I am middle aged! tree holds to assist with the descent! Believing the hardest was done, the time slipping away we had already walked much further and longer than the timings! Even with a lighter lack I am not sure we could’ve walked any faster negotiating the downhill sections!
3.5-4hrs we come across our first trampers for the trip they are locals from Auckland headed to Taipo and the lead tramper seems to have done this before ! Her companions looked bedazzled and exhausted they ask how far to the saddle, I am not sure they appreciated the answer of 5-6 hrs all uphill. They replied with watch out for some narly sections for us.
Argh she wasn’t wrong the cyclone Ita. Section In 2014 ripped open some sections and whilst they have cut a path, the track is still very overgrown and the scrambling was difficult, climbing over, under, and precarious drops off the side ranging from 20-60metres kept movement to 500metres 30mins/1hr. Energy now spent at 7hrs of constant hiking. Nearing the hut a few more water crossings, a 2 metre slide into the river with a face plant bruised breast, and winded acted as a reminder not to switch off for even a second! with wet pants we knew we weren’t safe yet for the final 2kms to the hut. 10hrs later we arrive at Belltown Manunui, exhausted and relieved! Stove on – coffee, dinner, a wash and watching the sunset over the mountains! Alone in the hut again and ever so grateful for the fine weather to tackle today’s obstacles! Wohoo this is a real adventure!
Day 5- up at 6.30 and off, unremarkable day and fairly easy most of the way! All over in 4 hrs and time to sit in the bathing sunshine to wait for our ride out of Little Wanganui! Albeit lathered in repellent to keep the sand flies at bay! My legs were apparently very tasty over the 5 days!
The ROUTE was one of the most spectacular places in NZ, unfortunately not afforded a Great Walk title due to the difficulty or risks involved with some of the more arduous sections of earthquake or cyclone damage but so very much worth the adventure!
So with a couple of bruised bits and a swollen knee, infected toes and a thousand sand fly bites, it’s time to re-evaluate! Regretfully in the risk assessment we have reluctantly decided to review our plans and will be returning home to hike another day! “ I am bitterly disappointed, but know that the it is better to return at the right time.
Thanks to Paddy Pallin for great support of my attempt! It’s not over, just paused for the time being…..An awesome Osprey aerial pro 65litre! So comfortable and lightweight. My ex officio knickers and bra worn everyday for every hike since 2015, lived up to their branding, 17 countries, 6 weeks one pair of undies! Mine were 6 days day in day out – Rinsed every night and ready to go again! #paddypallin #ospreypacks
-Thanks to some awesome NZ hospitality ( the reason we have been here a dozen times and will be back real soon to finish the job)
-Murchison I Site, Leanne and Emma ( you ladies rock for the assistance that you provided)
-Steph from Hike and Bike for the lift to Westport ( also the kiwi mountain biker who got us this lift)
-Graeme Seddonville Hotel for the numerous phone calls assisting us finding transport! Great pub, great hospitality, Great grub
-Westport hire equipment ( who would’ve thought they also hired cars) allowing us to drive back to Nelson
Westport Hire & Power Equipment Centre
Ray our private driver and charter for drop in to the track on 12Dec18, Rory and his team have been servicing trampers in this area for a long time and are a wealth of local knowledge and info, we have used Trekexpress since 2009.