[SUBW-A] REPORT - Three Passes, NZ (Feb 7th to 10th)

Danny Yee danny at anatomy.usyd.edu.au
Sat Mar 2 00:51:13 AEDT 2002


The Three Passes, New Zealand South Island
February 7th to 10th, 2002
Joe Li and Danny Yee

     Thursday February 7th

     Most people do the Three Passes east to west, but that leaves
     one with a difficult hitch (and/or a long walk on the road) at
     the end.  So with Adrienne happy to deliver us to either end,
     we decided to do it west to east.  We drove down to Hokitika,
     registered our intention to do the walk at the DOC office (I
     bought hut tickets; Joe had an annual pass), left the equipment
     we wouldn't need at a hostel, and had a leisurely breakfast
     in a cafe/bakery. After a drive around peaceful Lake Kaniere,
     Adrienne dropped us off at the start of the track up the river
     Styx around 11am. [She then went back to Christchurch via Lewis
     Pass and Hanmer Springs.]

     It was an easy walk up the northern bank of the river, on a
     decent track (damaged in a few places by landslides), and we
     reached Grassy Flat hut for lunch (and met a tramper going the
     other way).  On the way we saw a kereru (a kind of parrot). Then
     came the climb up to Styx saddle, which gave us nice views down
     into the Arahura valley and across to the mountains on the other
     side. The track then sidled up the valley under Mt Browning,
     crossing the Harman River by suspension bridge to reach Harman
     hut, which we reached quite late.  It was a reasonably long day
     (perhaps 18km with a net climb of 800m) and I was pleased that
     I'd managed to keep up with Joe - though that was helped by the
     fact that he was carrying twice as much as I was and stopped to
     take photos.

     Harman hut (my first New Zealand hut) was a kind of basic model,
     just six bunk beds, a fireplace, and a cooking table. It was clear
     and cold overnight.  I went outside with my totally ineffective
     torch and still didn't realise the batteries were dying!

     Friday February 8th

     The next day was a relatively easy one. After a late start
     (perhaps around 10, but neither of us was carrying a watch),
     we continued up the Arahura, where met a group of seven going
     the other way and found a dead goat on the track. It was a bit
     of a climb up to Lake Browning (at almost 1400m), where we had
     lunch and Joe went for a swim. That's a really gorgeous spot.

     We took different routes on the easy slope up to Browning Pass,
     and I got confused about the route down the other side (which
     drops 400m in maybe three quarters of a kilometre) and went 30
     metres down a hairy goat track before realising I wasn't going the
     right way.  The real track was a bit of a scramble at the top,
     then switchbacked across scree and grass - Joe took a short-cut
     straight down one of the scree slopes. At the bottom is the
     Clough memorial cairn, and from there it was an easy kilometre
     and a half down the Wilberforce river to Park Morpeth hut.

     There we met a couple going the other way, planning to bivouac
     at the lake, and Deb, who stayed there with us. Park Morpeth
     hut had a solar-powered light and mountain radio, both of which
     provided entertainment.  The swarming sandflies were attracted
     at night to the light, where Joe killed them in their hundreds by
     squashing them with a plastic bag. And Deb, being a DOC employee,
     used the DOC channel on the radio to chat to friends.

     Saturday February 9th

     Deb left first, planning to reach Grassy Flat or even the road
     that day, but we were up and away about 9am for the hardest
     day of the trip, for which I wore my boots. First came the long
     haul up Cronin Stream, on rocks and without much of a track (we
     walked above the cairned route for much of the time, trying to
     avoid dropping into side gullys). Along the way I had my first
     close-up encounter with a Kea - Joe told me it was a shy one,
     but it seemed pretty inquisitive to me!  - and we had great
     views of Cronin glacier, hanging above the valley.

     The final steep scramble up to Whitehorn Pass left me pretty
     done in and we had lunch at the top, in a chilly wind, watching
     the glacier calving. Then we headed down across the Whitehorn
     snowfield that had had me so worried (almost everyone we passed
     had been carrying ice axes).  This turned out to be no problem
     at all - I slipped once and slid a metre or two, but it was
     a gentle slope with no cliffs around and was perfectly safe,
     though Joe cut steps across a few ice patches.

     Then it was a couple of kilometres of rocks down the stream
     to Ariels Tarn, where Joe had a swim.  Having crossed from
     the Cronin/Wilberforce catchment to the Mary/Taipo catchment,
     we now went over Harman Pass into the Taipoiti/Waimakariri
     catchment. It was a steep but uncomplicated descent down the
     Taipoiti to White's River (where I changed back into volleys
     and Joe checked out the flying fox) and then an easy kilometre
     and a half down to the Waimakariri and Carrington Hut.

     Carrington hut was huge compared to the others I'd seen on the
     trip. It had bunks for 39, two cooking areas, a watertank, and
     even a hut warden, a young Czech woman called Katy working as
     a volunteer (and trying to do New Zealand on NZ$3 a day). There
     were maybe half a dozen other people there, but we only really
     talked to Katy - we sat up late talking and writing in our
     diaries, while burning (using paper wicks Joe made) every scrap
     of wax we could find in the tea light, in which the occasional
     fly immolated itself.  (It was here I finally realised my torch
     batteries were dead, and put new ones in!)

     There  was some explanation of complicated romances - Katy was open
     and totally unaffected as well as attractive, so it was easy to see
     why too many DOC employees had fallen for her. But mostly we talked
     about language: Joe learning phrases to use with Czech friends back
     in  Sydney,  me  asking  obscure questions about Czech grammar,
     and Katy  with  the occasional question about English (though
     she spoke it  pretty fluently and was even writing her diary in
     English). She made us a cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows.

     Sunday February 10th

     I was up before 8; Joe slept in a bit longer, as usual. Katy
     was preparing a love letter for a friend at Arthur's Pass -
     the radio was a bit too public for some things! - which she
     sealed with wax and which we took to deliver for her (she had
     run out to the road the previous day to visit Arthur's Pass,
     but had pulled a muscle doing that).

     We sat around talking for a while but were away by about 9. With
     the water level low it was an easy walk down the floodplain of
     the Waimakariri, though it still took us nearly five hours to do
     the 15km or so to the road. Flocks of wild geese provided the
     only real distraction, though the views looking backwards were
     pretty good.  When we reached the campground we had a wash in the
     river and changed into cleaner clothes - and immediately scored
     a hitch the 2km from there to Klondyke Corner on the main road.

     I went first with the hitching, with Joe coaching me. Most of
     the traffic was going the other way and I had no luck for maybe
     40 minutes - and I was getting a bit depressed with the light
     drizzle getting stronger.  Then along came Chris, a final-year
     med student from Otago, who not only stopped to pick me up but
     had room for Joe as well and was going to Hokitika. On the way
     he and Joe talked medical shop (and we delivered Katy's love
     letter at the DOC centre in Arthur's Pass) and in Hokitika he
     dropped us off right at the backpackers.

     A great way to finish a really great tramp.

[A web version of this with photos will be available at some point
on my bushwalking and travel pages at http://danny.oz.au/travel/ .]

Danny.
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