March 2013

Late February, Shirl was off up the Cobb Valley with some friends, staying at a couple of the houses for rent near the dam. From here they went for days walks here and there in the surrounding mountains. Along the top rim above the lake, to Mt Peel and one day to Chaffey’s Hut.

Karla was working so she and I wandered off a day later. On each walk traps were laid out by the Friends of Cobb, or Cobbers as they call themselves. Karla and I stayed at the Cobb Hut about 4 hours upstream and from here we spent a day climbing past Lake Cobb and up to Round Lake. Lake Cobb and Round Lake were low but we were surprised at the weed growth, no doubt due to the warmer water in this dry period. Karla and I climbed up to the top ridge on Peel Range (at 1500m above sea level) and from here were able to view Island Lake and the tarns that drain  into the Roaring Lion River far below.  After tea we wandered up to Fenella Hut and back again. While having a quiet read I noticed a mouse sniffing around under one of the tables, made a noise and watched it bolt into a small hole in the wall. I found a suitable sized piece of wood and rammed it into the hole hoping that this was the only entry point and as we were not disturbed again, it must have been.

The next morning we headed downstream with the hope that we might meet up with the other group at Chaffey’s Hut. We missed them by about a couple of hours. This hut has been restored by the local deerstalkers club and a really good job they have done too. New slab walls, restored fireplace, new framing for the walls and ceiling, all using round branches of trees, including the bark. The beds or bunks were done in a similar fashion.  The completed work just looked what it was supposed to be – an old hut with plenty of character. Just like a hut should be. The only non-old looking part was the slab walls but the timber will “mellow”, it will just take a little time and the hut will have plenty of that.

We paused at a pool in the river and soon spotted the brown trout doing its cruise of the pool. We had watched it doing the same on the way up and it was good to see it again. We called in on Shirl and the other people staying at the house. I think we had a cup of tea before heading home.

Six Days Out There
Early morning on census night, and we were heading for Lake Rotoroa to catch the water taxi to the head of the lake. Shirl kindly dropped Alan, Karla and I at the wharf and with packs on board, we were off up the lake to the Sabine Hut and the start of our walk. It’s a nice walk up to the bridge and looking down at the blue water we spotted a trout idling in the pool below. After about fours and a half hours walking we came to the old bridge remains. Poor signage but someone had scratched and arrow and 5mins so we carried on and found the new bridge all nice and shiny waiting for us to cross over to the hut. At least to was almost opposite the West Sabine Hut anyway. After a bit of a break we decided to carry on and up to Blue Lake,  leaving at 2pm. The track got a little rougher but that might have been because we were getting tired no doubt. Really, it did get rougher as we had to cross a number of avalanche paths then, after about three and a half hours we came to the hut. This seemed to be too high for the wasps and it was nice to get away from their incessant drone from up high.  I was surprised at how well worn the track was so obviously it had been well used over the holiday period. At least the tourists had cleaned off most of the hook grass seeds anyway!

It was a good hut but I was bemused at the exit signs plastered here and there. Gosh, if all this over safety stuff carries on, every tent will have to have an exit sign on its door and fire extinguishers installed. The next morning we wandered up the tumble of rocks and debris that dammed Lake Constance above Blue Lake. The weather was fine and hot each day with hardly a cloud in sight. On the way back we explored the flow into Blue Lake. This water just came up through rocks over about 10 square metres but I guess much more would flow if Lake Constance had more water in it. By the Blue Lake edge Alan found a fishing sinker (a lead ball) about 15mm diameter which made us wonder. Was someone trying a set line to fish for trout? Maybe they were trying to contaminate the water? No, don’t think so as the sinker had a little nylon still attached. Back to the hut, pack up and then we headed back down to the West Sabine Hut for the night. Over the next days, I was surprised at the number of people walking the Te Araroa Trail (The Long Trail, which stretches the length of New Zealand). There were some New Zealanders but most seemed to be from overseas.  There was a German chap, who had travelled the Pacific Crest Trail in the USA, and he seemed to be very efficient with a small pack, light shoes and planned to walk about 40 kilometres each day so I guess it won’t take him long to do the walk. Even if only to get to the next food shop!

We left the hut at 6.45am the next morning and in the dark. All gear into packs and we were off. One had to be watchful along the track as it wasn’t all that defined in the dark but after and hour or so we came to the bridge that crossed the river far below, just as daylight was breaking. The gap was only about 2 to 3 metres but it is better to walk over the bridge rather than have to jump across the gap. A little further on and we stopped to boil the billy and have breakfast on the banks of the stream. After that I’m not sure about onwards but it certainly was upwards to the Travers Saddle. It wasn’t long though before we broke out above the bushline and had clear views of the valley from where we had come earlier in the morning. Mt Franklin hid behind some mist and so did Travers but as we neared the saddle, the mist drifted away. Up on the saddle at 11am with our GPS reading 1340m above sea level. The map said it was higher but 1340m is high enough. Mt Travers loomed above at 2338m while we wandered over towards a little tarn below the Rainbow Saddle.  Here we had another brew and also lunch while exploring around the tarn. Alan decided to climb right up to the Rainbow Saddle for a peep over the other side while Karla and I had another brew and watched. The clear sky and the bright intense clarity of the colours which, when showing the photos, some people just don’t believe the country is like that. A hawk drifted up high from over the Rainbow, and using the thermals, proceeded to rise to almost out of sight, before drifting over the saddle and down the Sabine valley. Sitting on a rock just looking I thought of that saying; Yesterday is the past – history, tomorrow a mystery. Today is now, the present – it is a gift and that’s why we call it the present.  Being in places like this certainly is a gift. When the sun is shining anyway!

That night we stayed at the Upper Travers Hut. An Iranian also stayed there and he was travelling light. For dinner he watched 5 beans sprout and when they did he had them for tea. I would have waited for two days growth at least.

Coming down from the pass we observed some rocks with writing on them. It looked really bad and going by the spelling, it might have been someone from the USA. I suppose we can expect more of the same in the future but it is a pity that these people had more respect for the wilderness places. There was a large group of young people from the USA in the area. They had been on a bushcraft type of course and then had several days to ‘hang out’ in the area before making their way to Christchurch and the flight home. They had tents but it was unfortunate that part of the group decided to stay overnight in the Cupola Hut on the same day that we climbed up there too. We had thought to get away from John Tait Hut and the tourists but as we didn’t feel like putting up with American drawls, we came back down to John Tait Hut. It certainly was quieter anyway although we had another New Zealander chap stay who was walking the Long Trail in sections. An odd ball for sure as he seemed to sleep with his boots on. That’s okay but I wish he could walk across the floor silently. Clump, clump he went during the night in heading for the toilet. That was okay too but I think he woke all up when he walked into the door. It was the double clunk that did it. Outside there were still piles of rotting logs and rock from an avalanche of a couple of years ago, hardly twenty metres from the hut, as a reminder of the forces of nature. Also nearby was an injured Canada goose. There seemed to be something wrong with its leg.

The next day we wandered down the Travers to Lakehead Hut. On the way we watched a couple of trout cruise by and then on one pool we spotted a Blue Duck (or Whio). It kept its distance but didn’t fly off as they usually do so maybe it was just a bit lonesome.

We stopped for a spell at the turnoff to Coldwater Hut and I was stung by a wasp. Karla was stung earlier too. The wasps hover just above the ground in the forest litter searching for anything that moves or smells like it I think. They even fly around the grasses, delving onto the ground and seem to fly about the grass seeds looking for caterpillars and such. I even saw them on the forest floor turning over beech leafs. In the lower altitude one can hear a continuous drone of them high up in the trees. Heaven help any insect that moves and I feel sorry for the native birds as I think the wasps  won’t leave much food for them. Don’t go wandering around a hut in bare feet is a good rule to observe at this time of year. I feel that these yellow and black insects are in the process of destroying our forests and DoC twiddle their thumbs. One of these days they might send someone out to count them all! At the Lakehead Hut the toilets couldn’t be used without the threat of being stung on the rear end. It seems stupid to have these expensive toilets and not being able to use them.

Anyway, back at the Coldwater Hut turn off; as we started to cross the valley towards Lakehead Hut, I mentioned that some might like to have a swim in the river. We trudged across and as we neared the hut I realised that there was no river to cross. It had dried up! After settling in at the hut we went back to try and find the river but only found a pool with six good sized trout frantically moving about and one dead trout. We went further “upstream” and did come to where the river disappeared into the riverbed and this would be about a kilometre or so from the lake. Back at the hut again and Karla and Alan headed for the lake for a refreshing swim. Steam, the hot stuff, has to rise from water before I dabble so I had a cat’s lick back at the hut.

Alan sneaked off for another ‘skinny dip’ swim just on dark. He spent most of the time lolling on his back admiring the night sky and then as he moved towards the shore something bit his foot. He admitted he let out a scream (and he didn’t care about that one bit) and dashed for the shore. Looking behind once on safe ground, he could make out the head of a large ell.  The size varied upwards as the evening wore on but he was thankful that he spent most of the time swimming on his back. He became quite a celebrity back at the hut with the overnight residents queuing to inspect his foot with the bite marks included.

February rainfall totalled 31mm. It certainly was not our lowest as in February 2011 we only received 12mm but our monthly average is 65mm so this Feb was still low. Last year we had 83mm in this month.

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