Posted by: Talie Morrison | February 25, 2014

What a month!

Ok – What a month!   This month has had everything: Sun, Rain, Snow on the tops, solo hiking and friends to hike with, and even a visit from a policeman…

When I left Christchurch the end of January, I headed north to visit friends, Jos and Phillip, in Blenheim.   We had a lovely couple of days together and were able to do some boating in the Marlborough Sounds.   Along with beautiful scenery we were treated to a visit with a couple of Orcas.   I was sent off with fresh fruit from their lemon and orange trees and a lovely tub of honey.  Then through Nelson, to visit with Christine, and off to the Kaharungis again.  The best weather is usually in this part of the South Island, and I was looking for good weather.

One of the tracks I had never done is the “Leslie/Karamea”.   That track starts up by the Cobb Reservoir and goes over the Mt. Arthur Tablelands to drop down the Leslie River and follow the Karamea River to the Wangapeka Track.   I had done the Wangapeka before, but I had not walked the Leslie or Karamea tracks.   One of the challenges with this type of track is the “shuttle” to get back to the start to pick up your vehicle.   I decided that the best option for me was to simply hike the track down, do a small loop over to the Wangapeka, and then hike the track back up to my vehicle.   I allowed for 9 days and carried an extra day of food just in case (10 days of food is pretty heavy!).

I was blessed with beautiful weather for most of the next 9 days!  The route first took me to Lake Peel one of my favorite places in New Zealand!   Then I spent the night at the Balloon Hut, all by myself.   The next day was a long day but almost all downhill along the Leslie River to the Karamea Bend Hut.   I met up with a group of young Germans and a New Zealander from the North Island.   We all traveled to the next 2 huts (Venus Hut and Trevor Carter Hut) together.   Then the kids headed to the Wangapeka to hike back to where their vehicles were, the Kiwi headed to the Wangapeka to go to the West Coast and I did a little loop and worked my way back going to the Trevor Carter another night, then the Venus, Karamea Bend and back up to the Balloon Hut.   I got back to my van but was not really ready to head back to Takaka.   At the other end of the Cobb Reservoir is another track up to the Sylvester Hut.   I was interested in getting back up there and exploring some of the lakes in that area.   (Ok, the real reason is that the road that goes up to the Cobb Reservoir has some one-way sections, which are a bit of a “white knuckle” driving – so I didn’t want to have to drive back up to the Cobb to go to the Sylvester).   So….

I resupplied myself for 2 nights and headed up to the Sylvester.   It was a beautiful day and the hike up was just a couple of hours.   I dropped most of my gear at the hut and only packed up my “day pack” and headed up above the Sylvester Lake to Iron Lake.  There is a rocky mountain above the lake called Iron Hill – and from there a ridge can be followed to the Fernella Hut.   I wasn’t planning on going that route, but I did want to “scope” it out.   The climb was “interesting” but was marked with cairns (little piles of rocks) so the “trail” was fairly easy to follow – even if some of it was a “scramble”.   The ridge going to the Fernella Hut looked pretty daunting – and I might consider it if I was with someone else, but didn’t think it would be a wise solo-route (ok – I’m a “wiennie”).    I came back down from Iron Hill, back by Iron Lake, Sylvester Lake and back to the Sylvester Hut.  And all was well (at least I thought so….).

That evening the clouds rolled in bringing the rains with them.  The next morning found me dry, happy and warm in this wonderful wee hut drinking tea and working Sudoku puzzles – life is good.   Then I hear an engine and look out to see a quad bike (4 wheeler) driving up to the hut.   I went out on the porch and said, “I didn’t know you could drive those up here.”   The driver got off the quad, looked at me, and said, “You can’t.   But I am with the Takaka Police and I am looking for you.”   YIKES!   Really??? Me???   It seemed that when I was wandering around in the rocks on Iron Hill yesterday (I had my SPOT tracker turned on – since the route was “dicey”), and somehow I must have bumped up against a rock and it pushed the “send message” button.   I never knew that it had sent the message, but what I had programed in was a message that said, “This is not a medical emergency, but I am stuck out here far from help….”.  In hindsight it was a pretty stupid message to program in – but I had never really planned to use it.   The SPOT had not made any special sound or lit up any buttons that I had seen, so I had no idea the message had been activated.   Unfortunately, it had, and the message was sent to my Kiwi friends, Myles and Margaret and Dianne.   I owe them a good night’s sleep for the worry I put them through!  So from message to calling 111 (that’s the Kiwi equivalent of 911), a call to Search and Rescue, and then down the line to the Takaka Police – does it help to say that at least the system works?   Anyway, I fixed a warm cup of tea for Jonathan – and he not only shared his thermos of coffee with me, but gave me more noodles and a delicious piece of cake his wife had baked.   It certainly made my rainy day a little more interesting!   Wow – with extra food then, I could stay an extra 2 days and explore the area some more!

That evening a young couple of Kiwi’s showed up at the hut after an 11-hour hike from the Anatoki Track (I did that one last trip).   They were pretty wet and cold and glad that I had a warm fire going in the wood stove!   I love sharing a hut with other trampers – hearing and telling stories and reliving places we have traveled.   When they were getting ready to leave the next morning, they were dreading having to walk the road along the Cobb Reservoir to get back to their car.   So I gave them my keys to Abe, and said, “Use my van – go get your car, and then just re-park the van back where it was.”  I know that is a stretch in “trust”, but I sure love being able to do it!

So I was able to spend a day wandering around in the mountains – I got over to a couple of lakes: Lillie Lake and Diamond Lake, but didn’t make it to Lake Lockett (maybe next time?).  So finally after 4 nights at the Sylvester Hut, I drove back down to Takaka.   Yes, Abe was parked right where she had been before – and a lovely can of pear halves was there as a thank you.

Now I had only one day to do laundry and shower and be in Nelson to pick up Dianne, who was flying down from Auckland to spend two weeks with me on the South Island.

Dianne and I hiked the last part of the Heaphy Track to the Heaphy Hut.   The Heaphy is a “Great Walk” so the hut was pretty nice (flushing toilets and gas stoves).   But the real attraction was the 5-hour hike along the beach amongst the Nikau Palm trees.  Those are the only native New Zealand Palm Trees.

Then we stopped in Murchison to see friends – and go to the Murchison A&P Show.   That’s like a country fair – complete with rides for the kids, competitions for the young farmers, sheep shearing, log chopping, and food booths.

Next stop was the St. James Walkway.   I had done parts of the St. James, but Dianne had never walked it and wanted to do it.   I dropped her and our packs at the start of the track, and I drove to the end to park Abe.   Then I hitchhiked back (only about 15 kilometers) to the start.   We had a great time on the track – 5 days and 4 nights:  beautiful country, lovely trails, nice huts, and only one day of rain.   Then we went for a night at Hanmer Springs (no soaking in the hot springs) for showers, laundry, beer and a nice dinner.  We had a couple of more nights before Dianne was flying back to Auckland, so we hiked into the Nina Valley to the Nina Hut.   We had a lovely quiet night the first night (just the two of us), but the second night (Saturday) we were joined by 9 teens with 3 adults.  The kids were part of a school group that is reintroducing Kiwi Birds in the area and trapping stoats and rats to protect them. It does me good to see so many young people “out there” in the backcountry.   But, needless to say, it was a bit wild and a “little noisy”!  🙂

We spent the last night with Myles and Margaret – and Dianne flew out yesterday.   I’ll be here in Christchurch for another day or so and then I’m off to Fiordlands again.  Still trying to get enough of a weather window to go down the Pyke/Big Bay/Hollyford loop.   And believe it or not, I am already thinking about next year down here! …..



  1. Love the account of your February in NZ, and the collection of Pic’s. So much fun to be out there with you. Dx

  2. I love this post! So glad you and Dianne got so much time together and also your mix of solo and time with friends.

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