With a small window of opportunity before I will be needed for work, and with drought meaning river levels were low, I thought it was time to cross the Southern Alps. Harper Pass is really the only one you can do on a track without spending a couple of weeks in the bush. Conveniently it’s also the lowest of the passes. A map is here.
The track was planned to be a rival to the Milford, and several fancy huts were built. However with WW2 and everything the venture never really took off. I discovered, on arrival, that the first problem was the river crossing factor.
Since the water was so low it wasn’t too bad, but for the inexperienced walkers that make up the bulk of the Milford market it would make it unsuitable without bridging.
The track then follows the river. There may be track markers, but I wasn’t really bothering. You just go up the valley until you hit a hut.
The scenery is nice, but it doesn’t change for several hours. I had some ‘Italian Breads’ for lunch, and it was quite pleasant to sit on a rock slicing up my salami. Note that tramping shorts are intrinsically antibacterial, and a knife wiped on the leg is ALWAYS clean.
I knew I had to cross the Taramakau at some point. After this incident where I was swept away in the Kokatahi I do not mess around with rivers. The DOC notes recommended doing it just before Kiwi Hut, but I looked for the first site that looked good.
The water was not quite deep enough for wet undies.
I continued up the valley. There was a lot of deer sign and several small crossings. Note that although the gorse patches may look like they have some tracks through them DON’T try bushbashing! It’s not worth it!
On the grass there were some quad bike tracks. These led to Kiwi Hut, which is off the main track down a very muddy side trail. It took me 2 1/4 hours to reach this hut.
Reading the hut book here I noticed a LOT of entries saying people were going to Goat Pass. Why would everyone want to go to Goat Pass? I then realised that all the reports that this track has few visitors were WRONG. It’s now part of the Te Araroa trail, which links up with the Mingha/Deception track to go to Arthur’s Pass.
Incidentally, if you are thinking of doing the Te Araroa trail because it would be a rare achievement, then don’t. About ten people A DAY were doing it.
2 1/2 hours after leaving Kiwi Hut I arrived at Locke Stream Hut.
This hut was made in situ because it was so difficult to bring materials in. The hut was restored in 1992 but much is original from the 1930s.
Unlike many other huts I have stayed in, this one actually had enough space in the bunkrooms for packs. But I didn’t need to worry because I had it all to myself! Until 8pm, when two Americans arrived. Who keeps walking until 8pm? When I go tramping I want to relax, not walk for 12 hours straight. These two were NOT relaxed, and proceeded to argue about whether or not to use the rice, the beef, the garlic, or the peach. I just had some Wayfarer food that I was trying out. Verdict: Meatballs are ok, but the sticky toffee pudding was a bit . . . dry? Not good, anyway.
The next morning I started early.
There is a marked track, but you could stay on the river flat. If I did it again that’s what I’d do, because the bush track isn’t great.
There is one scree slope where the track ascends up across the scree. DON’T go up it, because it has washed out further along. Just stay on the flat.
There’s a short bush section, then a swingbridge crossing.
After 2 h 20 min I reached the pass.
The view at the top is not great. With the way the valleys go you don’t have a vista of anything.
The slope on the Hurunui side is much more gentle. After about 30 min I reached Harper Pass Biv.
The track goes in and out of the bush. You could follow the river the whole way, and I’d probably recommend it, because some of the bush track had ridiculously steep sections.
When I came to this bog I thought ‘I will be good and keep to the centre rather than extending the bog sideways.’ Ha! My first step was nearly to the top of my gaiter and I was stuck. I backtracked and climbed my way around the side. I hate mud.
After a few hours the track has a long section in open country.
Track notes said this was ‘showing its age.’ Let’s see!
None of the bunks had mattresses, and the roof had holes in it. Do not plan on staying here!
I continued on for another hour. It was ludicrously hot.
You would get a better view on the flats, but it was far too hot for that. I finished my 2.5l of water 30 min from the hut.
There is a walkwire on the track. The markers will lead you to it, but it’s not really necessary unless the sidestream is flooded.
1 hr after leaving Cameron Hut I arrived at No. 3 Hut. It’s another of the original tourist huts and has recently been restored.
The hut is actually quite dark inside. The tank is pitifully small and was empty, so I went out to the river for a wash and to fill up my Camelbak and a basin. The wash was more 10 min of me fighting sandflies, and then carrying the basin full of water and the Camelbak with no handles back to the hut was an exercise in determination.
I started reading my anthology of poetry, and once again thought I was alone until 2 people arrived at 7.45pm. The had mountain biked in from Loch Katrine.
That night the mice came out, but were easily avoided by hanging my pack and food.
Once again I started early to avoid the heat. I didn’t follow the markers and spent most of the time on the flats.
There was one corner of bush where I spied a grave, but didn’t investigate further.
Now, the hot spring – it’s about 1hr 40 from the hut and is marked on the map with an orange x. It’s nearly at the bottom of the descent. You can see the rocks covered with white buildup
I did not swim here because the water is about 36º and I was hot! The last thing I wanted to do was get warmer!
From here on it’s best to keep to the track. I thought I could cross the flats but here that involves crossing the whole Hurunui, which is very deep by this point. I had to break off and go up the slope to rejoin the main track.
As is visible, this is quite a nice hut. It had 2 tanks and a sink with a tap. I arrived at 10.30 and two people were just leaving on horses! I sat and read The Economist on my phone. I thought the track would be much more overgrown and I’d need GPS, but I didn’t – so I had this moral quandary wondering if I should use technology in the bush. I decided it was no different from reading I book, so I laid out my solar panel and read away. It was far too hot to do anything else.
I’d finished my ‘Italian Breads’ and started on cabin bread for lunch. This was leftover from when I bought a packet for a previous tramp and I didn’t want to waste it. NOT WORTH IT! It breaks on the first bite and it’s sharp! On the packet there was a picture of a piece with some spread on it next to a glass of wine – ‘Aah, simply sophisticated!’.
Nice try, cabin bread, but you’re not fooling anyone.
I prefer to be alone when I am in a hut, and the arrival of 4 Te Araroa trail walkers at 4pm reminded me why. They reeked. It’s not actually hard to stay clean in the bush on civi trips because you can just strip down and go in the water without worrying about sentries or stand to or anything. There’s no reason to smell awful. Almost immediately they proved to be some of the most disgusting people I have ever met. I was sitting outside, and they were talking to some fishermen who had been there the previous night.
“There’s also a man and his daughter staying here.”
“How old is the daughter?”
“I don’t know . . but she has a boyfriend.”
“Just because there’s a goalie doesn’t mean you can’t score!”
“Hey now. . . anyway, she’s fat.”
Can you imagine this conversation happening if the genders were all reversed? No. #YesAllMen
I did rather enjoy, after they had described how miserable they were from subsisting on couscous for weeks, my pancakes and jam.
The father and his daughter arrived back later on, and she was unimpressed with her horse ride.
“How was the ride?”
“Like having your toe stubbed for 8 hours!”
Father: “Well this is nice now?”
“You’ve been nagging me for SIX YEARS to come on this! SIX YEARS! For this!”
That night was awful, since everyone insisted on keeping all the windows closed. I took a bunk with its own window so I could have a supply of air to prevent BO asphyxiation.
I was the first up, and on the track by 7.40.
Then there was a swingbridge. An American was just putting away his tent and called out to me like he hadn’t seen anyone for a week!
There was an ascent that wasn’t especially steep, but I felt exhausted!
There’s a small side track to a viewpoint at Kiwi Saddle.
Apart from that you are in the bush the whole time. The track begins to descend gently.And at the bottom of this there’s a large open area in front of you. It takes about an hour to cross. Don’t just try to go up the middle because it’s full of bogs.
5 hours after leaving Hurunui Hut I arrived at Hope Kiwi Lodge, the nicest hut in NZ.
A little fence, a mown lawn, tank water . . .
It had 2 bunkrooms, and a pillow, so I nabbed that before anyone else could.
The hut smelled nice. Normally the smell of the hut itself is unremarkable, but this was a nice wood smell. I sat inside because it was so stupidly hot, and read my poetry. That started to be a bit boring after a few hours, so I put my phone on for some music. Anyone arriving to the sounds of the Elgar Cello Concerto would know what sort of tone I expected.
By 4.30 I didn’t expect anyone else, so I turned it in to the disco hut and blasted a bit of Gloria Gaynor.
For dinner I had a freeze-dried spaghetti bolognese. It’s not worth it. You can do a nice one using noodle nests, tomato paste and freeze-dried mince. For dessert I had freeze-dried ‘ice cream dessert’. It’s like ambrosia, with marshmallows and chocolate chips. I probably wouldn’t buy it again but it was nice. Incidentally, a single serve of dinner and a 2 serve dessert was about right.
Noone arrived that night. It was supremely peaceful. It’s a bit hard to be transcendental when the hut stinks.
What did happen that night was a mouse invasion. I’d hung up my food, and my pack, but they crawled on the mattress! I looked one square in the face! Another was grinding away part of the hut all night.
I came out the next morning to find that one mouse had eaten my dish sponge (?!) and another had knawed my boot insoles! The one destroying the hut had done rather well, creating a sizeable pile of wood dust on the floor.
I left the hut and took a photo of an unremarkable hill.
The next section is through grazing land.
After 2 hours I reached Hope Halfway Hut.
From here there was a lot of beech forest. Some parts of the track were muddy, and some would obviously be much worse in wet weather. I was a bit over it by this point and just wanted to finish.
This is the final descent.
At the bottom of the hill there was this rather odd gate.
The track has been rerouted a bit.
In conclusion, this track is not very demanding in fitness or tramping skill. Some of the scenery is very nice, but it is a bit repetitive after 5 days. Some of the huts are spiffy just to visit, and it is cool to say I’ve crossed the Southern Alps. Overall I’d say it is worth doing, but not a must do.