I managed to convince a friend of mine, novice tramper and mother of three, Haley to join me as trip photographer for a week on the West side of the alps. We intended to drop my ute at the Whitcombe car park and head to the start of the Waitaha valley in Haley’s family van. Unfortunately a car pulled out in front of her and it was lights out for the van. Luckily no one was hurt and Haley was even more determined to continue with the trip. The tow truck driver put us in contact with Rachel from Hokitika Scenic Tours and she went out of her way to get us where we wanted to go. https://hokitikascenictours.nz/contact-us/
The goal was use shanks pony to reach one of the worlds most isolated huts situated at Ivory Lake. The Waitaha Valley track and hut network is maintained by the Permolat volunteers associated with Remote Huts New Zealand. http://remotehuts.co.nz It is not a DOC maintained walk way and is by no means perfect, but that’s all part of the remote experience. My pack weighed in at 32 kg at the start of the trip, that’s including the rifle and binoculars.
Climbing around missing track sections is just all part of the trek up the Waitaha.
Flooding of the Waitaha had stripped the rocks back to a flat wall and sidling under this waterfall was too ugly with a heavy pack on, we decided to climb up and around this section through very tight scrub.
Following the track route up the Waitaha requires a fair bit of attention.
A few goats were spotted around the slips in the lower reaches of the Waitaha
Five hours later and we reached Kiwi Flat. This area had very little deer sign, we heard just one single roar on the way up the valley and there were prints of a hind and yearling on the flats, but minimal sign of regular browsing.
The Morgan Gorge swing bridge, near Kiwi Flat in the Waitaha Valley.
The enormous flood from a couple of weeks earlier had generated many new slips. The broadleaf trees washed down on to Kiwi Flat had not been visited by deer at all.
Night one in a comfortable 6 bunk hut with a good open fire at Kiwi Flat.
Day 2, following the track cut by the Permolat Group past Headlong spur and up to Moonbeam.
Looking up the Waitaha, with our destination well beyond what we could see from here.
The Waitaha Valley is home to very numerous Whio (blue duck) and they always love to pose for the camera.
Closer to Moonbeam Torrent the deer sign started to become more obvious. The trails leading up onto the tussock tops on Clearveiw spur and into the County Stream would be well worth a few days hunting.
A little taste of rock hopping on the last stretch to the Moonbeam Hut.
A sharp ascent off the Waitaha Valley floor gets you up onto a cut clearing with a helicopter pad and a very tidy and well maintained 6 bunk Moonbeam Hut. It took us around 6 hours to reach this hut from Kiwi Flat and going off reports in the hut book this was a fair warning that we were going to have a hell of a day to come. Some parties had not managed to make the next leg into the upper Waitaha Valley, with many sulking back down to the road end with their tails between their legs. What had we got ourselves in for?
Regular hut users had been very kind to volunteer to fly plenty of wood in to the Moonbeam Hut and we were very grateful to get our boots and clothes dry before the big push up the valley the next morning. The Top Waitaha and Ivory lake huts do not have fires, so there was every reason to treasure the warmth of the fabulous Moonbeam Hut.
A bush robin helps with the final gear checks before the morning departure from Moonbeam Hut on day three. Haley’s brand new gaiters were quickly flying to pieces in the harsh reality of Westland bush bashing.
“This is not a track”, the historic signage has a lot of hidden meaning abut what is to come.
A mix of boulder hoping and bush trails leads up towards the Windhover Gorge. The route in this section is extremely well maintained by the Permolat Group and was easy to follow.
More Whio along the way.
Plenty more deer sign right up to Chainman Creek, but a lack of slips or clearings makes hunting relatively difficult unless you climb out to the tops.
Crossing the swing bridge before the junction of County stream. The Waitaha track climbs sharply after this crossing to get you up and over the thundering Windhover Gorge.
Dropping down steeply into the Chainman Creek.
It is a terrifying view looking up into the section of the Waitaha that is UNTRACKED.
From Chainman Creek on you have to find your own way with a mix of massive boulder climbing or hard out bush bashing. There are remnant cruise tape routes with some branches cut here and there, but mostly this is just tedious hard battling.
Bashing through the thick sub-alpine scrub is the only option to get around some sections of the river.
Another pair of blue ducks, calmer water and some tussock signals the flattening into the head of the Waitaha Valley, but don’t be fooled that it is easy going from here.
There is still a few sections of scrub bashing to be done in the upper reaches of the Waitaha Valley. I think my camera operator was over it….. just keep walking!
A couple of Chamois made an apt greeting party at the Waitaha head water.
Finally the Top Waitaha Hut is in sight, 10 hours it took us to get here from Moonbeam. Some parties were able to do it in 8 hours, others took 16 hours and some never made it! The tussock is very overgrown in the upper Waitaha with no game trails and very little browsing. In fact it appears as though the tussock is taking over and swamping out opportunities for other native plants, lack of browsing is an ecological disaster in places like this. The lack of game seen in this section and the terribly cold hut with no fire would put me off ever visiting for a fly in hunting trip. The best feature of this 6 bunk hut is the hand written poems that can be found in a box under the bunk, with some absolute crackers written by well known author Blaze Trail, who’s prose about life stuck in camp will make you topple of the hut stool in fits of laughter.
The beauty of the Upper Waitaha Valley is the only thing the place has going for it. We were pleased to put this place behind us on day four and vowed that we would rather crawl barefoot over the mountain tops than go back down that valley. The" “Waitahaha” punished us good and proper.
Looking over the Reid Creek chasm at the head of the Waitaha was an awe inspiring place, especially in such perfect weather. I was pleased to be carrying a home made Lancewood hill stick, it definitely helped prevent slips and saved my dickie knee from excess swelling.
We started to see a bit of Chamois and Tahr sign in the upper Stag Creek.
A sharp little climb out of Stag Creek takes you up beside the outlet of the Ivory Lake. We were very excited to get to one of the worlds most scenic remote hut locations.
Ivory Lake hut comes into view, spurring us on to negotiate the last few bluffs and the lake outlet.
Ivory Lake hut
A bit of steep rock to negotiate on the way up to the hut, but it was an easy 2 1/2 hour walk to get up here from the Top Waitaha hut.
Trying to dry out the Lowa boots at Ivory lake.
Ivory Lake Hut is a cracker 6 bunker. It has no fire for obvious reasons, but the double glazed windows and well sealed cladding make it a very warm hut, especially after a sunny day.
The bonus is that there are a few Tahr and Chamois to be spotted from the hut door at Ivory Lake.
Kea up at Ivory Lake. The cloud came in late every evening, but it would clear again just after nightfall, leaving a starry sky above.
This cheeky bugger would really love to throw my hat off the bluff, I know that’s exactly what he’s thinking.
The camera lady was a bit overwhelmed to go from novice tramper to mountain climber on day five, about to attempt the crossing of Lange Range up to the summit of Mt Beaumont at 2,136 meters.
Looking back on that amazing hut location at Ivory Lake.
An old weather station with the shrinking Ivory Glacier in the back ground.
Looking back down into Stag Creek. Good Chamois country and plenty of sign.
Some of the mountain crossing section is very formidable in its appearance, but I assured the camera lady that there was a way through somewhere!
Passing by sections of permanent ice, amazing to be in late April and have zero snow base and no requirement for ice axes and crampons.
So we are not mountaineers by any standard, but a peace of string was enough to lift the packs through a scary bit.
Plenty of Tahr tracks heading up the spur towards the summit of Mt Beaumont.
Haley stoked to finally stand on the top of Mt Beaumont after a grueling five day hike. Not a breath of wind, what a great day to cross over the range.
A flat section of permanent ice was OK to get over without proper equipment.
Numerous tahr were spotted around Mt Beaumont, but no bulls. We did watch a heli-hunting tour work the faces below us and the tahr were very quick to duck for cover when they heard the turbine noise.
A handful of female and juvenile tahr were wandering around the high ridges below Mt Beaumont.
Finally back in the golden tussock country, wandering down the Steadman Brow above the Cropp River and the mighty Whitcombe Valley, a place I have been longing to visit.
After a 9 hour mountain crossing from Ivory Lake, we decided to rest up and set up tents beside the tarns under Cropp Knob. The beauty of the Whitcombe Valley was made even more impressive when we heard the stags roaring down below. I gave the binoculars a blast and spotted several deer including a couple of roaring stags, neither were of trophy quality.
Day six started with a calm frosty morning on Cropp Spur. We had a lazy late start after a night in the tents.
Great looking country in the head of the Cropp River.
The late start meant the air warmed by the sun was now rising up the faces, perfect for our decent into the roaring stag country. Looking into the Whitcombe Valley and Prices Flat.
Giving out a few roars was rewarded with immediate responses from a couple of stags.
The snakey ridge below marks the Steadman Brow acess route, a nicely cut track. The entry to the track at the bushline is incorrectly marked on topomap and is in fact a good 100 meters to the NE. Take care on a cloudy day as it would be easy to drop down a false spur.
A spiker peaking out of the sub-alpine scrub.
The deer were quick to take cover when they heard a helicopter pass over head.
On the very well marked and maintained Steadman Brow access route which leads down into the Whitcombe Valley
A curious weka in the sub-alpine zone. We spotted plenty of these little guys throughout the trip.
The magnificent view up the Whitcombe Valley.
Heading down the marked track we heard a stag roar reasonably close by, so I stopped to give a few replies in the hope that he would be a roaming beast that would come wandering over to us.
Patience paid off and he showed his face 20 minutes later, while we sat on the spur track. I saw that he wasn’t a shooter so Haley clicked off a series of photos.
The low coronets suggest that he is an old boy going backwards.
A few more roars had him sneaking a bit closer up towards us.
In a attempt to get him right up onto the spur track, I backed down the other side of the spur a few meters out of sight and roared quietly while braking branches. This worked well to get him moving my way.
I left Haley on the spur track with the camera and the stag pushed through to within a couple of meters.
At this point I stepped back up onto the spur between the camera operator and the stag and said to him man to man “alrighty mate, that’s enough”. With that he crashed away for 15 meters then continued to roar and watch us as we re-shouldered the packs and said goodbye.
Dropping off the Steadman Spur access route, a swing bridge 1 km down stream of Price Flat, gives access to the main Whitcombe Valley track.
The main Whitcombe Valley route has a DOC maintained track, however the section from Price Flat to Frew Hut has suffered much slip damage from the big flood 3 weeks prior to our arrival. We had to drop into the river and boulder hop around the bases of several nasty slips to get through, but it was all very achievable.
The Whitcombe Valley has a very good access track.
The boulder hopping in the Whitcombe Valley is fairly straight forward. Cropp swingbridge in the back ground.
Deer sign was plentiful, especially around the slips and we bumped a few along the trail.
Three wire bridges are hard case to cross.
Frew Hut is a flash hut, with a good log burner, large table and benches, tap water and sleeps about 12. It took us about 8 hours from Cropp Spur to Frews Hut, slowed down by stag encounters and fresh slips.
We left Frews Hut early on day 7, heading for the road end. At the first Toi-toi flat I gave out a roar and two stags came rushing out to see us. They were not trophy class, although one was a lovely young 10 pointer with missing bay’s. Haley just managed to get one snap of the stag right out int the open, as the Ruger 7mm08 contemplated his life or death.
Boulder hopping down the Whitcombe Valley, near the Collier Gorge swing bridge.
Dry Boots is an option across Rapid Creek
Smashing the km along the Hokitika River, with KFC on my mind.
Winding in the carriage on the cable-way across the Hokitika River.
The camera operator tests the cable-way on the first run. Haley reckoned it was as good as any theme park ride.
Back at the Whitcombe car park, seven epic days later and without a drop of rain.
Cheers! Thanks for taking the time to look through, I hope you enjoyed - Shaun
PS; Donate to the Permolat Group via the Remote Huts New Zealand page to keep our more remote tracks and huts up to scratch for the future. You never know when you might need them. http://remotehuts.co.nz