Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Kowai River/John Hayward Memorial Hut: Korowai-Torlesse Tussocklands: 11th December

Over the weekend i went for a jaunt up the Kowai River to John Hayward Hut. This was my alternate-alternate plan as both of my overnight trips were subject to heavy rain warnings. Ive been wanting to get up here for a while but always seem to have other trips to do.

The Kowai River Valley is the last one you pass just before starting the climb to Porters Pass on SH73. John Hayward Hut is part of the Korowai-Torlesse Tussocklands, and with the two Avoca Huts and Benmore Hut is one of only four in the park. 

The trip starts from the farm gate opposite the historic road mans hut on the last bend before the climb to Porters Pass. The car park is also a rest area so there is plenty of space here. Unfortunately it would not be a totally secure place to leave your car overnight, SH73 is notorious for break-ins and vandalism of parked vehicles.

Car park on SH 73

Historic road mans hut on highway 73

Start of the track next to rest area
You almost immediately cross a small stream once over the gate, it is shallow, it doesn't look like it would rise much with rain.

Awesome river crossing....!
The first two kilometres of the route are on an old 4 W/D track belonging to Brooksdale Station. There is a public easement along this track so trampers etc. can access the river, John Hayward Hut and the Torlesse Range. Note that Mt Torlesse is on private land and you should seek permission from Brooksdale before heading up there.

View towards head of Kowai Valley

The road to Porters Pass is really obvious once you start walking up the valley, here you can see it zig zagging up the side of the hill. I've been in this valley once before back in 1989, back in my Army days. Four of us were part of a Skill at Arms, we were the Signals team from Addington Barracks. We got pummelled by the Rangers and the 5 teams from 2/1 Battalion but whipped the Engineers, REME, Medical and Artillery teams.

SH73 climbing to Porters Pass

Kowai River lower reaches from 4 W/D track

Kowai River view North, Mt Torlesse in distance
From the beehives you have two choices: the river route or the high track route. I followed the river route which basically means I walked up the river bed to the hut. Great on the day as the river was low, but impossible if there has been any rain. On my return I followed the high route which follows an old 4 W/D track over the spur lines high above the river. 

Track goes to left of bee hives
Going up the river took about an hour and a half from the car park: it is a mixture of boulders, scrubby intersecting spurs, gravel bashing and river crossings. I crossed the river 14 times on my way up valley: obviously a problem if the river is high.

Kowai river bed- view towards road

Through the Kowai River gorge

Mid point on way to John Hayward hut
Once you get over the first couple of river bends the valley has a very remote, back country feel about it, there is little sign of humanity, save the old power lines visible on the northern slopes of the surrounding hills. 

Back view of Foggy Peak

Kowai River- Last corner before view of hut

Eventually you round the last corner and John Hayward Memorial hut is clearly visible on the opposite river bank. It is an awesome spot for a hut as it gets full sun sitting high on a ideal river terrace.

John Hayward Hut- first view
Other than being a enjoyable walk there are three reasons to visit this valley: John Hayward Hut, Mt Torlesse and a feature known as the "Gap". Most parties will stop by the hut before continuing further up valley to the surrounding attractions.

Looking North West to the "Gap" and Torlesse Range

John Hayward and Mt Torlesse

Crossing point to get to John Hayward hut
John Hayward Hut was built in 1973 to house a long term Lincoln University hydrology study, there are several relics around the hut which show this history including an interesting set of sluices near the hut for testing water resistance etc. It would have been a relatively comfortable hut as it had heating, hot water (from a fire warmed wetback), electricity and bunks for 4 people. 

John Hayward Memorial Hut -1973

John Hayward Memorial Hut -interior

John Hayward Memorial Hut -interior domestic bliss
The hut is owned by DOC and Brooksdale Station and is looked after by some members of Permalot who clear the tracks and do minor repairs as needed. The hut is in good condition considering how close it is to the road. From the hut book it appears most visitors were mountain runners, rock climbers or trampers, with a few hunting parties added in.

Jon Moake in John Hayward Hut

Old Lincoln University experimental hydrology water race
You can see why they used the area for hydrology studies, there are three watersheds to study as well as extensive areas of erosion along the valley sides. From the small knoll behind the hut it is possible to see right up to the headwaters as well as the area you have traversed on your way in.

View down Kowai Valley from above the hut

John Hayward Hut on its terrace

Torlesse Range from Kowai catchment

View of Castle Hill and Torlesse Range from above the hut

Headwaters of Kowai River, with the "Gap" at centre-left

John Hayward Hut and wood shed

Panoramic view of Kowai valley
The "Gap" is a notch in the Torlesse Range out to the North West, as you can see it is an obvious feature and is often the destination for parties coming up the valley. From the top there are supposedly great views of the Broken River area, Cragieburn Range and outliers of the Southern Alps. Here is a trip report about the route from Backcountry Bibles.

The famous "Gap" to the NW of John Hayward Hut

The standard route to climb Mt Torlesse starts right next to the hut and follows a couple of spur lines to the top. It looks a relatively simple if arduous task to reach the summit.

Mt Torlesse from the hut

John Hayward Hut

Jon Moake sitting inside John Hayward

View out window, John Hayward Hut

John Hayward Hut in black and white
I really wish this "wetback" water heating system still worked as it would provide hot water for the still existent shower and taps. I could see that it has been dismantled, the water pipes are disconnected and the old water tank no longer exists.  

Old wetback attached to hut fire- John Hayward Hut

The John Hayward hut fire in all its glory

Electrical fittings for now non existent power in John Hayward
After eating my lunch I started back down the valley. I decided to follow the actual track out to the road head for a change of scenery. The track starts down near the confluence with the stream coming off the back of Foggy Peak, it is not obvious (no orange markers) so you need to hunt for it. Look for the intersection of the old power lines, and the river to find the track.
 It climbs high above the river along an old 4 W/D track.

Kowai Valley track

Permolat volunteers have recently re cut the track through the gorse and manuka scrub. 

Kowai Valley track, recent cut back

View of Kowai river from high on a spur

View back towards head of Kowai River
Here are what look like radial moraines (...go the 7th form geography...) rising high up the hill side next to the track, these extended for about 200-300 meters up the hillside.
Big glacier!

Glacial moraines on the hillside- Kowai Valley

Below is the high point of the track, there are great views both up and down the valley from here.

View down to SH73 and the trail head

At the junction pictured below, left takes you down into the riverbed, right is the track which sidles around the hillside.

Kowai Track junction- both lead to the road
If you find yourself in the river on the way up valley and want to locate the 4 W/D track turn left at the rock below and join the track on the grassy river terrace visible in the photo. 

Kowai track- access point from the river

Kowai track on river terrace behind beehives

Rest spot overlooking Kowai River

The official route goes left behind the beehives pictured in the photo below, it then sidles around some slips before starting to climb over the first and highest spur.

Go left around the beehives to access track

Another selfie from near Kowai River

SH73/ track head near distant pines
Here are some shots of the interior of the historic road mans hut, derelict and vandalised. It is a bit of a shame because the hut has been standing here since the 1910's at least, so it really is historic in nature. It is a perennial problem protecting these huts close to a road, even the John Hayward hut 6 km's from the road was vandalised a month or so ago. 

Interior of old Road mans hut

Interior of old Road mans hut

Not the trip I had planned but again a very interesting journey none the less. I will return because an ascent of Mt Torlesse certainly looks do-able, not sure I want to contemplate climbing to the "Gap" by myself, that might be pushing my luck a bit far....

Note on water availability: There is no rain water tank at John Hayward Hut: those staying there need to source water from the rivers. Personally, I would not be drinking water from the Kowai without some significant filtering or purification. There are cow pats all the way to the hut, also the river in its lower reaches had red/blue algae growing in it.
Be prepared....you have been warned!

Update 2017:

The hut has been significantly refurbished in 2016 by a volunteer group using money from the Outdoor Consortium Fund.  There are now additional bunks, new mattresses brought, the firebox has been replaced and a new water tank has been installed. It has also received a new coat of paint.