Monday, 23 November 2015

Rod Donald Hut: from Port Levy Saddle: 21 November 2015

The weather in the mountains was rubbish over the weekend so I decided to go for a short day tramp on Banks Peninsula. On Saturday I visited the brand new Rod Donald Hut about an hour away from Port Levy Saddle. This hut only opened in October and is the next step in a long term plan to develop a series of multi day tramps on Banks Peninsula. Here is a Christchurch Press article which discusses the new hut and the Trusts plans for the future.

Rod Donald Hut under red cross
You can now walk the Te Ara Pataka track over 2-3 days from Gebbies Pass to Hilltop Tavern with a night spent in Packhorse Hut and another in the new Rod Donald Hut. This breaks it down into a 3 hour+5 hour+5 hour tramp.

Car park at Port Levy Saddle
The Port Levy Saddle is accessible from Western Valley road just past Little River township, it is a steep, narrow gravel road but still usable by a two wheel drive car. The saddle provides access to the Summit Walkway: turn North West for Mt Herbert and South East for Hilltop tavern. 

Start of the Banks Peninsula Summit Walkway- NW to Mt Herbert
Panoramic view of my direction of travel

Summit Walkway- SE- My direction of travel

Me and the beast in the cold wind
As you can see the weather was not prime even on Banks Peninsula, thankfully it improved as the day progressed. It wouldn't really matter though, it is only one hour to Rod Donald Hut from the car park so even if raining it is not too dangerous a proposition.

Port Levy from Te Ara Pātaka

Start of Te Ara Pātaka at Port Levy Saddle

View back to the Port Levy Saddle car park
The Te Ara Pataka walkway starts out following an old farm track but then branches off with poles marking the route. You should follow the marked track as the rest of this area is private farmland and it would be good to be able to maintain the access the farmer has given across their land. 

Old 4 W/D track to start

Doesn't that weather look nice...
The surrounding views kept disappearing into the low laying cloud, travel on Banks Peninsula has the same challenges and positive aspects of tops travel in the mountains. You need to carry some warm clothing and wet weather gear with you as it could get cold and wet very quickly up here.

Limited view of the valley

Te Ara Pātaka Walkway meandering across the ridges
Hmmm....must get a bit windy over Waipuna Pass if the extreme lean on these trees is anything to go by...
Wonder which way the prevailing wind blows...?
Summit Walkway heading towards Hilltop Tavern etc.

The signage for the walkway and hut are really good as you can see from the next three photos. The hut track is clearly marked from both the Mt Herbert side and the Montgomery Bush side. 

Turn off to the hut...

...and another...

...and another...
You descend a surprising distance from Waipuna Saddle, probably 200 meters at least, but the track is well marked and not too steep.

Glimpse of the Rod Donald hut from the access track

Yes, it is an old sheep track...
The trust who own the land are using the gorse as a natural nursery for native trees, eventually the natives will push the gorse out and this will be dense luxuriant native bush. 

Gorse as a nursery plant for natives
First part of the hut you get to is the wood shed, there are some good tips for chopping wood, necessary now that most of us never light a fire in our home. Will the ability to light a fire become a "lost art", judging by some of the ham fisted attempts I've seen in DOC huts it is already an arcane one. There is a good supply of wood in the shed, and the stove is an old pot belly.

Welcome to the Rod Donald woodshed!
After about an hour you arrive at the hut. All I can say is WOW, it is a totally awesome hut and a fitting tribute to Rod Donald. It is an old farm building that has been gutted and converted into a hut and the volunteers involved have done a fantastic job re animating it. I'm sure it will become a must visit location both for Christchurch trampers and those from further afield. 

Great job people!

Rod Donald Hut
Me at Rod Donald Hut

Fancy composting toilet, Rod Donald Hut

View of Western Valley from Rod Donald Hut
Both Packhorse and Rod Donald are now on the DOC hut booking system, this is an excellent idea as it will ensure you have a place to sleep at the end of your tramp. It is a very reasonable $15 per night and all the funds go towards the upkeep of the huts and the Summit Walkway. I envision that this will become the first overnight stay for many new trampers over the years to come.

Upstairs bunk room (8 Beds), Rod Donald Hut

Map of Te Ara Pātaka

View from the veranda at Rod Donald Hut

Rod Donald Hut, nice new sign on door

Interior of the Rod Donald Hut
The kitchen and general areas of the hut have been well thought out, they are colourful, have plenty of space and great views of Little River and Western Valley from every window. 

Interior of Rod Donald Hut
Me inside the Rod Donald Hut

Little River and Western Valley from Rod Donald Hut
The Rod Donald Trust have started extensive planting on the slopes surrounding the hut, this is going to be a stunning area of native bush in about 20-25 years with a range of three story species endemic to the Peninsula.

Another view of the outside of Rod Donald Hut

Western Valley road heading towards saddle
After chatting with the four Czech tourists in the hut and eating my lunch I headed back to the car for the trip home. You have to climb back up to the walkway from the hut but I found the climb surprisingly easy, the camber and state of the track made for good walking. 

Bush and gorse along track
Given the bend in these trees it makes you wonder at the ability of nature to survive in even the most extreme conditions.

Must be windy up here...!

Te Ara Pātaka, track to hut in bush on distant ridge
Below, you can see the track heading off into the distance following the fence line, three hours will see you at Montgomery's Bush, another two at the Hilltop Tavern over looking Akaroa harbour. The track to the hut can be seen branching off to the right into the gorse,  half way across the saddle.

Summit Walkway heading to Hilltop

Crossing ridge, view of car park in distance

Me near the farm gates
As you can see some red neck has been taking pot shots at the DOC sign. looked like the were trying to make a "bullet face", they just weren't very good shots...

Bullet riddled sign...
The track follows the contours of the ridge line shown in the photo below in a long sweeping left hand line. It goes up over the bush covered crest on the left of shot and then drops down to Waipuna Saddle. 

Te Ara Pātaka Track follows ridge line out to left of photo

View out to Port Levy from the saddle

You can clearly see the hut as you come back down Western Valley Road, it is at the apex of the zig zag driveway pictured below. My understanding is that the driveway will be removed once the bush regenerates on this spur, leaving it cut off from road access. The driveway has a locked gate at the bottom just after leaving the access road.

The trust have started to plant on the slopes around the hut, eventually it will all be native bush.

The Rod Donald hut from Western Valley Road

Just a short trip but a tantalising taste of the Te Ara Pataka or the Summit Walkway. I have already booked a spot in the two huts for the nights of 1-2 April 2016, I will be walking the track starting from Hilltop and walking back towards Gebbies Pass, this allows me to use public transport to get to the track end. Kathryn and the kids will pick me up from Gebbies Pass on the Sunday.

I look forward to the experience....!

P.S: I stopped at Little River to get a cold drink and while there checked out the food in the cafe attached to the store. They wanted $14.00 for a steak and cheese pie, $16.50 with salad on the side! A basic Ham sandwich on white bread was $10.00! That is just atrocious...obviously priced for the massive numbers of tourists who pass by on the way to Akaroa.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Robinson River Valley, Mid Robinson Hut, Victoria FP: 6-7 November 2015

Over the weekend I ticked off another of my planned trips for this Summer by walking into the Mid Robinson Hut in the Robinson River Valley, Victoria forest Park. My original plan had been to walk to Top Robinson Hut which is another 4 hours up valley but more on that later...

Robinson River Valley

Tramping the Robinson Valley

If you are interested in tramping this track there are three things you need to consider first;

One of nine fords on the access road
  1. Palmer Road: This is the name of the 20 km gravel access road you need to follow to get to the track head. It can be problematic as there are nine fords to be crossed between the Lake Christabel track and the road end. Most are fine but three are not - they would be impassible with even the slightest amount of rain to 2 W/D and 4 W/D vehicles. There were several notes in the hut book about the fords being impassible, one talking about "....a shocking torrent of angry brown spray...".
  2. Robinson River Track (?): Some parts of it are good but they are in the minority, it isn't really a track, it is more like a route. There are  fallen trees, track washouts, overgrown track, river crossings, slippery conditions and rock scrambling as a part of it. I lost the track 12 times heading upriver, twice on the return trip: the track marking is shocking in places. Also there are two points where you will need to enter the river to get around obstacles, not possible in moderate to heavy rain.
  3. Track times: The DOC site states this is a three hour trip, it is not! It took me 5.5 hours including a 30 minute lunch break. times in the hut book ranged from 4 to 6 hours, bear this in mind.
Don't get me wrong it is a beautiful valley, with an awesome hut but it is not a track for a novice, the potential for drama is high. Anyway.....

The track starts at the end of Palmer Road which is 10 km's west of Springs Junction on the road to Reefton. Stated track time on the sign below is four hours, take this with a grain of salt...

Palmer Road

Track sign

There is plenty of space to park at the track head, it is next to the gate for Newcombes Farm which is the private farm at the end of the Valley. There seems to have been some kind of beef between DOC and the previous farmer, so the track to the Robinson Valley skirts the outside of the farm property for
about 1.5-2 km's.

Parking area at track head
The track goes around the outside of the farm, first through some nice stereotypical West Coast bush....

Start of the "track"

Track start through bush

Looking fresh...

Climbing to start of track along deer fence

More of the deer fence
You eventually reach a point where you can see out over the farm itself, the track closely follows the fence line from here till you start to descend to the Robinson River. It is nice looking country in this area, but certainly very remote.

In other words...bugger off!

View of the farm

I spotted a number of Weka along this section of the track, two adults and one chick; they are often mistaken by tourists for kiwi but really they look like a big fat chicken more than anything else.

Weka one.....

...and Weka two!
Eventually you pass the fence and join up with the old track that leads down to the river, it is quite swampy through this area, especially in the bush.

Track along deer fence

Bush interlude...

Descending to the river
Here is the first view of the Robinson Valley it alternates between dense bush and large river flats. The track follows along close to the river for the rest of the trip up to Mid Robinson Hut, it is never more than 100 meters away.

Start of the valley track

The section of track from the above point to the first swing bridge is one of the worst, it has been heavily effected by flood and storm damage. Large sections of the track just do not exist; covered in fallen trees or washed away by the river, the two photos below give you a bit of an idea...

Robinson Valley looking East

There is a track under that....
There are two swing bridges to cross on this track you strike the first after about an hour to an hour and a half. The final approach to this bridge is very tricky- you drop down to the riverbed and then climb up a series of roots to get to it. This is one of the points that would be impassible if it was raining.

First view of the swing bridge

First swing bridge, 1.5 hours in
I stopped for a 10 minute break just past the bridge, it really is very beautiful and remote feeling, few people venture up this valley.

Rest spot upstream from bridge
After another 30 minutes you reach Lynches Flat, the area was obviously used for stock at some point as it has a good covering of grass and old cow sign everywhere. The flats stretch for about a kilometre alternating between river flat and forest margin as you go. 

Start of Lynches flat

End of Lynches Flat

The next 2-3 km's are the worst marked sections of this track - the markers are widely spaced and badly placed making it next to impossible to travel at any speed. You are constantly climbing up and down - first by the river- then up the side of the hills. Frustrating....yes it was! I took few photos through here because I was too busy negotiating my way through the mess. At one point you climb about 60 meters up from the river to get around a gorge - this was all four limbs stuff as you climb and descend a series of steep root steps.

Character building as they used to say...

What track...?

Track sidling above gorge

Flood damage on the track mid valley
Eventually you drop back down to the riverside, the travel for the next 2 km's to the hut is quick and smooth. I knew i was approaching the hut because the track marking got a lot better- someone obviously based themselves at the hut and cleared the track in the immediate area.

Interesting pole beech re growth
Here is the second required river wade - you have to enter the river and make your own way from here to the bush margin in the distance. At the moment the water is knee deep here, it just would not be feasible if it was raining, too dangerous to contemplate. Make sure you find the track on the far side as there is a gorge just past here that stops you travelling in the river. Personal experience....

Compulsory river wade

Entry point into river

Side stream on the track

The second bridge and the hut are about three hours on from the first swing bridge, the area surrounding the hut is very picturesque. 

Hut and swing bridge

Is that a ladder to salvation I see...
Mid Robinson is a classic ex NZFS 6 bunker built in the late 60's for the deer culler's. It is nicely sited on a sunny man made clearing and is in excellent condition. These are my favourite kind of DOC huts - utilitarian, almost Spartan but comfortable, this beast would be 50 years old and she still looks good.

Mid Robinson hut, built 1967
I had planned to stop for lunch and continue up to Top Robinson hut but given it had taken me 5 hours to get here and it was 5 more hours to that hut i decided to stay where I was for the evening.

Hut interior- Mid Robinson Hut

Fire and bench area Mid Robinson Hut
I ate my lunch (salami, cheese and crackers) and re hydrated with a couple of brews and about 2 liters of water. Nothing like that first brew after walking for 4-5 hours- it really hits the spot!

A brew on the go!

River from the  Mid Robinson Hut window
Your water source is the nearby river, it would probably be fine to drink straight from the river as there are no people or animals to pollute it. Icy cold as well!

Down river to swing bridge

View up river

 Mid Robinson Hut from river level

Clearing surrounding hut
Not many people get to this hut- the hut book was from 1995, I was one of only seven people to pass this way since May. The last entry was from early September 2015, or over 8 weeks ago! It mostly hosts hunters and those doing the Lake Christabel-Robinson Valley circuit. 

Bench in the  Mid Robinson Hut
These two photos give you a good idea of the interior of a six bunker- they are cosy with a full complement. 

Jon and good view of hut size

Jon "at home" in the  Mid Robinson Hut
I did my camp chores- cut some wood, tidied up the hut, swept the floor, readied the fire, got some water- I have a routine when I get to a hut so that I am ready for the night when it comes.Then i lay on the bunk and read huntin n' fishin' magazines until dinner time.
Reading material in a hut gives a good indication of the users, you get:
Hunting and fishing
Forest and bird
Christian materials
All are interesting in their own way especially if it is not something you would commonly read. 

Firebox loaded and ready for action

Video of the river from the hut window

I have discovered that New World Supermarkets (the one at South City has the widest range) are selling Back Country Cuisine meals for $10.50 which is extremely cheap for a 2 person serve so have been buying a few. I had Chicken and Tomato Alfredo for this trip, with some salt, olives and sun dried tomatoes added by me. Very tasty...I recommend you try it.

BCC freeze dried meal with olives/tomatoes added

Tucking into my Tomato Chicken Alfredo
I basically flaked out after that, too warm for the fire so I wrapped up in my pit and slept for 9 hours. It is surprising how well I sleep in huts, much better than at home. 

Its that wholesome exercise and good air what does it....

The second swing bridge near the  Mid Robinson Hut
After an uneventful night i set off for the road end at around 06.30am, I was slightly concerned about rain during the day but it was unfounded. It was dry,  in fact it was warm and muggy by 0830 in the morning. The surrounding peaks were well clagged in, probably not a good day for crossing the saddle at the head of the valley as it had still not cleared when I got to the car at 11.30.

Last view of Mid Robinson Hut
I found travel downriver much easier than the previous day, the track marking was much clearer and I kind of knew where i was going for a change. It is probable that this track was marked from the head of the valley, certainly the placement and distance between the markers made more sense. You should really be able to see your next marker within 20-100 meters in a straight line of sight if done correctly.

Robinson River mid valley

Typical West Coast bush
I stopped and thought about the force of water needed to pile up the flood debris in the fashion shown below. You must get some serious amounts of water coming down this valley when it rains hard in the headwaters. Its difficult to see but some of those logs are 3-5 feet in diameter- heavy!

Flood debris in riverbed
Just a note, there is a point next to the flood debris above where you have to climb a bank to climb around a gorge area. I slipped on the bank and scrapped both of my arms on the roots and rock, be careful as it is very slippery. 

View towards head of valley

I got back to the car at 11.30 so taking into account the two 20 minute breaks I had it was about a 4 hour trip. So much easier when you have an idea where you are going and the track marking is better. I enjoyed the trip but it was certainly hard work, probably more than is necessary. If road access wasn't a problem I would be tempted to Permolat the track: go up there for 3 days, fly camp and slowly mark and cut the track as I went. I'm sure it would be appreciated by those following along behind you. Honestly, a bit of cutting back, clearing and marking would make a world of difference.