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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 9 (December 1, 1937.)

Valleys in the Waybacks The Region Beyond Lake Wakatipu

page 38

Valleys in the Waybacks The Region Beyond Lake Wakatipu

It was during early Spring that we set off for a remote corner of the South Island.

Leaving Christchurch about mid-day we journeyed swiftly to Palmerston South, where we turned inland en route for Queenstown on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. Our first camp was made at Shag River, a charming spot a few miles inland from Palm-erston South. Rain interrupted our unpacking, but finally we settled down for the night, and resumed our jorney next morning.

Through chequered fields bordered with shimmering orange and gold from thousands of wild escholtzias, we journeyed on to Queenstown, and camped on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, the second largest lake in the South Island, with an area of II2 square miles.

After an early breakfast we were at the wharf at 8 a.m. ready for the S.S. Earnslaw at 8.25 a.m. to take us to the head of the lake. A slight breeze ruffled the sparkling waters, but the wind was blowing up the lake—a promise of fine weather. Our first call was at Bob's Cove.

Morning tea provided the next diversion, then before noon we disembarked for Kinloch, our starting-off place for the valleys beyond. Ominous clouds now hovered around, and wild winds blew, but in the morning all was peace again; the air was sweet from clematis, bush lilac, and kowhai. Ducks cackled and horses trotted gaily on the metal outside as we prepared for the thrilling stage of our journey.

Our plans were to hire horses from “The Bryants” at Kinloch, and ride to the Routeburn Huts, explore the valleys there, and climb to the Harris Saddle. Returning from there our next ride was to be up the Dart Valley, from there to the Rees Valley, and then climb up Mt. Earnslaw.

The day was warm as we happily packed a week's supply of provisions which were hung from each side of our horses' backs. It was 9 a.m. when we finally made a start, and with much clattering we cantered over The Fiats towards the Dart riverbed. The Humboldt Mountains rose grandly on our left, and clear sparkling streams from pure snows above rippled across our tracks, reflecting the Cosmos Peaks and white-robed mountains beyond. A few homesteads were passed, then turning to the left at the Routeburn Valley we came to the bush. Enormous red birch trees soared into the blue, their boughs showered with emerald and red leaves swaying in the Spring air. Birds sang. Groups of ragwort made brilliant splashes beside the track, and bright green parrakeets chirped noisily through the branches.

A clearing was reached at Weka Flat, and while the billy boiled we gazed meditatively around. Far beyond could be seen the Richardson Mountains, and beyond again, The Turret and Earnslaw Range. To the right rose Mounts Somnus and Nomus, and to the left Mount Savage, their dazzling white-domed peaks piercing the sapphire.

We trotted on through a cool green avenue, crossed the Routeburn River, and followed it upstream for some miles, then came in sight of the Route-burn huts, about fourteen miles distant from Kinloch. These huts provide shelter for many a weary tramper who has plodded from the Eglinton Valley via Howden Hut, and over the Harris Saddle, as well as climbers from Queenstown. We got ready a good pile of birch logs, and prepared for a comfortable night, before an early start for the Harris Saddle next morning. But a tempestuous night brought in rain and we spent a lazy day reading and idly watching the antics of a family of mice who took little notice of our intrusion. Keas hopped about the open doorway and provided much amusement with their caperings, but the rain still descended upon us. Next morning hopes were again thwarted, and it was not until late afternoon that we were able to venture forth. With apprehensive glances at the fast moving clouds we set out for the right branch of the Routeburn River. The gurgling streams were now rushing torrents and the Routeburn itself roared over giant boulders. Immense precipices rose before us, all dripping with moisture, and the peaks still hung in the thick, white mists.

(Photo, Thelma R. Kent.) Looking down the Routeburn Valley from the Harris Falls (Mt. Somnus, 7,599 feet on left), South Island, New Zealand.

(Photo, Thelma R. Kent.)
Looking down the Routeburn Valley from the Harris Falls (Mt. Somnus, 7,599 feet on left), South Island, New Zealand.

There were hours of angry hissings from the heavens, but towards dawn the rain ceased, so after our prolonged inactivity we excitedly prepared for the climb to Harris Saddle, 4,200 feet. The track commences about a hundred yards downstream, then enters the bush to the right, where it zig-zags upwards. Further along we had a wonderful view of the Routeburn Valley, and range after range of snow-capped mountains. Then the Harris Falls, a volume of clear pure water from the snows above, came hurtling over precipitous cliffs, and vegetation grew in wild profusion. Just above the Falls we came to the snow-line, and plodded wearily through thick, soft snow to the summit. One of the finest views in New Zealand is said to be obtainable from this Saddle, but we found to our great page 39 disappointment that all the Ranges were shrouded in mist. Far below could be seen the new Eglinton Valley road, and strangely enough, we watched a car running smoothly round the bends, and heard the echo of its horn. Lakes Fergus and Gunn, and the long and winding silver ribbon of the Hollyford River were also discernible.

Towards noon we were back to the Flats, and to our delight found the sun shining at last. After the rain the Dart River would be too difficult to cross further up the valley, so it was decided to go up the Rees first. This necessitated a crossing of the Dart at a wide ford near the mouth.

After leaving the Dart, we skirted Diamond Lake at Paradise, passed Lovers Leap, trotted through a lovely avenue of birch trees and tree-ferns, then crossed the Rees River, and followed up the hillside on a narrow track towards the head of the Rees Valley. Firstly, there was Gorge Gate, then Muddy Creek, then a gold-miners' camp, and after a long day the 25-mile hut (named Arthur's Creek Hut) was reached. Here, in the hush of the twilight, we rested while the colours of a brilliant sunset blushed and deepened on the white shoulders of Mt. Earn-slaw, the highest peak resting as a crimson star in the evening sky.

Early next morning we set off for Mt. Earnslaw. A clear, keen morning spurred as onwards, but, alas, the snow was too deep to climb far. A higher vantage point afforded a splendid view of the heavily wooded Rees and Hunter Valleys, and a wall of snowy peaks covered with glaciers surrounded us.

Storm clouds gathered. Hastening on the downward trail, we made a short stay at the Lennox Falls. A beautiful day followed a thunderous night, so we decided to return and explore the Dart Valley. We crossed the river about five times, and found much interest in watching large numbers of plovers and banded dottrells on the wide shingle-bed. Paradise ducks were there in large numbers; we watched one family, a mother with five fluffy balls. The anxious bird, worried by our approach, and in order to divert our attention, cunningly limped away from her offspring, hoping that we might follow. We were not deceived by her manoeuvres, however, and continued to watch her darlings, so she quickly returned, and with a swoop of her outspread wings, pushed all the fluffy balls under the water. Her efforts were pathetic as, of course, the “balls” could not stay under for long, but she repeated the performance until we moved away.

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We crossed the river again at the Bean's Burn, and from a short distance further on the shingle-bed, the north side of the Earnslaw Range was silhouetted against a clear blue sky.

At the previous crossing, the flooded waters of the Dart were creeping across our saddle tops, so when we found the next crossing was much narrower and possessing a rough and rocky bed we decided to travel no further. We enjoyed a long, lingering look at the mountain, then gave rein to our faithful steeds, and after a spirited ride, we raced back to Kinloch, finishing in the starlight.

(Photo, Thelma R. Kent.) Crossing the Upper Dart Rivar (Mt. Earnslaw, 9,165 ft.) in the background, South Island, New Zealand.

(Photo, Thelma R. Kent.)
Crossing the Upper Dart Rivar (Mt. Earnslaw, 9,165 ft.) in the background, South Island, New Zealand.

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