Thursday, 13 March 2014

Lake Christabel: 6-7 March 2014

The long walk...going to Lake Christabel Hut

I have been planning for some time to walk the St James Walkway in early March, unfortunately the weather did not "play ball". We had a "one in a hundred year" rain event in Canterbury and over the whole of the South Island. There was rainfall of 150mm in the foothills, snow and gale force winds. This has scuppered my plans to walk the track this year. 

Lake Christabel, Victoria Forest Park from the West end of the lake
As an alternate, I decided to walk the track into Lake Christabel in the Victoria
Forest Park on the West Coast. The track is 17kms from the start point at Palmers Flat, mostly lowlands but with several significant low ridges to cross en route.

Day One: From Palmer Farm to Lake Christabel Hut

I decided to walk to the hut following the Lake Christabel Track, from Palmer Flat to Lake Christabel Hut, posted as a 6-7 hour trip. In my case it turned into a 9 hour grovel as I had to negotiate windfall, slips and an really overgrown track. 


Lake Christabel car park near Palmer Flat Farm

Palmer Flat to Lake Christabel Hut

Here is the start of the track, near Palmer Farm on the Palmer Rd, this is about 5 kms west of Springs Junction, and is reached down a 8 km gravel farm road. Plenty of space for parking near here. A lot of people who are walking the track camp overnight near the track. This allows for an early start the next morning, required as it will take most of the day to reach the hut. 

Start of Lake Christabel Track

Lake Christabel Track: Palmer Flat Farm

This is prime cattle country, here is a shot of the river flats surrounding the car park.

Lake Christabel Track: Bush edge travel

The track starts off next to the Blue Grey River, the very beginning of the track meanders through open forest with the river close to the track.You cross a couple of low ridges before moving up river on an old terrace.

Lake Christabel Track: Heading towards the Blue-Grey River

There are a number of small clearings as you move along, with some impressive Red Beech trees in the lowland forest typical of the area. The vegetation is thick in places, reflecting the much higher rainfall on this side of the Southern Alps.

Blue Grey River from the Lake Christabel Track

Here is a view of the Blue Grey from one of the low ridges you cross as you follow the track. Although mostly flat there is the occasional up and down as you follow the contours of the land.

Lake Christabel Track: Mature beech trees

This is typical of the forest you are travelling through, open beech forest or dense two story bush in areas where the sun reaches.

Typical dense West Coast bush Lake Christabel Track
Some areas of the track are a little over grown, you need to keep your wits about you so that you don't lose the track.

Mid reaches of the Blue Grey River

Another view of the Blue Grey River from one of the low ridges you need to cross. The track at this point would be 2 hours in, and sidles above one of several gorges cut by the river in times past.

Flood debris in the Blue Grey River

Above is the confluence point for the Blue Grey and an unnamed creek, about 2.5 hours in.
Upper reaches of the Blue Grey, 2.5 hours up track
This point is about another 10 minutes along from the spot above. This could be a very nice camping spot as there are a couple of great looking swimming holes here and plenty of flat ground for
a tent or tarp.

New Zealand Robin
My first interaction with a Robin on this trip, he/she came and sat next to me for 20 minutes as I was eating my lunch.
Lake Christabel Track: Start of climb to the Lake
This is the last flat area before you start climbing the slip which blocked the valley and formed the Lake. This is where I stopped for lunch both days as it was a great sunny spot close to the water. Probably not a good spot for a camp as the only flat area appears to be prone to river flooding.

Map showing the outlet for Lake Christabel

Confluence of the Blue Grey and unnamed stream, track heads uphill from here

The track climbs away from the river starting from this point, the track is in the middle of the photo heading to the right. You can just see the orange triangle on the other side.

I could see problems here if it started to rain as you would not be able to ford the side creek coming in from the left. This would be one of only two points where you might have to turn around if the weather gods decided to play some tricks.

Climbing to Lake Christabel

Typical view of the track through this area, it is quite steep, very green and slippery from the mossy rocks.
Lake Christabel Track: track in an old stream bed
About an hour from the confluence you strike an upland alpine swamp and then follow a poled track up a stream bed for a distance.

Apex of the debris slide on the Lake Christabel Track
This is the saddle at the top of the slip, it would be possible to camp in this area, there are small streams about 50-100 metres downhill either side of this point. The lake is 400 metres east of this high point, all downhill.
Descending to Lake Christabel
You cant really tell but the lake is down there about another 100 metres along the track, it had taken me 5 hours to reach this point.

Lake Christabel from near the outlet

There is a small beach as you descend down to the lake, with excellent views up valley. The hut is off to the centre right of this photo, it takes about 2-3 hours to walk around the lake, then another 30 minutes through forest to the hut.

Mt Boscawen from Lake Christabel

Lake Christabel: View to south of enclosing ridge

The underground outlet for Lake Christabel is close to the island in the middle of this photo. An ancient rock slip fell and filled the bottom of this valley, blocking the course of the river. Lake Christabel is the result of this slip and the subsequent inflow of water. The lake has forged an underground outlet for the water, this is the source of the Blue Grey River.

A cove on Lake Christabel shoreline

This is one of the bays of the lake, this is an hour from the beach in the photo above. In all it takes from 2-3 hours just to make your way around the shore of the lake. The track through this section was very difficult, with a lot of wind fallen trees, slips and very slippery conditions. Care is required as a fall from the track along here will leave you floating (hopefully..... you might just sink) in the lake and unable to get out. The water is cold, the sides are steep cliffs and it is very very deep!

View west from half way around Lake Christabel

Eventually you reach some small beaches at the eastern end of the lake, this is the view looking back towards the west. There are only 2-3 possible spots to camp along the lake side as the terrain is steep, with thick bush growing along side it. Once you start along the track you are committed to walking to this end of the lake. There are no decent spots to pitch a tent or tarp.  

Lake Christabel: looking back towards the outlet

Another view back towards the West.
Lake Christabel Track: not a lot of space

This is the condition of the track for most of the way along the lake, this area is one of the few relatively open areas.
Finally at the head of Lake Christabel

Here is a shot from the flats at the end of the lake, there is plenty of space around there to camp. I stopped for what I thought was a well deserved rest after 8 hours walking.

Crossing the flats at the head of Lake Christabel

The rest of the track is along the flats next to a no name river, the hut is approximately 30 minutes up river from the lake. When you finally reach the hut, you will find a suspension bridge 100 metres up river, this allows you to cross the river safely.  I just about forded the river, then thought "I'm going to look a bit stupid if I drown here when I could walk another 20 metres and cross a bridge".

Surprisingly this river has no official name, I suppose you would call it the Blue Grey East branch? It's a surprise because it is actually quite a wide, deep river.

Lake Christabel Hut (1970?)

Above is your first view of Lake Christabel Hut as you come out of the bush on the true left of the river, it is an older style 8 bunk hut, with an excellent burner installed. There is plenty of firewood in the immediate area but no wood shed.Water comes from the stream right in front of the hut.

Jon inside Lake Christabel Hut

Jon in the hut, do I look tired? I felt totally shattered!

The hut is well maintained, it gets a lot of use, there were 15 entries in the hut book from people who visited the hut over the previous month. As you can see the interior is in a good condition.

Lake Christabel Hut interior: bunks and cooking bench

 I was in the hut by myself again, in fact I didn't see another person on either of the days I was out. I had my PLB with me so that gave me a small measure of safety.

Lake Christabel Hut: second smaller cooking bench

Time for a brew and some kai!
Lake Christabel Hut, Victoria Forest Park

Here is another shot of the exterior of the hut, it was warm even without the fire (I lit it later for a bit of ambiance) but I imagine it could be cold in the area in the dead of winter.

Swing-bridge over stream next to Lake Christabel Hut

I only had about an hour of daylight left when I reached the hut, so I gathered some wood, had a couple of brews and cooked my dinner for the night: Macaroni cheese with sausage. Then it was to bed to read for awhile before a well deserved sleep.

Day Two: Lake Christabel Hut to Palmer Flat

I had a mostly restful night apart from the resident possum trying to get into the hut at 2 am. I think he was a bit pissed he couldn't stay for the night as well because he howled and snarled outside for nearly an hour.

 I was up and getting ready at 6 am so I could start the marathon walk back to the car.

Morning Day two, leaving Lake Christabel Hut
Here I am outside the hut, it is in a nice location, with the river only 20 metres away.

View up the no-name stream near Lake Christabel Hut

Here is a shot looking up no name stream taken from the bridge on the Friday morning.It feels really remote up this valley, as if you are the only human in existence.

 If you follow the track to the rear of the hut you will eventually reach Robinson Saddle and the huts in the Robinson Valley. Judging from the hut book, it is a popular trip, I have spoken to a couple in Nina Hut who said the track is quite overgrown and really rugged.

This might possibly be a trip for the future.

Lake Christabel Hut from right bank of stream
Above is a view of Lake Christabel Hut from the true right of the river on my way home, it is in a very good location: sunny, protected from the wind, high above the river. Those old NZFS rangers knew how to build a hut.

Here is a view from the flats at the head of the lake, the track climbs over the slip which has the sun just rising over it. It would be 4-5 km's from this point to the western end of the lake.

Lake Christabel Track: Crossing the now dry stream mouth

The other potential spot you could come unstuck is in this area above. There is a side stream running along the edge of the bush to the right of the photo. On the Thursday the water was knee deep, though slow moving. It had completely dried out by the Friday morning. This makes me think it is prone to flooding with a bit of rain. Worth considering!

Lake Christabel looking towards mouth of lake

My last view of the lake from the eastern end of Lake Christabel, before plunging into the track. It is a very scenic lake.

Hey Buddy...a native Fantail

I had a lot of company from Wrens, Fantails and Robins-  I had 5 Fantails following me at one time. The birds follow you along the track catching the bugs that you kick up as you walk.
Back near the Blue Grey River: Brewing up!
Here is my lunch spot; pate, crackers and a brew did wonders to revive me. It was quite pleasant sitting here for 45mins eating and generally having a rest in the sun.

 No sand flies, they must have died off due to the unusually cold weather. For those of you who are not from New Zealand sand flies are small biting flies.  They attack you in swarms looking for a blood meal: you are the main course! They are the bane of tramping in New Zealand as you find them from sea level right up to 2000 metres.
Lot's of flood debris over there...!

Another view of the Blue-Grey River from my lunch spot, beautiful clear water in this area.

The Lake Christabel there somewhere...???

Right children, lets play a game!
Now, you would have heard of "Where's Wally", this is the Lake Christabel version, "Where's Track". It's out there, you just have to find it hidden in the under growth!

Lake Christabel Track: camp-site 1.5 hours up valley

There is a very nice camping spot about 1.5 hours from the track end; it is flat, and right next to the river. It obviously gets a bit of use because there is a fire pit, stacked firewood and has marked tent sites. It looks like a great spot to pitch your tent, I could be tempted!

Back at Palmer Flat

L' Fin, once again. I was VERY pleased to finally reach the car.

This was a long and hard trip, but the valley is remote feeling and beautiful. I would suggest that anyone who wanted to visit the hut plan to stay for at least 2 nights to allow you to enjoy exploring the upper valley. Take a day walk up to Robinson Saddle...

Route to Lake Christabel Track from Springs Junction

The hut and lake can also be accessed via the Rough Creek route (from SH7 i.e. the Lewis Pass Highway) then over the top of the surrounding mountains. There is also the Robinson Valley/Robinson Saddle route. I would like to come back here and go by one of those other routes, then out to Palmer Farm.

Access: From Springs Junction turn left onto SH7 to Reefton, turn off 3 km's later onto Palmer Road the track start is 8 km's along on the left hand side.
Track Times: From Palmer Flat- 1.5 hours to camp-site, 7-9 hours to Lake Christabel Hut: 6-8 hours via Rough Creek Route, 2 days from the Robinson Valley.
Hut Details: Lake Christabel Hut: standard, 8 bunks, wood burner, water from stream, toilet
Miscellaneous: Long, rough track to hut, two stream crossings these will flood in heavy rain