Monday, 23 November 2015

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

The newest tramping hut in New Zealand: Rod Donald Hut

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.

Rod Donald Hut overlooking Western Valley, Banks Peninsula

Day trip to Rod Donald Hut, Banks Peninsula

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 Rod Donald Trust who own the hut. Rod Donald was a Green Party MP with long standing ties to Banks Peninsula. The hut and surrounding bush will bear his name and are a fitting tribute to his environmental work over many, many years.

Te Ara Pataka: Port Levy Saddle to Rod Donald Hut

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. It is on the paper road along the crest of the ridges...this is the route proposed by Harry Ell back in the 1920's. All this land is privately owned farmland with a few scenic bush reserves between the various farms.

The massive 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 vehicles. The saddle provides access to the Summit Walkway: turn north west for Mt Herbert and south east for Hilltop Tavern.

Start of Te Ara Pataka- NW to Mt Herbert
Wide angle view of my direction of travel on Te Ara Pataka

Start of the Summit Walkway- SE- my direction of travel

As you can see the weather was not fantastic 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 it is raining it is not too dangerous a proposition.

Me and the beast in the cold wind on Port Levy Saddle

Port Levy from Te Ara Pātaka near Port Levy Saddle

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. 

Te Ara Pataka: old 4 W/D track on way to Waipuna Saddle

Te Ara Pataka: doesn't that weather look nice...
The views kept disappearing into the low laying cloud, travel on Banks Peninsula has the same challenges of tops travel in the higher Southern Alps. You need to carry warm clothing and wet weather gear with you as it gets cold and wet very quickly up here.

On the positive side the views are awesome!

Limited view of Western Valley from Te Ara Pataka

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

The signs on the walkway and the turn off too the 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 Hilltop Tavern side. 

Rod Donald Hut Track, the turn off to the hut...

My cell phone worked here so if you haven't already booked a bunk for the night do it from the saddle. Obviously, you are so well organised this will not be necessary...!

...another sign for Rod Donald Hut...

...and yet another sign for Rod Donald Hut!...
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

Rod Donald 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 near Rod Donald Hut
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 other 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 (2015)
Jon at Rod Donald Hut: the porch

Fancy composting toilet, 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 (Summit Walkway)

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. There are two more bunks on this level.

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 from Rod Donald Hut
Given the bend in these trees it makes you wonder at the ability of nature to survive in even the most extreme conditions.

Waipuna Saddle: must be windy up here...!

Te Ara Pātaka,the track to Rod Donald Hut goes through the yellow gorse
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 south east to Hilltop Tavern

Crossing ridge, view of car park in distance

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

Bullet riddled sign near Port Levy Saddle...
The track follows the contours of the ridge line shown in the photo below in a long sweeping left hand direction. 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 and below 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 start of the track. Kathryn and the kids will pick me up from Gebbies Pass on the Sunday.

I look forward to the experience....!

Access: On the Akaroa-Christchurch Highway, past Little River take gravel Western Valley Road to the car park at Port Levy Saddle
Track Times: 1 hour to Rod Donald Hut, 1.5 hours return
Hut Details: Rod Donald Hut: serviced, 10 bunks, wood burner, water tank, wood shed, toilets
Miscellaneous: On DOC Hut booking system, must be booked for overnight visit, this track is very exposed to the weather, care needed in strong wind, rain, cloudy conditions

The wildly over priced Little River Cafe

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

Tramping in the Robinson Valley

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...

 Mid Robinson Hut, Victoria Forest Park

Robinson River Valley, Victoria Forest Park

A cautionary note concerning the Robinson Valley

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

  • 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...".

Palmer Road: One of nine fords on the access road to the Robinson Valley

  • 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. 
Palmer Road from the car park at Newcombes Farm
  • Track times: The DOC site states this is a three hour trip, it is not! It took me 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.....

Day One: Newcombes Farm to Mid Robinson Hut

I have long coveted tramping in this Valley, this is the last of four attempts to get here. The problem is that access is atrocious. If there is any rain falling then you cannot even get to the start of the track.

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...

Robinson River 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 farmer, so the track to the Robinson Valley skirts the outside of the farm property for about 1.5-2 km's. This adds about 45 minutes to the overall time it takes to arrive at the hut.

Parking area at start of Robinson River Track
I note that there used to be a hut in the forest directly behind my car but it burnt down some time in the early 1990's.

The track goes around the outside of Newcombes Farm along the bush edge....

Start of the Robinson River Track

Robinson River Track: bit muddy at the start 

Looking the start of the Robinson River Track

Robinson River Track: climbing to start of track along deer fence

The deer fence around Newcombes Farm, on the Robinson River Track
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.

DOC sign on the Robinson River other words...bugger off!

View of Newcombe Farm from the Robinson River Track

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 cross between a duck and a big fat chicken.

Weka one.....

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

Track along deer fence, Robinson River Track

On the Robinson River Track, a bush interlude...

Descending to the Robinson 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.

In the Robinson River Valley

The section of track from the point shown above to the first swing bridge is the worst, it has been heavily affected 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

Robinson River Track, there is a track under that....
There are two swing bridges to cross on this track, you strike the first after about 1-1.5 hours. 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 swing bridge on the Robinson River Track

First swing bridge, 1.5 hours in, Robinson River Track
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.

Robinson River Track: 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, Robinson Valley

Robinson River Track: 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 hand over hand stuff as you climb and descend a series of steep root steps.

Character building as they used to say...

Robinson River Track...where is that track...?

Robinson River Track: the track sidling above a gorge

Flood damage on the track mid Robinson 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 on the Robinson River Track
Here is the second required river wade - you have to enter the river and make your own way from here to the bush past the shingle bank. At the moment the water is knee deep, it just would not be feasible to cross here if it was raining and the river was higher.

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....

Robinson River Track: compulsory river wade

Entry point into river on the Robinson River Track

Side stream on the Robinson River 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.
Nearly at Mid Robinson Hut

Robinson River Track: 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 litres of water. Nothing like that first brew after walking for 4-5 hours- it really hits the spot!

A brew on the go!

Robinson 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 up stream to pollute it. Icy cold as well!

Robinson Hut: view down river to swing bridge

View up Robinson River from the hut flat

 Mid Robinson Hut from river level

Clearing surrounding Mid Robinson 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. 

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

Mid Robinson Hut: 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, At Mid Robinson you get:
Hunting and Fishing magazines
NZ Wilderness- tramping focus
Forest and Bird Journal
Readers Digest from the 1990's
Christian materials
All are interesting in their own way especially if it is something you wouldn't usually read. 

Firebox loaded and ready for action at Mid Robinson Hut

Video of the river from the hut window

I have discovered that New World Supermarkets in Christchurch are selling Back Country Cuisine meals for $10.50. This is extremely cheap for a 2 person serve so have been buying a few. The New World at South City has the widest range, they sell 14 of a possible 24 different meal types. I had Chicken and Tomato Alfredo with some added salt, olives, dried onions and sun dried tomatoes.

Very tasty...I recommend you try this variety.

BCC freeze dried meal with olives/tomatoes added

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

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

The second swing bridge near Mid Robinson Hut

Day Two: Mid Robinson Hut to the road end

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 covered in clag, probably not a good day for crossing the saddle at the head of the valley as the clag had not cleared when I got to the car at 11.30.

Last view of Mid Robinson Hut...adieu!
I found travelling downriver much easier than the previous day, the track marking was much clearer and I 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 the next marker within 20-100 meters in a straight line of sight if it is done correctly.

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

Flood debris in Robinson Riverbed
Just a note, there is a point next to the flood debris above where you have to climb a three metre bank to climb around a gorge. I slipped on the bank and banged up my arms on the roots and rock, be careful as it is very slippery. 

View towards head of Robinson River 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.

Approaching the lower swing bridge over the Robinson River

 If road access wasn't such a problem I would be tempted to re cut this track: go up for 3 days, fly camp and slowly cut and mark the track as I went. I'm sure it would be appreciated by those following along behind you. Honestly, a bit of cutting back, some debris clearing and marking would make a world of difference to how difficult it is to walk the track.

Access: From Springs Junction turn left onto SH7 to Reefton, turn off 3 km's later onto Palmer Road the track start is 20 km's along at the Newcombes Farm car park. The track starts on the left hand side of the road.
Track Times: From Newcombes Farm road end it is 4-5 hours to Mid Robinson Hut. Upper Robinson Hut is a further 5-6 hours up river.
Hut Details: Mid Robinson Hut: standard, 6 bunks, wood burner, water from stream, toilet
Miscellaneous: Palmer Road has nine required fords, three of which are impassible to all traffic in moderate rain. Long, rough track to hut, two stream crossings these will flood in heavy rain. Track condition is poor in sections.