Tramping from the Matiri to the Thousand-Acre Plateau and Back Again,
or Learning to Love Poor Pete's
Every year, Bill Rooke, intrepid Bush & Beyond guide, endeavours to take me and one or two other "guinea pigs" on a relatively adventurous trek in the nether regions of Kahurangi National Park. He stresses that these are not "official" B&B trips, so all bets and guarantees are off, but the food tends to be just as good. Lots of Kiwi and Newfie "bullshitting" (Bill's term) always features.
This year's objective (postponed from last year) was to traverse the southern end of the park (new to me), climbing from the Matiri River Valley near Murchison to the top of the "Thousand-Acre Plateau," then finding a way down the other side to the Mokihinui River, which we would follow for a couple of days to its outlet at Seddonville on the West Coast. Bill had never done this before, but Derek Shaw's venerable "Tramper's Guide to Northwest Nelson" included a typically spare description of a route said to have been used by miners in the days of yore. This was specific enough for me to enter a few GPS waypoints from the map. Some steep climbing and descending, lots of mud, serious bush-bashing and boulder-hopping were promised. What fun!
The third member of our party was Andy Woodall, who occasionally guides for Bush & Beyond, and still does a bit of flying and technical work for the oil industry at various points on the globe, mostly offshore. In the 1960's he visited St. John's while crewing on a British trawler, but he long since emigrated to New Zealand and now lives in gentile rustication on a small farm in the Motueka Valley.
As always, but especially on multi-day, off-track trips, much depends on weather. Conditions had been variable, but forecasts led us to be hopeful that we would catch a fine interlude between fast-moving rainy fronts on the crucial second day. Our biggest concern was crossing the Mokihinui once we got down to it. That, however, proved not to be a problem; as things unfolded, the weather on day 2 was pretty bad, and we never found a safe route down the escarpment.
We set off in good conditions, although within 30 minutes had to negotiate a rather difficult crossing of the South Fork of the Matiri, which was high and swift from recent rain. We reaching the Lake Matiri Hut 3 hours up the valley for a lunch stop, sharing the view with lots of wasps and sandflies. There we met a young Aussie tramper coming out from an arduous crossing from the Wangapeka Saddle. He was two days overdue, and hoping no Search and Rescue action had been initiated on his behalf.
From Lake Matiri, we immediately started the notoriously steep grunt up to the top of the plateau, about 800 meters elevation gain. As I struggled up slippery rocks and roots in the gathering showers, I was heard to remark that I was really glad we would not have to go down this bugger! Once on top, it was a mere half hour on a muddy track across alpine tussock and flax to Poor Pete's Hut, a wee tin shelter with a bit of a rep. Suffice it to say that most folks just pass this one by on their way to the Larrikin Creek Hut, and it has been scheduled for removal by DOC for some time. Nonetheless, we quickly determined that Poor Pete's was better than the alternative, putting up tents in the rain. We managed to get a fire going in the rather dodgy fireplace, and found it quite commodious, all in all. There was even room for all three of us to stand up at one time, although with just two bunks Bill had to sleep on the floor under the cooking bench. He insisted this was quite comfy.
Next day, instead of the promised sunshine, came up with mist and rain. We worked out our key timelines to reach various points, and took off following the GPS pointer and searching for vestiges of an old track. By the time we reached the cliff edge, in what seemed like the right place to go down, we faced an opaque white abyss. Glimpses of a possible route sent us bashing through dense undergrowth steeply upward along the edge of the scarp. This proved fruitless (or worse -- my pack cover disappeared somewhere in the bush), so we made our way back down to the point where we had originally hoped to go over the edge. By this time, the cloud and mist had cleared enough reveal a narrow ledge downward. Bill dropped his pack and explored this, and came back convinced this was indeed the way to go. But we were one or two critical hours off schedule, facing a lot more arduous travel down a gorgy Larrikin Creek once off the plateau, and the weather seemed to be turning for the worse again. After much discussion of Plans B, C, D, etc., we headed back to Poor Pete's for another night in the luxury suite.
We had brought a "mountain radio," which required erecting about 40 metres of aerial two metres above the ground: the toilet, a tree, my two hiking poles, and some duct tape did the trick. At the nightly "sched" time we were able to get a weather report (doubtful, again), and on the basis of this had a message relayed to Alice to come and retrieve us a day earlier than intended, at our starting point on the Matiri. The message was brief and unexpected, but Alice was able to figure out what to do and where to go from available maps, and managed to bring our little 4WD vehicle much further than we expected up the rough road . As we arrived at the appointed time (4:30 p.m. on day 3), after an arduous descent off the plateau and again wading across the river, she was setting off on foot to meet us.
All's well that ends well; the Matiri-Mokihinui traverse remains a goal for Bill. As for me, we'll see...