Party Members: Dennis Brown, Sally Johanesson, Peter Waworis  - Trip Images

The destination for our annual February trip this year was to get over the main divide into the Landsborough. Research indicated that there were a few circuits possible and a plan was hatched to have a go at a Hopkins, Huxley, Ahuriri, Hunter and Landsborough catchment circuit. The big concern was the requirement for good visibility as we had four significant alpine crossings. The summer of 2011-12 has not been great with our New Years trip in the Richmond range re-routed due to rain and poor visibility on the tops.

Looking west up the main Huxley towards Anita Peak

On departure day the weather forecast for the following week was not promising. Light rain was forecast for most days which meant typically, poor visibility on the tops. Travel to Lake Ohau was uneventful but as we got close to the roadend we were confronted by a gate across the road. Due to slips the last 6kms of road was no longer deemed suitable for cars so instead of a 2km walk into Monument hut we now had 8km. We set off into a cold headwind admiring the wide open valley and braided Hopkins river. The scenery was absolutely stunning and we made it to Monument Hut just on dusk. A number of four wheel drives arrived at the same time but they quickly turned and crossed over one of the many tributaries of the Hopkins as they made the way to Red Hut on the east bank of the river.

The following morning my companions Dennis & Sally were chomping at the bit to be off and make the most of the good weather. Its much easier to tramp with packs laden-ed with food for eight days when the terrain is as dramatic as the Hopkins and Huxley river catchments. Steep, badly eroded, glacier topped mountains surrounded the valley as we crossed the Huxley swingbridge. We wandered down the valley with a spring in our step as the head of the main valley slowly revealed itself. A quick pit stop at Main Huxley Forks hut had us on our way to South Huxley Biv before midday. Once over the swingbridge we quickly started climbing up to sidle around the gorged lower reaches of the south branch of the Huxley. We encountered an abundance of rifleman in the beech forest as we continued up the valley before dropping down to a much wider valley floor. Before long we arrived at South Huxley Biv and quickly decided that camping was preferable to a cramped, mice ridden biv. A strong wind was whipping up the valley and the clouds starting to build as we found a sheltered possy to pitch our flies. We enjoyed some mid afternoon sunshine as we sorted and prepared for tomorrow's climb out of the valley over Vee Notch pass.

Clambering up the dry watercourseRain during the night brought a damp misty morning with visibility of 100-200m. We set off up the river with trepidation of the climb ahead and this was quickly realised when confronted by a steep wall of vegetation disappearing up into the mist in the direction of the intended route. Finding a path thru this in poor visibility was going to be very slow so we instead decided to follow the stream. This quickly became impassable at an unmarked waterfall but a steep dry watercourse to the left appeared to offer a way above the bluffs. We clambered our way up this and the terrain eventually opened up onto tussocked tops. Unfortunately to get to where we wanted to be was blocked by the gorged out stream. We continued up and eventually a small break in the clouds permitted an easy crossing of the stream up onto a spur leading up towards Vee Notch. As we climbed the spur the nearby stream gorged out again beside us before disappearing into the mist. The spur became steeper and my trusty GPS indicated we needed to be a 100m further to the east. It was now midday and we were still at least a hour from the top. The cloud was starting to dissipate and offer views of firstly where we had been clambering over the mountainside and then finally glimpses of where we needed to go. 

It was time to make a decision, continue climbing with the likelihood of more challenging navigation in poor visibility or retreat. Given the long term weather forecast we decided to retreat as we didn't want to get caught on the wrong side of the main divide. With a clear view down to the valley floor we saw we could avoid the bluffs and bushbashing by sidling down to our left picking up a scree fan that offered an easy descent once off the tussocked slopes. Before long we were on the valley floor and had clear views all the way up to Vee Notch. If only we had this visibility three hours ago we would now have been descending into the Ahuriri.

 Instead we descended back down the river past the Biv and then the long sidle above the gorge to the Main Huxley. A pink sunset that night was the last clear skies we saw for many days to come. Day three had us back crossing the swingbridge and this time ascending the north branch of the Huxley to Brodrick hut. We encountered a few, deeply gouged streambeds that took some time to descend into and out of but frequent views up the valley made it an interesting three hours. Brodrick hut is well situated with great views up to the pass and the head of the valley. Unfortunately our views were always impeded by the liquid sunshine but we still got a sense of the scale of the valley from occasional glimpses thru the swirling cloud.

View from Brodrick Hut of pass and head of valley

Rain on the roof the following morning had us having a sleep-in but by 10am we decided that the conditions weren't bad enough to stop us getting across the pass into the Landsborough. So before long we were off across the valley and commencing the climb to the pass. A reasonable trail had us up on the pass within two hours where the miserable conditions had us peering thru the swirling clouds for a route down to the basin below. We clambered down a steep tussocked slope ignoring the GPS route that indicated we should have descending further over to the true right. Before long we were scrambling down and around the staircase of huge boulders that forms the upper reaches of McKenzie creek. Two hours later we approached the area where we hoped to pickup the track that climbs out of the creek bed thru the trees to a spur that provides access to the valley floor. Visibility was still not great and we struggled to find an entry point. We finally found some old cairns and began a long climb thru thick scrub towards the spur. We quickly realised that while this may once have been a route up it was too overgrown to be the one currently used. Sally and Dennis dragged themselves up the slope to where I looked at the map rationising where the current route was. They weren't that impressed when we set off to sidle down the slope where we eventually bisected the track leading to the spur. 

Looking NE up the Landsborough to the glaciers on Mts Duchen & ElliotAfter wasting 45 minutes scrambling around on the slope we made good progress down a steep, very wet and slippery trail which provided occasional glimpses of the valley floor. A few large slips on the northern aspect of the spur gave us good views down to a braided Landsborough river and large open valley. We finally descended into another branch of  McKenzie creek which provided difficult access to the valley floor for our now tired legs. Sick of the scrambling over and around slippery boulders we picked up a track on the true right of the now combined flows of the creek that finally deposited us on a grassy, open Landsborough valley. Looking up the valley our eyes were drawn to the impressive glaciers on Mts Dechen and Elliot. More glaciers were evident disappearing into the cloud further up on the valley, an impressive backdrop to our first visit to the Landsborough. Sally was overjoyed to be finally here, albeit wet and cold. Creswicke Flat hut (Fraser Hut) provided welcome shelter but this poor example of the backcountry hut was infested by mice and the odd rat.

McKenzie creek at the bushline.Day Five arrived with passing showers deterring us from exploring further up the valley. Instead, we contented ourselves with getting our sodden gear dry and relaxing in some weak afternoon sunlight. Dennis and Sally decided to sleep in the fly rather than endure a second night of nocturnal scratchings from the mice and the short bunks that struggled to accommodate Dennis's 1.93m frame. However a huge, protracted thunderstorm at 1am in the morning had them retreating to the hut in short order. More rain the following day had us assessing whether the creek level would be too high to safely retreat out of the Landsborough. Satisfied that it wasn't too bad we set off up the track on the true left of McKenzie creek eventually reaching the creek opposite the start of the spur track. Hauling ourselves up this slippery track tree trunk by tree trunk provided a fabulous workout and by the bushline we were dripping inside and out. On dropping down to the creek we quickly realised we wouldn't want to criss-cross this surging torrent too many times. We quickly found a place to cross and remained on the true right as we sidled up the valley at times 200-300m away from the stream. This proved much easier going than our descent and on reaching the bluffs we managed to easily by-pass them by climbing to the east. This prior knowledge made the return trip much easier than previous and we reached the cold, wind blown pass five hours after leaving the hut. A quick descent has us in the hut with the potbelly cranked up and a hot soup to warm the insides. We were disappointed not to get any views and photos on two crossings of Brodrick but relieved that were were at least now safe in the knowledge that little stopped us from getting out on time and making our flight home.

A dusting of snow on the topsRested and starting our with dry kit the following morning we were chased down the valley by a ominous bank of storm clouds which caught up with us before we reached Main Huxley Forks hut. The temperature dropped suddenly and the rain dropped in sheets making us very thankful for the swingbridge over the now roaring river. We arrived to a warm hut with the potbelly cranked up and two resident Czechs about to walk out to the roadend. We gratefully got into some dry gear and as the couple disappeared out the door the sun came out presenting us with a dusting of snow on the surrounding peaks.

A bright sunny day presented itself as we walked out to the roadend the following morning. We encountered a number of groups walking in, one a group of six Australians from Sydney were off to have a go a Vee Notch and drop down into the Temple catchment. This was their second attempt and they weren't hopeful as the weather forecast was again turning to custard. We enjoyed our views and the sun on our back as pondered what might have been had the weather played its part. There is unfinished business to bring us back and with a few more circuit options now to chew over....


Location: Ruataniwhi Conservation Park Number of Days: 9 Grade: Med/Fit
  Start Location: Lake Ohau roadend Number in Party: 3
Organisation: Private Trip
  Finish Location: Lake Ohau roadend Leader: Peter Waworis Weather:Fine->Rain,wind

Proposed Route: Hopkins, Huxley, Ahuriri, Hunter and Landsborough catchment circuit. (Route details)

Party Members: Dennis Brown, Sally Johanesson, Peter Waworis

Transport provided by: Hire Car from CHCH airport

Topo map at bottom of article displays in most cases the GPS track of route taken, highlighting inaccuracies of track locations.

Day One Details Roadend to Monument Hut. Parked vehicle at gated Lake Ohau Roadend and walked along old road that is suitable for 4 wheel drives.  Monument hut located in the trees above the river beside where the 4 wheel drives cross one of the tributories of the Hopkins. Easy walk in.
Time/Km traveled 2hrs, 9km
Hut/Campsite details incl Grid Reference Monument Hut Topo50 map sheet BY14, E1344519, N5120555
Water source From the river
Day Two

Details Monument Hut to South Huxley Biv. From the hut the track sidles above one of the tributories of the Hopkins before dropping down and crossing a foot bridge that leads you onto the river flats. You will need to wade across this tributory again before crossing a small saddle and dropping down in the main Huxley valley. A swingbridge gets you onto the true left where you climb up to a track interesection. The track drops down to the river flats before sidling above the river in the trees. After approx 1000m you leave the trees behind and cross grassed meadows above the river all the way to the Main Huxley Forks huts. From the hut the track takes you over a swingbridge which crosses the north branch of the Huxley. A steady climb sliding around the gorged lower reaches of the south branch eventually drops to an open riverbed that provides easy access up to the Biv.

Time/Km traveled To Main Huxley Forks, 8.5km, 3hrs. To South Huxley Biv, 6km, 3hrs
Hut/Campsite details incl Grid Reference Main Huxley Forks Huts, South Huxley Biv, Topo50 map sheet BZ14, E1338917, N5117752
Water source From the  river

Day Three

Details South Huxley Biv to Vee Notch and back to Main Huxley Forks Hut. The walk up the valley to the start of the climb is straight forward. In good visibility there are a few obvious routes up above the bluffs. The easiest route is to climb up a scree fan to BZ14 GR358539 which gets you to 1300m without having to bushbash. From here a track leads you thru a small patch of scrub to the tussocked slopes and a simple climbing sidle to GR360145 avoids most of the steep gorged areas. From there its straight up the shute to the pass. There is another much steeper path leading up thru the bluffs to the true left of the main stream (waterfalls). Unfortunetly neither of these were obvious to us in the very limited visibility we encountered. (See Trip Report for details) Our route up is marked in RED, route down marked in purple. After aborting short of the pass it was a simple sidle down the tussocked slopes and then down the scree fan to the valley floor. Trip back to Main Huxley Forks Hut was uneventful.
Time/Km traveled To turn around point: 4hrs, 6km; Return to Main Huxley Forks Hut: 5.75hrs, 10km
Hut/Campsite details incl Grid Reference Main Huxley Forks hut, Topo50 map sheet BY14, E1338921, N5122123
Water source Water tank

Day Four

Details Main Huxley Forks hut to Brodrick hut. Take the track at the back of the hut and cross swingbridge over north branch of the Huxley. The tracks stays on the true right of the river crossing a number of steep walled, side streams that require careful route selection. The track sidles around a large slip but when the river is low you should be able to walk up the side of the river. No significants issues.
Time/Km traveled 3hrs, 4.5km
Hut/Campsite details incl Grid Reference Brodrick Hut, Topo50 map sheet BY14, E1337615, N5125756
Water source Water tank

Day Five/Six

Details Brodrick hut to Creswicke Flat Hut. Follow a reasonably destinct track to BY14 GR374265 where a good track takes you up thru the bluff to the pass. Even in poor visibility, navigation was straight forward as there were plenty of warratahs. Once over the pass bypass the steep tussock slopes by dropping down to GR366276 and then picking up the stream bed to the true right and following that down. From here keep out of the creek and sidle 100-200 to the true right of the creek which proved to be much quicker than clambering over the boulders in the riverbed. The track leading up to the spur isn't that obvious and can be found at E1334826, N5129390. There is a reasonable campsite a few minutes up this slope. The track climbs steeply up to the spur and from there a steep descent to the creek. On getting to the creek cross over and pickup a trail directly opposite that provides much easier acces to the valley floor that following the creek. The trail is intermittent at times but the forest floor is reasonably open providing easy travel. You will end up on the true left of McKenzie creek with the hut 10 minutes away.

Key points: avoid bluffy tussock slope when descending from pass especially when wet and the track up to the spur starts just before a large slip on the true left. Purple route marked on map.

Time/Km traveled 7.25hrs(6-9 hrs), 9km
Hut/Campsite details incl Grid Reference Creswicke Flat Hut (Fraser Hut), Topo50 map sheet BY14, E1334213, N5131358>
Water source Water Tank.

Day Seven

Details Creswicke Fkat Hut to Brodrick. Reverse of above.
Time/Km traveled 7hrs(6-9hrs), 9km 
Hut/Campsite details incl Grid Reference Brodrick Hut, Topo50 map sheet BY14, E1337615, N5125756
Water source water tank

Day Eight

Details Brodrick to Main Huxley Forks Hut. Reverse of Day 4. Red route marked on map.
Time/Km traveled 3hrs, 4.5km
Hut/Campsite details incl Grid Reference Main Huxley Forks hut, Topo50 map sheet BY14, E1338921, N5122123
Water source Water Tank

Day Nine

Details Main Huxley Forks Hut to Roadend.

Time/Km traveled 5hrs, 21.5km
Hut/Campsite details incl Grid Reference  NIL
Water source River