Big rivers blog | January/February 2023

I crossed the Ahuriri River on my trip north on the Te Araroa Trail.

Not without incident, I turned back from near the middle of the fast-flowing river as it started to get deeper, to wrap all my electronic gear, just in case. Ultimately, that was not required, but it’s a decent-sized river.

Perfect for exploring as a practice run for the Rangitata River, although I scarcely needed practice at this stage of the summer/my life.

Last summer, I looked at the Avoca and Wilberforce Rivers and moved on to the Hopkins and Huxley. I didn’t mind that they were reasonably flat and involved long days of rock hopping.

I could cope with more of that because the headwaters of these big rivers are spectacular.

I just had to deal with crossing these big steep rivers. Hopefully, the weather would be in my favour.

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Day 1 | Ahuriri Base Hut

Man, I'm glad I found those again. Near Sam Summers Hut. |  Mt Crichton Loop Track, near Queenstown

I ran into some Swiss fishers, “Hey, I want to see your fishing licenses!” Then had to explain it was a joke.

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Day 2 | Hagen Hut, camping

Almost to Top Hut. | Ahuriri River, Ahuriri Conservation Park

I could have done the whole tramp as a day walk.

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Day 3 | Ahuriri Base Hut camping

Top of Dingle Burn and Highlander Peak, 2285 m. | Ahuriri River

I passed a family with Dad, Mum, an 11-year-old girl, and a five-year-old boy. The kid had been looking at the volcanoes, and I asked him if he had seen any dinosaurs. “Yes, but they are over the back”.

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Day 1 | Whitehorse Campground, Aoraki/Mt Cook

On the 4WD track to Baikies Hut, Twizel River. | Near Lake Pukaki

A couple of nights in well peopled Aoraki should be sufficient before my brain cries out for solitude and sanity.

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Day 2 | Whitehorse Campground, Night 2

Hooker Valley and Aoraki, 3724 m, in some cloud from above Sealy Tarns. | Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park

The day turned out more energetic than anticipated.

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Day 3 | Geraldine cabin

North Opuha Track near Spurs Hut. |   Te Kahui Kaupeka Conservation Park

I was surprised to find I climbed over a low saddle on my way, with wind channelling along at a terrific rate, just about blowing me over on occasion.

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Day 1 | Black Birch Creek campsite

Camping at the bottom of Black Birch Creek. | Rangitata River headwaters

I was heading for Dog Kennel Bivvy, but up at the start of the gorge, I suddenly thought why not just camp and walk up without my pack in the morning?

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Day 2 | Camping near Black Mountain Hut

After a while, it became apparent the main Rangitata River was hard against the old moraine wall, and with the braided river looking swift, deep, and pretty milky, I decided to climb up to the high track.

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Day 3 | Growler Hut

Near Growler Hut after crossing these braids of the Havelock River. | Rangitata River headwaters

An amazingly colourful sunrise, but the showers in the mountains looked ominous.

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Day 4 | Growler Hut, night 2

Suddenly nine 4WDs turned up at Growler Hut for some lunch. | Rangitata River headwaters

Ten big years since I arrived back in the country, and a bit has happened.

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Day 5 | Forbes Bivvy

Just need to cross the Forbes River again. At least it's down from yesterday. | Rangitata River headwaters

Once across, now all I needed to do was to find the hut.

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Day 6 | Mistake Flats Hut, night 1

Crossing the Havelock River above Mistake Flat Hut. | Rangitata River headwaters

I had all my warm clothes on and looked at my almost packed backpack and the wet shirt, pants, socks, boots and raincoat I was about to wear.

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Day 7 | Mistake Flats Hut, night 2

Almost to Veil Bivvy. It's up on that grassy-looking area.  | Havelock River, Rangitata River headwaters

I crossed back over the Havelock River immediately in front of the hut, and, halfway across, came to the conclusion that this was a particularly bad decision. It had a metre or two where the flow was swift, footing uncertain due to the bouldery bottom, and I retreated to the shelter of a rock. I tried to continue back, but that didn’t look great either.

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Day 8 | Growler Hut, again

Clambering up Murphy Creek. You climb up that gully. | Rangitata River headwaters

I spotted a young stag about 100 m from the hut, just up on a grassy fan. He stayed for a while as if to ask what had happened to his young girlfriend that the hunters had shot. Then he sadly wheeled around and quickly disappeared over the ridge.

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Day 9 | out

No track here. Just bash over the boulders, like being in a washing machine. | Rangitata River headwaters

He clearly had plenty of experience in driving up these big bouldery rivers and had a muscular four-wheel drive that could deal with some rough stuff. It helped the tire pressures were way down, but it was like being in a washing machine.