Canterbury blog | January 2022

I had about three weeks to explore some peripheral areas in North Canterbury. My presence was required at home by the end of January, so that was a limitation.

Initially I considered the area immediately to the south and west of Lake Sumner, but events conspired to suggest the bulk of my time should be to the west of Lake Coleridge instead.

After my rather strenuous gut buster through the Raglan Range a week or so previously, the intention was to go on a number of shorter tramps. I was taking my car so they had to be in and out, and it seemed sensible that for once I could use my lightweight pack, and carry less food.

My body certainly appreciated that, although I ended up going to some extraordinarily beautiful places, particularly up the Avoca River, and adjacent in the Wilberforce River.

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Day 1 | Carlyle Hut

Little used track up the Carlyle River. |  Carlyle River, Lake Sumner Forest Park

The start of the track was unmarked and overgrown, so even with a light pack I had my work cut out at pushing through the manuka.

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Day 2 | Scotties Hut

Poor weather, looking back to the Tophouse Road from near Peters Pass. | St James Conservation Park

It was pretty miserable when I set off, but slowly it improved, and the track surface helped speed.

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Day 3 | Christchurch

Edwards River looking up to Stony Stream. | St James Conservation Park

With the water level low, river travel proved easy enough, although it is a vigorous workout at times clambering over the boulders.

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Day 4 | Harper River DOC campsite

Getting lost on the way to Harper River campsite and looking up the Rakaia River, not the Wilberforce.

It was late afternoon of the time I was at the Harper River Bridge, and it was obvious I should stay at the free campground and get ready to start walking in the morning.

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Day 5 | Basins Hut

The Retreat used to be a Forest Research Institute field station testing conifers. | Avoca River, Craigieburn Forest Park

Not much to report for the day, just a lot of relatively easy walking alongside two rivers.

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Day 6 | Avoca Hut

Mt Avoca, 2131 m, on extreme right.  | Avoca River, Craigieburn Forest Park

Again no one was at the hut, and unfortunately, when I sat on the bunk for a moment, shortly thereafter I was horizontal and was immediately asleep.

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Day 7 | Basins Hut, again

From Avoca Hut you can wander up the Avoca River to an amazing world. | Moraine Flat, Craigieburn Forest Park

Standing in a rock field with those surrounding enormous walls made me feel totally insignificant in the world. That was a liberating thought. I was just another ant dashing hither and yon.

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Day 8 | Basins Hut, third time

The climb to Back Basin Hide starts on the other side of the slip on the right. | Basin Stream, Craigieburn Forest Park

Back Basin Hide, actually a two-person bivvy without a track, was my objective, and what a worthwhile day it turned out to be.

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Day 9 | Harper River DOC campsite

Four-wheel drive track alongside the river.  | Avoca River, Craigieburn Forest Park

I left right on the dot, but the dot was 9 am. No great hurry, I guess.

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Day 10 | Moa Stream Hut

After a spell of great weather, the river is way down. | Wilberforce River, Craigieburn Forest Park

Another empty hut, but it has an issue with water. The open-topped barrel was a festering murk, and it was a 200 m trip down to the river with a plastic bucket, then 200 m back over the boulders, hoping the handle wouldn’t fall off.

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Day 11 | Unknown Stream Hut

Unknown Stream from Moa Pass.  | Moa Pass, Craigieburn Forest Park

I got to the point where I was really entangled, including some bush lawyer. Fortunately, my small folding Japanese saw was at hand, and at some stage in the future, some other wayward tramper may be surprised to see the path has been cleared for the last 5 m to the shrub-free, but fairly greasy watercourse.

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Day 12 | Urquharts Hut

Looking up Wilberforce River towards Mt Murchison, 2408 m, at the back.  | Unknown Stream, Craigieburn Forest Park

Periodically, I’d go outside and revel in being in the mountains. Still thrilled by them after all these years, but the sheer steepness of this lot is impressive.

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Day 13 | Moa Hut

Can see the start of a road up the pass. Track then goes straight up.  | Browning Pass, Craigieburn Forest Park

This turned out to be quite a day.

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Day 14 | Christchurch, again

The river valley is wide, but is the steepest river on the east coast.  | Wilberforce River, Craigieburn Forest Park

A vivid sunrise, orange turning to green, that hinted at another perfect summer’s day.

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Day 16 | Wharfedale Hut

When you get this far you need to cross the Townsend River, not go up the track on the same side. | Oxford Forest Conservation Area

The gravel road into the Lees Valley was fairly hair raising, primarily from meeting a logging truck with a full load, a grader that created a mound of dirt/rock dragged up from the gutter to the middle of the road, four honey industry vehicles filled with beehives, and then a random four-wheel-drive. It’s basically one lane, and a huge drop-off on one side.

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Day 17 | Black Hill Hut

The saying is: Tomorrow is another day.

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Day 18 | Black Hill Hut, night 2

“Oh, this is turning into a bigger expedition than anticipated.”

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Day 19 | Home, once again

Leaving Black Hill Hut. | Oxford Forest Conservation Area

For once, my body told my brain to go home, and I meekly complied.