Five great days at Mt Owen
Mt Owen, south of the Wangapeka Track in south-west Nelson, is the most extensive limestone mountain area in New Zealand, and as well, the highest point in Kahurangi National Park. We went this Easter for five days tramping.
The Thursday weather forecast for Easter was mostly fine, and was also accurate. We arrived at Courthouse Flat at 1am via the Arahura 6.25pm sailing, Nelson Lakes Shuttles and Sue’s station wagon.
Next morning was cool with heavy dew, and the pleasant smell of eucalyptus gums. We were away by 9.30 am (summer time), up the Blue Stream track, with stops for the glimpse of the mountains way above us, and for the relics of the unsuccessful 1870s gold mining machinery. They needed ten ounces of gold per tonne. But got nowhere near that amount. The company closed down. Will the present Government’s promotion of new mining in national parks be equally unsuccessful?
We visited Blue Stream’s resurgence, where the water reappears. Then the 1200 metre climb to Granity Pass hut began in earnest up the graded track through black and red beech honeydew forest with bellbirds singing. Colleen saw a ferret on the track. The weather improved to a sunny day.
After lunch a steep plod to Billy’s Knob Saddle showed us Mt Owen and Replica, and other peaks of the Owen Massif. The track then dropped down the steep “Staircase” bluffs to a dry Blue Stream. It followed the stream to Granity Pass Hut. We dropped our packs at the campsite and basked in the sunshine, with views of the limestone peaks and karst features all around. Though it was a 1200 m climb, we all made the hut almost within the DOC time of six hours. That night there were many more people camped in tents than in the new crowded 12-bunk hut. Our three food groups prepared their evening meals, and then we listened to the Mountain Radio weather schedule.
Saturday dawned sunny, with a slight frost. We all left to climb Mt Owen before 9 am. There is a good track to the top, with great views of the limestone peaks – Mt Bell (1857m), Culliford Hill (1756m), Replica (1822m) and Mt Owen (1875m). There was also tussock covered limestone, and limestone formations. The limestone formations were exposed in places. The limestone crevasses were spectacular. Everyone made it to the top, some with encouragement and help over the exposed bits. The cloud and wind came in near the top. After the obligatory photos, we went back to a more sheltered lunch spot, missing the 360 degree views over Kahurangi National Park. The cold and cloud stopped us from pushing on to Bulmer Lake. We did some easy off-track navigation in the tussock valley between mounts Bell and Owen on the way back. There were lots of small sink-holes and a large crater that swallowed the stream. Back at the hut two keas flew around in the evening, but did not come to the camp.
Sunday was overcast, and we investigated the track through Granity Pass to the granite Lookout Range. 100 metres of the track has fallen away before the first saddle. We climbed down with a hard bush-bash up. The track is an ageing deer trail, through park-like patches of beech and tussock. It was very pleasant. Then some climbed through the second saddle, and up onto the Lookout Range. Five young keas flew round in formation squarking. After lunch we returned and sidled more down the east bank before getting down to the stream. There was an easy bushed spur up to the bottom of the track along the cliff. We stopped and looked back on the small steep bush area we had spent almost an hour bashing through. The forecast of overnight showers was correct. On Monday all of us set off to the west through the tussock and streams. Though the water had dried up in the stream by the hut, it flowed in the streams running down from Sentinel Hill.
Tom, Liz, Hugh, Dennis, Marilyn and Hilda went through the limestone to the western ridge up Replica. It was steep getting to the ridge, but a lovely broad ridge up to the flat top. We lunched on top, admiring the view for an hour. Patriarch, Mt Kendall, Mt Arthur and the Inland Kaikouras stood out, as well as the nearby limestone peaks. We returned the same way, but via a dinosaur’s backbone, and across a large limestone “glacier” of polished limestone “ice” and crevasses, to the tarns. The others had climbed up Culliford Hill for lunch, with Michael getting to the top, before coming back to Sentinel Hill. It was a very satisfying day’s off-track exploration.
In the hut that night we were introduced to the latest card game craze - Kings and Assholes. Apparently this return to feudalism is sweeping the back-country huts! Next morning, we were away by 8am (now on standard time). The weather remained dry. We were back to Courthouse Flat by midday, and in Wellington by 9 pm.
- Party members
- Hilda Firth, Sandra Bourguignon, Sheelagh Leary, Dennis Hardie, Marilyn Jones, Valentina Dinica, Cathy Wylie, Michael Taylor, Colleen Davey, Sue Boyde, Tom White, Liz Paton, Christine Leighs, Hugh Barr (leader and scribe).