Richmond Range plane wreck (Off the Fell Johnston Ridge)
20th March, 2021
Initially, we planned an ambitious crossing from Mt Fishtail to Mt Richmond. Unfortunately, party numbers fell (no pun intended) and were reduced to Nina and myself. Feeling a little nervous about the ‘hellish stunted beech … and bluffy side spurs making the descent more interesting,’ our attention turned to the wreck of a plane, a Lockheed Electra 10A named the Kereru, in which Bill Moore (a close family connection of the Claridge family) was killed in 1942. It was the first commercial aviation crash in New Zealand. We had seen pieces of the wreckage a few months before on our Nelson to Blenheim traverse over Mt Fell.
We set off to Richmond Saddle Hut and made good time through beech forest laced with beautiful drooping lichen.
Up early and off before dawn (0630-ish) into the rocky goodness of the Richmond Range. Nina was much more adept at picking through the boulder field than I, but eventually, after a couple of false peaks, we reached the top of Mt Richmond, where someone had built a rock campsite, presumably to watch the sunrise. Going down the other side was much steeper. Certainly impressive when we looked back from where we had come. We had reached the alpine meadows of the Fell Johnston Ridge.
Now, how to find this plane? It wasn’t marked on the map (making it more difficult to find than the Shingle Slip Knob wreck of Waitangi Weekend). Never fear, geocaching is here. Most historic and noteworthy sites have a geocache associated with them and this was no exception. I had screenshot the geocache location and taken a bearing from a dogleg in the track to the wreck. Bingo. We dropped down the ridge about 200 m and came across a wheel strut (at about 10 a.m). Wreckage was strewn for hundreds of metres. There was no fuselage, just bits. We had no success in locating the plaque, and, to be honest, I think Nina was more interested in an attempt on Mt Johnston.
We left and headed towards the rocky Tors. It took longer than we thought, as journeys do when the view ahead is foreshortened, but it was great fun. We recommend spending a day there. The summit looked as if it might need rope protection. Internet advice was sparse; one person thought you didn’t but it would probably be advisable to take a rope, just in case. It looked exposed but probably easy climbing. We left at about 1300.
We headed back to Richmond Saddle Hut, to find around eight goats congregating on the large rock slab outside. We arrived well before dinner, in time for afternoon tea and a gingernut! It was a lovely spot, flooded with the afternoon sun.
[Ed: Mt Fell and Mt Johnston were named after Miss Pamela Fell, a passenger, and Keith Johnston, the captain of the aircraft, who were killed in the crash along with the other three people on board.] For more, see: https://www.wildernessmag.co.nz/see-backcountry-plane-wrecks/ and Flight of the Kereru | Stuff.co.nz
- Party members
- Nikki Joseph (scribe), Nina Sawicki