"You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you" - Isaiah 55:12

5 October 2013

Nina Valley, Lewis Pass National Reserve - 28-29 September 2013

Not one to be left out of any fun, my wife Julia had been expressing some interest in coming tramping sometime and given that I'd had to cancel several trips over the past few months, I jumped at her suggestion that we go tramping for the weekend of our anniversary. What an awesome wife!!!

It was to be her first overnight tramp so I was looking for something not too strenuous (or likely to put her off!). A trip up the Nina Valley seemed like it would tick most of the boxes - a short tramp to a nice hut, bush walking with views of the river in places, not too much height gain, and the fun of a couple of swingbridges for good measure. All it needed was some good weather...!!!

We left home in warm, mostly sunny weather, but with a forecast of rain falling in the high country due to a NW weather pattern. As we made our way towards Lewis Pass it became more evident that we would likely have a wet weekend, striking a steady drizzle as we drove alongside the Hope River. Nothing had changed when we arrived at the Palmer Lodge, owned by the NZ Deerstalkers Association, so after donning jackets we crossed the road to the start of the track up the Nina Valley.

The tramp starts by immediately crossing the Lewis River, very swollen after days of rain. I have tried fording the Lewis after heavy rain and don't recommend it, but DOC have thoughtfully built a swingbridge here, thus enabling our tramp to begin (and not have to worry about being stranded in the valley). The track follows along a terrace above the Lewis, before climbing gently away from the Lewis, heading up the Nina. Travel is across a large, flat terrace for some time, making for a comfortable introduction to tramping for Julia. The only downside to such easy terrain is that it is very, VERY wet underfoot. The water tends to just sit and pool on the track, making for some large areas of boggy sludge. We spent considerable time skirting round these, endeavouring to keep our boots dry, until we finally reached a point where that became impossible - a knee deep pool with no way round. There was nothing else for it except to just take the plunge.

With that behind us our progress quickened - there seemed little point dodging pools of water now we were already sodden. After crossing the terraces the track drops down to meet the Nina River. Here the track is a little rougher but still easy going and before long emerges from the bush onto a nice grassy flat beside the river. This has potential for a great summer camping spot, if you can stand the sandflies.
After crossing the flats we re-entered the bush and a few minutes later reached the swingbridge that spans the Nina as it funnels through a narrow gorge.

The swingbridge marks a junction point for tracks up the valley. Continuing on the true left leads you to routes up Lucretia Stream, or into the head of the Nina where a small bivvy is located. To reach Nina Hut, our destination, you cross the swingbridge and head on up the true right. It should be pointed out that older maps still mark Nina Hut in its' old location - on the true left approximately opposite its' current location. The above mentioned routes are all clearly signposted at the swingbridge, so navigation should not be difficult.
The bridge itself carries you above the gorge, with the water surging against rock walls while attractive forest stands on each bank. It is quite airy out in the middle of the bridge, made even more so by the fast flowing river below. I almost experienced a touch of vertigo as I looked down, my sense of balance confused by the movement of the water, making it seem as if I was swaying wildly.

Safely across the track follows the river bank for a short period of time. This was an enjoyable part of the tramp, with good views to the river and, in better weather, the surrounding peaks I suspect.
The track on this side of the river was for the most part drier, although there was still some large sections of very wet track. I put this down to the change in topography, with much steeper hillsides above the track now, allowing the water to flow much more easily rather than pool. This made for a few more crossings of small side streams, but overall a drier track.
The track remains mostly flat, gaining height ever so slowly, before turning away from the river and making a short climb up to Nina Hut.

Nina Hut was built in 2002, replacing the aging hut that was sited on the other side of the valley. This new hut is beautifully sited in a clearing just below the top of a small knoll (Pt 761m on the map), with views up and down the main valley as well as up Duchess Stream and their attendant peaks - not that we could see a lot!!, just plenty of low cloud draped on the tops. The hut is well appointed, with 10 bunks in DOC's commonly used platform format, a large cooking bench, table that seated 8 comfortably, and woodburner with wood already cut and stored in a dry shed behind the hut.

On our way up the valley we had seen footprints, and sure enough smoke was billowing from the chimney as we approached the hut, a welcome sight after a wet few hours tramping. Three ladies were setting up house, with many of the comforts of home - 'glamping' as they called it.
Shortly after a third party arrived, a father and son who had a "just go tramping" as the weather was no good for hunting! A pleasant was spent, each group tending to do its own thing - Quiddler for us; cheese, crackers, and mulled wine for the ladies; a book in bed for the 'boys'. Later in the evening it turned out to be one of the ladies' birthday the day before, and amazingly they had even carried in a birthday cake!

We called it a night seemingly early, but mindful of the fact we would lose an hours sleep due to daylight savings kicking in. Heavy rain fell through the night, and a steady drizzle was still falling in the morning - it was going to be a wet trip out.
The tramp back to the car followed much the same pattern as the tramp in - wet above and below! Patches of sun did show themselves, allowing for a few photo stops, and our progress was quicker - I think due to the fact we were resigned to getting wet feet so just ploughed through some parts of track we had taken time to skirt around the day before. All that was left to do was make the turn off to Hanmer Springs and a soak in the hot pools to unwind.

Photo looks brighter than it was - drizzle to start the tramp

Nina Hut viewed from our approach, with The Devils Rampart (1740m) behind

Beautifully sited Nina Hut, looking down valley

Looking into the murk in the upper Nina Valley - The Grand Duchess (1703m) at right

Side stream up-valley from the Nina swingbridge

Safely across

Couldn't resist stopping as I crossed this side stream

Flowing water and nice bush, the Nina is an attractive valley

The void left by this tree

Taking in the views of the Nina

Rare moment of sunshine revealing some of the Nina's beauty

Crossing the Nina swingbridge - thumbs up to tramping!

Swingbridge over the gorge in the Nina River

Another look at the gorge

Stepping onto the swingbridge

View from the middle of the swingbridge

Did I mention the track was wet? - and this wasn't a bad part
Crown Copyright - Land Information NZ

Access: Take SH7 towards Lewis Pass. Cars can be parked at the Palmer Lodge. Track starts across the road about 50m to the north and is signposted.

Time: Car park to Nina Hut 3-3.5hrs (depending on conditions)

Map: BT23 Lewis Pass, BU23 Boyle Village

Hut: Nina Hut (10 bunks)