"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

1 March 2015

Woolshed Creek Hut - 7 February 2015

Initially we had planned to climb Woolshed Hill from the Hawdon Shelter but just before we hopped in the car I suggested we could perhaps visit the other Woolshed....Woolshed Creek Hut in behind Mt Somers.
It promised a much easier day, and we also figured it would be a good opportunity to check out the track with a view of taking the kids in there.

The drive down to Mt Somers is a pleasant one, passing through the Rakaia Gorge then onwards to Mt Somers village before turning inland and following the road until making the signposted turn off to the carpark.
The Mt Somers area has a long history of human endeavour and industry, making it a fascinating place to visit. The country around the present day village and inland towards the hills was quickly taken up by runholders in colonial times for farming, with well known characters of the time Tripp and Acland securing the first run in 1856, and adding several more to the station in the following years, forming what became Mt Somers Station.
A more industrial element began in the region in the 1920's with the discovery of coal in the hills around the Woolshed Creek catchment. Several mines were established, and the site of one, the Blackburn mine, can be readily visited by a short 30-60 minute walk from the Woolshed Creek carpark. The mine initially proved a failure, having been opened in 1929 it went bankrupt the following year. With miners unable to find other work, a cooperative was set up, and mining recommenced around 1933, and continued through until its' final closure in 1968, with difficult times throughout its' time of operation.
That wasn't to be the end of the human endeavour in the region, with the formation of the Mt Somers Walkway Society, a volunteer group who set out to create a walkway through the region. The route was established, and the track opened in October 1987. The walkway is a 2-3 day tramp, with well appointed huts, most commonly walked from Woolshed Creek to Staveley.

We pulled in to the carpark and were immediately relieved that weren't making an overnight trip as we were met by the sight of 26 cars already there - we were certainly going to have company on this trip!

The track started gently, easing its' way alongside Woolshed Creek, before reaching the base of one of the old mining inclines. An information board here details some of the industry that occurred in the region, and nearby are some old relics of the mining days, making it an interesting spot to look around.
From here the track begins to climb more steeply as it turns up the hill towards the old mine site, following the line of the incline down which the coal was dispatched in wagons. Partway up the climb a track junction offers a choice of routes up to the mine - the Miners Track (which you're already on), or the Sidewinder Track, which hugs the bush face before climbing up directly to the mine site. We continued up the Miners Track, which quickly climbed out of the bush and into the scrub zone, before angling back across to the old mine site.

The Blackburn mine site is a bit of a gem, with old relics scattered around the area. DOC have also reconstructed a wagon housing which contains information boards about the industrial history of the area. I won't spill all the secrets here...you'll have to go visit the site yourself!

By the time we left the mine we had been joined by two other parties, with similar intentions to ours, so we set off together, but we're soon to be separated. Having chatted to a family returning to their car, we knew ahead we had a choice of routes to the hut: the easy option, which follows a vehicle track on a low sidle below the ridge line then down to the hut, or the more adventurous (read more strenuous) one which climbs up and over Trig R (as it's marked on older maps, now marked as Pt 934m). This was described to us as narrow and a bit rocky - sounded fun, so that's what we chose.

It was a short, slightly steep climb, which seemed harder due to the heat of the day, and it wasn't too long before we stepped onto Pt 934m, the high point of what is a low level trip.
The views from the summit were superb, especially given its' relatively low height. Roaming over the landscape, my eye followed the line of the Stour River West Branch, which stretched out before us, leading the eye along through the Lake Heron basin to the distant Arrowsmith Mountains, rising like a row of jagged teeth on the horizon. Mt Barrosa stood out to the southwest, while directly ahead of us stood the Winterslow Range. Considering our modest height, and the modest effort required to get there, it was a grand scene.

From the summit it was a short ramble along the tops, before reaching a point high above the canyon below. Woolshed Creek Hut sat nestled in the valley, with its' namesake creek meandering along, glistening delightfully in the sun.
The descent off the tops was short and direct, taking us down until we were alongside the creek, where a short wander had us arriving at the hut, 2 hours after we set out.

Woolshed Creek Hut is a large, relatively new hut (built in 2006), sporting 28 bunks in 2 bunkrooms, a large living space, and even 'lockers' in the bunkroom to store your pack and gear - the first such luxury I've come across in a backcountry hut. It sits on the bank of the attractive creek of the same name, and offers good views of the surrounding hills.
There has been a hut on this site (or nearby) since the late 1800's, when the first hut was built by Mt Somers Station. Since then it has had numerous repair jobs, with a major extension being added in 1987, coinciding with the opening of the Mt Somers Walkway and the need for a larger hut to accommodate the anticipated increase in foot traffic, before in the mid-2000's even this hut needed replacing, giving the version we have today.

The hut was a hive of activity, with parties coming and going, and some staying. Many were enjoying the pleasures of Woolshed Creek itself, which has numerous small pools and rock formations in and around the canyon, inviting further exploration for those with the time.
Having made good time to the hut, we were able to sit and enjoy a leisurely lunch, knowing the return leg would likely be quicker, before shouldering packs again for the trek back to the car. We chose the vehicle track as our return route, having done the harder work on the inward leg, and found ourselves back at the car in around 75 minutes, with the carpark still just as full as when we left it!
This is a very popular destination, but one that is well worth a visit.

Carpark at Woolshed Creek - busy spot!

At the bottom of the incline, about to start our climb to the mine

Old coal wagon at the foot of the incline

Above the bushline on the Miners Track, looking back down Woolshed Creek

Julia climbing the Miners Track to the old mine site

Checking out the old Blackburn mine site

Mining relics at Blackburn mine

Mining relics at Blackburn mine

Mining relics at Blackburn mine

Mining relics at Blackburn mine

Presumably an old firebox

Climbing to Pt 934m (Trig R), looking into the canyon in Woolshed Creek

Julia climbing the ridge to Pt 934m, Blackburn mine is on the plateau behind

Looking down the ridge leading to Pt 934m

View from Pt 934m: Stour River leading through centre, Arrowsmiths at rear

Looking over the edge down into the Woolshed Creek canyon

Making our descent from Pt 934m to Woolshed Creek Hut

Woolshed Creek Hut - nice spot

Swingbridge across Woolshed Creek

Swingbridge across Woolshed Creek

Approaching Woolshed Creek Hut

Woolshed Creek Hut

Woolshed Creek Hut

Interior of Woolshed Creek Hut

Woolshed Creek Hut, with the Mt Somers Walkway leading over the saddle behind

Leaving Woolshed Creek Hut

On the vehicle track above the hut, looking into the Stour River

Last view of Woolshed Creek Hut

Blackburn mine site

A rail and wagon on the side of the track

Crown Copyright - Land Information NZ

Access: Follow Inland Scenic Route 72 to Mt Somers village, then turn inland onto Ashburton Gorge Rd. Look for the signposted turnoff to the carpark, it's not an obvious road, and follow it for about 3.5km to the carpark.

Time: Carpark to mine 30mins, carpark to Woolshed Creek Hut via Pt 934m 2hrs, return via vehicle track 1hr 15mins

Map: BX19 Hakatere

Hut: Woolshed Creek Hut (28 bunks)