"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

20 September 2015

Lake Emma Hut, Hakatere Conservation Park - 12 September 2015

If you're looking for a short, easy family trip, then give some thought to a trip to Lake Emma. Tucked in the heart of the Hakatere Conservation Park, Lake Emma is a gem, and also boasts a superb, historic hut on its' shores, adding further interest and perhaps some incentive to make the walk round the lake for a visit.

The drive to the lake is a worthy trip on its own, the country through here is magnificent. Lake Emma is not visible from the main road, so keep your eye out for a signposted vehicle track leading off the road about 5km or so after the road turns to gravel. This vehicle track is in good condition and takes you to a carpark near the lake edge. In summer, it's possible with a 4WD to drive round the lake to the hut, but access is not allowed in winter.

The track around the lake is an easy one, and it only took us an hour to reach the hut - an hour of easy paced strolling, plenty of exploring, and taking photos - so if you were really in a hurry you could probably reach the hut in half that time. In my opinion, you would be missing out if you rushed it. We discovered swan's nesting/sleeping areas at the lake edge, something the kids would have missed had we been rushing along.

Lake Emma Hut is now listed as an historic site. The hut's construction dates back to somewhere around 1860, although the exact date is unknown and could be more towards the 1880's. Inside are 2 rooms, one as living quarters and one as a bunkroom, while attached on the outside of the hut is a tack room, which according to date stamps on the iron was added later. The sacking from the bunks has been removed, to discourage overnight use of the hut - note that staying overnight is NOT PERMITTED, as the hut is listed as an historic site.
The original purpose of the hut appears unclear, but could well have been an out-station for workers on the very large Mt Possession run. The layout of the hut is quite different from the numerous mustering huts in the area so it is unlikely that it was built for this purpose, nor is it likely that it was built for a boundary keeper as the old station boundary was nowhere near the huts' location. There were few other reasons to build a hut in those days - all that is for sure is that the hut is extremely old!

We spent a pleasant few hours at the hut, cooking up some lunch and just simply lounging around and enjoying a glorious high country day, before it was time to head back to the car.

To return, you have a couple of options. The obvious, and considerably easiest, one is to return the same way. If you're wanting to extend your day then you can continue on round the lake on the track that hugs the foot of the Harper Range. This track takes you all the way to Lake Camp, which makes it a reasonably strenuous exercise. I considered this option, or a variation of it, hoping to cut back through directly to the car once round Lake Emma. It was be feasible, but on the map the land between the track and the carpark is marked as swamp, so it could be a wet exercise. From what we could see, it did look wet underfoot but probably manageable for capable adults - I certainly wouldn't attempt it with the kids in tow!

Start of the track around Lake Emma to the hut, which is located directly below the snow summit at the lake edge

Abundant bird life on Lake Emma

Looking across Lake Emma to Mt Harper (1829m), the snow capped summit visible

Crossing the bridge across the lake outlet

After a few false starts, Yogi made her way across

Expansive views into the Rangitata headwaters

At 2875m, Mt D'Archiac is the highest mountain between Aoraki Mt Cook National Park and the Kaikoura Ranges

Rounding Lake Emma

Julia & Toby beneath the Taylor Range

Emma & Lincoln striding out and enjoying the scenery

Mt Potts (2184m) centre, and Cloudy Peak (2403m) to the left

Nearing Lake Emma Hut

Lake Emma - a beautiful spot on a calm day, but rather exposed if the weather was bad

Relaxing at Lake Emma Hut

Yogi looking statuesque

Lake Emma Hut

Family shot at Lake Emma Hut

Enjoying lunch at the hut

Lake Emma Hut again, Mt Potts is directly above Lincoln in the orange hat

Lake Emma and the view to Mt Potts and Cloudy Peak

Bunks inside Lake Emma Hut

Interior of Lake Emma Hut

Tack room at Lake Emma Hut

Julia and I at Lake Emma, Mt Guy on the right

Relaxing lakeside

Emma in front of Lake Emma Hut

The chef tending to lunch

Access: Drive to Mt Somers village and take Ashburton Gorge Rd inland. Look for a marked vehicle track leaving the main road about 5-6km after the road turns to gravel, which takes you to the Lake Emma car park.

Time: Car park to Lake Emma Hut 1hr (at a leisurely pace)

Map: BX19 Hakatere

Hut: Lake Emma Hut (historic, day visits only)

6 September 2015

Benmore Hut, Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park - 5 September 2015

Another Saturday, and another patchy weather forecast, this time with gale force nor'westers bringing with them the chance of some spill-over rain being followed by an afternoon change to southerlies and snow to the Canterbury high country. Hardly inspiring, but this time I had a solid back up plan.

I was on a day tramp with 10 year old son Toby, initially planning to make the short climb onto the tops and then on to Trig M and hopefully Rabbit Hill. It quickly became apparent that being on the exposed tops wasn't going to be a great option, so in came the back up plan - a trip up to Benmore Hut, a small hut tucked away in the bush on the lee slopes, surely this would offer some shelter from the gales whipping through the hills.

We made the turn off into Ben More Station, which is situated on the Springfield side of Porters Pass, and followed along a muddy farm track to the equally muddy carpark. Being in a 2WD vehicle, it was on foot for us from here, but for those in 4WD's access is allowed for a further 3km to a second marked carpark. Be warned - do not attempt this in anything other than a decent 4WD as the track is extremely muddy!

We trudged our way along the 4WD track across farmland, following the base of the hills. As expected, once we were tucked in behind the hills we were quite sheltered, and even more so once we entered the bush.
We reached the 4WD carpark after 45 minutes of traipsing through mud, and were eager to enter the bush onto what could only be a better track!
Indeed it was, a fine bush track, typical of so many around Canterbury, well marked and maintained. From entering the bush to the hut there is very little to say, other than to expect more mud as you get further up the valley. While I did my best to keep my boots somewhat mud free (an impossible task!), I found myself being serenaded by Toby's constant call of "don't step there...or there...or there". It seemed he was seeking out the deepest, muddiest parts, just so he could tell me not to step there! A messy exercise for him, but one that kept him occupied and thoroughly enjoying himself, despite the constant uphill nature of the walk in.
In several places, ropes have been installed to help you up and down steeper, or slipperier sections - these are very useful.

After around 2hrs 15mins, Toby was starting to feel the pinch, having done superbly to this point. It felt like we were close, so I got the map and tried to ascertain our position - difficult in the bush, but with the canopy thinning I was able to make out a couple of spot heights nearby and happily announced we were close. Fifteen minutes later the welcome sight of a bright orange hut came into view and we stepped into the small clearing that is the home of Benmore Hut.

Benmore Hut is a small 3 bunk (4 if you don't mind being cosy) hut, A-frame style, located on a small saddle at around 850m. Built in 1977 by the Malvern branch of the NZ Deerstalkers Association, it's recently had a paint job and is now resplendent in a bright orange coat. Inside, there are 2 sacking bunks along one wall with mattresses, while on the opposite wall in a reasonably sized wooden platform forming the third bunk. You could fit 2 on this platform quite comfortably, but it would be cosy, and there's only 1 mattress. The logburner looks great, and entries in the hut book suggest it does a great job of heating the little hut.
Judging by the hut book log, the hut seems to be almost exclusively frequented by hunters, with only a few sporadic entries from trampers.

We hung around for around 40 minutes, eating lunch, taking photos, and enjoying the surrounds. I was mindful of the potential weather change in the forecast, so we didn't hang around too long, and set off back down the track at an increased pace, helped by the fact it was pretty much all downhill on the way out.
Toby set a cracking pace and in what seemed like no time at all we emerged from the bush ready to tackle the muddy 4WD track again.

There was a noticeable change in the air as we left the bush, and a quick glance over our shoulders told us what we were in for, as rain was starting to spill over the tops and fill the valley behind us. Donning jackets, we went as quickly as we could through the mud, and were only caught up by the heavy rain just 5 minutes from the car. We'd timed it almost perfectly!

An awesome, fun trip, one we'll both remember for quite some time.

Starting out along the 4WD track

Looking across Ben More Station land to Foggy Peak (1741m), with Mt Enys on the Craigieburn Range in the background

Plenty of mud on the 4WD track - Toby loved it!!

Nearing the 4WD carpark, with Ben More (1655m) sporting a fresh coat of overnight snow

Nice spot to rest the legs before starting the steady climb to Benmore Hut

Lunch at Benmore Hut

Interior of Benmore Hut, a tidy, rustic hut

Sacking bunks, which look to be in excellent condition

Benmore Hut with its flash new paint job

Benmore Hut

Toby exploring around the hut - nice ladder made from beech saplings

The limited view from the hut door, down the valley all the way to Chest Peak, Puketeraki Range

Ready to leave Benmore Hut

Ominous looking weather starting to spill over the tops, with rain filling in the valley behind us

Did I mention there was mud?!!!

Crown Copyright - Land Information NZ

Access: Follow SH73 towards Porters Pass and turn off into Ben More Station (signpost on roadside), then follow DOC signage to carpark. All land other than the route described is private, you must stick to the marked route.

Time: Carpark to hut 2hr 30mins (including 45mins walking 4WD track), return 2hr

Map: BW21 Springfield

Hut: Benmore Hut (3 bunks)