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December 2014 Issue
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The art of route finding

Descending Emily Hill into the Stour River West Branch. Photo: Conor Leahy
Car park to Manuka Hut, 2hr; Manuka Hut to Woolshed Creek Hut, 7.5hr; Woolshed Creek to car park, 5hr
Ashburton Gorge Road from Mt Somers, then Hakatere-Heron Road. Park at the track to Lake Emily next to Castleridge Station

Manuka and Woolshed Huts, Hakatere Conservation Area

When an unseasonal deluge on the Main Divide left our plans to cross the Wilberforce River to complete the Unknown Stream/Moa Saddle circuit in tatters, a quick re-think was required and it was to the reliable Hakatere Conservation Area we travelled.

Our late start was compensated for by a quick and easy stroll from the access point next to Castleridge Station along the 4WD track past Lake Emily, across the side of Emily Hill and down into the Stour River West Branch valley. A low-running Stour River made an easy crossing to Manuka Hut where we intended to settle for the night before taking the Stour River East Branch around the Manuka Range and up over to the ever popular Woolshed Creek Hut on the Mount Somers Track. An old musterer’s hut, Manuka Hut is a real gem with six matressed bunks and a fine fireplace. Easy access to water and proximity to the road makes Manuka Hut a popular destination for day walkers and horse trekkers, and also provides shelter along Te Araroa.

Once we’d fought our way through matagouri to chop up some dead wood from across the river we had a roaring fire and combined with a spectacular clear night sky we had an enjoyable evening.

With time on our side, we had a casual start the next morning before heading off around the Manuka Range – first following the West Branch; meeting the watershed and then following the course of the East Branch of the Stour River. Initially, matagouri and swampy conditions made progress slow but once on the low tussock flats we made good time. Waist-high grasses and swampy conditions ahead combined with intermittent matagouri-filled gullies then persuaded us to leave the relative plains to try our luck on the true right side of the river – but this proved even more challenging with slow painful progress up and down the steep sides of the Manuka Range in a vain attempt to avoid the worst of the matagouri and spainiard.

Frustrated, and seeing better conditions appear on the other side of the river, we once again crossed it – climbing the ever-present steep escarpments up to the true left of the river. Quick progress followed before another matagouri-filled gully and an intimidating drop of one of the East Branch’s tributaries convinced us to go down to the river, break for lunch and then follow the more amenable looking slope of the East Branch out to its convergence with the West Branch.

Thus, after lunch it was a pleasant bolder hop down the river to where it flattened out and the rivers joined. Despite being pretty tired, a map check convinced us that Woolshed Creek Hut was within easy distance despite an imposing climb up the ridgeline to the 4WD track that leads to the hut. Following a fence line, the biggest challenges proved to be the omnipresent matagouri and frequent swampy conditions before an easier-than-anticipated climb up and over to the hut.

The 26-bunk hut was predictably busy so it was decided an early start was in order to avoid the breakfast log-jam and the worst of the summer heat.

At 6am we walked back to the Stour River. From there it was a simple case of following the 4WD track over the flats, past Lake Emily back to the car and a deserved cool jug in Methven.

Although not the most exciting of routes, the tramp did offer a good alternative when time is short, rivers are high and you want to try route finding in a non-technical environment.

Plus the beauty of Hakatere is always worth a visit.

– Conor Leahy