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June 2011 Issue
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A most beautiful valley

Camping in Nina Valley Lewis Pass. Photo: Pat Barrett
90 minutes to the first flats
A marked track crosses a suspension bridge over the Lewis River opposite the NZDA Palmer Lodge on SH7.
BT23, BU23
Nina Valley Flats, Lewis Pass National Reserve

Tucked into a corner of the Lewis Pass National Reserve is picturesque Nina Valley, to which many would add, ‘most beautiful valley in Lewis Pass’. Such a title certainly sits well with me, in fact I could expand on it just a little to encompass descriptions such as, iconic, archetypal, and, resonating the beauty of forest and stream.

The Nina is magnificent, and furthermore, easy on the legs and a delight to walk the lower valley flats and mid-reaches as it’s not until above Nina Hut that the valley narrows and progress becomes a degree harder.

Nina Hut is the focus for most who head this way, a large new structure commanding a great view of the upper valley and tops from terraces on the southern flanks of the watershed. Enticing as the hut may be, there is another hidden treasure here, and one which hut-bound trampers may well marvel at en-route to bunk-heaven; the spacious river flats. They are legion throughout the walk in, though in most cases can only be glimpsed through the deep margin of red beech forest along which the track passes, occasionally emerging to cross a section of grassy terrace. The best flats are found within 90-minutes’ walk from the road just below and above the airy swingbridge which spans the second gorge. I took my youngest daughter here one weekend for an easy riverside camp.

Camping in this location evokes for me memories of easy first days out tramping when I would often find a grassy river flat to set up tent and fire and just immerse myself in the beauty of the environment with little thought of heading for the tops or some neighbouring valley, or perhaps on other occasions to have discovered an inviting campsite and to return to it just to camp.

There is a profound peace it setting down at riverside for a night or two, especially in still conditions when the undiminished roar of the river lulls you to sleep come nightfall.

There is also much more to recommend the Nina for camping: dead wood is ever present, views of surrounding ranges rising above the canopy in the misty dawn inspire harder trips, cool forest corridors make trekking between the flats a journey of intimate discovery, and emerald green river pools hiding large trout beg for the first flick of the rod.

Our particular camp was marked by an easy time reading and relaxing in the tent and, when sandflies were not too distracting, stretching out on a sleeping bag at the lip of the terrace where we could watch the river surging past in a narrow channel.

Our campfire dinner was especially memorable, cooking pasta and fish in the pot as dusk fell and a handful of stars winked on in the darkening sky before retiring for snug-time and night-time stories.