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April 2012 Issue
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A Pisa cake

Ascending Tuohy Saddle above Meg Hut. Photo: Eric Lord
Lowburn to Meg Hut, 6hr; Meg Hut to Waiorau Snow Farm road, 2hr
Signposted at Swann Rd Lowburn, SH89 Cardrona and SH6 Kawarau Gorge
Meg Hut, Pisa Conservation Area

I’ve learned a few things in my long association with a tramping club. Two important ones are that the best way to ensure the club goes somewhere you want it to is to offer to lead the trip yourself, and that club trips often offer solutions to tricky logistical issues like crossing a range. And that’s how I came to lead my first weekend trip in 16 years for the Otago Tramping and Mountaineering Club.

I wanted to go to Meg Hut on the Pisa Range, which lies between Cromwell and Wanaka. A crossover looked like the best option, and early autumn looked like a good time to go.

So seven of us found ourselves swapping cars and contents at the Cromwell petrol station at 10am on a sunny Saturday morning. My group drove to Swann Rd, Lowburn, while my car disappeared towards Wanaka, en route for Cardrona. A small DOC sign marks the start of the track up Packspur Gully. Originally a miners’ track, it’s now a farm road.

We gained altitude steadily, and I was pleased that it wasn’t high summer. The views were good, and continually became more expansive as tussock and Spaniard replaced fescue and rosehip. We were able to see up and down the Clutha Valley, and over to the Dunstan, Cairnmuir and Old Woman ranges. Eventually the gradient eased off as we reached the summit plateau and enjoyed views of The Remarkables, Hector Mountains and Garvies. We passed a sign indicating a route to Mt Pisa – much too far for a detour – before dropping into the head of the east branch of the Roaring Meg. The first accessible water we encountered was where the track passed a mustering hut.

From the hut, the track got more interesting. No more were we on a farm track; we were on a ground trail worn down by miners 150 years before. We climbed past a water race, and then spent the next while meandering across broad ridges and in and out of gullies. It is really nice country covered in tussocks and tors. An occasional sprinkling of orange-topped waratahs helped with navigation when the track became a little vague, although from a distance it was sometimes tricky telling them from the plentiful Spaniards. Finding your way could be challenging in foggy conditions or in snow. The promised nor’wester didn’t really make much of an appearance and the threatened showers were mercifully absent.

Finally, it was time to lose much of our hard-won altitude, as we dropped nearly 500m into the main Roaring Meg Valley. Below us was an extensive area of tailings, testament to the back-breaking toil of miners in this harsh climate. It was frustrating to find that getting to the hut involved an unavoidable boot soaking – the only one of the trip.

The hut was built for musterers in 1958 and has been nicely renovated by DOC. The concrete floor could be a bit cold, but there’s compensation in a ready supply of firewood – not something you expect in the barren hills of Central Otago. A stand of pines, presumably planted many years ago as a firewood source, has been poisoned and some of the trees have been partially blown over.

With the eastbound group of three and our four, we had a convivial and cosy night. On the Sunday morning, having made certain that each group had the correct car keys, we headed in our separate directions. For us, this meant a 200m ascent to Tuohy Saddle. A sign indicates a route to the south-west, over Queensbury Hill and Rock Peak to the high point on the Crown Range Road. If I was repeating this trip, I’d put the second car there, as it would make for a fuller day. We contemplated a side trip, but the other group had done that the day before and reckoned we’d have to go a fair distance to see a lot more than we could from the main route. So we headed down the long descent of Tuohy’s Gully and were at my car, near the bottom of the Waiorau Snow Farm road a mere two hours from the hut.

An alternative route descends the Roaring Meg SH6 from either the hut or the saddle.