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February 2011 Issue
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Boundary striders

Boundary Creek Hut, Haketere Conservation Park
2-3hr to Boundary Creek Hut
About 3km south of the South Ashburton River Bridge on the Hakatere Heron Road, an unmarked dirt road heads north-west through undulating plains to reach the border of Hakatere Conservation Park. 2WD vehicles can proceed about 3km along this road.
Boundary Creek Hut, Haketere Conservation Park, Canterbury

Heavy rain streams off my parka, soaking into my polypro pants and cooling me sufficiently to warrant securing my parka domes to the neck and tightening the hood around my face. The strong nor’wester which had buffeted our campsite at Lake Heron in central Canterbury the previous evening has pushed eastwards, towards the plains, allowing a frontal band heavy with rain to advance over the Alps and drench us as we stride into Boundary Hut in the South Ashburton Valley.

Much of this catchment, the lake environs, Mt Potts, Taylor Range, and distant Mt Somers are now contained within Haketere Conservation Park, a brace of reserves and recreational land administered by the Department of Conservation between the Rakaia and Rangitata rivers. We are here to sample just a smidgen of it, given the brief time we have, and have chosen to car-camp at scenic Lake Heron before embarking on a short hike into Boundary Hut, an old musterer’s hut now contained within the park. Camping at the lakeside we were treated to a spectacular nor’west gale stripping water from the lake and hurling it shoreward. Fortunately the campsite is well protected by terraces and trees, so we escaped the worst of it.

The way to the hut is easy, just a 4WD trail to follow over a modest pass through rippling plains of tussock before dipping into the South Ashburton on a short zigzag to the valley floor with Boundary Creek Hut standing on the banks of the stream.

Our arrival is twice blessed. First the rain rolls back, the frontal clouds ripped from the heavens to reveal a dazzlingly blue sky, bright sun and arresting high country views. Secondly the old hut has been refurbished; painted, cleaned, new bunks, table, and chairs within. Chuffed, we unload gear for lunch and spread assorted items around the hut’s spacious interior, enjoying the spartan comfort of our high country manor.

The downside to all this is the wind, it regularly bombs the corrugated walls and roof with bursts of unmitigated fury, attempting to roll back our sturdy shelter. “No show”, I comment to Fr John, “This old hut’s been here a good while and withstood many a storm worse than this one.” Lunch is up, and we’re ready for it.

With a fair stretch of afternoon ahead we elect to do some more exploring and head up the steep incline behind the hut terrace to gain another 4WD trail which heads west over the Dogs Range to Potts River. The wind is fearsome up here and we double over in an effort to make headway against the gale racing over the plateau on the range top.

The alps are sheathed in cloud but the lower country is clear, granting us a great view into the Rangitata Valley and later a fine perspective of Mystery Lake, a sliver of spume-flecked blue secreted in the folds of the hillside beneath Dogs Range. It’s a small reward for enduring a sound lashing from the wind, and I descend briefly to its shore before following Fr John back over the tops to the hut.

Relief is entering a hut in a wind storm, you can actually think again, and hear.

Not long after this a fellow adventurer arrives, Geoff, a hunter with more time to spare than we have, who is heading farther into the park over the next five days.

He proves to be good company and we share a few stories of places known and unknown, of gear, work, plans and faith, even joining us in the Mass Fr John offers in the hut – a regular feature of our tramps together.

Night brings a clear sky, myriad stars, and a cold hut, there’s little to burn in these parts, but we are content to light a candle and settle into sleeping bags with a book and as the gale slowly eases.

Departure day begins early, there are appointments to honour in town, and it is still dark as we farewell Geoff and close the hut door, striding out along the trail as the eastern sky gently lightens with the sun.