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April 2015 Issue
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Home of the rock wren

A small unnamed tarn and Xenicus Peak. Photo: Steven Strachan
Trilobite Hut to Fenella Hut, 4-5hr; Fenella Hut to Xenicus, 3hr return
Fenella Hut, 12 bunks; Cob Hut, four bunks; Trilobite Hut, 12 bunks
From Upper Takaka, take Cobb Dam Road to the car park at the head of Cobb Reservoir
BP23, BP24
Xenicus Peak via Fenella Hut, Kahurangi National Park

Our family trip in to Fenella Hut up the Cobb Valley in Kahurangi National Park didn’t start well. The forecast had been a bit dodgy but trampers tend to be optimists and we had hoped for the best.

By the time we reached Trilobite Hut at the road end, it was tipping down and we spent the night at Trilobite hoping for better weather the following day.

There was light drizzle in the morning, but it appeared to be improving so we set off up the valley, following the Cobb River.  Everywhere we looked along the river flats we saw great swathes of the yellow-flowering bulbinella, past full bloom but still quite spectacular.

An easy 90-minute walk brought us to the beautifully restored Chaffeys Hut. Originally built in the early 1950s, this beech-slab three-bunker had since fallen on hard times but had refused to fall down and die. Now, through the dedicated efforts of the Golden Bay Deerstalkers Association, involving 1500 hours of voluntary labour, it had been returned to its former glory.

The weather was beginning to catch up with us and by the time we reached Cobb Hut it was raining steadily. We climbed a series of glacier-worn rocky steps, eventually topping out on a low ridge and arriving at Fenella Hut.

This hut was built as a memorial to Fenella Druce, one of four people killed in 1977 when the Three Johns Hut on Barron Saddle above the Mueller Glacier in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park was blown off the ridge in a storm.

Fenella Hut looks out along the Douglas Range to the impressive Dragons Teeth in the far distance. It’s a great starting point for side trips to Lake Cobb and Round Lake or more strenuous trips to Waingaro and Kakapo Peaks. Entries in the hut book tell of some impressive trips along the tops to Lonely Lake and Adelaide Tarn, through country that is not for the faint-hearted.

Looking out the hut windows, the foreground is dominated by a great lump of rock called Xenicus Peak, which was on our to-do list. The peak appears to have been named after the rock wren, Xenicus gilviventris, which was conspicuous by its absence.

Setting off next morning at 7am, we followed the well-worn track up valley to a small but much visited tarn. The track rounds the northern end of the tarn and heads in an arc back towards Lake Cobb and drops down into a hollow where a pole off to the right marks the beginning of the route up to Xenicus. A series of cairns marks the way along sloping rock slabs, traversing the front of the peak and dodging in and out of stunted beech forest. At the end of this traverse, the trail emerges into a tussock-filled gully that leads up the western flank of Xenicus, eventually reaching a low saddle and the ridge that leads to the summit – almost a complete circle. I had been this way before, and though relatively easy travel, it takes a while to do.

We found on old orange track marker that indicated the beginning of a steep and reasonably rough route up a spur involving a fair bit of clambering over rocky outcrops amongst the beech and dracophyllum. A short while later we emerged on to the tussock covered face of Xenicus. The climb wasn’t as difficult as it looked from lower down, with the only challenge being the last rocky ridge to the summit. This involves more scrambling over great blocks of stone, with some exposure, and then you’re on top.

From here there are great views of Lake Cobb, Mt Gibbs, the Dragons Teeth and the Cobb Valley. And in our case, a fast approaching hail storm. Too cold to spend time on the summit, we headed back the way we came to the hut for an early lunch and a fast trip back down the valley to the car park.

Steven Strachan