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October 2015 Issue
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Old gold country

Kirwans Hut covered in a blanket of snow. Photo: David Short
Area
Victoria Forest Park
Distance
12.1km
Total Ascent
1477m
Time
4-5hr. 4-5hr to Kirwans Hut; 1.5hr return to Kirwans Hill
Grade
Moderate
Accom.
Kirwans Hut, 12 Bunks
Access
From the end of Boatmans Road, 16 km north of Reefton
Map
BS21, BS22

Kirwans Hut, Victoria Forest Park

To go tramping on the West Coast is to explore history. Everywhere you turn there are monuments to miners who carved a living from the earth. In their search for gold and coal, numerous tracks were created by those intent on finding wealth and that elusive big payday. Kirwans Track, near Reefton, is one such trail rich in mining history.

The track starts at the end of Boatmans Road and the former site of Capleston, a town of 1000 people and seven hotels in 1877. After donning boots and pack I made my way over farmland to an old benched road that marks the start of the track proper.

Soon, there’s a swingbridge, with the track continuing gently along the true right of Boatmans Creek. It wasn’t long to the first historic relic: a short tunnel where water was diverted through a cliff for the combined Fiery Cross Gold Mine and Just In Time site. Today, the tunnel leads to a modern swingbridge; replaced in the last few years to better accommodate the mountain bikers who also use this track.

Now, I was on the river’s true left. The track narrows here but is clearly an old miner’s trail. The grade was easy and climbed steadily. It crossed Topffer Creek before leaving the bubbling river and rising through pleasant mature bush. I followed a goat for 50m along the track and later heard kaka calling each other. It’s easy to ponder the endeavours of previous miners. Names like Dauntless, Welcome and Lone Star adorn the map next to symbols indicating previous digging.

More than 1000m of ascent is required to reach Kirwans Hut. The final 2km is spent traversing a broad face in open forest. There were a few patches of treefall but otherwise the going was good. Many years ago, a team of 16 pack horses transported a 3.15km long, and three-quarter-inch thick, wire rope over the track from Capleston to the Kirwans Reward mine, near the current hut. It’s an impressive feat considering the numerous switchbacks on the track and the 915m-altitude gain. The current hut is situated in a small clearing below the bushline and has a panoramic view over the Inangahua and Grey Valleys as well as the Main Divide as far south as Aoraki/Mt Cook.

There was a storm overnight, but it had cleared by morning leaving a winter wonderland. I spent time photographing the hut and surrounding environment before packing up and heading off to climb Kirwans Hill. At 1315m, it was a modest climb, first through silver beech then along a tussock ridge.

Those with more time may want to continue to Montgomerie Hut at the confluence of the Montgomerie and Waitahu rivers. This route passes the historic Lord Brassey Stamper Battery and the rusting remains of the aerial ropeway that once transported quartz from the mine down to the battery. From Montgomerie Hut, a 4WD trail leads to Gannons Road and either directly back to Reefton or over the hill back to Capleston.

– David Short

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