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June 2021 Issue

From the sublime to the artistic, these four backcountry cascades are worth visiting.

An aspect of tramping I most appreciate is when the landscape reveals itself in ways you hadn’t expected from looking at the map. A map will give you a reasonable sense of the landscape’s bare-bones: how steep the route might be, whether or not that river has a gorge, where the bushline ends, and what spurs end in sub-alpine scrub.

But within those broad motifs, infinite variations exist; surprises and delights awaiting discovery when you actually don boots and visit these places.

I well remember my delight descending the track from Waiatupuritia Saddle in Kaimanawa Forest Park, hearing the promise of a rushing stream that suggested something which might be worth photographing. However, I was unprepared for the artistry of Cascade Stream, the waters of which churn through ignimbrite rock, ruddy-hued and shaped into exquisite forms by aeons of patient hydrological excavation. These rapids lie just upstream of Cascade Hut.

The backcountry boasts dozens of Cascade creeks and streams, as well as two Cascade huts, the Cascade Plateau, a Cascade Glacier, Cascade Peak and Cascade Saddle. Here are four worth visiting.

Cascade Hut, Kaimanawa Forest Park

As one of only four public huts in Kaimanawa Forest Park, Cascade Hut serves a vital function as a shelter for trampers and hunters visiting this part of the central North Island. Hunters from the Taupō Branch of the New Zealand Deerstalkers’ Association refurbished the six-bunk hut in February this year, so there’s no better time to visit. It’s reached on a 6-8hr tramp over the Hinemaiaia Track from Clements Mill Road, and lies near the junction of Cascade Stream and the Tauranga-Taupō River. The latter also has a spectacular ignimbrite gorge, about a kilometre upstream from the hut.

Clark Cascade, Fiordland National Park

While the Dusky Track is renowned for its tough tramping, including lots of three-wire bridges and mud, the tops of the aptly-named Pleasant Range offer a respite from the valley travel. The range is a place of glittering tarns, undulating tussocklands and secretive pīwauwau/rock wren). It takes a solid 7-10hr tramp to reach the Pleasant Range and Lake Roe Hut from Lake Hauroko on the southern section of the Dusky Track, but once there, it’s well worth taking an extra day to explore the surrounding tops. The Clark Cascade is a series of small waterfalls that drains Lake Roe.

Cascade Track, Nelson Lakes National Park

The Cascade Track links the Travers Valley with Lake Angelus, and begins climbing gently enough up Hukere Stream, but steepens dramatically as it breaks above the bushline. The outlet from Lake Angelus, Hinapouri Tarn and other alpine lakelets all cascade down into this cirque-like basin, through which the track threads, making it quite a dramatic route (and certainly no place to be in heavy rain). Allow 6-7hr from Lakehead Hut to Lake Angelus.

Cascade Saddle, Mt Aspiring National Park

Cascade Saddle is famed for its stupendous views of Tititea/Mt Aspiring and the West Mātukituki Valley. It’s reached on a demanding route from Aspiring Hut, that climbs through the beech forest and onto a steep spur, ending at the pylon on the edge of an extensive alpine terrace. Be warned: this is no place for inexperienced trampers, and in poor weather can be particularly treacherous, especially if descending. In the right conditions, however, it’s one of those sublime places in the Southern Alps that seems to have everything: expansive views, tarns galore, alpine plants and often a band of mischievous kea. Allow 4-5hr from Aspiring Hut. An easier and safer route exists from Dart Hut (4-5hr).