How many trampers have endured a challenging pass crossing, escaped the storm-ridden tops, or battled a difficult gorge to find welcome refuge on a valley flat?
I can recall a difficult descent down Mt Aspiring National Park’s Waterfall Face, which was slippery from rain, and the enormous sense of relief at reaching level ground on the flats below.
I remember, too, fighting up the claustrophobic schist gorges of the Otoko River, and the small but oh-so-welcome Stag Flat. There, with room to pitch the tent, the billy boiling and wet clothes strewn about, we felt some respite from the big boulders and dense forest that had characterised the day’s struggle. I could even begin to appreciate the blunt faces of the Hooker Range above.
Flats offer good camping, perhaps with the twin advantages of a beech copse for shelter and firewood fuel, and also the sense of open space, of views, of safe splendour looking at the peaks rising above.
Here are some of the backcountry’s most fabulous flats.
Kaweka Flats, Kaweka Forest Park
A grassy clearing surrounded by manuka greets trampers as they reach Kaweka Flats on the tramp from Makahu Saddle (allow 2.5-3hr). The diminutive dog-box Kaweka Flats Biv provides room for only two, but there’s plenty of camping, and the nearby historic Iron Whare to investigate, too. The clearing is probably artificial, dating back to the days when hardy farmers grazed sheep on the Kaweka Range.
Mitre Flats and hut, Tararua Forest Park
These flats provide a useful base from which to climb Mitre, the highest peak in the Tararua Range. Mitre Flats Hut offers space for 14, and is reached on the Barra Track, which takes about 4hr.
Welcome Flat, Westland National Park
Flats don’t come much more welcoming than this one, which features not only a large hut and stunning views of the Sierra Range, but also a range of hot pools which will be sure to please, with temperatures just right. Welcome Flat Hut is the first hut up the Copland River (allow 6-8hr), and must be booked.
Ruth Flat, Mt Aspiring National Park
Ruth Flat is a grassy expanse near the head of the East Matukituki Valley, and it offers a good place to spend a night either before crossing Rabbit Pass, or a much-appreciated refuge after completing the crossing. It’s surrounded by formidable peaks, none more striking than the hooded form of Fastness, which looks like some giant evil falcon with outstretched wings.