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February 2020 Issue
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See more… Of the unknown

Four bunk Unknown Stream Hut in Craigieburn Forest Park. Photo: Shaun Barnett/Black Robin Photography
Shaun Barnett finds those places whose name invokes a sense of wonder and uncertainty.

The title of Geoff Spearpoint’s latest book, The Great Unknown, has a double meaning. It refers to The Great Unknown, a peak on the edge of the Garden of Eden ice plateau named by Canterbury mountaineers Priestley Thomson, John Pascoe, Gavin Malcolmson and Duncan Hall during the 1930s when they were exploring the area. 

But Spearpoint also uses the term to describe that wonderful sense of finding your own path and routes through the Southern Alps, which he writes about so evocatively in the book. No matter how many previous times you’ve seen maps, trip reports or YouTube videos of the place, there is always a sense of uncertainty as you head into the wilderness.

That got me thinking: how many backcountry places feature the name ‘unknown’? Here are six.

1 The Big Unknown Stream, Raukumara Wilderness
While the South Island may have its Great Unknown, the North Island has a Big Unknown. It’s an appropriately gorgy stream that flows into the Te Kahika Stream, itself a tributary of the Motu River. Trampers tackling a Raukumara Range traverse have to cross the stream en route.

2 Unknown Campsite, Ruahine Forest Park
This seldom-visited grassy flat is on a tributary of the Maropea River in the north-western sector of Ruahine Forest Park. During the Forest Service deer-culling days, back in the 1960s, a semi-permanent tent camp existed here, but that’s long gone. Trampers pass through the area using the tracks that connect Lake Colenso and Maropea Forks Hut.

3 Unknown Stream Hut, Craigieburn Forest Park
The Unknown Stream is anattractive tributary of Canterbury’s Wilberforce River and boasts this most pleasantly situated four-bunk hut about an hour up from the confluence. It’s a useful waypoint for trips across the Main Divide, or for a shorter circuit over Moa Saddle and back to the Wilberforce.

4 The Great Unknown, Adams Wilderness Area
Shouldering into the sky at 2196m, The Great Unknown is a great name for a great peak. It’s one of the most significant summits in the vast Adams Wilderness Area, which includes the Gardens of Eden and Allah. Curiously enough, the first two ascents in 1939 came within two days of each other – the first by Paul Powell, Bonk Scotney and Jim Croxton, and the second by
a Tararua Tramping Club party.

5 Little Unknown, Adams Wilderness Area
Despite the name, the Little Unknown is a significant peak (2068m) in its own right, situated at the western side of the Garden of Eden, above where the Garden’s glaciers descend into the Barlow and Perth catchments. 

6 Lake Unknown, Mt Aspiring National Park
This huge alpine lake is situated in a high alpine basin between the Dart River and Rock Burn. Guarded by bluffs, it’s not an easy place to access but it provides a stunning reward for trans-alpine trampers with the skills to get there.