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June 2016 Issue
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Through snow to Fenella Hut

The view into Cobb Valley from the saddle between Cobb and Fenella Huts. Photo: Stephanie Cotteret
Total Ascent
3-4hr to Fenella Hut
Chaffey Hut (free, 3 bunks); Cobb Hut (free, 4 bunks); Fenella Hut, ($15, 12 bunks)
Cobb Valley Road end. Park by Trilobite Hut
BP23, BP24
GPX File
Fenella Hut.Kahurangi NP (gpx, yo 34 KB)
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Fenella Hut, Kahurangi National Park

When we crested the top of Takaka Hill to find it covered in snow, we knew we were on to something special for our trip into the wide open river flats and beech forest pockets of the Cobb Valley.

We dropped into Trilobite Hut, near the car park, to find it full and steamy. A party of six had tried to make it into the valley earlier in the day, only to be turned back by a blizzard. They were now planning to spend the rest of the day thawing out in front of the fire.

Fortunately, the weather improved and we left the others to the warmth of the hut to set off under an overcast sky and a light snowfall. Sunshine occasionally broke through the clouds, revealing a magical snow-draped landscape. It may have been cold, but there was nowhere else we’d have rather been.

In less than two hours we reached Chaffey Shelter, our home for the night. What used to be a derelict ruin full of holes and rot has been lovingly restored while still retaining its rustic charm. Even the bunk beds are made of rough-hewn timber, bark still on. We lit a small fire – not enough heat to warm the place, but enough for an endless supply of tea and a warm meal before we snuggled into our sleeping bags.

In the morning, the windows had frosted over and we glimpsed sunshine on distant snowy tops through delicate patterns of ice. It was a bluebird day and the snow was cracking underfoot. There wasn’t a single human footprint but our own.

It took an easy three hours to reach Fenella Hut. We put our packs down and wandered off to the nearby tarn. It was a bit cool for a swim, but the mountain views were incredible.

After lunch, the distant summits vanished behind a rolling mass of white clouds and we spent the afternoon by the fire, watching snow fall outside. Unlike the open fireplace at Chaffey, Fenella’s wood stove packed some heat and soon the temperature went from frosty to toasty.

In the morning, the sun shone brightly on a fresh coat of snow, knee-deep in places.

On the way back to the car park we had planned a detour to Lake Cobb. I remembered it from a previous trip into the valley as a rather bland, flat surface of steel grey water smothered in fog. On this day it was a dazzling blue mountain lake dominated by the squat silhouette of Xenicus Peak.

We climbed to the treeline, with the entire Cobb Valley rolled out at our feet, enclosed by snow-capped ranges. There couldn’t have been a better place to conclude our celebration of tramping in the snow.

– Stephanie Cotteret