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June 2015 Issue
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Tarns, peaks and a hut

Carroll Hut .Photo: Pat Barnett
Arthur's Pass National Park
2.44 km to hut
Carroll Hut, 10 bunks
From Kellys Creek, 3km north of Otira on SH73

Carroll Hut, Arthur’s Pass National Park / moderate

It was early morning when I pushed through the damp fronds of vegetation, squelching up the track to Carroll Hut set in a basin at 1100m on the south side of Kellys Hill.

I was high above Arthur’s Pass Highway, a river roaring loudly in my ears, overwhelming the birdsong of the forest. I headed skywards and, before long, the river receded to a distant murmur as the metres fell away. It’s a steep pull to the hut, but the time passes quickly over the 750m ascent and I arrived at the hut plateau in a respectable 90 minutes.

The journey up had me passing through thick sub-tropical forest to alpine meadows in just two kilometres and the change was startling – and beautiful. Below are the twists and turns of the alpine highway over Arthur’s Pass up the Otira Valley, gripped in the fearsome embrace of the Southern Alps, where rock and waterfall spew from a thousand crevices.

Carroll Hut is a further 300m from the lip of the basin and is a modern replacement of the last structure that inhabited this spot over many decades. It offers reasonable, though often chilly, accommodation. There were a couple of trampers there when I called in to check out the facilities. They were heading out, while I was heading on – to the tops behind the hut in search of views and landscapes.

The Kelly Range and its neighbour the Bald Range, offer an array of grassy rambles over moderately-angled ridges where numerous alpine tarns float in tussock basins and rocky tors jut from the crests. Care is required in winter as deep and sometimes icy snow often cloaks these basins.

And, though officially winter during my visit, being Queens Birthday weekend, there was little snow at this level, it being mostly confined to the high Alps.

This made my wander a breeze as I set off around the poled track that passes through Kellys Saddle to reach the string of tarns lying there. A cold wind followed, urging me to seek shelter from its probing fingers whenever I stop. I lunched in a sunny hollow, then began a circumnavigation of Kellys Hill, out to the north where the deep trench of the Taramakau Valley reveals the massive scale of the landscape as it thrusts its winding arm through the Alps, on course for the Tasman Sea. It’s a mesmerising scene where forest, lake, and mountain prevail beneath an eternal blue sky.

Another tarn appeared, hovering between sky and valley, from where I climbed to the summit of Kellys Hill, tinged in evening tones as the sun receded out west. Pausing beside a rocky knoll, I surveyed a realm that has been mine for the day.