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October 2013 Issue
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Top 3 spring trips

The tops above the Cobb valley are littered with lakes and alpine plants and tussocks. Photo: Pat Barrett Images

Launch into the tramping season with a trip to an alpine meadow dotted with tarns and flowers

With the extended daylight hours after the long cold days of winter, the receding snowline, warmer temperatures, and vibrancy of the season, colours and whole ambience of the outdoor environment, spring is a fantastic time to get into the hills.

At this time, especially later in the season, alpine flowers begin to emerge and by late November to early December there will be a profusion of these stars of the alpine meadows to behold.

Photography at this time is a delight, as the juxtaposition of snow, alpine meadows, flowers, and new growth provide a great dynamic to your images.

– Pat Barrett

Cobb Valley, Kahurangi National Park

The Diamond Lakes area of the upper Cobb Valley is a magical place of broad tussock tops, rolling basins, sharp ridges, and glittering lakes. It abounds in beauty and alpine flowers during spring and early summer.

The basins and ridgelines lie between 1300-1600m elevation so there are not huge gains to be made when traversing the area, as well there is the nicely sited Sylvester Hut to make an overnight stay comfortable and to use as a base for exploring farther afield.

There’s the large and very close Lake Sylvester in an amphitheatre just above the hut and then there is a scattered array of smaller lakes and tarns in hollows all around the ridgelines. The alpine vegetation here is second to none and boast a large array of specimens amongst the waving tussock heads.

Campsites at more secluded locations abound as do the views of the Arthur Ranges and distant Nelson valleys.

Toaroha Range, Westland

In central Westland are a remarkable series of mountain valleys which provide access via good valley tracks to the hinterland and from there to the open tops. Among these is the Toaroha, near Lake Kaniere. This spectacular valley has an excellent hut and track system, but beware: this is Westland and tracks are rough going, often beset by floods, and routes to the tops are steep and unrelenting.

The rewards, though, are comparable with the demands of getting there. High alpine basins are numerous and many have tracks into them from the main valley from where you can explore hidden corners to seek out flowers, streamlets, and stunning views of the catchments and distant Tasman Sea.

Often there will be a tiny hut, a bivvy, to stay the night and imbibe the beauty of the high basins at evening and morning.

Holdsworth-Jumbo Ridge, Tararua Forest Park

In the lower North Island the well-used route between Mt Holdsworth and Jumbo on the Wairarapa side of the Tararua Ranges is a great destination for a spring sortie on the open tops and into some small basins perched high above the Waiohine catchment, though not large there are some attractive hollows along the ridge where snow may sometimes be present depending on how much has fallen over winter and how early in the season you plan your visit.

At whatever time you visit, these open fell-fields are a pleasure to wander through for the chance to enjoy the grand panorama over the Atiuwhakatu Valley and into the Wairarapa Plains. There are even places along the ridge where you could pitch a tent beside a tiny alpine tarn, in good conditions, before continuing over to Jumbo Hut and perhaps onto Angle Knob. The Jumbo-Angle Knob section is also dotted with tarns.