Escape from the Spaniards With some relief, I suddenly spied it. Wet, itchy, puffy and punctured after enduring a crossing of Baton Saddle, I resolutely sloshed across Baton River – hardly more than a stream at 930m – when Flanagans Hut appeared through a clearing in the bush ahead.
By then, our weary party of four had been out for six nights in Kahurangi National Park and our crossing of Baton Saddle from the Leslie River (north side) had proved somewhat more of a trial than we’d expected. We should’ve paid more attention to the little sign at the bottom of Wilkinson Creek marking the way to Baton Saddle. Someone had carved the word ‘horror’ into it. Another knowing soul had added in pen ‘total’.
That morning the weather had packed up, so we battled up steep, slippery terrain, encountering impassable thickets of stinging nettle in places and then several wasp nests. A sting to my head while trying to scurry past one resulted in the right side of my face puffing up so that the rain pooled in my partially closed right eye. We sweated and itched our way higher. Eventually, we reached Baton Saddle at 1370m, only to be confronted with a vertical sea of Aciphylla horrid – Spaniard grass. Big ones. Lots of them. That was on the southern side of the saddle in a steep, boggy section before the bushline. At least by then we knew that Flanagans Hut was not too far away.
A warm hut is always welcomed at the end of a day on the move and our Baton Saddle crossing had only heightened our hut appreciation levels.
Flanagans Hut met our requirements admirably. Soon we had the pot belly stove going and, with just eight bunks, it didn’t take long to warm up. As the daylight slowly ebbed away we read and wrote in the hut book and browsed back copies of Wilderness. The drumming of rain gradually intensified on the roof outside, highlighting our cosy position.
Most people arriving at Flanagans Hut will be walking the less-challenging track alongside Baton River (although, in rainy conditions, as we had, it’s still not easy).
This track requires eight or so crossings of Baton River, including a crossing of the Ellis River at the road end. In fine weather, this would present few problems, but after a rainy night we found the stream running fairly strongly. As we descended the trail, it grew steadily in flow, to the point where getting across required two-man and eventually four-man river fording techniques.
From the hut, the first 8km is through luxuriant bush, closely tracing the river, sometimes diverting up the side of the valley to avoid cliff sections. Just beyond the junction of Baton River and Haines Stream is a swingbridge. From there it’s just 3.5km of easy walking beside farmland to reach the road.
In the slippery and flooded conditions, it took us about four hours to descend. We were relieved to cross Baton River for the final time, but our night at Flanagans Hut will stay with me as one of those gems of the hills. The same can’t be said for the saddle that sits 440m above, or the legions of horrid Spaniards that must be passed to get there.