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August 2011 Issue
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A walk on the wild side

Oreti Hut looking towards Thompson Mountains. Photo: Dawn Patterson
Upper Oreti Hut, 6 bunks.
From SH94 to Te Anau, turn right into Mavora Lakes Road. Drive 39km on the gravel road to Mt Nicholas Road. Crossing Oreti River Bridge and on the right hand side is the 4WD track to the car park.

A break in the weather, just what we needed for a trip into the backcountry. The long range forecast showed three fine days with gradually deteriorating weather.

The Upper Oreti Hut (affectionately known as the Oreti Hilton) is a two hour walk over flat terrain to the old corrugated iron ex-musterer’s hut.

With a stiff breeze at our backs we headed off in light-hearted mood along the meandering 4WD track. On our left were the Eyre Mountains, on the right Bald Hill and behind us the Thompson Mountains, all resembling a monk’s tonsure with the heavily forested lower area and the bald tops sprinkled with snow.

Sparkling in the sunshine the frost-tipped tussock and grasses were still bowed over after the onslaught of the Oreti River’s last foray into the valley.

Regrowth of native plants has been slow since the area was retired some years ago from grazing tussock and bulbinella were the only obvious natives visible.

Numerous large puddles greeted us at every dip in the land, a result of recent heavy rain. I figured that by stepping across the narrow bit to the side I would avoid wet feet, this resulted in the only spectacular face plant of the trip and from then on it was straight through the middle; no worrying about wet feet. Ice had formed on the more sedate patches of water and childhood memories flooded back as we gleefully broke as much of it as possible. It is advisable to stick to the 4WD track as parts of the terrain are boggy and well hidden; a trap for the unwary.

Crossing the Ashton Burn proved no problem as the water level had receded, but the rocks were slippery. This river can cause some difficulty if there has been heavy rain. Moments later we arrived at the roomy six bunk hut and got the fire going, replenishing the firewood while the billy simmered away.

In the afternoon we took a 40 minute stroll down valley to where the delightful orange two bunk Lincoln Bivouac was tucked into the bush edge. This is another yesteryear hut with no mod cons but a treat to stay in.

We sat outside in the evening enjoying one of Southland’s spectacular sunsets while listening to the chattering of the birds in the bush behind the hut.

That night, having forgotten our candles, we got into our sleeping bags early and spent the time waiting for sleep to arrive by reading the graffiti-strewn walls and ceiling. The courageous exploits of hunters and musterers, as well as the usual obscenities, kept us entertained while waiting for Morpheus.

Our weather expert’s aching joints advised us that snow was on the way and sure enough, we awoke to a valley of magical white. The walk out was superb, crunching our way through the snow, stopping to take yet another photo of the view.

Hogs backs were sitting sullenly over the mountains and we could see the weather down the valley toward Walter Peak Station beginning to show signs of the deterioration promised.
This is a great trip for first time trampers or families with younger children. There are a number of other options, either further down valley or up Ashton Burn, using this hut as a base.

– Dawn Patterson