Crew: Leon “Hold up I’m cramping” Berard, Dave “Downhill billygoat” Allen, Miles “Lactose Nightmares” Davitt, Otis “Methane Murderer” Berard.

Start: James Road right branch, Bainham, Aorere valley.

End: Trilobite hut, Cobb Dam road end.

Words by Otis, photos by everyone.

Day 1 Bainham to Boulder Lake Hut – 8hrs. Sun, sun, sun

First, find the start of the track. Don’t believe the DOC brochure that it is at the end of the road at Graeme Pomeroy’s Boulder River Farms cowshed. We found the kiosk just past the bridge next to a wee field with beehives in it.

The start of this track was a bit uninspiring, mostly a gentle climb up a narrow muddy track through scrub. As the clay underfoot gave way to limestone features it got more interesting, with several narrow ravines crossing the track. This section is labelled on topomaps as The Castles. They can easily be stepped over but looked quite deep so we watched our footing crossing them.

There were a couple camping sites on this route, the better one being Beathams clearing, as it had a water supply nearby, at least according to a sign. Past this the track climbs a bit more steeply as it gets into the hills proper. The forest changed too, with dracophyllum and beech starting to dominate. Miles quickly took a liking to the dracophyllum, selfies ensued.

Sidling around The Pulpit we popped out onto the rocky Cow Saddle and stopped for water and a snack while Leon’s legs threatened to cramp. A hot few minutes later we had gained the ridge overlooking the Boulder Lake basin, with the Dragons Teeth far in the distance. The Lead Hills to the north of the basin are an alternative unmarked route into the area if you are able to get permission from the neighbouring farmer, and look like a very picturesque option.

It was all downhill from here, skirting the eastern lake shore around to Boulder Lake Hut. We were the second party to arrive at the eight bunk hut and snagged the last of the beds after a very short, but essential splash in the lake. The other group had come in over the Lead Hills in less than ideal weather and were spending a day in the area before heading back out. One of them had done the high route previously, taking their large group around 11 hours but described it as very doable.

Not long after our swim another party of four arrived with no tents and one sleeping mat between them and their lightweight packs. One had a dressing on their head from a fall into one of the aforementioned limestone ravines, but seemed pretty chipper. Our friendly hut-mates sorted them out with spare mats and they crashed on the floor.

The hut was in a choice location and definitely an appealing option to spend a day exploring or relaxing. There’s a waterfall 20m behind the hut, perfect for cooling off some beverages or going for a quick dip. Hut book entries indicated that kiwi have been heard nearby.

Day 2 Boulder Lake Hut to Adelaide Tarn Hut – 4hrs. Sun, wind, cloud

Off track time!  ¾ of us made a bad choice and headed straight up the tussock valley towards Green Saddle. ¼ of us quickly decided that the swamp was intentionally trying to break ankles and skirted around it through the bush edge. The tussock was tall, and there were bogs and streams all over the place.

At the head of the tussock valley the cairns started, leading us up the open ridge along a fairly easy to follow trodden route. From here the route passed over Green Saddle and followed the ridge south towards the prominent Needle. We had a fresh breeze spring up, but great views of Yuletide Peak and The Needle up ahead. The going was reasonably easy, with no navigational difficulties and a nice change of scenery from the previous day.

We climbed west just before The Needle, passing over a grassy saddle that revealed a similar scene to yesterday, but at a smaller scale. A wee tin hut/bivvy sat overlooking a tarn with the Dragons Teeth in the background. It’s another stunning hut location, probably protected from over visitation by its remoteness.

Adelaide Tarn Hut is small. We had to turn side on to get through the door, and the shorter your bunkmate is the better. There are several tent sites in the area, including right in front of the hut and near the lake outlet, but since we were going to have an early start we opted to cram into the hut.

It’s a short day from Boulder Lake to Adelaide Tarn, which left us with plenty of time to explore the outlet of the lake, climb rocks, eat, and scour hut book material for insight into tomorrow’s route. Three of the better pieces of advice were: follow the cairns, prepare to backtrack when you figure out you haven’t recently seen a cairn, and expect to spend a lot of time route finding.

Day 3 Adelaide Tarn Hut to Lonely Lake Hut via the high route – 9.5hrs. Sun, sun, sun.

The crux!

We got up before sunrise to a beautiful clear night sky and quickly warmed up on the way to the ridge above the hut, with Mt Douglas beside us. This gave us a good view of the route we would take sidling below the Teeth and the spur below Anatoki Peak. From here the slabs of rock and sheer streams made the route look too steep to exist, but it’s there somewhere! This section was well cairned or otherwise marked. You knew you were on the right track if you saw a rusted tin can lid with some red on it, or an orange vinyl square. Cairns were the next best thing, but we were led astray by them once.

From the saddle between the Teeth and Mt Douglas the route drops a few meters then sidles west under Mt Douglas. Watch out near here as the low route turns off down into the valley below. We went west and ended up reaching a short scree gully. This was about the extent of the western side of the range we saw, as the route returns to the east of the ridgeline and sidles through some funky beech forest and boulders.

This is where our first navigational mishap happened, all I can say is watch for fairly sharp changes in direction for the next few hours. A helpful soul had flagged most of these with marking tape, and the advice to mentally check if you have seen a cain recently and turn back if you haven’t rang true.

Regaining the route we reached an open rocky slab with snowgrass and a clear view of a long, fresh slip ahead. Enter our second mishap. This one was more forgivable, we got to the slip and there were 2 big ol’ cairns on the other side. We crossed over a slightly sketchy shelf with a worn track and followed the rocky bluff downwards. The written directions perfectly matched this incorrect route, but after dropping packs and scouting in all directions we found the right route – 30m straight up a steep slab above us. In our end of tramp wrap up of the peak, pit, and funky moments, this exposed scramble was Miles’ pit, and the hairiest part of the tramp. Just to encourage you to find the right crossing point!

From this open spur we could see the remains of the wire on the next ridge below the Teeth. The route sidles under it, but continues past into some very steep bush, eventually becoming a hands and feet climb heading straight up.

Emerging onto the ridge we climbed up a gut and onto a set of large slabs below the Dragons Teeth high point. This big section was easy going, and you can scale the high point from here, and potentially camp if you found a flat enough spot! It made a good snack break spot too.

Next section required us to sidle around another spur, this one below Anatoki peak. It started descending alongside a stream, and the cairns were mostly replaced by orange markers as we pushed through bush. Here we found the rare, fifth type of marker. Props to the lass who sacrificed her bright bra to keep the rest of us on the right track.

Our last misstep was here, we missed another sharp right hand turn up a bluff we had been following. The route sidles for a long while, we stopped to check that our GPS agreed with the printed route maps, but were on the right heading. If the route looks blocked by rocks and/or sticks, take a look around for the real path!

From this scree the route started climbing more steadily, eventually it became quite open and rocky, with some fun hands and feet hauling before you suddenly pop out onto the spur!

We arrived at the wee tarn below Anatoki peak after 6 hours of travel from Adelaide tarn hut, a whopping 1.8km as the crow flies. It’s possible to camp here, but we had plenty of time so continued on towards the Drunken Sailors and Lonely Lake hut.

The rocky fingers & boulders in this area meant that the track still weaved, dropped, sidled and climbed, though there are still plenty of cairns to avoid getting bluffed out. On the open tops we moved faster, getting to Lonely Lake hut after a total of 9.5hrs travel. On the way we dropped our packs below the 1564 high point and scooted up for a great 360 degree view including Perry Saddle Hut glinting in the sun, and Tata Beach way off down the Anatoki valley.

Lonely Lake hut was another bivvy, this time a cute yellow one with a picnic table in a beautiful location. We almost had a swim in the sunshine. Brrr! Another awesome hut location, nestled amongst a small patch of bush in an area that you wouldn’t expect to find a hut, and some tent sites nearby. As it got dark kea screeched overhead and a ruru called nearby but it didn’t take long for us to get to sleep.

Day 4 Lonely Lake Hut to Fenella Hut – 6hrs. Sun, breezes, sun

Kakapo peak looked quite far off when we began the day but travelling was fast and easy. We had great views east and west, plus a visit from a goat. Initially climbing gently out of the beech forest, the route makes it onto the open ridge leading to Kakapo peak and eventually Waingaro peak. There are a couple of sidles, but it’s mostly ridge travel all the way to Kakapo peak, where we did not find any Kakapo. From here the route skirts around the west face of the peak across a large but very safe scree slope.

A serrated ridge and Waingaro peak are the next distant features, but the easy travel brought them close quite quickly. The route entered a patch of forest and did an unpleasantly steep ascent then descended around the east side of the ridge. Sidling around the steep section and Waingaro we reached the start of the marked track looking down to Fenella hut with Xenicus behind.

Miles went for an explore into a curious ridgetop valley in the direction of the Lockett Range and found a couple of hefty cairns. According to the hut books some parties prefer to follow the Lockett Range towards Sylvester Hut rather than going out via Fenella. After descending the marked tracks and dumping our gear at the fairly empty Fenella, we made a beeline for a swim in the tarn, this time making it with plenty of daylight to spare!

Day 5 Fenella Hut to Cobb road end – 3.5hrs. Sun.

Daydreaming of pizzas in Takaka, we zipped out along the valley, poking our heads into the very neat Tent Camp and Chaffey Hut. At the trailhead our car was ready and waiting courtesy of a relocation, and we quickly tucked into the customary end of tramp chips we left in it.