South Island hike recommendations late April

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South Island hike recommendations late April

Postby Ground parrot » Wed 27 Dec, 2023 11:04 pm

My partner and I are heading to NZ in April. We were lucky to score Milford track tickets starting 15 April, but have another 10 days free after that so I'm looking to squeeze in another multi-day hike.

What would people recommend? Some possibilities:
- Hollyford track (but transport is very expensive)
- Rees-Dart track (not sure how this track would be so late in the season?)
- Mueller hut for an overnight - again, seems weather dependent

We are both reasonably fit and mentally tough. My partner has a bit of experience doing walls and Overland in Tas and is comfortable with multi day trips. I've done a lot more than him, and have done NZ's dusky track. We don't want anything off track or requiring serious navigation. I'm also a little wary of river crossings not having had to navigate anything challenging as yet. We don't mind tenting if no huts.

Alternative is to stay at either wanaka or Mt Cook and do day walks - is one preferable over the other?

We don't want to venture too far from queenstown - Mt Cook is fine as is fjordland and Mt aspiring.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions!
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Re: South Island hike recommendations late April

Postby wayno » Thu 28 Dec, 2023 4:12 am

rees dart is usually fine then, subject to not having heavy rain. watch out for vacancies on the other great walks there
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Re: South Island hike recommendations late April

Postby tomh » Sat 30 Dec, 2023 10:37 am

The Gillespie Pass track (all huts) is a top grade 3-4 day walk well worth considering. Crossing the Makarora will need attention - the bridges at Blue Pools might not be restored by April but you can avoid them by getting a jet boat to the mouth of the Young. Alternatively - as we did when the water level was low - you can cross the Makarora on foot near the mouth of the Young. Make sure you check the water level and volume first!

https://www.doc.govt.nz/globalassets/documents/parks-and-recreation/tracks-and-walks/otago/gillespie-pass-brochure-web.pdf
https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/otago/places/mount-aspiring-national-park/things-to-do/tracks/gillespie-pass-circuit/
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Re: South Island hike recommendations late April

Postby Ground parrot » Mon 25 Mar, 2024 6:45 pm

Thanks for the suggestions and sorry for the delay in reply. I've been keeping the Gillespie Pass in mind as we are looking for a 4 day walk, and the alpine scenery looks spectacular, but I'm wondering how "challenging" it is.

Can anyone with experience comment on the difficulty of the day going over Gillespie Pass?

It comes off the back of a 20km day with a bit of a climb, and I think the pass itself would be the biggest ascent and descent I have done together in a single day. Slightly bigger than up and over the Ironbounds in SW Tas which I remember being a grueling 10 hour day with never-ending descent, and similar to the 1000m descent from the Pleasant Range on the Dusky track which was very slow going and really took a toll on my knees (and that did not include having to gain so much elevation in a single day). I also need to bear in mind my partner's tolerance for type 2 fun.

The blue pools bridge is still out so we would be looking to jet boat to Young River mouth, and pick up at Kerin Forks. I would also allow a day for the side trip to Crucible Lake.

The alternative is Greenstone-Caples, which would be less type 2 and I hope may be relatively quiet at the end of April. I'll save Rees-Dart for another trip when I have 5 days to do the Cascade Saddle.

Thanks again for any advice!
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Re: South Island hike recommendations late April

Postby Chev » Mon 25 Mar, 2024 7:53 pm

Take this with a grain of salt as it's 20-odd years since I did either walk, but I think Gillespie Pass is reasonably comparable to the Ironbounds. Maybe a bit harder (steeper sections, less developed track) going up from Young hut, but easier coming down the Siberia side than the east side of the Ironbounds. I don't remember anything too technical or sketchy, though it could go that way in icy conditions. But in decent weather, just a solid slog and still type one fun.

Definitely one of the highlights of our, so far only, NZ trip.
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Re: South Island hike recommendations late April

Postby Ground parrot » Mon 25 Mar, 2024 8:26 pm

Thanks Chev - that is somewhat reassuring. I always worry about my (lack) of cardio fitness for big ascents, but then I find it's the trickiness of the downhill where the pain is. I remember well the intimidation factor looking up at the Ironbounds however the ascent was relatively quick. It was the downhill that made it a long day.

We are doing the Milford Track first in NZ and looking at the elevation profile for that it's got a large descent that might be a good test of my appetite for 1000m drops (although no doubt the milford will have a better quality track).

In any event, if we go through with the Gillespie then I think I'd rate myself slower than the DOC times and allow 10 hours for going over the pass.

A lot of people recommend this trip!
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Re: South Island hike recommendations late April

Postby johnrs » Tue 26 Mar, 2024 11:42 am

HI GP
All of your suggestons are fine, Rees/Dart/Cascade saddle/Greenstone and Capl4es.
But weather and timing are ever present in NZ
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Re: South Island hike recommendations late April

Postby Casparvitch » Thu 28 Mar, 2024 12:32 pm

Did the Gillespie pass a year ago.
Had 20mm+ of rain going over the pass, and another 20mm+ walking out to blue river.
Still probably the best hiking experience I've had.
There were some reasonably large ice fields on the Siberia hut side - would've prefer to have some sort of microspikes for that I think, but we were fine.
Other than that, it's a reasonably tough saddle and we had long days on the trail, but still good fun. Get going early :)

NB: we were camping and split the ascent up by overnighting in one of the alpine bowls halfway up (DOC recommended it given the weather) - still a hard day!!.
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Re: South Island hike recommendations late April

Postby Ground parrot » Sun 05 May, 2024 10:36 am

As an update, we ended up doing the Copland track after the Milford. My partner's knee was a bit sketchy after the Milford so I didn't think it was wise to embark on the Gillespie, however I will return to do it myself one day.

The Milford was stunningly beautiful, we had reasonable weather and the perfect coincidence of half an hour of clear skies going over McKinnon Pass. The experience on this track is not one of feeling solitude in the wilderness, which is to be expected. But we met some great people on the trail (lots of Kiwis) and had a wonderful time. The new Mintaro hut is fantastic, and Dumpling hut has a cosy charm about it. I absolutely loved all the waterfalls on this tramp, especially through the Clinton valley, and it is just a stunning example of fjordland rainforest and beautiful, clear NZ rivers. The side trip to Sutherland falls was another highlight. We finished off the tramp with an afternoon cruise of Milford sound that we booked through the transport company, which was a lovely way to complete the journey.

After a few days in Otago, and biking some of the Rail Trail, we drove to the west coast and set out on the Copland track. This is an 18km (each way) out and back track to visit the hot geothermal pools. It is a popular track, but due to weather we had a fairly unpopulated experience. We knew there was expected heavy rain the day of our return, but the forecast and enquiries with DOC made us think we would be able to get out albeit with the detour over the flood bridge over Rough Creek. We had managed to book the Sierra room at the hut, which is the hut warden's former quarters and is a private section of the hut with kitchen area, fire and lots of space for strewing out wet gear.

On the walk in it was cloudy with a bit of drizzle but we enjoyed the walk through the rainforest and views of the Copland River which was a stunning turquoise. There are two long narrow swing swing bridges which are fairly spectacualr to cross. We didn't come across anyone else who was heading in, but a few large groups were leaving a day early due to the forecast. It took us about 6 1/2 hours to reach to hut (with stops). It felt a longish walk, but the climb was fairly gentle and at the end the hut seemed to appear sooner than I expected which was a nice surprise. The geothermal hot pools were amazing and I can see why this walk is popular. But luckily it was only us and 3 others who were there!

The next day the rain pelted down. We left the hut and walked about 45 minutes, crossing streams that weren't there before and that were progressively getting faster, deeper and wider as we headed down the mountain. Not having experience of crossing rivers, and seeing that everything was rising quite quickly we decided to head back to the hut. I was worried that we might get caught between streams if we pressed on and made the decision to turn back later. On the way back it was phenomenal to me how much higher the streams were in just the hour or so between crossings.

The other group of 3 passed us and pressed on, but they also turned back shortly after as one of the party fell in a stream and hurt her wrist. She appeared quite traumatised upon return but the hut warden took her in and gave her hot tea and scones. I think there had also been some conflict in the decision making within the group.

So although we got thoroughly drenched we enjoyed another day in the sierra room and dried all our gear, and enjoyed multiple sessions in the hot pools with only the other group of 3 and the hut warden as no one could get in or out. The weather cleared in the afternoon and the thunderous waterfalls on the surrounding mountains that had appeared out of nowhere that day were quite something to behold. The only regret was not having another bottle of wine.

The next day we headed out and the skies cleared allowing us the have views of the surrounding mountains that had been obscured by cloud on the journey in. There had been snow high up and the scenery was exquisite. All the streams had gone down and we were able to cross Rough Creek at the end with no problems. Lots of people were coming in, and I wondered how enjoyable the hot pools would be with increased numbers.

Back in phone range an email came through from DOC about the severe weather (sent two days ago but not received before we started). I'm glad we didn't see it to deter us.

A thoroughly enjoyable experience with a bit of adventure thrown in!
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Re: South Island hike recommendations late April

Postby wayno » Sun 05 May, 2024 11:18 am

Good decision to turn back. A lot of people get swept down flooded streams and rivers every year in nz. And some of those drown. They rise extremely rapidly in heavy rain. I’ve been swept down a flooded river. I was just wading along the edge. No intention to cross. Stepped in a hole and off my feet. I was head down pack on top of me. Manages to rol over and eventually get out of the river after half an hour of floating at the mercy of the river.
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Re: South Island hike recommendations late April

Postby Ground parrot » Sun 05 May, 2024 1:53 pm

Thanks Wayno. I had read a bit about the dangers of crossing rivers in NZ, and then I was surprised to be finding us in potential difficulty with crossing so-called "streams" - but the same principles apply I suppose. The water was murky and fast-moving and it was very rocky so I couldnt see where I was putting my feet or just how deep it might be. Getting swept off our feet might have resulted with being carried over a drop in some places had we pressed on. It felt like maybe a conservative decision at the time, and someone with experience may have safely pushed on, but we had to accept our lack of experience and turn around before things got potentially worse. A very good experience for understanding some of the risks that inclement weather can bring about in NZ!
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Re: South Island hike recommendations late April

Postby wayno » Sun 05 May, 2024 2:13 pm

People get "hut fever" they are close to a hut so they will take a bigger risk crossing a flooded river because shelter is so close at hand esp when the weather is bad...
it happened a few years ago on the milford track , out of season when a lot of bridges are removed to avoid avalanche damage...
one of the survivors said they couldnt go back the way they came because it would mean several hours of walking to get back to the hut.... well if they knew that one of them was going to die because they werent going to turn back they may have thought they could walk back... there was no flooded streams behind them blocking their path...
rigid thinking or impatience can put you in a lot of unecessary danger...
it doesnt help in NZ because there are so many huts that a lot of people carry no shelter with them... which can just increase their desire to push on to the next hut in bad weather...
parts of NZ are among the wettest places in the world, Milford sound is the wettest place at sea level. if you havent seen heavy rain in NZ you dont realise how bad it can get, like standing under your shower at home. and it can go on for hours or days, rainstorm can drop hundreds of mm of rain, right up to a metre of rain... onc any soil is saturated and mountain soil is thin, then all that water runs straight off into streams. high mountains catch so much more rain, often when it rains in the southen alps from one direction you may get little rain making it to the other side of the ranges. the other problem is , its not raining where you are, it can be a big problem if you cross a braided river, some are kilometres across with multiple water channels... and the water rises completely unexpectedly because its raining upriver.... happens a bit on the Te Araroa Trail.. one lady posted a video of herself crossing one of the big rivers that are listed on the trail notes as "DO not Cross" she got stuck at the last crossing, and she couldnt go back the way she came since the river had risen too much, in her video , behind her you could see dark rainclouds in the distance.. as she crossed, if she had taken note she would have turned back earlier or not attempted to cross.
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Re: South Island hike recommendations late April

Postby Moh » Sun 05 May, 2024 5:49 pm

Thanks for posting your trip report Ground Parrot. Glad it all worked out for you and your partner. I also walked the Milford in lots of rain, and thanks to waterfalls appearing absolutely everywhere I wonder if the rain is actually makes for a better experience than sunshine. Visiting Sutherland falls was the most amazing experience after a night of 200mm of rain, such power and noise!
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