Wednesday, August 12, 2009


The first time I ventured up the Ahuriri it was still owned by old Williamson, though little did I know it. The legendarily foul tempered old cocky would not have been impressed at my 1984 Ford Sedan that bumped and battered its way all the way up to Shamrock Hut. We were stuck, or at least hindered many times, and the girls were generally happy to jump out on any particularly nasty stuff. The gang was Aaron, La and me, with Sofia and Kajsa from Sweden. We were just starting out on a memorable road trip which included being attacked by big mother kea in the Matuki, Copland flat hotpools and finally running out of gas way down south of Haast. That may even have been the first time I camped on the fantastic Neils Beach where the mighty Arawhata meets the sea.

Looking out the Ahuriri 2009

The long and wild Ahuriri was new territory for us, and it really is a quick path to wilderness. Find the turn off south of Omarama before you rise over the Lindis and before long you are off the beaten track. That first trip I think we stayed at Shamrock Hut though I remember a fire outside, and the next day we climbed point 2038 on the Eastern side of the valley and introduced the Swedes to scree and rotten NZ mountain tops. I remember not wanting to go to the top because of the danger to all concerned, then watching them go, before joining them at least with my conscience clean if someone got damaged, which very nearly happened.

The next trip was with Aaron again and his Mum Viv, we just went for a poke around Canyon Creek in the middle of winter, going straight up the gorge we discovered the high track on the way back. This time old Williamson caught us on the way out, and we pleaded ignorance and raved about how beautiful his station was.

Returning recently not much has changed, although there is now a locked gate before Canyon creek preventing 4wd capers. Birchwood station was bought up by the Nature Heritage Fund and the whole area is now known as Ahuriri Conservation Park. Again we returned in winter, this time it was Penny and I with our friend Elo. With Elo's sprained ankle and other plans it was only to be a short trip, a little pop over from Ahuriri Base Hut to the Upper DingleBurn.

Penny, Elo and the Spaniard

Although an old bulldozed musterers track takes you most of the way up, an ice axe was necessary on the last steep section. The snow just held our weight. Down the other side and into the Dingleburn, a river I have long heard speak of but never entered, the closest was an ascent of Dingle Peak from the Lake Hawea side. The top Dingle hut is on the bush edge of some big flats and looks downriver where the sun was setting on the ridges leading over to Dingle Peak. Early rain lead to a nervous night as we pondered our short but potentially difficult journey back over the pass in new snow. As James K Baxter describes we "rested fitfully", "Besieged by wind in a snowline bivouac".

Penny on the pass

Fortunately it always sounds worse at night. We made it back over the next day in light snow and the potential for avalanches while there wasn't too bad, maybe. A moment I remember was on the top of the ridge when the wind suddenly changed. One second northerly wafting in snow, the next second a crisper southerly blowing it away. Mountains do strange things to the weather. We decended quickly through the hare infested park like forest, safe again on the valley floor.

Looking down the Dingleburn

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