"You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you" - Isaiah 55:12

14 February 2013

Hawdon Valley, Arthurs Pass National Park - 11-12 June 2011

June 2011...and the Oxford Baptist Church mens tramping group was off on its first trip. We chose the Hawdon Valley for our first tramp together, as it involves easy walking in a picturesque valley in eastern Arthurs Pass NP. Five of us had arrived at the Hawdon Shelter, eager to set off having driven through steady drizzle all the way there. On arrival, the skies were grey with cloud hugging the tops but thankfully the rain was behind us.

 It was mid-winter, snow had fallen overnight, so as we laced up boots most of our thoughts were of the first river crossing, about 5 minutes into the tramp, and how cold it might be.

Off we went and finding the river low we plunged in, crossing at only mid-calf but enough to chill the feet. We made our way towards the flats above where Sudden Valley Stream emerges from the hills and meanders to join the Hawdon River. One of our party had the clever idea of following a bush track, an idea that as it turned out was not one of our better ones - after about 30 minutes, and just as we were starting to question whether we were off route, the track turned uphill and away from the river. A short scramble down the hillside through easy undergrowth soon had us back in the riverbed, plodding on over gravel mostly.

Our little exploration into the bush meant we had come out above the marker poles in the riverbed, so our gravel bashing route made travel a little slower than it needed to be - as we discovered on our return the next day the poles would have led us to easy, grassy flats on the true left bank.

After about 90 minutes we reached the confluence with the East Hawdon Stream, and the front-runners had a nice rest while those of us (myself included) who had lagged behind due to the desire to take numerous photos caught up. After a quick scrog stop we set off again, it was late afternoon now and we were mindful of getting to the hut before dark since none of us had visited the new Hawdon Hut in its new location above Discovery Stream.

The upper Hawdon River was much more wild and rugged than what we had experienced in the lower flats. The valley narrowed considerably, boulders became larger, and the water flowed with quite some force through the more gorge-like terrain. For us trampers though this caused no issues, as shortly above the East Hawdon we had crossed to the true right where we would stay until our arrival at the hut.

Travel was now a mix of tracked (and marked) bush walking and some boulder hopping along the edge of the river in places. In one open clearing we saw the remains of the old Hawdon Hut, burnt down in 2005 when visitors failed to fully extinguish their ashes from the fire. About a foot of burnt piles is all the can be seen now. This spurred us on, knowing we were about 20 minutes away from the comforts of the new hut, a 20-bunk palace built by DOC in 2007.

The new Hawdon Hut is a beauty and, being the middle of winter with not great weather, we had the place to ourselves. We quickly had it feeling warm and cosy with the logburner roaring. This did create the unusual problem of it being almost too hot in the hut due to the fact the windows are double-glazed.

We chatted by candle and torch light long into the night, one of the joys of the backcountry hut experience. Morning brought with it the splendour of fresh snow on the tops and a crisp, sunny winter's dawn. With little to do but eat breakfast, tidy up the hut, and bring in wood for the next party, we were quickly on our way back to the car.

Speedier progress was made on the way out, and plans were made for our next trip into the hills.

Wet feet to start the trip

The gentle flow of the Hawdon River in its lower reaches

The upper part of the Hawdon is a more rugged experience

Gorge in the upper Hawdon River

Night life at Hawdon Hut

The interior of Hawdon Hut

Rugged Peak and Trudge Col, from the terrace in front of Hawdon Hut

Meaningful discussion as another side stream is about to be crossed

Side stream in the Hawdon Valley

Looking down the Hawdon Valley, with Savannah Range in background

View up-valley from the riverbed, with Pt 1742 dominating

Easy tramping along grassy flats - missed these on our way up

The Craigieburn Range provides a superb backdrop as we approach the end of the tramp

Sudden Valley and peaks on the Polar Range

Back at the carpark at Hawdon Shelter, with Mt Binser on show

Crown Copyright - Land Information NZ

Access: Drive on SH73 from Christchurch towards Arthurs Pass. Turn right at the marked turnoff to the Hawdon Valley and Mt White.
Time: Allow 3hrs to the hut
Map: BV21 Cass
Hut: Hawdon (20 bunks)

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