"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

31 January 2015

Lake Daniell, Lewis Pass National Reserve - 14-16 January 2015

As far as tramping as a family goes, we had only barely dipped our toes in the water so to speak, having done easy tracks around Mt Thomas and in to Ryde Falls near Oxford. When a friend suggested a couple of nights at Lake Daniell as families I was keen to take the plunge and dive right into it. So, after some discussion, and with me assuring my wife Julia that I was happy to carry "whatever it takes to get us there!", we packed up and set off.

We left Oxford to a steady drizzle, welcome relief for the parched land, and with it pushing in from the east we were confident it would be fine at Lake Daniell, which lies just to the west of the Divide over Lewis Pass. This proved to be the case, and we pulled in to the carpark at Marble Hill to be greeted by sun, warmth, and sandflies.
After a quick bite of lunch we shouldered packs (mine had weighed in at 28kg) and hit the trail, 4 adults and 6 rather excited kids - if anyone was at the hut for a quiet night away they were going to be in for a surprise!

I had walked the track many years ago - too long ago to remember much of it except for 'The Sluice Box' and the seat at the Pell Stream junction. The Sluice Box is an impressive bridge crossing a few metres above the Maruia River, at a point where the river is funneled through a narrow gorge-like slot. It's only a few minutes from the carpark and is worth a look.
The walk in was a breeze. Any concerns about complaining kids were quickly dispelled as they entertained themselves with the simple things, the things we adults often overlook or even fail to notice, things like counting how many footbridges we crossed or finding the next rodent trap and checking it - there are 80 traps along the track and very few had caught anything, meaning either the 1080 drop a few months back was very successful, or the predators are getting ample food from other sources...hopefully the former!

After a couple of snack stops we arrived at the hut in good time, 2hr 45mins, and were pleased to find there were plenty of beds still available, even scoring a whole bunkroom to ourselves. There was a party of 4 staying the night in the hut, as well as a couple of separate parties tenting.

Manson Nicholls Memorial Hut stands just back from the lake shore and commands wonderful views of the area. The hut has tragic origins, built in memory of 3 young Christchurch trampers who were killed when a mudslide buried the old Lake Daniells Fishing Club Hut which occupied a site more to the southwest corner of the lake.
The fishing club and the Christchurch Tramping Club joined forces to erect the current hut, which was completed in 1976. It boasts 24 bunks, in 2 separate bunkrooms, a coal/wood burner with supplied fuel, and running water with taps inside.

It had been a warm walk in, and before long we were all treating ourselves to a swim in the lake. At 558m altitude, Lake Daniell is not a particularly high alpine lake and this, coupled with the fact that the water is very shallow at the southern end, made for pleasant swimming.
The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing in the sun. Julia took the opportunity to fashion a bow by weaving together strands of flax and tensioning it to the right sized piece of wood - clever lady my wife!
This proved so successful that the next morning all the kids were busying themselves with bow-making. From then on it was a mix of swimming and games in the forest around the hut, indulging in our own form of 'Hunger Games'.

As lunch approached we packed up some supplies and headed round to the top end of the lake, where there is a nice little beach, complete with bench seat. The track is well used but not maintained, and is currently strewn with windfall. It's all easily negotiated but does add a bit of time to the usual 30 minute trip - we took 40. At the northern end the lake drops away steeply, enabling the more capable ones to swim at greater depth and those with fishing rods to try their hand in deeper waters. Unfortunately success eluded us but a fun time was had nonetheless.

I was keen to venture further on, to make a visit to Thompsons Flat Hut which lies another 40 minutes or so from the lake head. An old 4WD track leads away from the lake (starting at around BT23 417177) and is easily followed. It would appear to have been a long time since any vehicle went through, but there is plenty of foot traffic as the numerous muddy sections all have well worn bypasses round them. At times the track seemed a bit vague but where it starts to narrow and fade out a bit there are markings on trees to guide you.
We emerged from the bush after around 30 minutes and could see the hut across what appeared to be a pleasant grassy flat. Appearances proved deceiving however, and the flat was a wet bog. After a few minutes of trying to hop along on firm ground it was obvious that we were going to get wet feet so decided to just make a beeline for the hut. By this stage I had 5 year old Lincoln on my shoulders, the bog far too difficult for his willing legs to negotiate, and the 10 minutes of slogging through soft, at times knee deep muck was challenging, but the 4 of us who had made the trip all arrived at the hut comfortably.

Thompsons Flat Hut is privately owned but is open for public use. It's a very basic hut, with 4 bunks and a fireplace.
We didn't stay long, enough to take some photos and have a look around, and were soon faced with crossing the bog again. The idea of skirting the edges was tried but was no better than a direct line back across to the bush so we chose the direct route. Our return to Lake Daniell was marked with a splash in the water to wash the muck from our boots and ourselves.

Our final day dawned slightly ominously, with a nor'west wind building and the prospect of rain coming with it. Eager to get back to the cars dry we simply packed up and set off. By now some of the kids were feeling the effects of the constant swimming, charging round in the bush with bows, and the strains of lack of sleep, and their legs were not so willing as our walk in.
Despite this though we made it to the car in only 2hr 30mins, capping the end of a successful foray into family tramping.

Now...where to next?

Shouldering packs at the start of the tramp

Crossing the bridge above The Sluice Box

Perfect tree for a group photo

Having plenty of fun beside the Alfred River

Snack stop en route to Lake Daniell

Manson Nicholls Memorial Hut

The jetty in front of the hut, and the kids are wet already!

Looking up Lake Daniell

Bow making - Julia weaving strands of flax

Peaceful spot

Evening light on the hills - magical

A view of the hut in its cosy location

Fishing - for those who didn't bring rods!

Toby testing his bow

Grace (and Juddy in the distance) test the waters

Lincoln ready for 'The Hunger Games' - fun times

Manson Nicholls Memorial Hut

At the top end of the lake, hut just visible in the distance

The beach at the northern end of Lake Daniell

Wet and muddy best describes the route through to Thompsons Flat

Thompsons Flat Hut

Thompsons Flat Hut

Inside Thompsons Flat Hut

Thompsons Flat - appears nice, but underneath it's a bog!

Thompsons Flat Hut and surrounds

On the bridge above The Sluice Box

The Sluice Box

The Sluice Box

Back at the carpark, the end of a fun trip

Lake Daniell & Thompsons Flat Hut tramp route
Crown Copyright - Land Information NZ

      Access: Take SH7 to the western side of Lewis Pass and turn into the carpark at the signposted           Marble Hill area.
Time: Carpark to Lake Daniell 2.5-3hrs, hut to lake head 30-45mins, lake head to Thompsons Flat Hut 30-45mins

Map: BT22 Springs Junction, BT23 Lewis Pass

Huts: Manson Nicholls Memorial Hut (24 bunks), Thompsons Flat Hut (4 bunks, private but open for public use)


  1. I love that hut, been there several times. I suggest you take the kids to Hawdon Hut from the Mt White road end, it about the same distance but more interesting with the relatively easy river crossings.

    1. Yes, will probably be either Hawdon Hut or Woolshed Creek Hut down by Mt Somers for our next family trip. Having done numerous trips up the Hawdon I need a bit of motivation to go up there again, but a family trip could be what does it!

  2. Great article and interesting read. Am getting pumped to take my 2 kids up there this holidays. Thanks for all the information and photos. Looks perfect.

  3. This is a great write-up, thank you! It gives me a very clear idea of what it's like. We plan to do this one next month. Cheers, Graham