"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

28 April 2016

Boundary Creek Hut, Hakatere Conservation Park - 22-23 April 2016

Well, I finally made it to Boundary Creek Hut, after a few failed attempts due to the difficulties in coordinating free weekends with availability of child sitters.
This time, my usual emailed invitation to interested trampers drew a whopping response, so a merry band of 8 set off for Hakatere Conservation Park, an area I became acquainted with last year, and one that is fast becoming a favourite area of mine.
The Park itself is a bit unusual, in that it's not one continuous area of land, rather a collection of conservation areas. The country within the conservation boundaries is, however, so vast that there's plenty of room to roam and explore, and with wonderful old huts dotted throughout it makes trip planning a fun affair.

The plan for our first day was a straightforward tramp up Paddle Hill Creek to Boundary Creek Hut. With 8 in the party, all of varying levels of fitness and ability, I figured I'd use this day to assess how others might be placed for an alternative route back to the cars the following day. A night studying the maps of the area revealed several attractive options, all that remained was for the others to be open to exploration.

The usual foot access to Paddle Hill Creek starts from Buicks Bridge on the Hakatere-Heron Rd, and this was the initial plan. However shortly before reaching the bridge a marked 4WD track heads off across the flats, enabling quicker access to the valley, provided you have vehicles up to the task!
We stopped at this track, we were, after all, travelling in two 4WD vehicles with decent enough ground clearance. I hopped out to discuss with our second driver who, at the words "it means less walking", quickly agreed that we would head in there and drive as far as we could.
Thus began a fun, bumpy trip for around 4km to the carpark at Paddle Hill Creek. At first it was very easy going, but the final 1km or so was very rugged, with large rocks and a deeply rutted track providing the challenge for the drivers.

With spirits high, especially now that the walk in to the hut had be drastically shortened, we set off. The tramp in to Boundary Creek Hut followed a vehicle track all the way and was very easy. One point to note is that about 20 minutes after leaving the car we came to a track junction which is quite poorly marked. If you know where you're going it's quite obvious which track to take, but to spare anyone reading this a wrong turn, if you're heading for Boundary Creek Hut continue straight on the track that stays on the valley floor, while if you're following Te Araroa over to Mystery Lake and the Potts River take the track that branches off and climbs up onto a terrace above you.

In the middle of the valley the track made a short climb onto a terrace, which made a great spot for lunch. It was a very hot day, with hardly a puff of wind down in the valley, but up on the terrace we could feel the occasional breeze waft by, making conditions far more pleasant.
From the terrace, we skirted around some swampy ground and then travel was very cruisy, although hot, all the way to the hut.

On approaching the hut the grandeur of the area became more and more evident, with the wide, expansive valley of the South Branch Ashburton/Hakatere River (hereafter referred to as the South Ashburton) stretching out before us, urging us on to reach the hut just a short distance away.
The first sighting was actually the toilet, and it's wasn't until we got closer that the hut itself came into view, nestled in a cosy spot on a lower terrace alongside Boundary Creek.

Boundary Creek Hut is a classic musterers hut built sometime between 1902 and 1906. It's been given a spruce up inside, with new bunks and table and the addition of a section of skylight, which makes the hut interior wonderfully light. Boundary Creek is named as it marked the boundary of summer and winter grazing on Hakatere Station in the times when this entire area was taken up by runholders and farmed. High country stations still operate through here, although large sections of land have been retired, and some stations such as Mt Arrowsmith supplement their farm income by offering accommodation for those seeking a high country experience without the need for any outdoor skill.

Our mid-afternoon arrival allowed us to relax and soak up the environment, as well as a little exploration of the immediate area. I wandered in most directions: up stream, down stream, and across stream.
Across the stream and up onto the terrace there afforded me a nice aerial view of the hut and surrounds, as well as great views up the South Ashburton, while our exploration down stream, mainly in search of some firewood, revealed an attractive gorge where Boundary Creek flows into the South Ashburton.

As the afternoon wore on we were joined by some horse trekkers and a couple of other trampers. They all seemed rather surprised to find the hut full, and were unprepared for such an event, a reminder to always carry a tent. There was a few awkward moments where the horse trekkers seemed to suggest that we ought to move out since we had tents, but with rain forecast for the morning we were reluctant to do so, especially given the way it was suggested. Richard was keen to try our his new tent, so he and Leah were happy to pitch that, making room for the other trampers.
After the initially poor first impression though, the others, as back country folk often are, were all fine company throughout the evening and an enjoyable chat around the open fire was had.

We woke to rain on the roof. Given the hut's cladding, it sounded heavy but in actual fact was merely a few light showers blowing in on the wind which, being from the NW, was not cold at all.
We had agreed on a route out which, barring heavy rain, would make a fine return loop to the cars. We left the hut shortly after 9am, still in light rain, steadier now, and started back along the track we came in on. Not long after leaving a track branches off, heading up the hill and over to Mystery Lake. This was another place I'd endeavoured to visit a couple of time recently without success, so was rather pleased when everyone else was keen on the route too.
I had assured them that after the initial climb it would be predominantly downhill for the rest of the day, a key selling point I'm sure. The climb is an easy one, only gaining around 400m in altitude, and much of that on an easy gradient.
Easy is, however, a relative term. For those accustomed to climbing in the hills a climb such as this truly was easy, but for others it probably felt at the time like striving for the summit of Everest! Two groups quickly formed, as is often the case in larger parties. The slower member(s) assured us that we ought to go on ahead, but feeling somewhat responsible for everyone given I'd organised and planned the trip, I didn't feel too comfortable with this suggestion, so it was agreed we'd move at our pace but would try to keep the others further back within sight. While good in theory, when the track takes numerous switchbacks like this one did it becomes nearly impossible. In the end I just had to trust that the others were responsible enough to know their limits.

As we gained height on the hill the showers became heavier. Knowing we were some distance ahead of the others, we found a somewhat sheltered spot to wait, sending up a prayer or two for the impending rain to hold off long enough to enable us to finish the climb and have some lunch. It was here that we probably endured our most unpleasant part of the day, as we had quite a long wait in the rain and we soon became cold just standing around. In the end, Julia and Alison had to move, leaving Ian and I to wait, although the rest had just come into view so we knew all was still OK.
A quick discussion was had, reassurances made that we were well over halfway up now and easier ground was not far away, so on we went much as before.
The climb had a sting in its tail, the final section being steeper and much rougher underfoot, but we all made it in the end. Once we'd topped out it was easy going, gently sidling down to where the track led off to Mystery Lake, gained by way of a broad, shallow saddle then a descent down a spur to the lake. Thankfully, it seemed our prayers had been answered, and while still grey and threatening, the rain had retreated, enabling us to have a lovely lunch next to Mystery Lake. I was even able to get my cooker out and whip up a hot brew, which is always a joy in a days tramping.

Mystery Lake is a lovely spot, set at around 1100m in a trench running along at the base of the hill we'd just come over. The route down followed the line of this trench through an interesting collection of small mounds and knolls. I scampered up one of them, hoping to gain some grand views across the open valley. On a fine winter day this would be a spectacular scene, but on a day like ours where rain cloud hung low in the upper reaches of the Rangitata River there was little to see except rain that was likely coming our way!
We continued on, making good progress now that we were on gentler ground, and it was a fairly uneventful ramble along the foot of the hills, aiming for the break in their line that would grant us access back through to Paddle Hill Creek. We had fleeting glimpses of Lake Clearwater along this section, and the sight of a rainbow arching over the lake was one to savour.

Quick time was made, and we were soon cutting through more easy ground north of Mt Guy, heading for Paddle Hill Creek again. We were on the homeward stretch now, all that slowed us were a couple of small climbs over terraces, and a short romp back down Paddle Hill Creek saw us back at the cars just as the rain that had been chasing us down the valley all afternoon finally caught up to us - we had timed it well!

A wonderful trip, thanks to all who came and made it memorable. I have a feeling I might be back this way again in the future!

On the track up Paddle Hill Creek, the route to Boundary Creek Hut heads off to the right of the distant hills

Climbing onto the terrace in Paddle Hill Creek

Lunch on the terrace, Dogs Hill (1067m) above us

Nearing the hut, great view of the South Ashburton

Arriving at Boundary Creek Hut

Boundary Creek Hut - a classic musterers hut

Relaxing beside Boundary Creek - the water was so cold it hurt!

That didn't stop Ian though!!

Kev reaches the hut

Relaxing after a hot tramp in

Boundary Creek Hut and surrounds, Pt 1169m in behind

The hut and its' surrounds

View into the South Ashburton...a trip for another day

At Boundary Creek Hut

At Boundary Creek Hut

The horse trekkers arrive

Interior of Boundary Creek Hut

Interior of Boundary Creek Hut

Interior of Boundary Creek Hut

Plenty of character in the hut door

Boundary Creek

Downstream of the hut Boundary Creek gorges as it flows into the South Ashburton

Dramatic late afternoon light in the South Ashburton 

Julia checking out the gorge

The point where Boundary Creek meets the South Ashburton

Boundary Creek & hut

Hut night life

Julia & I made our own entertainment

On the climb to Mystery Lake

Low cloud and rain was our fare as we climbed to Mystery Lake, Pt 2093m draped in cloud

Looking down to Mystery Lake from the saddle

Rainbow over Lake Clearwater

The route down the spur to the lake

Lunch amongst the grasses

Lake Clearwater, with Mt Harper/Mahaanui (1829m) behind

Working our way down from Mystery Lake

The view to the upper Rangitata from the top of a small knoll near the track, note the canyon of the Potts River running off on the right

The route down from Mystery Lake

The route ahead followed along the foot of the hills

Entering the break in the hills north of Mt Guy

Striding out along easy terraces north of Mt Guy

Kev & Richard - still smiling!

Rejoining the track in Paddle Hill Creek

Crown Copyright - Land Information NZ

Access: Drive to Mt Somers village and head inland on Ashburton Gorge Rd until the road junction at the old Hakatere Homestead. Turn right towards Lake Heron. Foot access is usually from Buicks Bridge, while a 4WD track requiring good ground clearance is marked roadside shortly before the bridge.

Time: 4WD carpark to Boundary Creek Hut 2hr 30mins, hut to Mystery Lake 2hr 15mins, Mystery Lake to carpark 2hr 40mins

Map: BX18 Lake Clearwater, BX19 Hakatere

Hut: Boundary Creek Hut (8 bunks)


  1. Awesome looking trip Harley. Want to get into that area myself one of these days

    1. Thanks Shannan. The area is well worth a look. I was quite slow to discover it but after a couple of trips down that way last year it's a place I keep looking to for more.