Wills Valley (Wills – Stafford – Motatapu) December 2015
Trip Wills Valley.
Dates Saturday 28th November through Wednesday 2nd December.
Participants Wayne, Jim, Stephen.
Originally planned as a grand traverse from the Wills Valley to the upper Makarora Valley via the Hunter Valley, it became a five day Wills Valley experience when snow and ice prevented passage over the 1,578m Wilson Pass.
Day #1. After a tricky start crossing a slip face upstream of the Gates of Haast Bridge we briefly had the benefit of a benched track on the old Haast road…
Photo from Department of Conservation signage at the start of the Makarora Track.
Then the track became rugged as it followed the Wills Gorge to the more expansive and gentler middle valley. Light rain had begun after a single crash of thunder and continued as we crossed the braided Wills River to the true left having descended to the valley floor at the head of the gorge. The 4-bunk Wills Hut was reached and Wayne soon had a fire started which quickly warmed the little hut.
Day #2 started with dew and misty cloud receding as we walked up the middle valley, crossing and re-crossing the river to take the easiest route. There is no track from Wills Hut and the recommended route is to follow the river. Until you can’t follow the river; there were three notable sections where the river was unfordable and further progress dictated climbing around the large boulder or bluff. Stephen was crawling to negotiate a rock ledge on one such diversion. Eventually the gorge fell behind and we left the bushline, traversing the open upper valley to a bivvy rock above Cheap Creek where we decided to camp.
On day #3 we arose to a moderate frost and prepared breakfast under the bivvy rock before embarking on a day-trip to Wilson Pass. Travel was through tussock, snow grass and some scrubby growth; generally open country. A kea became very friendly around Wayne and we hoped it didn’t travel down-valley afterward to investigate our tent. As the valley narrowed we forded the Wills River, now much smaller, to climb further up-valley on a scree slope on the true right. Remnant snow and ice remained from storms and avalanches. It was possible to reach the base of Wilson Pass, normally ascended by one of two gullies to the north and south of the pass, but both gullies were choked with snow and ice. In clear conditions it wouldn’t be difficult to cross the pass. We contented ourselves exploring what we could, enjoying the scenery and brilliant weather of the day, then returned the way we’d come. At dusk a helicopter surprised us flying around the tops hunting for deer. Successfully, taking two as far as we could tell.
A helicopter flew up the valley at 5:30am waking us from slumber on day #4, this time scouting the valley floor for deer. The morning was dewy but not frosty and after breakfast we packed and departed the bivvy rock for Wills Hut. Knowledge of the gorge was an advantage and we made somewhat easier progress by taking a higher route to dodge the obstacles at the top of the gorge. Trails – probably from deer – helped when available in the thick bush. Back beside the river Jim took a dunking, taking the deep-water passage around a boulder, not realizing a drier route could be taken to the left. He probably felt refreshed given the heat of the day. At the bottom end of the gorge we spent a break eating and exploring ‘black hole chasm’, where the river falls into a very deep and narrow chasm. Wayne felt it worth investigating the mouth which we did as the now overcast weather threatened rain; the view was impressive from that vantage too. Donning jackets we continued on as the rain became moderate and constant, fording the river four times and collecting some firewood before reaching the hut. A fire was lit to dry some gear but the temperature was such we let it go out at 7pm.