Oteake Conservation Park – 18-20 March 2022

The party of 5 – Catherine, Barry, Dorothy Don and Catherine Y left Timaru at about 8am on Friday and were parked and ready to walk from the Broken Hut Road carpark, just outside Omarama, at 10.45. The flat, easy walk through the farmland was soon replaced by the upward 10km slog to the Omarama Saddle (1260m). The overcast conditions cleared to sunshine, so we all had to shed some layers. However, at about 3km from the Saddle, a very unlikely looking fairy turned up in a vintage red Toyota. It was Pete (Blue) Dobson from Fairlie, who had been at school with Don, and his companion, Ian (Barney) Wynn! After some banter, Pete offered to carry some packs to the top of the Saddle. Two were squeezed in the back and one strapped firmly to the bonnet.
(Please note the utter discretion of the writer in not revealing which packs were carried)

Up on the Omarama Saddle the views were magnificent – part of Lakes Ohau and Benmore came into view as did Mt Cook. From the Saddle it was a welcome descent of 2km to the strangely named Top Hut, being in a valley, but still at well over 900m. There was no one else there when we arrived, but just as we were about to have tea, four very pleasant young men from the Waikato arrived in their 4WD vehicles. They were on a tour of the South Island for a month and thoroughly enjoying it. They all slept in their vehicles. On the Saturday we were off walking at 8.30, back up to the Omarama Saddle, with the aim of getting to Hidden Lake. At the Saddle we headed off on a track to the west. A stone on a fence post marked the point to head over to the lake – first through tussocks and then over large rocks, and eventually the aptly named Hidden Lake (1550m) came into view.

We enjoyed an early lunch overlooking the lake, and then, as the day was fine, it was decided that we would skirt around the south edge of the lake and up onto the ridge to the north to pick up the 4WD track to go back. The contrast of the gentle tussock slopes on the south side to the sheer bluffs on the northern side make this lake very dramatic, together with the deep green and turquoise colour of the water.

After some more rock-hopping we arrived at the summit of the ridge, which Barry’s trusty GPS told us was 1818m. From here the views were stupendous and we ran out of words to describe them The peaks of the Southern Alps, Mt Aspiring National Park, and then down to Tarras, the Lindis and along the St Bathans Range (which we were on) to the Central Otago ranges, were all visible, if a bit hazy in places. From here Barry’s GPS guided us to another small un-named tarn just below the 4WD track and not so hidden. We were back at the hut at about 5pm to find another party had set up camp with tents and barbeques but were nowhere to be seen. They eventually turned up in their vehicles and came to introduce themselves – a group of ten from Dunedin here to celebrate a birthday. They warned us they were going to have a party, but were very polite, and although a bit noisy, they did not go all night. Having had a long day on the Saturday we all voted to walk back down the Broken Hut Road, arriving at the carpark about lunch time. This had been a really good trip, thanks to the excellent organisation, and catering, by Catherine T. The objective of reaching Hidden Lake was achieved, the weather was perfect – sunshine and light winds, and, above all, great company thanks to fellow trampers.

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