Te Araroa Trail – Glenthorne Station to Cass Village
Friday 18th November – Saturday 19th November 2016
Northbound Party: Jim Pearce, Stephen Keach.
Southbound Party: Rob Birks, Leo Garmonsway, John Hyland.
Report By: Stephen.
Jim knows all the good spots in the Canterbury foothills and shared more as we drove to Glenthorne Station to walk the Harper River Track to Hamilton Hut. First stop was the Terrace Downs golf course where we enjoyed a morning tea of coffee, scones and muffins.
Dressed casually and ready for some tramping I felt slightly out of place in the first class surroundings and with being called, “Sir.”
The second stop was the Lake Coleridge hydro-electric scheme’s powerhouse and penstocks in the Lake Coleridge Village, which Jim was able to share some history of. The third stop was on the shoreline of Lake Coleridge, and finally we reached the Harper River Diversion at Glenthorne Station from where we had to do some walking.
A recently rollered farm track and four-wheel drive tracks provided straightforward walking up-valley until we met a fence with a scripted sign advising, “Te Araroa Trail. Follow outside of fence”, encouraging us to leave the rollered road.
The Avoca River was in feisty form with recent snow and rain so we crossed it linked-up for safety. We then spent the next hours fording backwards and forwards across the Harper River. A feature of note was the Pinnacles, a section of cliff eroded in such a way that vertical ‘stalagmites’ of stone and mud or perhaps clay had been left standing. Some sheep watched us idly as we passed by, otherwise we had the valley to ourselves.
Based on the Te Araroa Trail Guide and my reading of the maps, we attempted to keep to the true left of the river. This was not always possible and extra fording was necessary. We kept to the four-wheel-drive track as much as possible and I was increasingly impressed with how far up the valley it went. We also decided that the river must have eroded since the trail guide was written, making it no longer feasible to remain on the true left all the way from the initial ford below the Pinnacles.
The four-wheel-drive track finally ended as we entered the beech forest in the upper valley, picking up the forest walking track. In 15 minutes we arrived at Hamilton Hut. Still, a person would need to be a very good off-road driver to manoeuvre a vehicle so that was all the walking they did! Surprisingly, at 7:20pm we were the first to arrive. The others arrived soon after, Leo arriving just prior to a French party with a fox terrier dog accompanying them, and then Rob and John soon after.
The terrier had apparently followed Rob, Leo and John from Cass Village where they’d left their vehicle for us to collect. It had traversed the bluff they’d forded the Cass River twice to avoid and re-joined them, but further on they’d left it behind as they forded to avoid an area it wouldn’t traverse. It seems the French guys carried it across the river for each fording until the main forest track was reached, from which point further river fording wasn’t required.
Guy, an Englishman but honorary Scotlander, had a fire burning moderately in the hut which took the chill off the evening air. Cooking and dining commenced, with some food shared with the dog who happily embraced us. She stayed in the hut overnight, bunking with the Europeans.
We shared some of our breakfasts with the dog, this making a varied range of food for her including pasta and bacon. After group photos we departed Hamilton Hut at 7:45am, Jim and I taking the dog to return her to Cass Village. She stayed with us quite happily, sometimes needing a lift over side streams, scampering about four times the distance we covered as she scoured the forest, scenting.
She dived into the beech growth in one area where birds could be heard. Aghast that she might catch one, I was astonished when she reappeared dragging a dead possum about half her own size! It was unbloodied so may have been poisoned. She dropped it on the track and I nudged it off on the down-slope. She hurried after it and tried to pull it back up, looking like the “Ice Age” squirrel desperately pulling at its’ acorn stuck fast in ice. It was comical! Young, dense beech growth prevented her getting it back to the track and thankfully she gave up.
We took a lunch break at Cass Hut which was beyond the 1,326m Cass Saddle. Built in 1953, it had an amusing horse stable-type outer door; the lower and upper halves could be opened separately. The dog slept in the sun.
Soon after setting off we encountered three women to whom Jim explained about the dog, “She’s not our dog!”
They were amazed by her story and photographed her. Further on we encountered four young people, possibly with Samoan heritage, who were glad to hear there were no more river crossings. They too were amazed by the dog’s adventure; the dog started to follow them and I had to carry her a distance to ensure she remained homeward-bound. Then our Cass River crossings began.
It too was in feisty form; thigh deep, swift and cold, with a scattering of lumpy stones on the bed. Jim and I linked up and I carried the dog with my left arm, not wanting an outcome where any of us took a dip! Fortunately we did not.
We reached a water race on the edge of private land upon which was sited the luxurious Grasmere Lodge, where we happened to encounter the owner. Jim’s query whether we could use the lodge road to access the West Coast Road was declined but he did direct us to an interesting alternative excursion sidling the 719m Broom Hill, named Romulus on the map, which gave excellent views. As we talked ‘our’ dog played with the owner’s spaniel.
We walked a long belt of pine trees after descending from Broom Hill, the dog chasing some sheep and lambs grazing amongst the trees and later a rabbit. Horrifically, she also ran out on the highway to chase the passing traffic. I called her back urgently before she became a flattened little dog and picked her up for the walk along the highway to Cass Road, where she could once again scamper about the open country.
At 4:40pm we found the vehicle parked near the railway at Cass village. A KiwiRail utility drove up to a nearby house and trying my luck with its driver, I was rewarded with finding it was the dog’s home. The driver wasn’t her owner but he advised me that her owner lived there. I told him to make sure she got a good dinner, that over the two days she’d been across Cass Saddle to Hamilton Hut and back.
He called her in the gate, “Here Cassie!”, the irony of her name startling me.
Returning to the vehicle I began changing clothes on the railway-side of it. A train horn blared. Thinking it was either a coal or freight train I continued, then was very thankful I’d pulled my trousers on as the TranzAlpine rolled past, tourists lining the big picture windows with many waving at me.
We drove in evening sunshine to Methven, re-joining the others and catching up over dinner at The Brown Pub, where Rob briefed us on the next section of our three-stage trip along Te Araroa.