Wilberforce Trip – 20-23 January 2023

On Friday David, Christeen, the two Waynes, Bruce, Hazel, Dorothy and Catherine started out for an extended weekend up the Wilberforce. The Wilberforce was an area that David was very experienced with, having worked there years ago. David and Wayne took their 4WD vehicles, and as both were experienced at driving over the rough terrain of the Wilberforce riverbed tracks we were able to avoid a lot of walking up the bolder filled valley.

We drive up the Wilberforce, past the Fang Hill Hut and the Bristed Stream and parked the vehicles in a safe area where they would not be trapped by any rising waters – which was unlikley as the weather forcast was looking good for the next few days – but why take risks. We had lunch at the vehicles and then we walked across the vast expanse of the Wilberforce riverbed, making a few river crossings, and as the river was braided the water was only around knee deep.

Our goal was the Unknown Hut – an ex NZ Forest Service 4 person bivy up the Unknown Stream. We crossed the Wilberforce and started moving up the Unknown. The weather was good and we got some views of Browning Pass, the Gibson Stream where we were going tomorrow, and also Moa Saddle where some of us were crossing the next day.

We arrived at the Unknown Hut and put on a brew and started erecting tents. A party of 2 4WD vehicles arrived at the hut, driven by a party of young 4WD enthusiasts. They had done a good job getting their vehicles that far. They camped in their own tents nearby.

Christeen put on an excellent meal that night which was enjoyed by all and we all retired to our tents and bunks early that night.

Next morning we were up at 7:00. The weather was good. Our plan was for most of us to explore up the nearby Gibson Stream. After breakfast all of us, except David, left the hut for our day walk. We found the stream to be full of big boulders and broken rock and subalpine scrub, but access was not too difficult. We saw some geese on the way up and stopped at the bottom of a big waterfall for lunch and admired one of the deep pools at the bottom of the waterfall. We walked back down the stream in the afternoon and arrived at the Unknown Hut a bit before David arrived from having a walk across to the faces opposite the Hut. The 4WD party had left by the time we got back. Christeen and Wayne put on another good meal that night.

Our plans for the Sunday was for us to split into two parties. One party would walk over the nearby Moa Saddle, and the other party stayed in the Unknown for an extra night and returned the same way they came in to reach the vehicles. After a good nights sleep we packed up tents and we all started walking towards Moa Saddle – a low, very wide U shaped saddle, the assent to it started only about a 1/2 hour walk from the Hut. We stopped at the bottom of the climb for a drink and snack. David, Wayne and Catherine continued on up the valley and Christeen, Dorothy, Hazel, Bruce and Wayne started the climb.

The climb was initially through bush, the track was well marked, and a bit overgrown, but not too difficult to follow despite being a steep uphill climb. We crossed a small trickle of water and started an even steeper climb up a subalpine covered ridge, then the track got even steeper. We came out into a scree clearing which gave good views down valley. We came across a steep clay bank with a small but annoying boulder protuding out of it right in the middle of the track where we needed to climb up. We had a rope and that assisted with hauling the packs up first – making climbing around the obstacle easier. Then there was a scramble up a steep scree face and then one last tricky bit – a short sidle of only a few metres across a steep rock/scree face with no handholds and little to get a good grip with the boots – again the rope came out and assisted with getting all of us across ok.

With those obstacles out of the way, there was only a short climbing sidle up thought some subalpine and we were at the saddle – or at least what looked like the saddle – the real saddle, that is the lowest point, was actually below us. We had a 2 minute climb up to a knob that gave fantastic views up and down valley, then the track took us down into the real saddle and we stopped nearby for a break surrounded by a lot of tall snowgrass.

We followed the North Stream down. The top 2/3 of the stream was dry and for the most part we walked down the stream bed. The day was very hot and sunny and frequent drinks were needed to keep ourself hydrated. The snowgrass started to turn into subalpine which in turn became largely beech forest. The creek widened out as we got lower down and water started to appear. As we got further down the rocks got bigger and bigger and we entered a gorge. The gorge was full of big boulders, but with a low water flow progress slowed but the gorge was not too difficult to make our way throught. Eventually the stream bed fanned out into the Moa Stream and we had a short 1/2 hour walk down to the Moa Stream Hut – a 4 bunk hut with a similar design to the Unknown Hut. There was no drinkible water at the hut so we had to take billies and bottles down to the Moa to get water for the night. Christeen slept out in her tent and as we had the hut to ourselves the rest of us had a bunk for the night.

Next morning we packed up and started moving down the Moa Stream knowing that at about the same time David, Wayne and Catherine would be moving towards the vehicles. The day was overcast with some light rain durin the night. We moved down the Moa, sometimes beside the stream, sometimes on big grassy terraces. We crossed the Moa where it fanned out near the mouth and started moving theought the tall trees in a beech forest towards the Moa Hut in the Wilberforce Valley [not to be confused with the Moa Stream Hut].

Here we were on a 4WD track that took us through matagouri and low tussock to the old historic Moa Hut. We only stopped for a look and and a break then we started moving towards the other side of the Wilberforce – a long walk across a wide bouldery riverbed – on the way across we found the long semi-buried remains of an old tractor that hadn’t made it up, or maybe hadn’t made it back the valley.

As we approached the other side of the Wilberforce we saw the two vehicles coming down the track. David and Wayne stopped and waited for us to arrive. By this time the low cloud had gone and it was another hot sunny day. We stopped for a chat, had a snack and got changed and were then on our way back down the Wilberforce.

Thanks to David and Christeen for organising the trip. Thanks also to David and Wayne for providing the 4WD vehicles, and to David for his detailed knowledge of the area and its farming history.

This entry was posted in 2023, Trip Reports. Bookmark the permalink.