In mid November I flew over the ditch (Tasman Sea) to New Zealand’s South Island to do a bit of tramping on the Rees-Dart Track.
The start of the Dart Track
The Rees-Dart track had not officially opened and the Department Of Conservation (DOC’s) Queenstown did their best to discourage us from going, and fair enough there was still some avalanche danger, a lot of snow/ice on the track at Rees Saddle, the bridge over the Snowy Creek which is removed over winter had not yet been replaced and there was a lot of fallen trees on the track, I can understand DOC’s concerns, there are a lot of stories about walkers turning up with no experience, no rain gear, no food etc, DOC’s have to be careful. I am an experienced walker with many years experience bushwalking and bushwalking in the Australian Alpine country, we considered all of DOC’s warnings and decided to attempt the track anyway. To please DOC’s somewhat we started the walk from the Dart Valley end so we could be updated by the Dart Hut Warden as to the condition of the Dart to Rees Saddle track conditions.
An early view up the Dart Valley
Day one, we where picked up at our motel at 8.00am and dropped at the start of the Dart Valley Track at around 9.30 am, on the way, the transport company dropped of 4 walkers from Western Australia who where dong the Routeburn Track, I was more than happy to have a look a the Routeburn Track start as I first did that end of the Routeburn Track in 1975 and it brought back some memories. A short time later we where dropped off at the Dart end, after a quick bite to eat we started walking, the weather was fine and warm, there was no wind and we had great views, the walking was easy, the track had some trees down over it but all of it was easy to negotiate, after 16k and about six hours of very pleasant walking we arrived at Daleys Flat Hut, that night we shared Daleys Flat Hut with two hunters, one Stoat Trapper and hunting two dogs.
A small river Island with a view
Our company at Daleys Flat Hut
Negotiating some windfall
Day two was not so easy, we had a 18k day ahead of us with a steep ascent climbing up to Dart Hut, the day started fine but as we were crossing Cattle Flat (which was not that flat) it started to rain and got heavier as we walked, at the end of cattle flat we met up with another walker, it was from this point things started to get interesting as it was starting to get steep and it was also getting wetter and there was a lot of windfall (fallen trees) on this section, while most of the windfall was easy to negotiate, some of it was a bit difficult to get past, a few times we had to take our packs off, someone would crawl through and the others would pass the packs through before they crawled through themselves. A few minutes before we got to Dart Hut it started to rain very heavy, we had good timing. Dart hut was empty and the Hut Warden who we were told would be there as he went in a couple of days before was nowhere to be seen. That evening it started to snow, it was all very pretty. The huts where of a very high quality, the windows where double glazed and they have wood/coal heaters, the heaters were obviously designed to only take the edge off the cold as they were slow burning, with only 2-3 people in the hut we could not get the hut comfortably warm, I wore my Western mountaineering Flash pants and Jacket and while I looked like the Michelin man, I was very comfortable, reading the hut log book we where the first to stay in the Dart Hut for nearly two weeks.
The Dart Hut
Some fresh snow on the hills up toward the Rees Saddle
Day three, the other walker decided to bail and go back to his car at the start of the Dart Track, he had a long hard 33k walk ahead of him, he was also carrying a 25kg pack. As it turned out it was a brilliant day of sun, no wind and warm, it could not have been better for the Dart Glacier side trip, the day was as good as it gets, the views where breathtaking, the walking easy but steep in places, we wanted to go up to the Cascade Saddle but there was an expected front coming through that afternoon and we knew we had a difficult day the next day so we decided to leave the Cascade Saddle for another trip.
The Hesse Galcier
The upper Dart Galcier
That evening we had the Dart Hut all to ourselves. The hut Warden turned up around 7.30pm, he had just walked in from Daleys Hut, he had been servicing the Shelter Rock Hut, and was then dropped off at Daleys Flat Hut by the helicopter. He was very helpful and encouraging about the Snowy creek crossing and Rees Saddle, he informed us that there are some well placed rocks just under where the bridge normally is, and beside the snow and ice on Rees Saddle there is some exposed grass and the decent was OK to do on the grass but it could be a bit slippery if wet or had some snow on it, he also gave us the latest weather forecast, his advice that night was to leave a bit later in the morning as there will be a front through early in the morning.
The view back toward the Dart Valley from near the Rees Saddle
Day four dawned and the weather was fine, on advice from the hut warden the previous evening we had planned to leave at 9.00am, at 8.00 am the Hut Warden came in with the latest weather forecast and said the front was delayed and was due around midday and that we should have left already, well that is mountain weather.
We left for the Rees Saddle at the planned 9.00 am and the walk up to the Snowy Creek crossing was very steep in places, the views where as good as they get, but the clouds where starting to come in. We rock hopped across the Snowy Creek with no problems at all, I do not know much about avalanches but the Hut Warden advised us to go early as it is in the afternoon when the snow warms that the danger is at its highest. If we where complacent, we only had to look at some of the track markers to put us into our place, the track markers are star pickets with bright day glow orange sleeves on top. In this section the star pickets where bent 90º and some were even bent and twisted. On the way to Rees Saddle we had to cross some snow still lying in some gully’s, this was a bit slippery but not to difficult though the snow was soft in places and we went through past our knees a few times.
A great view toward the Rees Saddle
Richard on the Rees Saddle
The view back up the to the Rees Saddle
The walk up to Rees Saddle was again steep and again the views where stunning, on the way up it started to snow and as we climbed higher the snow became heavier, once at the top we took a photo of each other at the Rees Saddle sign and then started to look for a way down, there was a lot of snow still at the top and we had to do some exploring to find what we considered a safe way down, we decided to walk down a ridge but the grass was getting covered in snow, fortunately the Alpine tussock grass was a bit lumpy which made for good foot holds, the decent was very steep in places and we both slipped a few times, I fell hard on a large rocky surface hidden under the snow and then a second time further down on steepest part of the decent this time on the snow covered grass, I took off down the ridge and could not stop myself with hands and feet, I had to dig my walking stick into the ground to stop myself, but once down the walking became easy again as the track is well marked and it was down hill most of the way to the Shelter Rock Hut.
Some imposing snow covered Peaks
The Shelter Rock Hut
After a while the snow shower passed and the view back up the Rees Valley was stunning with the terrain covered in a light dusting of snow, further on we met two walkers going up to the Rees Saddle, they where very please to know that we had made it over the Saddle and Snowy Creek crossing OK. We arrived at Shelter Rock Hut at around 3.00 pm and once inside some more snow showers passed, our thoughts where with the two walkers as they would have been around the Rees Saddle at the time and having more snow than we had would have made the climb up to the saddle a bit more treacherous.
The moon above the Forbes Mountains
We where the first to stay in Shelter Rock Hut for three weeks and we where in luck as the hut had just been re-supplied with coal, we had a relaxing evening trying to keep warm and drying our clothes and boots.
Drying our clothes above the heater in the Shelter Rock Hut
A land slide
The view back up the Rees Valley
Day five, we rose early as we had to make the rendezvous at Muddy Creek some 19 k away with Buckley’s Transport at 2.00 pm. We left Shelter Rock Hut as planned around 7.00 am, it was cool but fine, the track crossed the Rees River on a swing bridge and we descended several 7k through forest and some avalanche risk country, just before we left the forest we crossed back over the Rees River on the last swing bridge of the trip and shortly after walked out into open farm land. At first the track followed the road but after a few k the road started to cross the Rees River and the Track went across farm land and up and down the hills at the side, and we found this a bit annoying because we were looking forward to some easier flat walking, we where glad when the track started to follow the road again. At 25 Mile Creek was the first of several creek crossings with no bridges and I decide as it was the end of the walk I would keep my shoes on, Richard decided to take his shoes off each time, this gave me time to rest, we arrived at Muddy creek pickup at 1.00 pm and Ian from Buckleys transport was already waiting for us, we stopped for a coffee at the Glenorchy pub and then back to Queenstown for a much need shower and shave, that evening we a few beers/wine and a devoured a large pub meal, it was early to bed that night.
For those of you who would like see more here is a link to photo story of my Rees-Dart trip, it is best viewed in slideshow and takes about ten minutes.