Saturday, 30 August 2014

Hidden Valley- Part 2

Continued on from Part 1

After soaking in the views from the top of Cobb Ridge we headed off down the steep road into the “hidden valley”. At lake level we turned and followed the road along the lake edge for 10kms right to the head of the dam where the Cobb River flows into the lake and where there are a number of tramping tracks, & DOC huts further up the valley.

As we approached the end of the road we could see the Trilobite Hut tucked into the bottom edge of the bush below Mt Peel.

We could also see that there were a number of cars in the carpark. Something we never get used to; we drive all day on the rugged-ist of roads, out the back of beyond, without seeing a soul or passing any vehicles and then when we get to the end, the carparks are full! Well, by full, I mean 3 cars. Three cars but no people, they must be all off tramping or hunting or mountain biking. There was no one at the hut either. Trilobite is a 12 bunk hut and those are all the bunks right there in the middle right photo, 8 on the left of the door and 4 on the right. You’ll now understand why we only do day walks.

While we were checking out the hut and the beginning of the tracks another weka came striding down the path to see who had arrived. This time I was able to take a few good shots as it moved about the open ground slowly. It came quite close but was quick to take off at any sudden movement. He (or she) was very curious and at one point I thought it was going to even peck at the lens. I noticed that this one had grey legs & bill, with a hint of orange whereas the one we saw at the top of the ridge had bright orange legs and bill. Maybe this one is a young bird or the orange is part of their breeding colours.

We drove back down the road a few hundred metres to the large tussock covered camping area beside the Cobb River to have a late lunch at one of the picnic tables. I’m guessing that this area would be very popular during the summer but having now driven the road I would say that it would mainly be families in tents or small campervans as anything larger wouldn’t make it through.

I would have liked to have done the tramp to Asbestos Cottage but we decided that we’d just explore by vehicle today as we wouldn’t have had time to get this far into the valley and then do a walk. The start of the track left the access road halfway up the range between the power house and Cobb Ridge and finished half way along the road beside the lake. It was 6km to the hut and then another 7km via the Bullock Track to the lake and unless we had someone to collect us, no way of getting back to the ute without walking. And now looking at the terrain, it would have been very tough going.

Asbestos Cottage (4 bunks) is now a DOC hut but it was once the home of Annie & Henry Chaffey for 40 years. Annie left the isolated valley only once in 40 years. From the DOC website-
Asbestos Cottage was built in the 1890s by prospectors looking for asbestos in the area. From 1914 this isolated cottage was home to Henry Chaffey and Annie Fox. Escaping an abusive husband, Annie left her two teenage sons in Canterbury and fled with her lover Henry to the mountains of the Cobb Valley. The couple stayed as virtual recluses in the tiny hut for nearly 40 years. 
The couple were largely self-sufficient; Henry would hunt deer and goat, and a well tended garden supplied various fruits and vegetables. The little money they needed was earned by taking rainfall readings for the Meteorological Service and Henry’s gold fossicking.
The cottage had a tidy homely interior with walls papered with pages from magazines and mining journals. The large smoky fireplace over which all cooking was done had given the walls and ceiling a brown patina. The floor was covered in deer skins and the few pieces of furniture had covers and white doyleys. Shelves around the walls and in the bedroom were laden with preserves, jams and pickles. From about 1936 a battery driven radio took pride of place in the living room. 
Chaffey spent many years mining and trying to encourage commercial interest in the local asbestos deposits as well as searching for other minerals. Henry was in regular contact with the outside world through his mining ventures and trips out to Motueka and Takaka for supplies. Annie however remained a recluse leaving the hut only once for an urgent operation at Nelson Hospital. She always dressed in Edwardian-style clothing for visitors who were required to signal their approach with a loud “cooee!”
Almost 20 years after fleeing, Annie’s first husband died and she was finally free to wed. The couple were married at the cottage on 5 April 1932 by both Anglican and Presbyterian ministers. The ceremony was followed by a wedding feast of roast goat, potatoes and bread with toasts of whisky and water.
Henry died on the side of the track in August 1951 aged 83. He had been returning from a provisioning trip. Unable to stay at the cottage by herself, Annie was taken to live with relatives in Timaru. However, she found it difficult to adjust and took her own life on 14 July 1953.
What a sad ending to an extraordinary life and how intrepid were the ministers that came to marry the pair?

It was a beautiful late winter’s day; warm sun, blue sky, no wind and the whole valley to ourselves, lunch was a leisurely affair as we soaked up the peaceful surroundings.

David checked out the river for trout but found none (the season was closed on the river but open on the reservoir). We stopped near the river inlet and couldn’t work out why the water was dirty on the edge. The river was clean and the lake was clean but this area a muddy colour. There were a few ducks milling around but I don’t think they had stirred the mud up, I think the lake had been quite low and had exposed some mud flats.

We headed back down the road and stopped at the dam wall and intake to check it out. It was here that we saw our first cars, two with four older couples in them, out on a Sunday drive. The wives sitting in the back and the men chatting in the front. I bet some of those women thought “Where the heck are we going”,  as they drove the road in. I know I’d have been car-sick in the back.

Here are a couple of photos I took of the information boards back up at the top of the ridge in the shelter (which is up at the top of that line in the bush in the photo above, bottom left). The 596m height between the power house & the penstocks is the highest of any NZ power station which permits a considerable amount of power from a relatively small water flow. The dam was completed in 1953 and has a storage capacity of 25.6 million cubic metres.

We wound our way back up to the top of the ridge and stopped for one last look at that fabulous view again, this time taken in the late afternoon sun, before we dropped over the top and out of sight of the stunning “hidden valley”.

And one last photo of the power house as we crossed the bridge, this is the one I used for a blog header last week where the 'spent' water is exiting the side of the building.

I hope you enjoyed your guided tour of the Cobb Valley, it was a magical place and well worth the 120km round trip to visit it.


  1. Well done Shellie.


    1. Thanks Mark, glad you enjoyed it (this time without the wine?) ;)


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