Friday, 15 September 2017

Marble Hill & A Long Walk- Lewis Pass


Typical! The weather came right the day we left Hanmer Springs. There are Stop/Go lights and a tight single lane road along the edge of the cliff before we reach the historic Waiau Ferry Bridge on the way back to the main road (remember I took a photo of the bridge from the river bed the other day?). 

They've been doing rock blasting above the road after a major fire a year or so ago. We didn't quite make the green light and because I knew the traffic ahead of us had to get over the bridge before the other queue headed our way, I knew I had heaps of time to sprint across the road to the lookout and take some photos looking up and down the river.

It's not long after we're back on SH7 and heading west on the 'Alternative Route' through Lewis Pass that we come across the scorched landscape from another large fire. This one covered over 30 hectares and closed the road for a couple of days last March. Twelve helicopters, 14 ground crews, two bulldozers and a digger were involved in battling the fire. 

Since the Kaikoura earthquake last November, the Alternative Route from Picton to Christchurch- which is made up of several state highways- has had a huge increase in traffic and much of it is plagued by roadworks, stop/go traffic control, hundreds of trucks and plenty of nasty crashes. The most recent NZTA traffic figures showed the average daily heavy traffic through St Arnaud jumped from 41 heavy vehicles (before the 'quake) to 542 afterwards, an increase of 1216 percent. 

Luckily we were travelling on a Saturday afternoon and we had a pleasant run through Lewis Pass with just a few speed restriction sections and some light snow falling off the trees overhead at the top of the Pass.

We stopped for lunch at St James Walkway picnic area, a very popular rest stop on the Pass and where a very pretty mountain tarn and nature walk are hidden in the tussock just over the rise from the carpark. 

And just like all the other frozen ponds and lakes we've found on our travels, people just can't resist the urge to throw rocks at the ice.

Our next stop is at the Marble Hill DOC Camp for a night or two, it's just down the road from the Walkway. With a narrow entrance and a few sites in under the beech forest the camp then opens up into a very large site with plenty of areas to park.

Not long after we arrived, Gayle & Paul, who we'd met at Hanmer, also pulled in in their fifth-wheeler and set up camp. I went exploring and when I got back David was having a of cup of tea and a chinwag with them. The residents of the caravan kept toasty warm with their potbelly fire chuffing away- they needed it overnight, it was very cold and frosty.

The Maruia River passes along the back of the camp before being funneled into a very narrow channel through the rocks; it then flows out again into a wide gravel river bed. The channel is aptly named the Sluice Box.

And I timed it just right, checking it out just as the sun was heading for the horizon and shining brightly in through the small gap in the bush where the river exited the Sluice Box.

There's another interesting feature near the camp too; a concrete wall that monitors any movement in the alpine fault line. Great! We're parked on top of it! Just as well no movement has been detected since it was installed in 1964.

With a brilliant day forecast (and a heavy -6c frost overnight) we decided we'd stay another night and do the walk to Lake Daniells, 8.5kms up the valley. I like having visual rewards at the end of a walk and on this one there were three; the lake, a hut and a jetty. 

The only negative was it was a there and back walk; we like loops so you don't have to cover the same ground again. Actually....that wasn't the only negative, 17kms is a long way! Would we make it, we've been a bit sloth like over winter and haven't done too many long walks. Oh well, the joints needed a workout, might as well throw us in the deep end.

There's a little story with the photo above- see those tyre tracks? They're leaving the spot where a rental motorhome pulled up to park for the night. Right beside us, not two meters away from our front door. All the space in the world and they wanted to park beside us! I sent them over to the bush, where they'd be nice and sheltered and their water pipes would also be less likely to freeze. Talk about insecure.

With a 17km walk ahead of us, the sun shining through the trees, we set off at a brisk pace...

...brisk being the operative word! Spot the icicles?

It was bloody freezing, made the more so because the sun quickly disappeared and it looked like it hadn't shone on the track side of the valley since last summer!

At the halfway mark ....well half of one way (don't you love the name of the bridge!), we had a serious discussion about whether to go on or turn around and head back, we'd have still done a 8km round trip. 

I told David if we went any further there was no turning around until we got to the lake, I wasn't going that far without the reward! So we pressed on...

Until finally we arrived beside the hut located in a tiny clearing...

...overlooking Lake Daniells

The 24 bunk Manson-Nicholls Memorial Hut is a very popular place to visit for families or people new to tramping. The hut is named after a tragic event that happened nearby during Easter 1974; four young trampers took shelter from a wild storm in the fishing club hut across the lake. Part of the hillside behind the hut slid down and onto them. Despite injuries one of the women managed to launch a rowboat and seek help from another hut across the lake. Sadly the other 3 trampers, including a husband & wife were trapped under the slip and died.

 A NZ Robin/Toutouwai kept us company while we had lunch at the picnic table...

...while a flock of Brown Creeper/Pipipi flitted about and chattered away in the nearby bush. Brown Creeper are only found in the South Island and although you'll hear them often, they're very hard to spot (and take a photo of) as they move very fast through the canopy foraging and calling for their mates to follow. 

Before too long, it was time to head for home, the joints were starting to cease up...not helped by the fact that I tripped over in a tussock covered hole (Calamity Jane strikes again). At least the landing was soft! 

David pressed on ahead of me, he focuses on covering the distance, watching one foot move in front of the other. Me? I'm always on the lookout for things to photograph like this beautiful crystal clear stream surrounded by moss-laden trees...

...which led me to look a little further on and spot two big fat rainbow trout trapped in a small shallow pool.

They'll have to wait for the next heavy rain before they can escape back to the lake. They went berserk when they spotted me, round and round trying to find an exit. I backed off before they did some damage.

And then there were more icicles (I told you it was cold) and various fungi of differing colours.

Eventually, with my legs and toes starting to complain loudly, I packed the camera away, caught David up and we pushed on, arriving back at the van with half an hour to spare. Gayle & Paul were sending out the search party if we hadn't arrived back by 4:30pm. Wasn't that nice of them. I can tell you we slept well that night but oh the aches and pains the next morning. It took a few days to recover.

We left Marble Hill the next morning and continued on along the Alternative Route. Being a Monday, there was now a fair bit of traffic and plenty of trucks. We had no problems though, pulling over regularly to let traffic past and not one of the truckies failed to toot their appreciation. 

We had a quick stop at Maruia Falls- how's that for a flotsam whirlpool off to the side.

The Maruia Falls were created by the 1929 Murchison Earthquake, the 'quake triggered a landslide which diverted the course of the river forcing it to cut a new channel over an old river bank. The river eroded the gravel below the bank which now forms the impressive Maruia Falls.

'Tickets please!' A very friendly robin checking out visitors to the Falls...checking to see if they might have any treats more likely.

Our next stop for a couple of nights was at the very familiar Murchison NZMCA Park, which is also now very busy park. We parked in our favourite spot just inside the gate....hmmm....not such a great move considering all the trucks that now overnight in Murchison. And head off at fve in the morning! To give them their dues they were pretty considerate, roaring into life and idling for a just a minute before pulling out. To be honest we were still recovering from our walk we hardly noticed them! 


  1. Thank you for this wonderful blog. We are unavoidably home for a few months and I do SO look forward to following your footsteps next year.
    Val Monk

    1. Thanks for your lovely comments Val, much appreciated and I'm glad you are enjoying the blog.

  2. Another great blog, Cheers. Not a criticism but could you please change the name of the River from the Waiau to the Maruia River that flows down behind the Marble Hill Camp :)

    1. Haha....sure will, as soon as you tell me your name :)
      I knew it was the Maruia, just typing too fast and still had the waiau stuck in my mind from the previous post. Thanks for the head up!

  3. Great storytelling and rambling skills in B cold conditions.....indeed you put the bar high and out their!
    J & C

    1. Thanks Jimu, I hope you could feel our pain! :)


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