15-Dec-2005 -- Our visit was in many ways similar to that of the only slightly incomplete visit by Steve Hannah and Phil Wylie in Feb 2003. They had come within 500 meters or so of success after doing all the hard work. A great encouragement for us to complete it was the very small number of confluences remaining to make up the full compliment for our small but varied country (#1).
After a pleasant flight from Auckland city to the top of the South Island, we rented a car and headed for the glaciated landscapes of the Nelson Lakes area to tramp in and establish a base camp.
It almost did not happen at all as the local power company had begun upgrading the high tension power lines that snaked through the main river valley giving access to the area. The road (a gravelled track through small streams) was blocked by a locked gate while the trucks, helicopters and linesmen buzzed about threading new cables onto old pylons to help feed the growing power demands of 4 million switched-on Kiwis.
Fortunately, a call to the company was well rewarded and permission was obtained as long as great care was taken. This led to the second hurdle – getting access to the privately run high country sheep and beef farm where calving was in process on the river flats. Once again, great people were supportive of our project and farmers Kate and Dave McEwan gave us permission to cross their farm to get to the rugged country where the vital spot was found.
We walked in at dusk up a beautiful river valley and established our tent camp beside a cold mountain stream surrounded by soft green Beech trees and clouds of sand flies which, thankfully, did not seem to like the taste of our flesh. We found out later from a passing entomologist that the females were the biters, and they were off laying eggs. Even more luck!
The weather was perfect for our ascent up the side of the glaciated valley to 1700 meters plus with slight cloud cover to keep us cool and no wind at all. The beautiful song of the Tui and Bell birds echoed through the moss covered screes and we were in high spirits. Unfortunately, our enthusiasm took us up one side-valley too soon, and we found ourselves getting boxed in a narrowing canyon and climbing rock faces on increasingly steep angles (#2). Good sense prevailed and we had a great cook-up back at tent camp, and headed out again the following day.
This time, an easier path was found and we left the valley floor far below, passing from Beech trees, to mountain tussock grasses, snowgrass, mosses and lichens and onto the scree of broken down sedimentary mudstones. The confluence lay near the middle of a 45 degree scree slope about 100 m wide and 250 m long. We scrambled across and gingerly did the confluence dance with the satisfaction of a good lock from 8 satellites on the GPS at 1800 m altitude.
We boiled the billy for a cup of hot noodles next to a lens of leftover winter snow, ambled up to the dividing ridge and peered into the adjacent glacial valley from 2000m asl, then danced down the scree and picked our way back to the valley floor and out to the road again. We spent a night in a motel then headed off to explore the mountains west of Nelson with a sense of satisfaction, and immense gratitude to the people who had helped to make it all possible.