New Year’s Eve near Arthur’s Pass

East coast towns on the run-up to New Year appeared abandoned – ghost towns. We were slowly making our way back north to spend a few more days with Phil and Lynda before catching the ferry back to the North Island.


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Rakaia Gorge


“Hey, there was a sign for Arthur’s Pass Road. We should check it out, it’s supposed to be stunning.”


So we did. The bendy road penetrates a vast area of rounded mountains and wide valleys with wild untamed rivers running through, as it climbs up the South Island backbone. We stopped briefly in Arthur’s Pass Village to ask about walks, then carried on up. At the top we saw nothing as fog rising from the west engulfed everything, but we knew we had arrived as the road started descending. We turned around.


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Untamed Waimakariri Valley


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Fog at Arthur’s Pass


The forecast was for torrential rain and the DOC officers were warning against tramping along valley bottoms because river crossings are unavoidable. Unfortunately all the good walks are in the valleys as the mountains are loose piles of schist. On the ‘Wilderness Mag’ website we’d found a two-day walk we liked, only it started by crossing Broken River and the whole of the second day was along a stream. Because of the forecast we decided to tackle it as a ‘there and back’ trip of the Day 1 itinerary, but only if the river level was low.


The access road ran parallel to the railway line, then crossed it again and again. We must have bumped over the metal tracks at least twenty times, and every crossing involved opening and closing two gates. The visibility up and down the track was generally poor, but then a train would whistle, wouldn’t it?


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Access road


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Endless railway crossings


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A straight section 


We parked at the end of the rough road and continued on foot to check the river level. It was passable but wouldn’t be if it rained heavily. A couple of fantails fluttered around. They were much darker than the ones we had seen so far, nearly black, and, according to the book, are a distinct morph found only on the South Island. The farmer splattered us with mud as he drove home. His house is on the other side of the river and he ‘commutes’ in a modified 4x4 ute that he keeps at the end of the track. He didn’t even slow down before fording the river. A loud thundering made us look up, a goods train was crossing the viaduct, it hadn’t whistled.


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A broken bridge over Broken River


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Black morph fantail


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Railway viaduct


As we got back to Jumbo, the sandflies were coming out in droves. Soon it was impossible to remain outside so Franco sat in the front while I cooked tea in the back, stooped over the stove.


Next morning, New Year’s Eve, the rain clouds were gathering so we decided to do a ridge walk instead. On the way in, Franco had spotted a ridge that looked accessible from the road. As we examined the map, we realised it was the other end of the mountain we had planned to walk.


We parked just off a bend and set off up the shoulder. It was steep scree, with nothing much to see. I was disappointed we’d had to change our plans and grumbled as we slogged uphill. We stopped for an early lunch but increased sugar levels made no difference, and Franco concurred, our trudge was a drudgery (up a pile of s(c)hi(s)t).


When we got to the top of Foggy Peak (1741m), we had to admit the view had been worth the effort. We sat on a rock under Tibetan prayer flags and looked around, rounded mountains gave way in the distance to the more jagged peaks of the Southern Alps.


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Kath and Franco at the summit of Foggy Peak


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View looking east


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Franco and the view looking west


We set up camp by Lake Lyndon. It hadn’t rained after all and we were enjoying the late afternoon sunshine, but not for long, mist came rolling down the flanks of Foggy Peak and we were glad we’d come down in good time.


I cooked another meal in the back of Jumbo, to all intents and purposes, I was becoming the hunchback of notre-van. It was a quiet welcome to the new year as the occupants of the camper vans parked nearby went to bed before 10pm, and it was just the two fo us clinking wine glasses at midnight. 


“To you, our friends and family all over the world.”