25th – 28th August, 2020
By Nicole Cameron
Upper Matiri Valley & Thousand Acres Plateau
Participants: Harry Dempsey, Fleu Delugar, Maxime Savoie and Nicole Cameron
A Frenchman, an English lass, and two Kiwis went for a walk in the bush. They climbed up mountains and ridgelines, crossed vast plateaus, prevailed through wind, snow and rain, and risked losing the very feet they walked on to the vicious, muddy pools and cavernous holes along the track. Their expedition took them past the magnificent Lake Matiri, up the scarped slopes of the Matiri Range, across the treacherous Thousand Acres Plateau (aka Devil’s Dining Table) to Larrikin’s Creek Hut, and up to the towering peaks of the Needle and Mt Misery. Despite the names of the places the quartet visited evoking scenes from Hell and sharp, pointy things, the tramp was spectacular, and they were rewarded with some stunning panoramas.
The journey commenced with an incessant climb, as the group reached an elevation gain of 1200m within the first two hours of walking. Going was tough, but the grueling climb was largely forgotten amid the beauty of the forest and Lake Matiri below. The trampers kept their wits about them, navigating steep, rooty sections, all the while watching out for the elusive blue Mushroom. Fleur the Fearless exclaimed that she was as slow as a grandma ant with too many shopping bags, though Nicole the Noble assured her that they were smashing it. The group emerged from the bush onto the Thousand Acres Plateau and its rolling expanse of tussock grasses. The flatness of the landscape made it seem as if they had made no progress on their recent ascent. In a race against the rain and darkness, the group made it to Larrikin’s Creek Hut right on nightfall. Their feet were soggy, their legs were tired, but their hearts were full. They started the fire in the hut and wound down to a banging playlist from old mate Fleur’s ex-boyfriend, Josh. Apparently, his taste in music was one of the only things he had going for him.
An early sleep for the intrepid travelers served them well, waking up for the next big day to a fresh dusting of snow. The track that they started following up the ridge behind the Hut quickly ran out, and the group braved the piercing wrath of the Spaniards as they trudged towards what looked like the best route up to the Needle. A series of French swear words were issued under the breath of Maxime the Marvelous as they were led up through big boulders and bigger bushes. Surely, there must have been a wiser route, but there was nothing that the four of them could not survive. A steep scramble and bush-bash for a good half of the morning, eventually ended at the top beside the Needle. The views were incredible. The sky, a deep blue, and the plateau stretched out between the peaks like a golden quilt. Harry the Heroic celebrated by performing his iconic Russian squat dance. Their original plan of a circuit along the tops of the Matiri Range and bush-bashing back down to the valley was abruptly thwarted as their gaze settled on the Haystack. Its razor thin ridge line glistened with a layer of ice and snow. It was too sketchy, even for these 4 courageous pioneers. They quickly revised their plan. The rest of the day would be spent exploring the plateau, visiting the tarns, escaping nosy Weka, and lunching on Mt Misery, followed with a return to Larrikin’s Creek hut.
Day 3 threw everything it had at the 4 trampers: snow showers, frozen feet, and slippery descents. The torment of cold, soggy boots that hadn’t been dry for 3 days was enough to make the group question why they chose to tramp for fun. Their feet were so fucking cold that Nicole claimed that they were no longer a part of her body – they were merely a means to get her from one place to another. They were reminded of the answer, once again, when the snow shower passed and they began their downward slog back into the Matiri Valley. They were astounded by the fact that they had managed to climb up such a steep track only 2 days earlier. The warmth of the sun melted the snow of the tops of the trees, creating a magical rainfall that floated down from the canopy. They were elated when they reached the bottom of the valley, and they had one thing on their minds. What is the most logical way to end a day that started with snow and frozen feet? A swim in the lake, of course! Fleur was the first to brave the waters, relishing the chance to wash her hair. Maxime was hesitant at first, but soon joined the others in the lake. The evening was spent with good food, warm scrumpy found in the hut, impressive dance moves, the crackle of the fire and card games.
Content and relieved that the hard part of the tramp had passed, the group enjoyed their slow morning the next day. An hour walk out to the car was bliss for the trampers. They took the long journey home via the Murchison opshop where Harry fell in love with a pair of pink shorts, as well as the Springs Junction Tearooms. There was a rather uncomfortable conversation upon entering Christchurch, where Fleur interrogated Harry on human anatomy. This only served to create a very awkward car environment, especially after a series of terrible sexual jokes and riddles. Clearly, the tramp had made the group closer. Through their 3 nights spent together, and the places their adventure had taken them, they felt very comfortable in each other’s company.
Trying to find moments as peaceful and serene as those experienced on this trip is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Sometimes, all it takes to clear the mind is a few days in the wilderness and a few mountains to climb!