Preliminaries | Leslie-Karamea trip, May 2013

For someone who claims to come from Nelson I had not much to do with the Kahurangi area in my youth.

Put it down to a girlfriend who had a bach down at Torrent Bay in Abel Tasman, although when I think of it I did speed through the Heaphy quite a few times before hut charges were introduced and there was that almost strenuous few days battling monkey scrub, mating seals and the rising tide/shoreline cliff combination on a trackless, let’s-just-follow-the-coast, style trip from the Kahurangi lighthouse down to the Heaphy River.

Finally in April 2004 I wandered the Leslie-Karamea Track and realised what I’d been missing, the Karamea River is one of the great easy trails to amble alongside. There’s all the aspects needed for a decent tramp: adequate length, ie, at least 7 days; good accommodation, tick that one now the old Venus hut has been replaced; not too many other people around at least in autumn months.

But why did I manage to do it a second time outside the fishing season, this river has some mighty trout, the count was beyond 30 legal sized specimens in the clear water before the river discoloured after rain.

Here’s my impressions of the Leslie-Karamea this time around …

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Day 1 | Belltown Manunui Hut: wow, a full house

Little Wanganui River near Karamea

I’m loaded up with 12 nights food, it’s usually only five or six days to zip up over the Little Wanganui Saddle, scoot down the Karamea River then up the Leslie to Salisbury Lodge in behind Mt Arthur and that wouldn’t be speeding.

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Day 2 | Little Wanganui Shelter: hey, that's not so far

swingbridge over the Little Wanganui River

Looks as if I’m back on my own tonight, I’m in the clouds, the hut is cute, at this size at full capacity two people would want to be friends, it’s a fully insulated version, polystyrene sandwich construction, ie, aluminium skin both inside and out, a sealed box with a large issue with condensation, and with these confines you have to cook with the door open to avoid self medicating with carbon monoxide.

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Day 3 | Stag Flat Shelter: no stags about, just chamois

Little Wanganui Saddle looking down into the Taipo River valley and Stag Flat

A sign states we’re at 970m which I believe because it’s not so far down from the saddle and it’s feeling cool in here, my thermometer says 11º just before 5pm. That’s the reason I’m cooking dinner from inside my sleeping bag, again, this delicate body hasn’t adjusted to NZ temperatures just yet.

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Day 4 | Trevor Carter Hut: a good 'un

Karamea River

5 46pm.

12º.

No wonder I’m reposing here in bed, ie, in my sleeping bag on a foam mattress that’s covered in plastic, eating my delicious dinner.

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Day 5 | Trevor Carter Hut: yeah, the full day off

Karamea River near Trevor Carter Hut

A cool and occasionally sunny day, I do the typical day-off-at-a-hut things, lie in and listen to the news from the comfort of my cosy sleeping bag, collect a heap of wood that’s not rotting for a fire tonight, plenty washed up along the riverbank, it’s wet but it will burn if I can get some sort of fire raging in the firebox, chop it to length using the blunt steel handled heavy duty axe, bludgeon would be the word to describe it’s use, cook up lunch and later, go for a longish walk down towards Thor Hut to check out my means of egress from this hut.

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Day 6 | Thor Hut: between the swing bridge and that green river

Thor Hut, Kahurangi National Park

I keep going over to the Karamea which has a remarkable green tinge, to check to see whether any big trout have turned up but while I saw one 50m upstream it’s just not levitating quite immediately in front.

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Day 7 | Venus Hut: from worst to best hut, it's now a classic

The Karamea River

Wow, I’m not usually one to talk up my accommodation but Venus has gone 180º. This new hut, filled with light, insulated, spacious, at least for someone on their lonesome, double glazed, is everything the previous wasn’t.

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Day 8 | Crow Hut: well, there was someone around, her name, Sonja

Upper Karamea swing bridge

All in all a top day with a whole lot of not much.

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Day 9 | Karamea Bend Hut: no wood? err, well find some, it's a forest

Karamea Bend
I changed two things with my travels after the Seb experience: can’t light those bonfires, mate, that’s insect habitat, I might mention it was single digit temperatures at night, ie, cold in the tent; and, my then preferred pasta version, penne, way too bulky.
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Day 10 | Salisbury Lodge: some cold, lonely, luxury

Leslie River, Karamea Bend

A scenic wander up the picturesque Leslie River, more splendid beech forest, a couple of giant Rimu trees, some clear greenish pools hacked by nature in solid rock and the largest trout I’ve spotted in the last week.

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Day 11 | Back in Nelson: the slog down that hill

sunrise at Salisbury Lodge

There’s a few quirky shelters to inspect, a legacy of the days when “resourceful” and “ingenuity” were a part of the NZ character, back before “world’s best practice” and “liability” became the modus operandi of the prevailing bureaucracy.

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Wrap up | Back in Nelson and drinking real coffee once again

Mt Arthur is clear and shows some new snow

And that’s the end of my autumn 2013 tramping season.