By Richard, 28 August 2010
Mesopotamia Station is a long way from nearest petrol station. A long and winding gravel road through the high country. Stop for sheep, wait for cows, careful on the fords.
Finally we park and get out of the car, and attempt to get changed while being buffeted by the wind screeching down from the Alps. Around us a million stones, and unfortunately about a billion weeds – briar rose prominent. Mesopotamia Station huddled behind its protective screen of yellowing trees. Finally Benji and I are packed, and ready to go, just need to squeeze the fuel bottle in. Benji, did you buy any fuel?
Mesopotamia Station is a long way from the little shop at Mt Peel village that had one bottle of white spirits left, but at least the sheep and cows had been mustered by the time we were driving back.
Unfortunately this was because it was after knock-off time. Still we shouldered our large packs and trudged across the stones towards Bush Stream. Crooked Spur hut is situated way above the stream, and the 250m climb was a real sting in the tail of our first part-day. Fortunately it was well and truly dark by the time we were slogging up the sheep track through the tussock so we couldn’t be depressed about how far away the hut looked.
All this land was once part of the famous Mesopotamia Station, which was Samuel Butler’s digs and the inspiration for his satire Erewhon. Across the Rangitata is the Jumped Up Downs, and Erewhon Station, where I have started many great trips.
The next day dawned with some ominous looking cloud and we climbed and then sidled our way along the true left of Bush stream (but way above it) passing in and out of lots of tributary basins. Quintessential High Country. Yellowy tussocks, scree mountains and big sky. We arrived at Stone Hut for lunch, and damn me it was nice. Lots of hut food too so we bowled a big can of peaches for lunch, and after a while spent lazing in the sun, the thought of climbing 1000 metres to put in a high camp seemed all a bit strenuous.
Of course the 1000 metres was only postponed, and the next day was seriously hot as we slogged uphill towards a crossing into the Macaulay at 2000m. The climb just seemed to go on and on. At one point we dropped our packs and stalked in on a mob of 20 young bull Tahr. It was a mega-tahr bomb-up waiting to happen. Instead we got bored to stalking so walked to within about 50 metres of them before they took off running. A great sight. We saw a couple of other tahr up near the top of the Blind Spur basin, just before we flopped down on the saddle and admired the striking view of the East Face of Cook. The Macaulay river was shining like a National guitar down below, a long, long way down below, and we spent a while enjoying the view as the shimmering braids threaded their way past Lillybank Station and joined the Godley to flow into Lake Tekapo. Mt Sibbald looked good, although it is a huge climb from the Macaulay, and we could see our proposed route, far up valley, in the head of the Macaulay.
Being Easter the Macaulay was the valley of the gun. The 4x4 too. As we got lower we could see glinting all the way up the river as 4x4’s made their way up and down the flat valley. Once we were on the valley floor and heading for the hut we started coming across hunting parties and the valley was echoing with the report of people sighting in their rifles. The wind was picking up and it was one of those classic east coast gravel trudges. From a few kilometres short of the hut we put the camera on full zoom and then zoomed in again on the photo and counted about half a dozen 4x4’s and a few tents, and resigned ourselves to a noisy night at hunter central.
Macaulay hut is really interesting, and pretty nice. It is large and spacious and built from local stone. It was built by the local community after the then manager of Lillybank Station burned down two DoC huts up the Macaulay. Being so easy to reach, especially by 4x4 it gets a lot of use. It turned out that the vehicles we had seen belonged to a large group of about 20 Filipinos. They did Kiwi-hospitality a lot better than any Kiwi! To combat the dehydration, we had about 6 crate bottles of Tui with them on the first night. We decided to sleep on the spacious porch.
We slept well after the long day and a few beers, and weren’t too distraught when the morning saw our spot on the porch being lashed by a vigorous nor wester. Eventually we got up as our stuff was getting blown around so much. Two hunters came down from the tops complaining DoC had taken all the animals so I showed them my video of 20 Tahr! One of the hunters – the driver – was thirsty after their morning’s effort so drank 5 beers between 10.45 and 11.30, then they jumped in the truck and headed down valley, heading for Waimate to kill Wallabies. He gave us some beers, and as it was rude not to drink with him we had some 11am beers too. Almost immediately we heard a chopper coming up valley, and some Norwegian hunters disembarked. They were pretty intense dudes but did make a bit of a joke asking us whether there were many nice birds in the valley.
The Filipinos had spent the morning fossicking around in the valley, but when they arrived back they invited us to their cooked lunch. I’ve got to say Filipino food isn’t the healthiest I’ve ever come across!
We were in the process of wiling away the afternoon when a kiwi woman came in and asked me what time we should start searching if her partner didn’t return from his hunt. I told her we could wait till about 6pm. She said
"oh, its just I haven't seen him for 5hours and he said he'd be back in 30mins..."
So we got dressed and went out for a search. The Filipinos thought we were real heroes, especially when I put the rope in my pack for effect. We found him, he had found a mob of animals and got into a big bomb- up and was moving quite slowly with all the meat. He had also fallen over a few times too. We left him to struggle back to the hut and went back to the hut where the Filipinos had cooked us dinner as well. There was a real risk of Hotel California syndrome setting in.
The weather certainly hadn’t improved, and it rained heavily all night which made it a bit damp out on the porch. Come morning it had gone to the South, and was freezing cold and drizzling, which made things pretty bleak as we trudged up valley into the black wall of grot at the head of the Macaulay. I had picked out a nice looking line on the map, but it wasn’t until we got right up under it that we could see it looked fine. We climbed around the easy gorge, and up the moraine slopes and nipped up a gully which took us up through the bluffs onto an unnamed hanging glacier. We climbed up the ice in a white out, and it was a bit of a grovel to get past one slot in particular. We were running blind in the total white out, but compass work saw us reach the top at just the right spot to cross the ridge coming off Mt Earle. We camped in the freezing drizzle at 2100m as I was keen to climb Earle the next day and get some views. Sure enough the temperature plummeted overnight and we weren’t surprised to have some views in the morning, although there was lots of poor weather around. We duly climbed Mt Earle and took a lot of photos looking onto the Garden of Eden, the Heim and many other great places. Packed up the tent, and then descended the Murphy glacier and the full length of Murphy stream.
We probably should have popped over a nice low saddle to the Forbes but I figured I would be more likely to get back to the Forbes than the Murphy so headed on down the Murphy to bag the biv. Not the greatest location for a biv, hemmed in by scrub in a poxy gorge. DoC had put in a new hut book in November and we were the first entry.
By now the day was getting on a bit, and we were confronted with some really slow travel, and a nasty scrubby grovel sidling the gorge. We made a poor job of route funding through this sidle and were rewarded by descending the last bit in the dark. Once back in the stream the dark made it pretty hard to judge the water levels, but finally we emerged onto the spacious flats of the Havelock river. We redeemed ourselves for our poor route finding by walking straight to the front door of Mistake Flats in the dark which was a good effort over a number of K’s of flat river bed with no track.
The last day saw us work out just how far away Mesopotamia Station was with a somewhat tedious gravel bash in the rain. There is a word for that. Interminable.
Richard Davies - scribe