Of Frigid Swimming Holes and Little Red Huts
02 - 04 March 2017
A journey to the Waimakariri's headwaters
Walking up the Waimakariri River Valley, one can’t help but notice the power of water that flows from the veins of the Southern Alps. The Waimakariri River begins as a trickle high in the mountains and ends in a wide braid at the sea. The earth-moving potential of this river is evident from the moment you begin walking beside it from the main road curving toward Arthur’s Pass. You can’t ignore its wide, rocky floodplain as you drive over the single lane bridge and as a tramper I couldn’t take my eyes off of its braided streams ahead of me.
Picking my way stone over stone, up and down ridges of river rubble, through winding forest paths I moved toward the headwaters of this mighty river, where it begins at the crest of the Southern Alps. Choosing this destination was easy – a little red hut tucked into a scene of grandeur where a powerful mountain river begins, waterfalls cascade from lofty snowcapped heights and alpine gardens bloom – YES, PLEASE! The first leg of this journey up to Carrington Hut I’d done before but beyond this it would be all new. A combination of been-there-before knowledge and adventure around the corner is perfect for sharing experiences in the outdoors; this time I’d be taking my partner on his first proper New Zealand tramping trip.
Mountains shrouded in mystery walled the wide river valley in ever-growing height as we continued to scramble across trail or rocks moving steadily up-valley. Large white gentians lit up the green and stony fellfields we stepped across and sweet snowberries brought refreshment and a taste of autumn. Through the forest and around the corner the hut awaited us – all 36 bunks were free! A palace for the night was enjoyed by candlelight as rain fell on the roof. The Carrington Hut is full of history and character, a jumping-off point for many famous tramping trips that cross the Southern Alps and traverse rough and wild country. The hut felt even more charming at first light as Carrington Peak stood out stark against a clear sky. Low cloud floated here and there and winds whipped the tree canopy – the rain had gone and it was time to be off!
Setting out from Carrington we crossed the White River first as it tumbled down the glacier-hewn valley. Stepping over river rocks and tree roots we wound our way up the Waimakariri River’s path turning corners in the valley. As we reached the river’s edge up-valley we broke for lunch and leapt into its perfect icy blue pools. A swim in the mountains is almost as good as it gets but we were soon rewarded with more as we ascended through tussock and late summer blooming herb fields – white against straw-like gold. We marveled at ribbon-like waterfalls rushing down from above and finally climbed into an alpine basin that held our destination: a little red hut tucked like a schoolhouse beneath the main divide of the Southern Alps.
Basking in the last few rays of afternoon sun we entertained the resident band of kea with our presence. They gathered – one after the other – on the rocks and grass around us until a group of eight had formed, flapping their wings and calling loudly “keeeeaaa” echoing off the mountains.
Eventually we retreated to the cozy hut to watch the light fade over distant peaks and clouds roll in the valleys. What a place to call it a night.