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Home > Treks > Heaphy > Day 7 > 7.1
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Misty river junction

Misty river junction
 
 
 
 
 

ONE day can make a huge difference. Unlike yesterday morning’s mountainside show of fiery reds and oranges, the colours of this morning’s subdued valley sunrise were totally washed out. The sky gradually transitioned from total blackness to a sullen grey weeping drizzle from the thick cloud encasing the surrounding mountains. Although the river itself was free of fog, the tall trees on either side penetrated the soft eerily enshrouding their tops.

Morning Mist

Morning Mist

The strong drizzle indicated the cloud would be quite thick and the forecast rain well and truly set to last the entire day.

This was the dry and sheltered side of the mountains, so it was likely raining substantially on the West Coast. All the people I have passed on the track over the past few days will be waking up to the same miserable conditions, denied of any of the spectacular views. Those heading across the downs today will also be battling driving rain from strong head winds.

Brown Hut

Brown Hut

The clear waters of the Brown River swiftly negotiated their way down the naturally formed channel along the bed of boulders. This created a peaceful backdrop as I had breakfast in the hut. Unlike previous days when faced with a long hike ahead, today’s effort will be just a couple of hundred metres to the end of the track with a pickup back to Motueka. With over three hours to go to my scheduled pick up at the end of the track, there was plenty of time to relax and poke around the area.

I’ve never lingered during my past visits to Brown Hut. I would either be passing through startingg at this end of the track to head straight up towards Perry Saddle. The one time I had completed the track coming this direction, I had arrived in the late morning and walked up to the road to start hitching across to Wainui Bay at the start of the Abel Tasman National Park 82 kilometres away. Despite the remoteness of this part of the country I had no problems getting across. I had arrived at Wainui in the middle of the afternoon, from where I hiked a further 110 kilometres along the inland and coastal tracks of the Abel Tasman.

Brown River

Brown River

That was over twenty years ago when I not only had the energy to walk the Heaphy in three days, but to do these other tracks immediately afterwards. I certainly didn’t have that same level of fitness today. This time I had taken more than twice as long to do the Heaphy and was now quite ready to return to the comforts of civilisation.

I headed back upstream 180 metres to the bridge across the Brown River. The river wasn’t brown at all – more a clear grey colour under the overcast sky. The naming of the river is lost to history, but probably named after a gold prospector named Brown who explored the valley in search of gold. It may have also been named after a farmer who settled the area. The details are now lost in history along with the Perry of “Perry Saddle” and “Mount Perry” fame. Perhaps like Perry, Brown had been completely unassuming but left a significant enough mark for his name to be placed on a river here at the start of the track.

Looking downstream

Looking downstream

Gold had been discovered a few kilometres downstream along the Aorere River in October 1856. Edward James and John Ellis, two of the valley’s earliest settlers, were mustering cattle and stopped by a small stream when Edward found a few specks of gold.

The news of the find quickly spread, and George Lightbrand, a digger from the Australian goldfields, arrived in the valley to do some prospecting. He found enough gold here to justify what would quickly become New Zealand’s first gold rush.

Misty valley

Misty valley

In February 1857 George chaired a meeting of a group of diggers who developed a set of rules to be later used in all the goldfields throughout New Zealand. They decided to base themselves near a Maori settlement at the mouth of the river. Both the settlement and the river were called Aorere. They named the settlement Gibbstown, after the local politician William Gibbs who authorised the subdivision of land around the area.

At the time the settlement was named, Gibbstown was no more than two tents. By 1858 it had swelled to a substantial town of 900 people and seven hotels had been built. The town was seen as a large camping picnic with everyone in the highest spirits, each prospector optimistically expecting to make a fortune.

Brown Valley

Brown Valley

At the time the sweeping bay enclosed by Farewell Spit had been known as Massacre Bay, a reference to Abel Tasman’s first landfall in New Zealand along the coast not too far from here in 1692. He met a Maori tribe of cannibals who killed several of his crew, hence the name Massacre Bay. This would have been the name Heaphy would have been familiar with when he was following the coast towards Cape Farewell to begin his expedition down the West Coast.

With the discovery of gold, the bay became informally known as Golden Bay. The name stuck and has remained since. The Nelson Provincial Government realised there was going to be a substantial settlement at Gibbstown and decided to name it Collingwood, after Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood, Lord Nelson’s second in command at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Both names were used for a while but Collingwood was the name that stuck.

Brown Hut

Brown Hut

With the surge in population, it was suggested that Collingwood become New Zealand’s capital. That was hard to imagine now with this area now being one of the most remote in the country.

Despite that, the gold rush was very short lived. By 1859 most of the two thousand prospectors who had come had left in favour of the richer gold deposits of the Buller River and down in Central Otago. Many had left after a substantial fire starting in a hotel kitchen had created a lot of damage, though not as much as the fire of 1904 when most of the town burnt to the ground. The pickings were too slim here in the Aorere catchment area, and no source of the gold had ever been discovered.

Towards the end of the track

Towards the end of the track

Looking at the Brown River there was no evidence left of the former gold rush. Perhaps there was no gold in the Brown River, as most of it had been found further downstream. The elusive seam marking the source of the gold was somewhere up here in the Aorere River, probably somewhere below where I hiked yesterday coming down from Perry Saddle, or maybe even further upstream.

I returned to Brown Hut and followed the gravel four wheel drive road to the end of the track through thick regenerating forest. There were plenty of tree ferns and moss on the ground. The track ran straight for a while before bending slightly and heading up a gentle grade to a locked steep barrier. This barrier marked the end of the track.

Gate at the end of the track

Gate at the end of the track

Ahead a family of weka were foraging amongst the newly formed puddles from the overnight rain. There was a mother, father and small chick no doubt closely guarding their territory patiently awaiting the pickings of leftovers from picnickers who frequent this spot. Next to the gate was a red shed no doubt for storing track maintenance equipment.

Once past the gate I was in the car park and the Brown River picnic area, where several cars were parked. Perhaps some of these had been relocated by people such as Derry who I had met at Perry Saddle yesterday. Others make arrangements with hikers travelling the other way, where each group would start the track on the same day, swap keys in the middle of the track somewhere around Saxon Hut, complete their hike, then drive to some meeting point along the long road to swap cars. Others would walk the length of the track and fly back from Karamea by helicopter or small plane. Others would walk in from this end and hike in a certain distance before returning.

Viewpiont over the Aorere River

Viewpiont over the Aorere River

Just off the car park was the entrance to the Aorere Lookout track. I followed the roughly cut track through the tranquil mossy forest to a wooden lookout over the Aorere River just downstream from where the Brown River flowed into it. The water was running crystal clear along a deep channel up against the lookout. Across the short channel was a large expanse of boulders brought down from past floods.

The cloud was beginning to lift. I could see the hills on the other side of the river starting to take definition, but their tops were still encased in cloud. I could see up to perhaps a hundred metres above the valley.

Aorere River

Aorere River

I returned to the car park and started heading back towards the hut when I discovered another old track heading towards the river. This track went through thick mossy forest with tree ferns down to another small lookout over where the Brown River quietly flowed into the Aorere. The rough track gave me a hint of what conditions would have been like for the gold prospectors and farmers who initially settled the area.

Upon returning to the hut I could see the clouds were lifting off the hills. Perhaps it was going to clear up on this side of the mountains. I headed down to the river and did some long exposure shots of the water rushing over the huge boulders before the sandflies got too bad. Although I had plenty of insect repellent on, they were aggressively biting me. Eventually I had no choice but to return to the hut to pack up.

Brown River

Brown River

The cloud had lifted from the hills just on the other side of the river, and there was even a patch of blue sky.

I had just finished packing up when a bearded man arrived. He had come down from Perry Saddle this morning having been following me a day behind. He was from Wanganui and had travelled to the Buller Gorge to catch up with some friends before doing the Heaphy Track. He was catching the same bus as me today, and getting dropped off at Nelson Airport to fly back to Palmerston North to head home to Wanganui.

Unfurling fern frond

Unfurling fern frond

I could have come down from Perry yesterday morning to catch the shuttle out, but that would have been far too rushed. He must have walked with quite a pace to have done the entire descent in three hours. As we were talking a group of five Scandinavian hikers passed the hut heading up towards Perry Saddle. One of them had a large camera similar to mine around his neck. That was going to become quite a strain after a few days.

A large ute suddenly arrived, with a couple of DOC workers and a load of firewood to supply the hut for a few more weeks.

Weka at the car park

Weka at the car park

After chatting for a while at the picnic table we headed off together along the final three hundred metres of track to the car park, where we found one of the picnic tables at the picnic area and waited for the bus to arrive.

I had officially completed the track, in seven days. This was the longest I had ever taken, but unlike previous times I had taken a leisurely pace exploring and photographing my way along. Previous trips had taken me three or four days, but even that wasn’t fast. Derry who I met yesterday does the entire track in a day and a half upon dropping each client’s car off at Kohahihai.

At the end of the track

At the end of the track

Some people are even faster. There was a group from Christchurch a few years ago who ran the entire 78 kilometres in nine hours. Starting from this end, they actually arrived at Kohaihai before their support vehicle had arrived to pick them up.
The van and trailer pulled up right on schedule at 11:00. The driver was David – the same guy who had taken me from Motueka to Kohaihai a week ago. There were two passengers on the bus, a young lady with (apparently) a very heavy pack, and to my surprise Derry was there as well, picking up another car to take around to Kohaihai today and walk all the way back here again arriving late tomorrow afternoon.

Loo at the end of the track

Loo at the end of the track

It did take a few minutes for us to get going as Derry had trouble getting into the car with the keys the client had given him until realising there were two of the same model in the park. That was a relief. He thought he was going to have to return home. With him set up for driving the car around to Kohaihai, the lady with the heavy backpack on her way, and with our packs stored in the trailer, we were ready to head back into civilisation, leaving behind the greyness of the cloud encased mountains.

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09 November 2015

 

Kahurangi Nat Park

New Zealand

 

40°51'S
172°27'E
130 - 140m ASL

 

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