Rees-Dart Track New Zealand November 2011

4:20 p.m. on December 15, 2011 (EST)
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In mid November I flew over the ditch to New Zealand’s South Island to do a bit of tramping on the Rees-Dart Track.


The start of the Dart Track

The Rees-Dart track had not officially opened and the Department Of Conservation (DOC’s) Queenstown did their best to discourage us from going, and fair enough there was still some avalanche danger, a lot of snow/ice on the track at Rees Saddle, the bridge over the Snowy Creek which is removed over winter had not yet been replaced and there was a lot of fallen trees on the track, I can understand DOC’s concerns, there are a lot of stories about walkers turning up with no experience, no rain gear, no food etc, DOC’s have to be careful. I am an experienced walker with many years experience bushwalking and bushwalking in the Australian Alpine country, we considered all of DOC’s warnings and decided to attempt the track anyway. To please DOC’s somewhat we started the walk from the Dart Valley end so we could be updated by the Dart Hut Warden as to the condition of the Dart to Rees Saddle track conditions.


An early view up the Dart Valley

Day one, we where picked up at our motel at 8.00am and dropped at the start of the Dart Valley Track at around 9.30 am, on the way, the transport company dropped of 4 walkers from Western Australia who where dong the Routeburn Track, I was more than happy to have a look a the Routeburn Track start as I first did that end of the Routeburn Track in 1975 and it brought back some memories. A short time later we where dropped off at the Dart end, after a quick bite to eat we started walking, the weather was fine and warm, there was no wind and we had great views, the walking was easy, the track had some trees down over it but all of it was easy to negotiate, after 16k and about six hours of very pleasant walking we arrived at Daleys Flat Hut, that night we shared Daleys Flat Hut with two hunters, one Stoat Trapper and hunting two dogs.


A small river Island with a view


Our company at Daleys Flat Hut


Negotiating some windfall

Day two was not so easy, we had a 18k day ahead of us with a steep ascent climbing up to Dart Hut, the day started fine but as we were crossing Cattle Flat (which was not that flat) it started to rain and got heavier as we walked, at the end of cattle flat we met up with another walker, it was from this point things started to get interesting as it was starting to get steep and it was also getting wetter and there was a lot of windfall (fallen trees) on this section, while most of the windfall was easy to negotiate, some of it was a bit difficult to get past, a few times we had to take our packs off, someone would crawl through and the others would pass the packs through before they crawled through themselves. A few minutes before we got to Dart Hut it started to rain very heavy, we had good timing. Dart hut was empty and the Hut Warden who we were told would be there as he went in a couple of days before was nowhere to be seen. That evening it started to snow, it was all very pretty. The huts where of a very high quality, the windows where double glazed and they have wood/coal heaters, the heaters were obviously designed to only take the edge off the cold as they were slow burning, with only 2-3 people in the hut we could not get the hut comfortably warm, I wore my Western mountaineering Flash pants and Jacket and while I looked like the Michelin man, I was very comfortable, reading the hut log book we where the first to stay in the Dart Hut for nearly two weeks.


The Dart Hut


Some fresh snow on the hills up toward the Rees Saddle

Day three, the other walker decided to bail and go back to his car at the start of the Dart Track, he had a long hard 33k walk ahead of him, he was also carrying a 25kg pack. As it turned out it was a brilliant day of sun, no wind and warm, it could not have been better for the Dart Glacier side trip, the day was as good as it gets, the views where breathtaking, the walking easy but steep in places, we wanted to go up to the Cascade Saddle but there was an expected front coming through that afternoon and we knew we had a difficult day the next day so we decided to leave the Cascade Saddle for another trip.


The Hesse Galcier


The upper Dart Galcier

That evening we had the Dart Hut all to ourselves. The hut Warden turned up around 7.30pm, he had just walked in from Daleys Hut, he had been servicing the Shelter Rock Hut, and was then dropped off at Daleys Flat Hut by the helicopter. He was very helpful and encouraging about the Snowy creek crossing and Rees Saddle, he informed us that there are some well placed rocks just under where the bridge normally is, and beside the snow and ice on Rees Saddle there is some exposed grass and the decent was OK to do on the grass but it could be a bit slippery if wet or had some snow on it, he also gave us the latest weather forecast, his advice that night was to leave a bit later in the morning as there will be a front through early in the morning.


The view back toward the Dart Valley from near the Rees Saddle

Day four dawned and the weather was fine, on advice from the hut warden the previous evening we had planned to leave at 9.00am, at 8.00 am the Hut Warden came in with the latest weather forecast and said the front was delayed and was due around midday and that we should have left already, well that is mountain weather.

We left for the Rees Saddle at the planned 9.00 am and the walk up to the Snowy Creek crossing was very steep in places, the views where as good as they get, but the clouds where starting to come in. We rock hopped across the Snowy Creek with no problems at all, I do not know much about avalanches but the Hut Warden advised us to go early as it is in the afternoon when the snow warms that the danger is at its highest. If we where complacent, we only had to look at some of the track markers to put us into our place, the track markers are star pickets with bright day glow orange sleeves on top. In this section the star pickets where bent 90º and some were even bent and twisted. On the way to Rees Saddle we had to cross some snow still lying in some gully’s, this was a bit slippery but not to difficult though the snow was soft in places and we went through past our knees a few times.


Richard on the Rees Saddle


The view back up the to the Rees Saddle

The walk up to Rees Saddle was again steep and again the views where stunning, on the way up it started to snow and as we climbed higher the snow became heavier, once at the top we took a photo of each other at the Rees Saddle sign and then started to look for a way down, there was a lot of snow still at the top and we had to do some exploring to find what we considered a safe way down, we decided to walk down a ridge but the grass was getting covered in snow, fortunately the Alpine tussock grass was a bit lumpy which made for good foot holds, the decent was very steep in places and we both slipped a few times, I fell hard on a large rocky surface hidden under the snow and then a second time further down on steepest part of the decent this time on the snow covered grass, I took off down the ridge and could not stop myself with hands and feet, I had to dig my walking stick into the ground to stop myself, but once down the walking became easy again as the track is well marked and it was down hill most of the way to the Shelter Rock Hut.


Some imposing snow covered Peaks


The Shelter Rock Hut

After a while the snow shower passed and the view back up the Rees Valley was stunning with the terrain covered in a light dusting of snow, further on we met two walkers going up to the Rees Saddle, they where very please to know that we had made it over the Saddle and Snowy Creek crossing OK. We arrived at Shelter Rock Hut at around 3.00 pm and once inside some more snow showers passed, our thoughts where with the two walkers as they would have been around the Rees Saddle at the time and having more snow than we had would have made the climb up to the saddle a bit more treacherous.


The moon above the Forbes Mountains

We where the first to stay in Shelter Rock Hut for three weeks and we where in luck as the hut had just been re-supplied with coal, we had a relaxing evening trying to keep warm and drying our clothes and boots.


Drying our clothes above the heater in the Shelter Rock Hut


A land slide


The view back up the Rees Valley

Day five, we rose early as we had to make the rendezvous at Muddy Creek some 19 k away with Buckley’s Transport at 2.00 pm. We left Shelter Rock Hut as planned around 7.00 am, it was cool but fine, the track crossed the Rees River on a swing bridge and we descended several 7k through forest and some avalanche risk country, just before we left the forest we crossed back over the Rees River on the last swing bridge of the trip and shortly after walked out into open farm land. At first the track followed the road but after a few k the road started to cross the Rees River and the Track went across farm land and up and down the hills at the side, and we found this a bit annoying because we were looking forward to some easier flat walking, we where glad when the track started to follow the road again. At 25 Mile Creek was the first of several creek crossings with no bridges and I decide as it was the end of the walk I would keep my shoes on, Richard decided to take his shoes off each time, this gave me time to rest, we arrived at Muddy creek pickup at 1.00 pm and Ian from Buckleys transport was already waiting for us, we stopped for a coffee at the Glenorchy pub and then back to Queenstown for a much need shower and shave, that evening we a few beers/wine and a devoured a large pub meal, it was early to bed that night.

Here is a link to my Rees-Dart Photobucket album , it is best viewed in slideshow and takes about ten minutes.

6:19 p.m. on December 15, 2011 (EST)
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Thanks for shareing your trip Tony. The pictures and weather were spectacular. I could see why you went.

7:02 p.m. on December 15, 2011 (EST)
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Love it. Thanks.

10:57 p.m. on December 15, 2011 (EST)
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Say, Tony, thanks so much for sharing your trip!  What gorgeous pictures of a side of the world I've, unfortunately, never seen.  Of course, the Forbes Mountains in the moonlight picture was great, but I especially liked the very first picture of you standing at the trail head--what a thick, shady forest behind you!  Thanks again, and please visit us often.

3:26 a.m. on December 16, 2011 (EST)
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New Zealand is an absolute friggin' mountaineering and trekking heaven.  Unfortunately is is on the other $side$ of the planet.  Envy.


4:54 a.m. on December 16, 2011 (EST)
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whomeworry said:

New Zealand is an absolute friggin' mountaineering and trekking heaven.  Unfortunately is is on the other $side$ of the planet.  Envy.


 Thanks for the comments. New Zealand is a special place, I am looking to go back in 2013 to do another walk and possibly do some mountain climbing.

For us in Australia it is cheaper to fly to New Zealand that it is to fly from my home town of Canberra to the nearest city of Sydney.


7:04 a.m. on December 16, 2011 (EST)
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Wow..Tony thanks so much for sharing this...what an amazing trip!


Envy here too!

9:41 a.m. on December 16, 2011 (EST)
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Tony, Thank you for posting this wonderful trip! New Zealand is at te very top of the list of the places that I am determined to go trekking someday. 

5:24 p.m. on December 16, 2011 (EST)
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Dangit now I have to add NZ to the list.

This will be expensive

7:52 p.m. on December 17, 2011 (EST)
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Great TR TonyB. The scenery in NZ is beautiful. Thanks for sharing. 

9:25 p.m. on December 17, 2011 (EST)
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Nice report Tony. Next time you go over, do the rest of the Routeburn. Takes you by Sutherland Falls, if I remember right. You may also want to do the Milford if you haven't done it. Takes a bit of planning since you need to reserve a slot. I did it years ago, so not sure what the rules are now.  The Hooker Track from Mt. Cook to the West Coast was a good route too, but changes to the track due to the glacier receding have made it more problematic.

Also, there is some good hiking at Arthur's Pass.  We took the train up from Christchurch and it dropped us off outside of town, then picked us up on the way back.

10:18 a.m. on December 18, 2011 (EST)
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Thanks a bunch for the trip report.

I really enjoyed reading about your trip and seeing the great photos!

4:11 p.m. on December 19, 2011 (EST)
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Congratulations on a good tramp and for getting a little off the beaten path! I wanted to do the Rees-Dart during my stay in NZ but never got around to it. I did, however point a grad student of mine to it, and she did it last February or thereabouts. Guess I'll have to go back...

Tom, Sutherland Falls is on the Milford Track -- I worked there for two seasons, giving me the time and beta to both go behind the falls (when they weren't running too high) and make a major side trip to Lake Quill, the source of the falls. That's even more off the beaten path!

4:40 p.m. on December 19, 2011 (EST)
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The scenery is fabulous.  I'm a total newb about this but here are some questions---

**  Are the huts serviced by a road or accessed by a vehicle?  How were they built?

**  Can a backpacker not pitch a tent anywhere?

6:58 p.m. on December 19, 2011 (EST)
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Somewhere I have a history of the huts on the South Island up to the mid 80's. There are several hut systems, one set is owned by the DOC (Department of Conservation), others are owned by the NZAC (New Zealand Alpine Club) and some are owned by hunting clubs or guiding services. Most are open to anyone, including the club huts, if I remember correctly. On some tracks, like the Milford, huts are reserved (there are two sets of them on the Milford, one for guided walkers and one for what used to be called "freedom walkers" or unguided walkers).

The DOC has 950 huts, a huge number for such a tiny country. I had no idea there were that many until I saw it on their website (link below).

I don't recall anyone using a tent in the mountains because we all stayed in the huts, although I had mine with me some of the time and used it in campgrounds at lower elevations, including the campground in the Mt. Cook park in the valley near the hotel. I never saw a remote hut accessible by vehicle, but that doesn't mean there aren't any since I didn't see every single one. I bet some are since they are in lower elevations and some are probably close to small towns.  A few huts are more like hostels and are accessible by car, like Unwin at Mt. Cook.  I think I stayed there when I took my mountaineering course-it was part of the package.

The way the alpine huts were sometimes built (these tend to be much smaller than huts like the Ree-Dart huts, was to pack in the pieces with mules or horses or sometimes the rangers did it themselves and assemble it on site. Smaller huts, more like emergency shelters, have been put in place by helo, then anchored down with cables.

Not sure about the current rules regarding tents, but I used mine at campgrounds which are almost everywhere. The main reason huts exist is that they are so much safer. In the Mt. Cook park, for example, there are a bunch of huts, some pretty far up in the mountains.  Nothing like a safe, warm (relatively, anyway) place to sleep, cook or just hang out when the weather is really awful. Also, at least at Mt. Cook, the huts have radios that you use to call in to tell the rangers how many people are at the hut and to get the weather forecast, which is essential in those parts.  My guess is that nowadays, the system is far more sophisticated, but I don't know for sure.


There are other sites as well, just Google NZ huts


3:41 p.m. on December 20, 2011 (EST)
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When I worked on the Milford, camping was banned within 500 m of the track, which generally put you so far back in dense bush that it just wasn't practical. There were two types of huts, "THC huts" (that' Tourist Hotel Corporation, not an active ingredient) for guided parties, and "freedom walker's huts" for self guided types -- I was hutkeeper at one of the latter, Mintaro Hut. Numbers were (and presumably still are -- see comment about needing reservations above) tightly regulated. The upside: this had kept impact pretty low -- there were no fire pits or compacted sites anywhere.

I recall that camping was more generally banned within a certain distance of huts and probably in the alpine zone on the more popular trails, but I saw a few people tenting below at Mackenzie hut on the Routeburn. I think I tented a few nights on the Abel Tasman Track, for privacy. Sometimes these huts can get pretty full. The Routeburn was pretty much the default alternative for people who couldn't get/afford permits on the Milford, and the huts there were often overcrowded.

+1 on the weather, especially in Fiordland. I saw it rain 20 inches in 24 hours, we closed the track due to flooding. Wouldn't want to be in a tent in that. Actually, my wife and I did during a kayak trip on Doubtful Sound, think I told that story in another thread.

For a treat, check out the Kepler Track in Fiordland, opened ca. 1998, takes a much higher line than others, much more time in the alpine but you want good weather.

5:37 p.m. on December 20, 2011 (EST)
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Big Red, Working on the Milford? Nice gig. When I did it back in '86, I was a freedom walker, but did see a few of the THC walkers with their little packs and yellow slickers. The great thing about Milford is that since the two sets of huts aren't together, everyone is spread out so it never seems crowded.

When we got to the top of MacKinnon Pass, at the emergency shelter, one of the guides for the THC hikers (a very attractive and tall Kiwi redhead, as I recall) had some soup left over from her bunch and shared it with me and my hiking partner. There were a couple of Keas ( a big mountain parrot) hanging around. First time I'd seen one up close.

It really is a great trip for those who might want to head that way. I got rained on pretty hard at the campground at Lake Manapouri, but my little SD Flashlight held up pretty well. Fortunately, the campground had a nice shower and kitchen block, so no one was trying to cook in the rain.

3:51 a.m. on December 21, 2011 (EST)
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Glad you got to do the Milford -- it really is classic, and the Routeburn, although also very beautiful, doesn't really compare. The keas used to hang out 24/7 at Mintaro, getting into everything, until I stopped people from feeding them. Cheeky little buggers, as they say. Both Mintaro and Pass Hut have been rebuilt since my day. I still dream about going back for a 3rd visit, or maybe a sabbatical at one of the s. island universities.

4:13 a.m. on December 21, 2011 (EST)
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A friend commented on the keas he encountered.  If you left your pack out, you had better empty it and leave all pockets unzipped, else risk these birds tearing holes into your pack looking for goodies.


10:06 a.m. on December 22, 2011 (EST)
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Yup. See the brief history of my NF Wrapack in the Xmas wish list thread. In Australia, a wallaby open the pocket zippers on my Trailwise pack to get at some gorp -- very polite. But the effin' red squirrels in NH put them both to shame.

7:21 p.m. on December 22, 2011 (EST)
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The first time I was at Hooker Hut in Mt. Cook NP, late at night, we heard this blood-curdling scream and a commotion on the pitched roof. It was a couple of keas, sliding down the roof for fun, apparently.

We also got the warning about leaving anything out otherwise they would tear it up.  A friend of mine told me (could be an urban legend) that up at Arthur's Pass a hiker came back to find his car's windscreen pushed in and the interior torn up. The story is that a couple of keas pulled off the rubber around the windscreen, pushed the glass in and had a party tearing up the seats. Given how big they are, I find that easy to believe.

1:31 a.m. on December 23, 2011 (EST)
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We also got the warning about leaving anything out otherwise they would tear it up.  A friend of mine told me (could be an urban legend) that up at Arthur's Pass a hiker came back to find his car's windscreen pushed in and the interior torn up. The story is that a couple of keas pulled off the rubber around the windscreen, pushed the glass in and had a party tearing up the seats. Given how big they are, I find that easy to believe.

I can believe it, when I was in NZ a few years ago we stopped at the Milford Road tunnel to take in  the views and two keas where doing over a car, they where tearing out the window rubbers and windscreen wipers.

I have also read about trampers leaving boots outside their tents and to wake up to their boots being totally destroyed.

NZ is not th eonly place that has problems with birds, check this thread out on the Bushwalk Australia forum



2:44 p.m. on December 23, 2011 (EST)
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Pretty funny, Tony. I also saw a few weasels or stoats that had no fear of people and would come around looking for a snack. Not quite like having a bear tear open your pack (never happened to me, but you hear about it), but startling to wake up and see one, nonetheless.

June 19, 2018
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