Dalgety Range Traverse

Sunday 10 January 2020

One mountain range, eight wallabies, one chamois and a pine tree accounted for. The mountain range was the Dalgety Range, which runs between the Hakataramea and Mackenzie Passes, and which was walked end to end by seven trampers. The eight wallabies were spied, some bounding through the tussock and others just sitting there erect, ears pricked, watching us. The chamois was photographed and the wilding pine despatched. And there were the views, huge and spectacular. To the north, the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps stretching across the horizon, Aoraki/Mt Cook dominating, Sefton and Tasman also prominent. The sharp, white peak glistening away south could only be Mt Aspiring. In between the plains of the Mackenzie Basin stretched, the predominant brown punctuated by blocks of irrigated green and glimmering lakes. To the south stretched the long and broad Hakataramea Valley, bounded on the east by the Hunters Hills and on the west by the Kirkliston and Grampians Mountains. For most of the day the sky was clear, a heat haze building up as the day went on and clouds gathering over the Alps in the afternoon. A light easterly provided some welcome cooling, but gathered strength and swung south around mid-afternoon.

The team travelled up on Saturday evening, leaving Oamaru at 4 o’clock and getting to Kurow at five. Fish and chips ordered and consumed (mostly – for future reference half a scoop is plenty for one person), we set out up the Hakataramea Valley to Cattle Creek, across the river and up the true left to friendly farmers who allowed us to pitch our tents on their front lawn and in the adjacent paddock. In the morning we rose at first light – 5.30 – breakfasted, struck camp and were on the road by 6.40. First stop was the Hakataramea Pass where the four trampers who were tackling the south to north route booted up and set off at about 7.30 while the three who were doing the north to south option took the first party’s vehicle the 23 kms north and then east to the Mackenzie Pass, stopping briefly on the way to admire the memorial to James Mackenzie with its inscription in English, Maori and Gaelic.

North to South

We were looking for a 4wd track which the map showed zig-zagging up the range from between the Mackenzie Memorial and the Pass. However, we spied a track leaving from the pass itself which seemed to offer a more direct alternative. Bad mistake. The grassy track started promisingly, but soon petered out, leading to a slog through waist- high matagouri and knee-high Spaniards which punctured skin through gaiters and drew blood. After a while, a clearer route seemed on offer higher up; it was up a fenceline, direct but steep and with a loose rubble surface. Eventually, 1 ¼ hours after leaving the pass and having climbed some 300 metres we came to a gate on the track we were looking for. This was a 4wd track, mostly gravel and climbing up the range in a series of ups and downs, the former always bigger and the latter consequently depressing. We would follow it for almost 2/3 of the journey on to the natural ridgeline to the high point of Mt Dalgety, rising another 600 metres over 12 kms.  About 10.30am, 2 ½ hours after starting the climb, we paused on a level section of track for morning tea/first lunch. We also made first radio contact with the other group who were making good progress on the way down from Mt Dalgety. Two hours later, at 12.30, the two groups met just south of the radio masts on Point 1588. Keys were swapped and second lunch taken.

Lunch over, we carried on along the track for another hour or until it petered out. It was almost a relief to be walking on the natural ridgeline after the hard surface of the track, even though the ups and down were steeper and rocky crests had to be negotiated, in one case by taking an animal track which sidled around below the rocks. The vegetation was more varied and we came across several “flocks” of vegetable sheep. By now it was seeming like “over every hill there is another hill” with Mt Dalgety itself proving illusive until, about 3.30, we could at last see the final climb up a spur leading to the rocky 1752 metre summit. It was time for poses and pictures, taking in the now hazy 360o view, a final glimpse back along the range we had traversed, and then turning west and heading down the long spur to the Hakataramea Pass and our waiting car. The route down was pretty straightforward, with a few obstacles in the form of rocky outcrops and rocks hiding in the tussocks, but it took the best part of two hours and we reached the car just on 6 o’clock after a tramp of some 20kms and elevation gain of 1300 metres.

It had been a hard but very satisfying day for Bron, Jane and John.

South to North

Our day started with a 5.30am wake up and the billy on to boil while we packed up our overnight camp. The early start would later be appreciated as the day was going to be hot and the 20km walk included an 850m climb to the high point.

After driving to the Haka Pass, John’s party would continue on to Mackenzie Pass with the vehicle that we would walk to. The time was 7.30am when we set off up the fence line towards Mt Dalgety (1752m) which kept us in the sun’s shadow and made for a pleasant temperature. Later we left the fence line and followed the main ridge direct to Mt Dalgety. Contact with the sun was made and layers discarded as the temperature suddenly increased, thankful that most of the climb was behind us. At 9.30am Mt Dalgety was sighted and soon after we were standing on top admiring the 360 degree views including the Southern Alps, Mt Cook, Mt Aspiring and the lakes. The view of our route ahead looked rather daunting in terms of distance, but as they say every step forward is a step closer to your destination.

Some of the rocky high points on the way were sidled around following old animal tracks, making for a lot easier travel. A couple of wallabies, a Chamois and kid were sighted nearby. A first lunch break was taken before reaching a 4WD track which allowed for more time to take in the views rather than watching every foot step. We were in radio contact with John’s party arranging to meet for lunch and swap car keys, which happened at a rather warm sheltered part of the track.

With farewells we departed in opposite directions. Our journey was the easier, heading down to the Mackenzie Pass with the advice from John not to take a short cut to the vehicle which was up the road from the track end. We did consider it, but after Bron showed us the damage it had done to as much leg as she was going to show us, we decided to stick with the track and a short walk back up the road to the vehicle, which we reached at 3pm. The four tired bodies were, Julian, Mike, Phyllis and Maurice.