Orbells Cave, Waikouaiti

Sunday 1 March 2020

It was a perfect day for tramping: clear blue sky, warm sun, and a light nor-westerly breeze only swinging north-east later in the afternoon. The drive in was long – 97 km, 24 km of which was on gravel roads in behind Waikouaiti. Blucher Road wound tortuously along a ridge south-east  from Bucklands Crossing, then turned south to become Lamb Hill Road which wound its way some more to the Bendoran Huts where it  became a farm track. We parked by a gate 200 metres before the huts and, just on 10 o’clock, started walking through the gate up a short hill before turning downhill and south-west. The 4wd track we were following wound around the hill before turning down a side stream to meet Orbells Creek at the bottom. It was now 10.45 so we settled down for morning tea on a sunny bank beside some stock yards.

After smoko, the track followed Orbells Creek for half an hour or so before leaving it to climb 200 metres over a saddle, drop down to a side stream, then climb again to another, flattish saddle before the final descent back to Orbells Creek, which had followed a big loop to the south. Reaching the creek, the destination caves could be seen in a prominent schist rock face above the true left. A short walk down the creek, through some yards, across the creek and up a short climb took us to the caves: two large openings in the rock offering airy shelter. One had signs of occupation – an old meat safe and a clothes line. The other had a small spring which watered a small patch of lush grass. Both had clearly provided bedding for livestock, so care was needed in selecting luncheon seating.

We had reached the caves shortly before 1 o’clock and, given the prospect of a 2 ½-3 hour climb back and the long drive home, it was decided not to go further down the valley to the Three O’clock Stream which Orbells Creek flows into and which, in turn, joins the Taieri River near Hindon. So, at around 1.30 we set off on the return journey, stopping to admire the remains of a previous al fresco party before making a fairly leisurely climb back to reach the car at around 4.30. The return to Oamaru was interrupted to enjoy the giant ice creams which are a feature of Hampden. The splendid day in interesting country new to most was enjoyed by Mark, Nicky, Kayla, Bronwyn and John.