Into the Unknown – Duncans Stream Camp (Part One)

“A Mish a Day” #157 Duncans Stream / Molesworth Station – Part One. St James Conservation Area. 22.8.2020. Any day above 1000m in New Zealand is a good one, an expression that was difficult to make reality after my hip accident. The tiny chunks of land in the South Pacific called Aotearoa go from ocean to ice-covered giants in a very steep and short distance. Most people in New Zealand rarely see the vistas available in our high places, but those who do will become hooked on the view. Of course a working body is key when uphill travel is desired, unless you know someone with a Jimny...

My cousin Adam and his little truck got me through the months of immobility, and without him I might have gone even crazier! With the weekend rapidly approaching he suggested another Suzuki Jimny mission, and I immediately said yes. The two of us, plus the Jimny and the idea of an adventure is all we need, and very quickly a day trip became the seed that would grow into another epic overnight camping mish. As per usual in New Zealand the weather decides where you can go, and our norm of heading west was not an option due to heavy rain near the Divide. We were ready for a change anyway, so it was time to head north. Apart from the odd trip over Jacks Pass(854m), and a hike into Peters Valley, I hadn’t explored any further into the mountains above Hanmer Springs. I checked the map, and I saw the Tophouse Road making its way through the mountains, and that was now the destination of choice for us. We didn’t really know the situation of the gates, which can be locked at any time during winter as the road is a true mountain road with alpine passes which become unusable during snow storms. We really hoped to get some benefit out of the unseasonally warm winter, and were happy when we arrived at the open gate at the start of the road out of Hanmer over Jacks Pass. We had left Christchurch mid afternoon, and now it was well into the evening, with light fading as we rolled along the road into the St James Conservation Area searching for a campsite. The vast plains of golden tussock glowed in the fading light of the evening, and with the cold wind the area seemed a harsh and barren environment. But there was an eerie peacefulness to the place, as we hadn’t seen any other vehicles, people, animals, anything!

Evening at Duncans Stream Camp

I had seen one 4wd track leading off the Tophouse Road into the short valley of Duncans Stream. And if the map was correct it looked like this track would take us to a possible campsite on the edge of a beech forest. We got to the very rough track and followed it into the valley. With the truck rocking side to side every time it slipped down into a deep rut, we pushed on. To our luck not only did the track lead to the forest edge, it also took us to an actual pre-built campsite with excellent shelter amongst the beech trees. The site had perfect flat spots for my tent with the stream close-by, and as icing on the cake, a ready-built large fireplace that even had logs cut and good to go. After setting up our gear we settled into our outstanding home for the night, and enjoyed being in one of the only places in the South Island with stars decorating the clear skies. So far so good, and knowing how our previous missions had gone, we were confident things were only going to get better…

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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