Bare, Barren and Beautiful – Swin River Camp

“On a Mish” #168 Bare, Barren and Beautiful. Upper Swin River. Hakatere Conservation Park. 14.10.2013. It is interesting how a bare and barren mountain landscape can be as visually appealing as a mountain covered in classic dense New Zealand forest and bush. The visually stunning golds and greys of our alpine areas and places post farming can make for excellent photography, and if you add in a wild sunset / sunrise then you are winning the wilderness game…

When in need of an outdoor fix I have often turned to the foothills west of Christchurch City for adventure. The ease of access from Christchurch is a huge draw card to Hakatere Conservation Park, but also the short journey is rewarded with a voyage through a unique glacial sculpted environment with so much potential for people who love using their own two feet to explore.

I saw a very small weather window after a series of storms had rolled through the Lake Heron area, and I was keen to get a night out in my tent before the next cycle of storms returned for another watering. After several trips to Double Hut I saw that the Swin River can become an uncrossable barrier after heavy rain, and I wasn’t wanting to be stuck at the hut (although it wouldn’t be that bad really!) so I chose a route into the valley that didn’t require a potentially dangerous river crossing just in case the rain arrived early.

The track from the Lake Heron car park immediately crosses over a bridge which crosses an overflow area for the lake, and when I got to this I saw that the bridge was nearly under the overflow water from the extremely full lake. This was an incredible sign of how much rain had fallen recently, and it reinforced my idea of not crossing any rivers.

I continued along the track as it slowly climbed its way towards the Taylor Range, and the easy travel gave me plenty of opportunities to stare up at the snow-covered peaks in the marvelous mountain range.

I got to the Te Araroa Track junction where you can either go up to Client Hills Saddle, or over to Double Hut. I decided to continue east into the Swin Rivers north branch valley.

The entrance to the valley is a maze of tall prickly Matagouri bushes, and thankfully the introduced residents of the area have made tracks through the worst areas of the needle-laced bushes.

After some exploring I found an excellent spot in a small open area amongst the Matagouri near the Swin River, which was pumping due to the amount of rain that had recently fallen.

After setting up camp and a quick snack, I still craved more mish so I climbed onto a small spur and headed up it in the direction of Client Hills Saddle. The climb was rewarded with a view of Lake Heron, and the sun setting behind the massive mountains of the Arrowsmith Range. After watching the sunset I scrambled back down to camp, and then jumped into the warmth of my sleeping bag, and drifted off to sleep listening to the rumble of the Swin River.

An early-ish start the next day was met with an ominous deep red sunrise, and the smell of rain in the air. I was boiling water for a coffee when I felt the first drop of rain, so I had to quickly learn to live with the weather as there was no avoiding it now. As I stuffed the last of my gear into my pack the drizzle turned to rain, and it wasn’t long before the water began to find the cracks in my clothing. To many, getting wet is a real issue (for some it seems like a near death experience!) but over time I have learnt to love a wet wander, and remember skin is waterproof! So I wasn’t worried at all and I enjoyed the pitter patter of the rain until I got to the dry sanctuary of my car and the end of an epic little mish.

A Swollen Swin River

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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