Trip Report – The Great Southern Lakes Expedition (Part 2)
By: Stanley Mulvany
Source: Southland Section Newsletter (Dec 2017)
The ridge was very narrow with nearly vertical sides falling away to tussock benches far below us. The deer trail led resolutely forward along this knife-edge to a vertical, exposed buttress above us covered in scrub and rock. Surely there was a way up this but our packs were heavy and I knew Gavin was apprehensive. I looked again and the deer trail had vanished. Where was this ephemeral track?
Lake Mouat is a big lake tucked away into the Cameron Mountains of Southern Fiordland. In January 2016 Danilo Hegg and two companions packrafted it on their great journey to Lake Hakapoua. In October this year, we did a packrafting trip to Lake Poteriteri, down the Waitutu River and on to Lake Hakapoua. Gavin suggested a second trip taking in the Cameron Mountains, Lake Monk and Mouat, which rekindled my interest. Once I had a good look at the map, I realised this was entirely practical so the trip was born.
On 22 October, we met at Joyce and Johan’s place at Clifden. This time there was just Gavin, Belinda and me. Bruce was unable to join us, as he was to leave for Canada shortly. Presently, Johan appeared and off we went to Lake Hauroko. Then it was back down the lake in his jet boat to the beach where the Wairaurahiri River starts its plunge down to the sea. With a feeling of deja vu, we set off again for the Rastus Burn, crossed the walkwire and found the track to Poteriteri Hut. The day was sunny, still and humid as we set off over familiar territory. 9 hours later we reached the hut, dehydrated and tired.
We had discussed the weather forecast on the walk over and it seemed that after a few days there was some changeable weather predicted so we altered our plans and decided to paddle next day to the Princess Burn, instead of heading directly to Lake Mouat. We had a comfortable night at the hut and planned an early start.
On 23rd we awoke to a flat lake and set off in our packrafts directly to the western shore and then paddled north to the mouth of Mouat Creek. By the time we arrived off Mouat Creek, the wind had come away from the south, so we carried on northwards along the western shore with a following breeze. It took us 6 hours to complete the 24-kilometre paddle.
We were able to paddle up the Princess Burn a little way and land at the first rapid. Just ahead was the junction of Kakapo Creek so we walked up this to the gorge and climbed out on the true left up a deer trail on steep cliffs. It is a 140m climb to the upper valley and in places, there are deer trails but it was slow going. After about a kilometre we reached a shallow muddy pond, which we skirted around. Then it was another 2 kilometres to Kakapo Lake. Here, we blew up the rafts and paddled up the calm lake, looking for my old campsite of 2005. Once Gavin and I landed at the top near an old deer enclosure, Belinda set off to paddle around the lake. When she returned she had found the old campsite on the northern side. We all moved camp there to spend a pleasant evening.
On 24th we paddled across the lake and set off for Crescent Lake on the Richard Burn Saddle. Once we crossed the stream just west of the lake we climbed up the true left bank on good deer trails. Eventually, the bush gave way to scrub and we arrived on a rocky knoll. I was a bit confused here as all I could see was bush running up to rocky ridges ahead and to the north. I had expected a wide deer tail and open flats of my previous visit. We then set off towards a rocky, bush-covered ridge to the west. This was quite scrubby and slow going.
We arrived at a rocky cliff-line and once this was climbed, we found the aforementioned wide deer trail and this led to the open flats. By following these to the south we were able to avoid any further bush bashing and arrived at a lovely glade on the south side of the lake where we set up camp. Belinda set off to paddle around this lake while I pitched our tent. It was overcast and drizzled a bit.
The 26th looked a better day as we set off for the Cameron Mountains. From Crescent Lake, we dropped down some clearings and then made for point 738m marking the start of the Camerons. We had a tussle with dense scrub and after a while, I saw a clearing down below us so dropped off to find a clear route to the rocky spur just on the other side of the obvious saddle. The sun was shining now and it was a beautiful day under blue skies as we started up the granite spur. Ahead a chamois surveyed us and slowly led the way upward. On point 925 we found an old cairn of stones. Beyond this, we had to drop into a saddle with a tarn and then it was a climb of over 100m to a saddle where we came to a cliff face. This had some exposed scrambling but once over this, it led to some delightful tarns, where we stopped for lunch.
It was a steady climb towards peak 1181 but just short of it, we arrived at a small, very exposed buttress. Oddly enough, a good deer trail continued right to its base but then vanished. I could see Gavin was worried so we back-tracked and dropped off down to the south side where we started a long 2 km sidle keeping our height to peak 1299m. Although this was steep it was easy going. On the boulder field under the peak, we startled a hind and her year-old fawn that dashed off downhill to the bushline. Sidling around to the left we arrived above a beautiful alpine lake. I suggested we camp here so we dropped down around cliffs to arrive on the lakeshore, where we found a comfortable area to camp on. By now it had clouded over and we had 1 hour of heavy rain as we set up the tents. Belinda had a fall earlier and had a laceration on her shin, which I dressed later. Then Belinda and Gavin set off to paddle around the lake as a wall of mist drifted in from the narrow slot where the lake emptied out into a valley far below.
The next morning it was a 60m climb to a saddle that led us down to another lake at 620m to the south surrounded by bush. The weather was brilliant again and warm. At the head of it on tussock flats, we got out the packrafts and paddled down to the end. The original plan was to moved camp up to the open tops on the way to Lake Monk and for Belinda to paddle around it and come back to the saddle but the bush looked very scrubby and we were already quite tired, so we decided to carry on downwards. Just below the lake there was a waterfall and rapid over granite cliffs and we descended down the true left well away from the cataract down to the next lake 60m below. Then it was a short paddle down this to the bush at the far end where we stopped for lunch.
We followed deer trails down the true right to about the 500m level where the land dropped away steeply. From here we went over to the true left and followed easy slopes down to the junction of the West and North branches of Mouat Creek. We had another snack here and then continued on down the valley through some difficult sections till we arrived at some very dense scrub just before Lake Mouat. Here we launched the packrafts and paddled the last bit of river to the lake.
There was a sandbank on the true left of the river entrance and here we stopped late in the day to camp. The sandflies were vicious and I was not keen on stopping. Gavin had his InReach communicator and received a message from his wife informing him of an impending “rain event” that night of 40mm of rain. “ We can’t stay here” was my reply. Secretly, I was happy to leave. About a kilometre down the lake on the right I could see a white sandy beach and this proved a much nicer campsite. The sky stayed clear that night and the front never reached us.
On 27th, Belinda left to paddle around Lake Mouat while I had a leisurely breakfast and tidy up. Once back, we all set off down to the far end of the lake and set off down Mouat Creek. It was a slow bush bash of about 5 kilometres to the lake through some chest high crown ferns, through swamps and scrubby sections to Lake Poteriteri. I noticed it was increasingly breezy near the lake and sure enough when we arrived on the beach there was a mass of white water out on the lake. We camped near an old deer hunter’s camp at the mouth of the creek and I did not mind the wind as it kept the sandflies off.
Next morning it was calm as we paddled down the lake to Poteriteri Hut, where we stopped for breakfast. Then it was a slow walk over the range to a lovely camp on the banks of a stream about 3 hours from Teal Bay at NZTM E1155673, N4879589. I was feeling quite tired even though Belinda took some of the tent, so glad to stop. Next morning it was an easy day back to Hauroko and a short paddle Teal Bay Hut. At 3.00pm exactly Johan arrived to pick us up.
My thanks again to Belinda and Gavin for a great trip and to Johan for his good humour and trusty jet boat.
Posted By: Narina Sutherland