Nestled away in the Lewis Pass is a valley which is special not only for it's natural beauty but also for the amazing conservation project being carried out there. The Nina Valley is 2 hours north of Christchurch on State Highway 7 and boasts one of the few Kiwi populations in the South Island. The students at Hurunui College, together with DOC spent the past five years making the valley predator free through extensive trapping. Nine Kiwi have since been released and are living in the Nina.
The three of us left Christchurch after a hard week's work on a Friday night and headed up into the Lewis Pass. We decided to walk into the Nina Hut that night so that we could make the most of our weekend away. It was completely dark when we left the Deer Stalkers Hut and the car but with three good head torches we found the track easy enough to follow.
It's an hour from SH7 to the swing bridge across the Nina River and another 2 into the Nina Hut. During the day fast walkers would shave quite a bit off this time but we were just happy to plod at a steady pace in the dark. The track is fairly covered in tree roots and pretty muddy in places with the only real climb being right before the hut. It is fairly easy going though for most of the way through the forest. The Nina Hut has 10 bunks and a beautiful view - two things we were willing to forgo as we arrived around midnight. We didn't want to wake anyone up in the hut and had planned to tent outside instead when we realised its three occupants were still awake and talking. Relieved to not have to set up tents so late, we welcomed the warm confines of the hut and were straight into our sleeping bags for some well deserved rest.
We were woken early by the aforementioned party leaving at the crack of dawn and crawled out of our sleeping bags a little worse for wear. As a bit of a treat we had heard several Kiwi calling in the night from what sounded like right outside the hut. Sunshine and clear skies made up for the lack of sleep almost as much as the bacon and coffee consumed a short time later. We had learned that the door at Upper Nina Biv was swollen shut and hard to deal with so we amended our plans to head to the Lucretia Hut instead. From looking at the hut book we would be the first ones up there for about a month which was an exciting prospect.
We headed back down an overgrown track to the river after breakfast and began looking for a sign of the track on the other side. One option is to head all the way back to the swing bridge and then make your way back up the river to the Lucretia Stream. This was somewhat unnecessary as the river was easy to cross and as we bush bashed straight through the trees on the opposite side we soon hit a rough path again. This was relatively simple to follow with some minor detours on and off to avoid various hazards and we made good time to the Lucretia Stream. Unfortunately we were still on the wrong side of it as the track winds up beside the right of the river from here.
This called for a tricky slide down a washed out bank and a less tricky river crossing to the appropriate side of the stream. The walking poles once again proved their worth as the shorter of the three of us found the water quite swift. Once we had regained the track we met with a nasty uphill section as the track moved up higher along the ridge and away from the water. Happily, this 20-30 minute slog was the only hard part of the whole track and we meandered happily through the overgrowth from here on in. There were several parts of the track that had now been blocked by large fallen trees and we lost the markers in the foliage of several that were still standing. It never took long to find our way again though and we attempted a little track clearing where we could.
Two hours later we spied the shocking orange roof of the Lucretia sitting in a clearing filled with snow. Our excitement was short lived as we found this door was also swollen shut. Never fear, bring on the ever versatile trekking poles to the rescue. We (meaning Jeremy) managed to pry the door open eventually and we jammed the three of us plus gear in a 2x2 metre space between two canvas bunks and a fireplace full of snow. The two girls called shot gun on the bunks as we ran some rough calculations as to the reality of Jeremy fitting lengthwise on the floor. In the end it was decided he was too tall for the bunks anyway so he would have to make do.
Dinner was somewhat of a mission to cook with no floor or bench space available but we managed with plenty of enthusiasm. It was still early when we ran out of wood for the fire so UNO kept us occupied until it was finally time to sleep. I know some people scoff at canvas bunks but I had a very pleasant sleep with a pack under my head and one stuffed beneath my feet. We got moving as fast as three people in a confined space can get ready in the morning and spent some time replenishing the fire wood supply behind the hut. Then it was back to the track and a steady march out towards the Nina River again.
The return trip was fast with nice weather and plenty of sand flies whenever we stopped along the river. Again, we set a moderate pace and arrived back at the swing bridge in less than three hours and another hour out to the road. With so many other routes in and around the valley we will definitely be back again soon to explore in other directions.
In New Zealand we don't go hiking, walking or frolicking in the wilderness - we tramp.