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Wilberforce Valley                                                                                                                            6 – 8 February 2016


The destination on day one of our 3-day weekend was Urquhart’s Hut in the Wilberforce Valley. A reminder of depression time mining projects, this historically significant hut was built in 1933 for a gold prospecting party, a project that was financed by the Unemployment Board and controlled by the Ashburton County Council.


Our party of ten in two 4WD vehicles reached Harper Settlement, a cluster of about six houses established in 1921 when the Harper River was diverted for the Lake Coleridge power scheme. From there, instead of taking the track through Glenthorne Station, we drove up the riverbed over some very ‘hairy’ sections. After a short time Judy noticed that a back tyre on David’s vehicle was flat. With all hands to the deck, the tyre was soon changed and we were on our way again, hoping that, without a spare tyre, we would not have second puncture. We continued over very rough and bouldery ground. David knew that there was a better 4WD vehicle track further over and we were pleased when the defined track was found and the travel became easier. We parked the vehicles opposite Moa Stream on the other side of the Wilberforce, had lunch and at 1 pm set off up the valley, initially following the track that soon ran out. The rest of the 3-hour trek up the wide, braided valley was made on the riverbed which involved many river crossings, some of which were deep and swift enough to warrant linking up for safety’s sake. Half way to the hut some of the hardier souls had a swim in one of the quieter stretches of water.


Urquhart’s Hut is sited on a terrace on the true right of the Wilberforce River, about 3 kms north of its confluence with Unknown Stream. It is named after Rod Urquhart who was a former manager at Mount Algidus Station and who, in 1933, was placed in charge of a small group of men building the hut. While six members of the group pitched their tents, David, Wayne, Barry and Dorothy opted to sleep on the sacking bunks inside the hut, hopefully avoiding the multitudes of sandflies outside. With corrugated iron cladding (brought to the site by packhorse), an open fireplace constructed of riverbed boulders, beech-pole framing (that had been cut from the nearby bush) and what was probably the original table, it truly is an historic hut.


David treated us with home-grown meat and Catherine, Judy and Louise soon had a very substantial meal ready.


Overnight fog had rolled in but quickly dissipated next morning as we were leaving. We continued down the true right of the Wilberforce and turned the corner into Griffiths Stream valley. After crossing the stream (more like a river), we off-loaded our packs and left them in the shade of the bush trying to camouflage them lest any of the keas that we had seen thought them worth an investigation. Continuing with day packs, we scrambled over large and small boulders as we made our way up Griffiths Stream which was such a beautiful blue on this sunny day. At a point where we could get a view up to the head of the narrowing valley we rested and admired the view, looking up at two peaks, guessing that Hokitika Saddle lay between them. Christine and Judy couldn’t resist having a dip in the cold waters of a side stream. We returned down the valley to our untouched packs and continued on our way, looking for a suitable place to pitch our tents, the plan for the next day being to leave early so that we could fit in a visit to Unknown Hut before heading back down the Wilberforce. Judy and Catherine prepared another hearty meal but as the sandflies were prolific we didn’t sit around talking but soon retreated to our tents. The night sky was lit by innumerable stars until about 5 am when valley cloud rolled in.


We were away by 7.30 am, crossed Unknown Stream, dumped our packs and began following this river where, while the cloud momentarily cleared, we saw beautiful reflections of the 2027 m Mt Park in a still pool. The previous day we had met a couple of young hunters up the Griffiths and this day we met another deer hunter using a bow and arrows. After a yarn we continued to the 4-bunk Unknown Hut built in 1961 for the NZFS. For David, Catherine, Colin and Judy who had stayed there two years previously, it was a reminder of their challenging trip over Moa Saddle. An hour later we had our packs on again to continue the trek down the stony Wilberforce riverbed and across the many braids of the river. The cloud that had provided welcome relief from the hot sun was dissipating as we were neared the vehicles. Perfect timing.


Altogether a wonderful weekend and one that could be considered much more successful than that of the gold-prospecting party’s time spent in the same area 83 years earlier. The hut that was begun in March of 1933 by Urquhart and his four helpers while the other group of men were doing the prospecting upvalley, was never actually used by any of the prospectors. By the time the hut was completed in May 1933, winter was setting in and because so little gold was found anyway, this unemployment scheme was abolished, never to be revived.


Thank you David Mason for all your organisation and for being willing to take your 4WD into this challenging country. Also thanks to Colin and Judy Blackmore for taking your vehicle. The others who enjoyed this trip were Christine Mold, Catherine Thomas, Louise Wynn, John Hyland, Wayne Keen, Barry Robinson and Dorothy Tomlinson.