Bull Paddock Creek Hut
A trip to Bull Paddock Creek in the Raglan Range to the east of Nelson Lakes makes a good overnighter or, if you’re feeling sporty, day return. We walked it as an overnight tramp in mid-February and stayed in the cute two-bed hut. Before you go, you will need to obtain permission from Rainbow Station to cross their land over the Wairau River and before you reach public conservation land.
The track starts at Sandfly Stream and climbs up and over a saddle into Bull Paddock Stream. It hasn’t been maintained by DOC since the 1990s, but was re-cut in 2017 and has since been looked after by volunteers. We timed it just right. Someone had recently been in to give the track a spruce up and it was in great shape.
Although the majority of the track poses no difficulties, I would rate it as ‘expert’ for the following reasons. The Wairau River is wide and swift even in low flow, so extreme care must be taken. On the track, there are a couple of short, exposed sections which take a bit of nerve if, like me, you’re not all that great with heights.
We headed in from the Rainbow Road (St Arnaud to Hanmer) off the SH63 (St Arnaud to Blenheim road) and drove as far as Chinaman Creek. Having spotted a 4WD track on the left before the creek, we took it, and slowly bumped our way down towards the Wairau River. At this northern end, the Rainbow road was in great shape and suitable for a 2WD vehicle.
According to the DOC website, Bull Paddock Creek hut can also be accessed from Top Misery hut and the Raglan Range from the south in 5.5 hours. Looking at the topo, this would certainly be the more adventurous option, involving a very long walk down the Branch and up Misery Stream and over the tops.
We took a leisurely five hours to get to the hut, including breaks. If you want to make more of a day of it, there were some notes in the hut book about continuing to the high point at the head of the valley at pt 1836 which apparently takes about 1.5 hrs one way.
– Crossing the Wairau River to Sandfly Stream: 40 mins
– Sandfly Stream to the saddle with Bull Paddock Stream: 2.5 hr including lunch
– Saddle to Bullock Creek hut: 1 hr 50 mins
** Special thanks to Sam & Kev for their excellent Youtube video for the insight into the state of the track.
We headed south from Nelson on the SH6 and stopped to pick up a couple of SOBO Te Araroa walkers, Renee and Caroline (Australia & UK). They were re-joining the trail having come up from St Arnaud to resupply in Nelson. We introduced them to the delights of the Wakefield bakery and enjoyed a really good natter about all things TA in the time it took to drive to St Arnaud. Rich hardly got a word in. Having dropped them off at the visitor centre we stopped for a NOBO, who didn’t have his thumb out, but who was glad for a lift, to save him from walking along the state highway to the Red Hills car park.
The Rainbow Road
I always enjoy a trip down the Rainbow Road, and today was only a short distance down to Chinaman Creek. We took a 4WD track on the left just before the creek and parked under the trees. The track continued almost all the way down to the Wairau River. Jumping down the gravel bank onto to river flats at 11.05 am, we looked for a place to cross.
Crossing the Wairau
The Wairau is a swift braided river. We walked up and down to check out a good crossing spot which we ascertained was right where we’d popped out of the bush. The river was clear and Rich checked the depth in the channel. The river bed was a mix of gravel and smooth, slippery river rocks.
We linked up using the mutual support method, and very slowly made our way across, with Rich upstream. We both used a pole and made sure that we both had a stable footing before taking the next step in turn. The river was too swift for me to have crossed it alone, and even though the run-out downstream was ok, taking a swim was not a great option.
The first braid was deeper than I anticipated for a couple of metres, so it was wet shorts and undies for the tinytramper. Marlborough District Council has a river report page, which uses NIWA data for river levels. The day we walked the flow for the Wairau at Dip Flat was 15.5 m3/s.
Rain wasn’t forecast, but we took photos of both sides of the river bank, using a large boulder as a marker so we could compare the height of the river upon our return. For information on river safety and how to cross, take a look at the resources on the Mountain Safety Council website.
We emptied the gravel out of our boots, wrung out our socks and headed towards Sandfly Stream. There was a wide second river braid that we hadn’t been able to see from the river bank, which we easily crossed.
Towards Sandfly Stream
As we headed downstream (to the north) on the true right of the Wairau towards Sandfly Stream, we spotted a cairn on the river flats and then some pink tape at the bush edge. We wandered over, wondering if there might be a track into the bush from here – there wasn’t. We waded through the grass around the bush edge, which was still wet from the morning dew and soon enough turned right into Sandfly Stream. It had taken us forty minutes to cross the river and reach the track.
Just up Sandfly Stream, underneath some gravel cliffs on the true left, the start of the track was marked with permolat. At the top of the cliffs not far away was a large, creamy-coloured wasp nest the size of a football.
We set off up the track above the true left of Sandfly stream at 11.45 am, heading up the cliffs and doing a zigzag into the bush. At the top of the cliff, an old DOC sign read the track was no longer maintained (since 1994) and a piece of permolat marked Bull Paddock Creek hut as being 4-5 hours from here.
We were very pleasantly surprised at the great state of the track as it meandered through the beech forest above the stream. We hadn’t expected it to be in such good shape. Many trees were covered with black sooty mould and honeydew, and there were plenty of wasps around. We took care to check any trees and branches before stepping over or using them to balance. The wasps seemed happy just to go about their business and didn’t bother us at all.
At 12.20 pm the track met Sandfly Stream again and we took a break for lunch under a large beech tree. We devoured the delicious pizza bread from the bakery but were less enthusiastic about the dried jackfruit, this weekend’s “guest food”. A sugary and fairly tasteless chewy snack which would be fine if you’d eaten everything else and were desperate.
Funnily enough, there were no sandflies at Sandfly Stream.
After lunch, at 12.45 pm it was another short, wet-boot crossing of Sandfly Stream. The track then climbed steadily through the mossy forest from 700m to 900m before following a beautiful mossy ridge dripping with lichens, with views back to the Wairau River and St Arnaud Range.
At about 1.20 pm we came to a giant boulder covered with ferns leading to a second narrow mossy ridge before we dropped down to our right. The sidle was a little slippery in places with a couple of small scrambles down, but nothing that posed any major problems.
Towards the Saddle
About half an hour later we were at bottom of a wide gut with about a 200m climb taking us to the saddle across to Bull Paddock Stream. The track led up through mossy boulders with some impressive rock walls to the side. The permolat markers headed mostly up the middle, but about three-quarters of the way up we took our own route up to the right, as it was drier and less rocky, with fewer crown ferns. Here, we found some very recent footprints and wondered if we’d meet someone further up the track. Re-joining the marked track, we zigzagged up to the saddle.
We arrived on the saddle at around 2.15 pm and took a fifteen-minute break. Going down from the saddle involved a steep, slippery downhill of about 100m. There were some large, loose rocks with a bit of ongaonga nettle thrown in for good measure, so take care. One thing we noticed immediately was that there were hardly any wasps from here onwards.
Crossing the Slip
About twenty minutes from the saddle we skirted around a rocky outcrop with a drop to left, then turned right and scrambled through some big boulders to arrive at an old slip. The short climb-down after the boulders required some careful negotiation. There was a significant drop down to the left and I slowly and carefully climbed down the rock and tree roots, trying to put my fear of heights aside.
The track was marked with tape and permolat, but you’ll need to look carefully for the markers. It crossed the slip through the ferns and continued steeply down, below the rock wall after crossing. Across the slip were numerous small clumps of ongaonga nettle. Some were easy to spot, but we were both stung as we put our hands into invisible new growth making its way up through the inches-high foliage covering some of the rocks.
Towards Bull Paddock Creek Hut
Once down the slip, the final hour or so towards Bull Paddock Creek hut was wonderful. The track sidled above the true left of Bull Paddock Stream and soon enough we met it. I don’t know why, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so beautiful! It was still roughly a 200m gentle climb to the hut, and the stream cascaded down numerous bouldery waterfalls beside us. There were plenty of pools if you fancied a swim.
We crossed a few side streams, one of which had a particularly long waterfall above us and one coming in on the opposite side of the river.
Towards Bull Paddock Creek Hut
We came out into the open at around 4 pm and walked across a couple of grassy, wet areas, playing ‘avoid the speargrass’. Bull Paddock Creek hut was hidden after a final patch of bush. We took a lower route through the tussock and speargrass before heading up to the bush and finding some markers there. Just before the hut was an orange triangle in the bush, before we popped out for a final short walk across the tussock to the hut.
Bull Paddock Creek hut sits at around 1370m and is situated in the valley surrounded by 1700-1800m mountains. Out of the bush, the views were incredible.
Bull Paddock Creek Hut
We arrived at the two-bed Bull Paddock Creek hut at 4.10 pm. I have to say, my expectations before the trip weren’t all that high, but it was a beauty! Apparently, DOC had decided to close the hut in 2017 when an inspection concluded the foundations weren’t up to scratch. Fast forward two years and new foundations and a deck were constructed by volunteers. You can read about the project on the Backcountry Trust website.
Inside, the hut was warm, dry and cosy. The bunks were on springs and had good mattresses, and there was a small bench and a seat. There were a couple of large water containers and a few old cooking pots. We took a couple of pots and our water bottle across to the steam close by. The hut doesn’t have a toilet, so you’ll need to find something away from the hut in the bush. See the DOC website for advice on what to do when there’s no loo.
After making ourselves at home we read the hut book. Bull Paddock Creek hut doesn’t get many visitors – just a handful of people had been up this year (or at least, those had written in the hut book). On the extremely slim off chance you meet another party up here, on our way back we noticed a couple of potential camp spots on the bush edge before the walk across the tussock to the hut. Not ideal, but would do if you were in need.
Up the Valley
Someone had made a note in the hut book that a walk up to pt 1836 at the head of the valley took about 1.5 hours one way. We had all evening and the weather was great. We gave it some careful consideration before deciding we couldn’t be bothered with a beautiful walk with an awesome climb which would no doubt lead us to some totally epic views. Feeling a bit sheepish, we took a short walk up the valley dodging the plentiful speargrass and half-heartedly said we could do the full walk in the morning (knowing we wouldn’t).
We made ourselves comfortable on the deck. The hut had some great reading material, so Rich got stuck into the National Geographics while I got out the scope to look for wildlife in the mountains around us.
Later on, the temperature dropped considerably and we donned our warm clothes and puffa jackets. A few spots of rain fell on the hut as we fell asleep.
Day 2 – Bull Paddock Creek Hut to the Saddle
The sprung bunks gave us a softer sleep than you usually get in a hut. For me, that meant minimal tossing and turning for sore hips. We both slept in until about 8.15 am after a solid night’s sleep. The morning was cold, so we donned our warm clothes and enjoyed a warm, leisurely breakfast.
We left the hut at 10.10 am. Ten minutes later it was the first round of jumpers off, followed by a second round ten minutes after that. On the way back we had a couple of episodes where you stand on what you think is something solid over a tree root, but you lose your foot in a hole instead – more annoying than dangerous.
An hour later we were back at the old slip. This time it was up and over the slip (beware the ongaonga) before the small climb up and through the boulders, which I much preferred to the climb down yesterday.
It was bellbird alley back through the forest to the saddle, which we hadn’t noticed yesterday. We stopped a few times and got the bird caller out to an appreciative audience of young bellbirds who flew in close to check us out and give us a song back. What a treat!
Bull Paddock Stream to Sandfly Stream
We reached the saddle across to Sandfly Stream at 11.45 am and had a quick break. We chose the same path down with a detour to the left for a bit, to avoid some of the crown ferns. Then it was into the sidle, before a small up and over then down the first of the lovely narrow ridges. On the Sandfly Stream side, the wasps were out again so we were careful where we put our hands for support on the way down.
Yesterday’s lunch spot at the crossing of Sandfly Stream turned out to be the perfect place for lunch again today. We crossed the river at 1.10 pm and enjoyed half an hour sit-down in the dappled shade of the giant trees.
The pleasant walk back to the river flats of the Wairau passed quickly and we were back at the start of the track by 2.15 pm. We crossed the first wide, shallow river braid then stopped for ten minutes, moving anything from the outside pockets of our packs, into our pack liners inside it, in case we took a swim.
Crossing the Wairau
We found the boulders we’d noted yesterday as river-height indicators. The river level hadn’t risen at all. A better-looking crossing presented itself from this side of the river, upstream of where we’d crossed yesterday. It was across a wider section without too much of a channel, but which meant we’d spend more time in the water. We made another textbook crossing, with great communication, and wet shorts for us both.
We were back at the car at 3 pm and ready for a cold beer. (We’re not doing very well at remembering to stash one in a river near the car for our return!). Instead, we enjoyed one at a sunny table in the lovely garden of the Wakefield Hotel with a plate of hot chips. I was so pleasantly surprised by the price that I had to ask the lady if she’d charged me for everything… “You’re not in the city now love”. With that and the best local bakery too, Wakefield definitely punches above its weight in the hospitability stakes.
If you have any questions about the Bull Paddock Creek tramp, feel free to drop me a line here. Alternatively, feel free to message me via tintytramper on Facebook or Instagram.
Click the link below to check out some other great tramps near Nelson Lakes:
- Ben Nevis (day walk)
- Gordon’s Knob (day walk)
- Beebys Knob (day walk)
- Parachute Rocks – St Arnaud Range (day walk)
- Robert Ridge to Angelus hut (day walk or overnight)