Casey Saddle, Poulter River, Binser Saddle Loop
On this five-day Casey, Poulter, Binser loop near Arthur’s Pass we added a few side trips to the traditional two-day loop, which heads up the Andrews Valley Track and down the Poulter River. There are plenty of options around this area, and this trip was great for starters.
DOC classifies the Casey Binser two-day loop as Advanced, and it is a well-marked track with no major headaches. We made side trips up to Poulter hut, Lake Minchin and Worsley biv. On the way back we crossed the Poulter River to walk up to Ranger biv via a taped route up Fenwick Stream. The tops offer spectacular views of the Poulter valley.
Getting There Casey Poulter Binser
From the SH73 Arthur’s Pass road, cross the Mt White bridge over the Waimakariri (24 km south of Arthur’s Pass village) and head Northeast for 5 km along the well-maintained gravel road to the Andrews Shelter and campsite. When we walked over Christmas, there were only a few cars in the car park.
Andrews shelter was fine for parking the car, but I would recommend visiting the Hawdon shelter and campsite not far from Mt White bridge to camp. The picturesque Hawdon campsite is huge with numerous good toilets.
Check out the DOC brochure for the Casey Saddle Binser Saddle loop, including their times.
Andrews Saddle to Casey hut:
DOC time: 6 – 8 hr
Our time: 5hr 45 mins including breaks
Andrew’s shelter to Hallelujah Flats:
DOC time: 2.5 hr
Our time: 2.5 hr
Casey hut to Trust Poulter hut:
DOC time: 1hr 30 mins
Our time: 1 hr 50 mins including an inordinately long faff for shoes off, crossing the Casey.
Trust Poulter hut to Poulter hut:
DOC time: 1 hr
Our time: Outward journey: 50mins / Return journey: 45 mins
Poulter hut to Lake Minchin:
DOC time: 1 hr
Our time: 50 mins
Poulter hut to Worsley biv:
Our time: 50 mins
Poulter hut to Ranger biv:
Our time: 4hr 50 mins
Ranger biv to Casey Stream and Pete Stream:
DOC time: Casey hut to Pete Stream 4-5 hr
Our time: Ranger biv to Casey Stream hut signage – 3 hr, including 45 mins lunch
Our time: Casey Stream Junction (using the inland/old route) to 2.5 km before Pete Stream: 3.5 hrs (approx) including 30 min breaks
Binser Saddle track
DOC time: 3hr 30 mins
Our time: 3hr including 30 mins break
Day 1 – Andrews Shelter to Casey Hut
Andrews Shelter to Hallelujah Flats
We parked the car at Andrews Shelter under the trees close to the river. (The car was nice and cool when we returned, with a light covering of sap). The Andrews shelter is a day shelter, rather than a sleeping shelter, but you can camp at the site. When we visited, the toilet was in a terrible state.
The Casey Binser loop track starts just upstream of the river bridge. You’ll easily spot the sign. We started at 12.15 pm walking through a short area of scrub before heading up a steep short climb into beech forest. The undulating track sidled above the true left of the Andrews River and climbed gradually through the forest before heading back down to the river.
We were pleasantly surprised by how wide, beautiful and easy-going the track was compared to many we tramp. There were a few side stream crossings that were low – we didn’t get our feet wet. We took a short break with a good number of sandflies at around 2.15 pm when the track met the river again, not far from Hallelujah Flat.
Check out the DOC website for notes about walking up the Andrews Stream in low flow.
Hallelujah Flats to Casey Saddle
By 2.40 pm the valley began to open to grassy flats and by 3 pm we were well into the open Hallelujah Flats. We passed a little unofficial campsite on our right going onto the flats. The track through the flats was very easy to follow and we enjoyed the great views of the mountains beyond.
After about fifty minutes we came to a boardwalk section and a boggy section which led us to the very low-key Casey Saddle. There was no “we’re here” moment at the saddle. It was all so flat and easy that we suddenly realised we’d rounded the bend and were now walking down the true right of Surprise Stream.
There was greater potential for wet feet near the saddle and down Surprise Stream. Watch out for the solid-looking beautiful bright green mats of vegetation in the stream which are actually floating carpets! We made our way carefully over and around any boggy bits. Back in the bush by 4.30 pm, the track slowly climbed 200m or so, and the river down to our left became Casey Stream. We enjoyed a short break with a robin for company and surprisingly, no sandflies.
Casey Saddle to Casey Hutoop
An hour later the trees thinned at a high point above Casey Stream, offering some great views of Castle Hill to our left. Then it was into a slow downhill towards the Poulter River. A highlight on this section was the mistletoe. After noticing one we saw them everywhere!
Down onto the river flats of Casey Stream, we arrived at a sign for Casey hut at 6 pm. We followed the track, slowly turning into the wide, beautiful expanse of the Poulter River valley. Twenty minutes later we were walking up the steps to the 12-bed Casey hut.
Casey Hut Casey Poulter Binser
Casey hut was built in 2020 to replace the old hut which burned down in 2015. It has excellent views down the Poulter River and masses of sandflies. We shared the hut with a nice guy who was just heading out after tramping and fishing for a few days. The hut book indicated that Casey hut is well used by trampers and mountain bikers.
Casey hut wasn’t on our maps (NZTopo50 Offline). Upon writing this post I checked online at Topomap.co.nz which does show the hut. I emailed the app developer (Jan’23) – they try to update the maps once a year, and apparently one is due shortly.
Dinner was a homemade dehy that we couldn’t quite identify – a kind of spicy, delicious chicken stew. After dinner, we perused the extensive hut library and both found something suitable. After an hour of reading, it was lights out at 8 pm (nature turned her light off around 10 pm).
Day 2 – Casey Hut to Poulter Hut and Lake Minchin
Casey Hut to Trust Poulter Hut
We left Casey hut at 8.10 am and headed back up the Poulter River valley along the 4WD track we came down yesterday. We didn’t go as far back as the signage for Casey hut and instead followed a 4WD track to Casey Stream. Delaying the inevitable we took our shoes off to cross Casey Stream and wasted plenty of time doing so. Casey Stream was about knee-high and wasn’t a problem to cross.
Following the 4WD track into the bush, there was some faff as we detoured around an enormous puddle. The track through the bush became a track alongside the river and we enjoyed the easy walking.
We stopped for some time to enjoy what we hoped might be the calls of a couple of orange fronted kākāriki karaka, NZ’s rarest parakeet which we read lived around the valleys up here. The total population is estimated to be between 200-400. For more information check out the DOC website. We didn’t manage to spot one, unfortunately.
At 10 am we arrived at the cute 6-bed Trust Poulter hut, which sits in a small clearing and had a spotlessly clean toilet. The sandflies were minimal, so we had a break outside and then at 10.25 am continued on.
Trust Poulter Hut to Poulter Hut
From Trust Poulter hut we followed the 4WD track around a left-hand bend. Poulter hut was upstream on the true left a couple of kilometres upstream. We headed out, taking a slow diagonal across the river. Later we saw an orange marker far away on the true left and headed for it. It was all very easy, and the Poulter River was low. We saw some dotterels and were careful to watch where we stepped, looking out for nests.
Here again, our not-quite-up-to-date topo map didn’t give much of an indication of where to cross the Poulter whereas topomap.co.nz shows the updated/suggested route – to generally stay on the grassy flats on the true right and cross before the cliffs.
Over the river, a marked track led through the matagouri bushes to the hut. We arrived at the spotless 10-bed Poulter hut at 11.15 am, fifty minutes after leaving Trust Poulter hut. It had excellent views back down the Poulter River to the red-hued scree slopes of the Poulter range.
We ate an early lunch, checked out the reading material (also very good) and to our delight found a Moa Hunters coaster! If you haven’t checked out their blog I recommend you do. It’s a bunch of friends who do some intrepid tramping once a year, in great style. I’ve certainly been inspired reading their trip reports, although I’m not sure I’d go as far as carrying the spice rack. I hope I bump into them one day so I can cadge a proper meal off them.
At 12.45 pm we left for Lake Minchin. We took the marked track and crossed a small stream at the log, where we saw some beautiful green orchids. It was then into mossy forest – a little boggy initially but nothing serious. The track was more of the same goodness, beautiful, wide, and easygoing, gently undulating through beech forest. We stopped to listen to some kakariki high in the canopy above.
We arrived at Lake Minchin at 1.35 pm and walked half way around to get a better look at the waterfalls cascading down Mt Scarface, opposite. A track leads around the lake to the north and continues on to the Minchin Pass route to the Taramakau river. I couldn’t resist a swim in the lake, which at 760m was pretty cold.
Back at the hut we had plenty of time for mooching, so we tidied the tidy hut, read books and enjoyed cups of tea. We went down to the river for a dip then I darned the numerous ladders in my merino long johns, which was ultimately the end of them, as two large holes subsequently developed.
A stiff breeze picked up outside, the cloud came in and we heard a single clap of thunder. We didn’t see another person all day.
Day 3 – Poulter Hut to Ranger Biv
We enjoyed a sleep-in and left Poulter hut at 8.40 am, for a quick side trip to bag Worsley hut a couple of kilometres upriver. Finding a lone marker pole behind the hut, we made our way through the matagouri to walk the Poulter river upstream.
The river was low, the sun was out and we enjoyed the walk. About half way along as we walked up the true right, we spotted a karearea (native falcon) perched on top of a tall dead tree. As we neared the tree it flew up and did a couple of circles – very cool. Then suddenly it headed our way, at speed.
I’m not sure whether a grumpy falcon would actually make contact with your face but we didn’t want to find out and ducked. We hurried on and watched as it did a loop around the tree and came back for a couple more goes. We had the brilliant idea of heading into the bush, unaware that falcons are just as fast in the bush and just as happy to divebomb there too. It came around a couple more times and finally we ploughed into some thicker stuff before emerging upstream.
We emerged from the bush a respectable distance away and continued upstream, crossing Trudge Stream (great name) and arriving at the 4-bed Worsley biv at 9.30 am. This cute A-frame hut is situated by a trickle of water and has an aging but OK toilet. We perused the hut book (where several parties mentioned the falcon) and left ten minutes later.
The ‘Tramping Games’
Back at the river, we ran the gauntlet with the falcon. This time we stayed close to the river rather than going in the bush. We were in for another round of divebombing and added this as an event to the Tramping Games.
The Tramping Games is an event we came up with some time ago when posed with a difficult tramping situation. It would be a spectator event – with teams and solo competitors. Events would include e.g.
The slippery log traverse, fastest bog run, longest boulder hop, river crossing (keep feet dry), the gravel gully scramble, the steep downhill race (think cheese rolling), fastest uphill scree run, timed sleeping bag stuffing, silent mobilisation (getting ready in a dark room) and something around using a minimum number of toilet paper squares, which we haven’t really thought through properly. Now it includes ‘dodge the falcon’.
We arrived back at Poulter hut at 10.15 am. As Rich still had dry boots, he won the round.
Poulter Hut to Fenwick Stream
We got our gear together and left Poulter hut at 10.50 am, retracing yesterday’s steps back to the Poulter river. Taking a different line across the river from yesterday we crossed the Poulter to the true right and walked on the grassy flats. It seemed a much quicker route back but there was only five minutes difference.
Arriving at Trust Poulter hut at 11.35 am we took a break until 11.50 pm before heading back towards Casey hut. Rich had found some information re. Ranger Biv on Route Guides. We walked the track until the Fenwick River Poulter River confluence, then headed across the Poulter River up Fenwick Stream. We crossed a few braids of the Poulter, but it was only knee high and not problematic at all, but you wouldn’t want to attempt it during bad weather.
We crossed at 12.30 pm and walked up the gravel flats of Fenwick Stream. At 1.05 pm we arrived at a beautiful gorge and saw blue and orange markers on the true right above us. The gorge was a great sandfly-free spot for lunch.
Forty minutes later we headed up the track. According to Route Guides, it was cut by volunteers Frank and Honora (great job!) and is now used by trappers on the Orange Fronted Parakeet Predator Trapping Program. For more information on the program check out their Facebook page.
Fenwick Stream to Ranger Biv
The track to Ranger biv was generally easy to follow, and we found plenty of markers and/or flagging tape. The track climbed from approx. 680m to 1250m. It began with a short, steep section through beautiful beech forest, and continued steadily up.
We saw plenty of mistletoe up this track too. There were a couple of boggy sections and minimal tree fall. There was a small slip about two-thirds of the way up which didn’t pose any problems.
Towards the upper third of the track through the smaller beech trees, the track was slightly more difficult to follow – the forest looked the same in every direction, and there were fewer markers.
Ranger Biv Casey Poulter Binser
At 3.20 pm we arrived at the 2-bed (basic) Ranger Biv. I’d politely describe it as very rustic – no doubt if you’re in need of shelter it would be very welcome. It has sling beds with no mattresses, the framing was a bit rotten and it smelled pretty damp. There were some materials outside which looked like they’d been there a while, and we read somewhere that it was due for a bit of a spruce up at some point. We decided to camp, locked the door and headed up the hill through the long tussock to get some views.
From our walk down the Poulter this morning, we’d seen an open grassy patch on the mountain and assumed the biv was close by. Turns out it was – we continued up the grassy slope to around 1300m and scouted around for a camp spot. The wind was quite strong, so we opted to camp in the bush on a great flat spot not far above the biv.
We read our books and lounged around in the sun in the tussock for the afternoon. Today was Rich’s birthday (and Christmas eve) which meant that we could break into the chippies and have a sip of the ginger wine we’d brought. At dinner time we attracted a relentless stream of blowflies and by 8 pm were forced indoors for a game of Yahtzee.
Day 4 – Ranger Biv to 2 km before Pete Stream
Exploring above Ranger Biv
A random wildlife experience startled us on Christmas morning. Woken by birdsong, I was drifting back to sleep when I heard a long melancholic deer bark at a distance, somewhere up behind the tent. Either that or it was Chewbacca. Moments later something galloped downhill toward the tent, catching a guy rope as it flew past, with a massive twang. If it’s possible to ‘duck’ in your sleeping bag I certainly did.
Fifteen mins later we raised our stiff, aching bodies (Rich was a year older now) and got up for breakfast. A patch of sunlight fell on the short tussock out in the open – the perfect spot. Our breakfast entertainment was watching a baby robin find his wings and feet in the bushes beside us.
There was no need to hurry, and at 10.30 am we headed up through tussock and alpine garden above us to the high point at Pt 1371. From here we got some fantastic views of the Poulter River up to Poulter hut, Worsley Pass and down to Casey Stream. The summit of the Poulter range was still over a couple of hundred metres above us, but we weren’t worried about bettering the already splendid views.
Ranger Biv to Casey Stream
We got back to camp at 11.20 am and noticed that even in mid-summer, Ranger biv was only just catching the sun. We left ten minutes later and were back down at the Fenwick Stream gorge an hour later. On the way back down we tidied the track up a bit, removing light windfall and putting logs over the boggy bits.
Fenwick Stream gorge hosted us for a second sandfly-free lunch, then we headed back downstream and across the Poulter River. By 1.45 pm we’d crossed the Poulter and were heading back on the track to Casey Stream. After crossing the Casey and back at the signpost we decided to take the ‘inland route’ behind Casey hut. There was no signpost for it, but there were markers in the bush and a track on our map. (Checking the online topo at the time of writing, this alternative track is no longer on the map).
It was about 2.30 pm when we took the alternative track from the Casey hut signage. It led us through beautiful giant mature beech trees, where we saw a couple of deer. There was a lot of windfall on the track, and quite a big washout at a river towards the end. We emerged out onto a grassy area and headed down to meet the Casey – Binser track. We popped up to look at the private hut close by, took a quick break and were on our way again by 3.30 pm.
Casey Hut (almost) to Pete Stream
The walk down the Poulter River, following the 4WD track, was stunning. It was easy walking, skirting a lovely tarn heading to Rabbit Flat and Aeroplane Flat. The glaciated geology of the Poulter river was fascinating, with large vertical gravel cliffs. We also noticed a vast area of new vegetation growth on the mountains across the river on the true left and wondered what had happened there. The DOC website revealed that this was from a storm in 1981 that flattened almost every tree.
We were originally toying with heading up to Turnbull biv on the true left of the Poulter, but I wasn’t up for a late afternoon mission involving another crossing of the Poulter, finding our way under the towering cliffs up a stream, and/or a probable bush bash (?). That will have to be a separate adventure.
Just after Aeroplane Flat, we took a fifteen-minute break. Clouds were gathering and we heard a couple of thunderclaps. A large clam shell rolled towards us from the southeast before dissipating and thunder clouds rose to the south. Hurrying on, we crossed several side streams and a fence marking the boundary of the national park.
Camping Casey Poulter Binser
Matagouri closed in around the track, pig sign was abundant and nothing really presented itself as a decent-looking campsite. I was getting pretty tired and didn’t want to have to make it to Pete Stream tonight (we didn’t know if there were suitable camps there either). We ended up camping next to the track, not far from a stream on a patch of grass a couple of kilometres before Pete Stream. It must have been around 6.15 pm, almost three hours from the junction after Casey hut.
Our sloping-looking section turned out to be surprisingly flat and the views down the track and through the matagouri to the mountains were pretty good. We made ourselves comfortable and waved hello to a lone mountain biker who passed, doubling the number of people we’d seen today.
As it was Christmas day, it meant we could finish the chippies and share the remaining 100 ml of wine. It wasn’t an altogether relaxing experience though, as the sandflies were horrendous.
Day 5 – Binser Saddle to Andrews Shelter
I slept like a log at our grassy camp. We woke at 7.30 am with a little condensation on the tent and waited for it to dry fully before setting off at 9.40 am for Binser Saddle. We passed the old homestead and soon arrived at Pete Stream, where there is decent-looking camping potential.
We had plenty of time today and this was the only major river crossing, so we took our boots off to cross Pete Stream.
The Binser saddle signage told us the crossing was 6.6 km and 3hr 30 mins. We scrambled up the steep river terraces at 10.25 am and stopped to take in the excellent views back up the Poulter valley. On the terrace, the track started off in manuka before heading into the forest. The saddle itself is only around a 450m climb and started gently, getting steeper near the saddle. Like the Andrews Valley Track, this one was mostly beautiful, wide and easy-going.
By 11.45 am we’d reached the grassy saddle and stopped for a twenty-minute break in the shade listening to a couple of tuis mimicking each other in the bush. Camping up here would be lovely and there was a stream at the far end of the saddle. The track became a little wet underfoot there, but nothing serious.
Half way down we were treated to incredible views of the Waimakariri. The track was drier on this side and latterly quite steep with loose stones over the hard surface. Not difficult, but very slippy.
We reached the signage at the bottom of the saddle at 1.25 pm. From the viewpoint earlier I thought I’d seen a faint track looking like it was going across the flats back to Andrews Shelter. I completely forgot about it until we were on the road walk half way to the Mt White Road. We continued along the road enjoying the sun and the amazing views across to the Sugarloaf and Cass and down the Waimakariri.
The car, parked in the shade at Andrews Shelter, was as cool as we hoped it would be (if a little sticky). We immediately wandered upstream towards the bridge for a swim in the great little pools. That night we stayed at Hawdon campsite, which aside from a cluster of vans near the entrance, was practically deserted. We drove around and found a great spot under the beech trees.
Click the links below to check out some other walks in Canterbury: