Hope, Doubtful, Nina Loop
This four-day, three-night loop linking the Hope, Doubtful and Nina Rivers south west of the Lewis Pass, was a superb mix of rivers, mountains and hut bagging! It’s high up on the list of my most favourite tramps. The beauty of this area is that you don’t need to do all of it in one visit as we did – you can dip in and out from a couple of access points over various weekends.
We started and finished our loop at Boyle Village just past the Lewis Pass heading south. It’s about three hours from Nelson, taking the SH6 south to Murchison then the SH65 via Springs Junction and continuing on the SH7 towards Hanmer. We parked and tented overnight nearby so we didn’t have to rush in the morning. For the duration of the tramp, we left the car at the car park near the Boyle campsite and Boyle Village Outdoor Education Centre. I’ve left it there a couple of times now and it has been fine, but the centre offers some options for more secure paid parking.
Timings Hope Doubtful Nina
All our time breakdowns are detailed in the table at the bottom of the page. DOC times vary a little between online Vs signage on the tracks.
Day 1 – Boyle Village to St Jacob’s Hut
Even though it was mid-January, the mountain tops were dusted with snow from an overnight sprinkle. It was a little fresh when we arrived at Boyle Village. We started with a short walk up the Boyle River to drop off a chilly bin of soft drinks and sweet treats for trampers at the signing-in stand. It is the start/end of the St James Walkway and Te Araroa Trail passes through, so I thought it would be nice to leave a surprise for walkers. I collected the chilly bin when we returned.
Boyle Village – Tui Track to The Doubtful
We left Boyle Village at 9am and I was back on Te Araroa Trail again for the morning – four years after I first walked this stretch. I remembered it well, as I’d just met my friend Mike who I ended up walking to Lake Tekapo with. I enjoyed this part of the track just as much as I did last time.
The Tui Track starts on the left-hand side of the road, before crossing shortly afterwards. We headed down through the matagouri and reached the Boyle River at 10.20 am.
We crossed as a pair – the river wasn’t too high, and it was easy enough to cross and get a quick snap. I remembered it being pretty swift when we crossed on TA years ago, so take care. After the crossing, the track on the river flats was open and easy. This was already a wet feet trip, and there were some waterlogged sections here and there, after the river crossing.
Tui Track to Windy Point – Hope Doubtful Nina
By 11.15 am we were crossing the Doubtful River. We crossed together again, and even though it was bum deep for me, it was crossable without any problems. Not far after the Doubtful the track climbed up onto the river terrace and followed the track through some tall-grassy sections. There were some nice views downstream towards Windy Point.
We reached a deer fence at around 12.30 pm and made the sharp left detour around it. Part of the way around was a huge waist-high sea of thistle in full blue/purple bloom completely overgrowing the track. It was very beautiful but slightly problematic in that it was humming with thousands of bees and bumblebees, and we were in our shorts and singlets. There was no getting around it, so we tried our best not to disturb them – trying to gently tap the bees off the flowers in front of us as we waded through.
After the bumblebees, it was straightforward along the undulating track towards Windy Point with some amazing view down the Wairau. We reached the Windy Point sign at 1 pm.
Hope Kiwi Track – Windy Point to Hope Halfway Hut
We had a micro-break to finish a giant scone from yesterday and carried on along the Hope Kiwi Track. For the first kilometre or so there were a couple of muddy patches as we rounded the base of the Doubtful range, then it was into the forest on a beautiful track following the true left of the Hope River.
We waited for the perfect lunch spot to appear, but at about 2.30 pm hunger got the better of us and we sat right on the track to have a late lunch. We met a Kiwi couple doing Te Araroa NOBO (Northbound) and had a chat with them.
At 4 pm we arrived at the six-bed Hope Halfway Hut, three hours after leaving the Windy Point junction. My lasting memory of the hut was unfortunately the terrible loo and lots of sandflies.
Hope Halfway Hut to St Jacobs Hut
The track continued through the forest with glimpses down the Hope River. After a couple of kilometres, we came out onto the matagouri river flats which were grazed by huge brown cattle.
I was getting pretty tired, so we stopped for a second break. We heard a fair amount of mooing during our stop and wondered what the kerfuffle was all about. Just as we were packing up, we heard some crashing in the bushes nearby and saw an enormous bull making his way determinedly towards us.
I had packed up my gear and was off like a shot! It was every girl for herself. I turned to see where Rich was, thinking he was right behind me, but he was still hurriedly stuffing things into the rucksack. I admit I did feel rather guilty. The bull was neither after us nor phased by us. He just casually made his way right through the spot where we’d been sitting, which apparently was just the way he wanted to go.
At 5.30 pm we reached the swing bridge over the gorge of the Hope River. It is such a beautiful spot over the clear blue river and I remembered it clearly from the last time.
Hope Pass Track to St Jacobs Hut
From the bridge, we swung North onto the Hope Pass Track and followed the true right of the Hope River. The initial section through the forest was wide and beautiful, leading into more grassy river flats for a couple of kilometres.
We reached the cute six-bed St Jacobs hut at 6.30 pm. We had the hut to ourselves so spread everything out and got the water on for a hot drink. As we admired the view were horrified to see a large black feral cat wandering down by the river in the distance and left a message in the hut book for any hunters who might want to look out for it.
Day 2 – St Jacob’s Hut, Top Hope Hut – Lake Man Biv
St Jacobs Hut to Top Hope Hut
We enjoyed the kind of sleep that having the hut all to ourselves allows and woke late (for us) at 7 am. Breakfast was leisurely, and we left at 9.10 am. Today we were heading for Lake Man biv on top of the Doubtful range, but first, we wanted to bag Top Hope Hut about five km upstream. We took the track there and walked the river on our return.
The track in and out of the forest was lovely and pretty easy, with some great views over the St Jacobs Flat and Foible Stream. It took just over two hours to reach Top Hope Hut – we arrived at 11.15 am. The sun was out and we took a break and a seat at the fire pit.
Top Hope Hut to Pussy Stream
Walking back down the Hope via the river took us about an hour and a half to reach Pussy Stream. We crossed the Hope at the confluence at 12.50 pm and made our way upstream. The route up Pussy Stream isn’t marked, but we had our topo on the phone, track notes from a book on where to exit and made our way up.
There was no indication of it on a fine summers’ day, but clearly, a ridiculous amount of water comes down this stream when it rains judging by the height of some of the gravel terraces, all the downed trees and slips.
We crossed multiple times as we picked our way upstream. It was fairly slow going (I was fairly slow going) but we absolutely loved it. I forgot to time it but I’d guess we reached the base of the ridge before THAT climb up to Lake Man biv at about 2 pm. So it would have taken just over an hour to make our way up Pussy Stream.
We enjoyed lunch in a sunny spot on some large boulders above the stream and took our shoes and socks off. As an aside, I walked this trip in a pair of Salomon trail runners (knowing every day would be a wet feet day).
Pussy Stream to Lake Man Biv
The track up to Lake Man biv was marked from here and involved a 550m climb over a couple of kilometres up onto the Doubtful range. The initial climb up from the river was exactly that – a climb. I was very glad to be going up it and not down!
The track followed a stunning rocky ridge through the forest with a couple of open sections and great views.
We came out into the open tussock and sidled right, across to a saddle.
Seeing Mt Lakeman (1782m) took my breath away. It was a view worthy of our effort and one which almost brought me to tears. I was tired and really quite emotional with the spectacle, so we took a break in the tussock to take it all in.
It was all I could do to muster up the effort for the walk just under a kilometre down to the biv dropping a couple of hundred metres elevation. My arthritic toe began to hurt like hell.
Lake Man Biv – Hope Doubtful
We reached the beautiful, two bed Lake Man biv at 4.50 pm. It had taken us four hours from the confluence of Pussy Stream. This was such a cool little biv and very compact. It was standing room only apart from the bunks. I took the top bunk as there was very little headroom up there, but an amazing view.
As we got to the biv we heard a shot not far away. Not long afterwards a couple of nice young guys popped their heads in to apologise if they had disturbed us. They had shot a deer in a clearing about 500m downstream from the biv and said we could help ourselves to some meat if we wanted any.
I wouldn’t rule out a hunting expedition at some point with someone who knows what they’re doing but I had to laugh as the thought of my attempting to butcher a deer right now popped into my head. Very sweet of them to drop in though.
I have since become a fan of NZ Hunter Adventures (NZTV on Demand) – which has given me a whole new appreciation of the activity. If you haven’t seen it before it showcases some amazing New Zealand tramping, with a bit of hunting thrown in (or at least that’s how I look at it). If the weather plays ball someone kills an appropriately sized beast a phenomenal distance away with a single shot. They offer some excellent informative tips (binoculars, how bullets work, butchery, how to minimise maggots getting in your meat etc.) and some poor bugger gets to carry half their bodyweight in meat, out of the bush with them.
We took our dinner up to a gap in the bush overlooking the mountains and put a Lake Man trip firmly towards the top of the list for another time. It would be incredible to tent up there. The hunting boys were camping up there somewhere.. how lovely.
Day 3 – Lake Man Biv to Devil’s Den Biv – Doubtful Nina
Lake Man Biv to Doubtful River
We left Lake Man biv at 9 am in the morning and headed down for a sidle above the true left of the Kedron River. I had loaded up on the Nurofen as my toe was still painful. Walking the track down through the bush was a breeze compared to the one we’d walked up yesterday. There were are few boggy areas close to the hut but nothing too difficult. We arrived at the Doubtful River junction/signpost just under a couple of hours later at 10.50 am.
Doubtful River to Doubtless Hut
Our main plan for the day was to cross the Doubtful River and head up Devilskin Stream to the Devil’s Den biv. However, there was another hut nearby which would be silly not to bag – so we turned left at the junction and headed upstream along the Doubtful for a couple of kilometres, to Doubtless Hut.
It was a pleasant change to walk the flat track with easy crossings of the Doubtful then Doubtless Rivers to the six-bed Doubtless hut. At 11.30 am, forty minutes from the junction (two and a half hours from Lake Man Biv) we enjoyed a break in the sun outside the hut.
Doubtless Hut to Doubtful Hut
The walk back to the track junction then on to Doubtful hut was equally as pleasant. It took us an hour and fifteen minutes from hut to hut. The two-bed Doubtful hut was pretty rustic, set in a nice area near a small grove of trees, close to the river. We crossed the Doubtful River and enjoyed lunch in the sun on the warm, flat stones next to the river.
Doubtful hut to Devils Den Biv
By 2 pm we decided it was time to move on. We had a climb of around 600m over five km or so, sidling up the marked track on the true left above the Devilskin Stream. We hunted for the marker to get us out of the Doubtful and found the track.
The initial part of the track through the forest was beautiful and easy to follow. As time went on the trail passed through several open sections where we waded through deep seas of prickly ferns. A group we met the day before mentioned that they found this section a bit hard going (coming downhill – the opposite way to us). They experienced some minor navigational failures through some of the fern sections and found it tricky to keep to/pick up the track, but we found our way ok.
At 5 pm we reached the bush line and were into lumpy long tussock interspersed with hidden streams. I was absolutely knackered and started some serious grumbling. I encouraged Rich to walk ahead given that he still had energy so that I could wallow in my own self-pity without feeling bad about him having to listen to it.
We hadn’t researched whether there was water at the hut – perched way above us. I took a little rest, summoned up a better attitude, filled up my water bladder and water pouches, gritted my teeth and climbed the final stretch three kilograms heavier. Turns out I need not have – there was water at the hut.
Devils Den Biv
Just like arriving at Lake Man yesterday, the climb up the Devilskin Saddle led to a truly spectacular view – the Devils Ramparts (1740m). Just like yesterday, we were too tired to contemplate further exploration and put it on the list for a three-day weekender to come back climb the ramparts and take a proper look around.
Devils Den Biv was another two-bed beauty. It was rather spacious compared to Lake Man biv and you could certainly squeeze more people in, either on the floor or on the sleeping platforms. It was 5.35 pm when we arrived – three and a half hours uphill from the Doubtful River. Making the most of the sun before it dipped over the ramparts, we spread our sweaty gear out to dry around the hut. The loo door had presumably blown off, giving an incredible loo-with-a-view experience.
Another honest days’ walk and a third night in a row with the hut to ourselves – what a treat! We really enjoyed reading the 2018 copy of the University of Canterbury ‘Antics’ magazine which someone had left in the hut, then played some Yahtzee until we could no longer keep our eyes open. Despite the wind getting up a bit during the night, we slept beautifully.
Devils Den Biv to Nina Hut – Doubtful Nina
As the early morning sun crept slowly down the Devils Ramparts, we got ourselves together and enjoyed the same views in a different light. What a shame we had to leave! At 8.10 am and at the exact moment the sun hit the hut, we headed off down the hill towards the Nina River.
The track down through the forest was well marked and enjoyable, with one particularly steep section about halfway down, which we took our time over. The final kilometre or so was a beautiful easy walk to Nina hut, and we arrived at 10.20 am.
The ten bunk Nina hut was like a palace compared to the two previous nights’ bivs. There were plenty of spots outside for camping too. We stopped for a break, warmed ourselves in the sun and covered up against the hordes of sandflies.
Nina hut to Nina River
Time was on our side today. We could have gone to bag Upper Nina Bivvy a couple of hours upriver from Nina hut. But the additional four hours would have turned a “leisurely stroll out, cruisy drive home, sort all our stuff before work tomorrow, have a beer and relax” kind of a day, into a “get home late, throw everything on the floor for tomorrow, sleep” kind of day. We felt we’d worked hard enough and were looking forward to an easy run back into real life tomorrow.
The walk down the Nina Valley Track was beautiful and undulating with occasional nice views over the Nina River. The track eventually met and crossed the Nina River over a swing bridge, before continuing down the true left around the base of Mt Norma (another one on the list) for a couple of kilometres.
The track turned to meet the Lewis River and the final section was walking upstream to meet the swing bridge over the Lewis. We crossed the bridge at 1.35 pm – two hours and forty minutes from Nina hut.
Nina Track Road End to Boyle
The track pops out on the SH7 just North of the Palmer Lodge, a twenty-bunk private hut. We stuck out our thumb and within five minutes a kind soul picked us up and in no time, we were back at Boyle Village. We got changed in the car park, used the facilities and wandered back up the St James Walkway to retrieve the chilly bin, which to our delight was significantly lighter than when we had dropped it off.
The drive home, unpack and beer fell into place as nicely as we hoped it would, although after a few hours in the car our legs completely seized up, making it very difficult to get out of the car at home!
If you get a fine weather long-long weekend opportunity to do this trip I can’t recommend it enough, even better if you can extend it and spend a couple of days exploring Mt Lakeman and the Devils Ramparts. There is so much to see! and that’s without even touching on Hope Pass, Amuri Pass and Lucretia.
I hope you enjoyed this one. If you have any comments about other cool trips in the area, I’d love to hear them.
Timings – Hope Doubtful Nina Rivers
|DOC Time||Our Time|
|Boyle Village to Windy Point||3 hours||3 hours 15 mins|
|Windy Point to Hope Halfway Hut||2 hours 40 mins||3 hours (incl 30 mins break)|
|HHH to Hope Pass Track Junction||4 hours||4 hours 20 mins (incl 30 min break)|
|Hope Pass Junction to St Jacobs hut||1 hour|
|St Jacobs hut to Top Hope Hut via track||2 hours||2 hours|
|Top Hope hut to Pussy Stream via river||1.5 hours|
|Pussy Stream to Lake Man Biv||5 hours from sign||4 hours from river|
|Lake Man Biv to Doubtful River||2 hours 30||1 hour 50 mins|
|Doubtful junction to Doubtless hut||40 minutes|
|Doubtless hut back to Doubtful hut||1 hour 30 mins||1 hour 15 mins|
|Doubtful hut to Devils Den Biv||3 hours 30 (downhill)||3 hours 30 (uphill)|
|Devils Den Biv to Nina hut||2 hours (uphill)||2 hours 10 mins (downhill)|
|Nina hut out to the road||3 hours||2 hours 40 mins|