Lake Daniell Track – with a Difference

The jetty at Lake Daniell

Lake Daniell Track

The Lake Daniell track is one of those ‘first overnight tramp’ types of track. At 8.4 Kms one way it isn’t too long (we took 2 hours), it’s reasonably flat through beautiful forest, has a nice lake at the end, a lovely new hut and tons of camping. We fancied a nice walk without too much effort, and wild camped around the lake. We also worked in some extra-curricular bog slogging, bush bashing and river crossings to bag a couple of extra huts.

Lake Daniell Track
Plenty of boardwalk on the Lake Daniell Track

Getting There Lake Daniell Track

Lake Daniell or Lake Daniells? Apparently, until 2008 it was officially known as Lake Daniells before being changed to Daniell (DoC signage reads both). That little conundrum over with, you’ll find this lovely lake close to the Lewis Pass on the SH7. It is 5 km or so past Springs Junction if you’re coming from the North, and 10 km after Maruia Springs if you’re coming from the South.

We set off on a cold Winter day from Nelson, heading down the SH6 at around 9 am. The obligatory stop at the fabulous Wakey Bakey was rather restrained (nothing for the boy and two savoury mince pies for me). We arrived at around 11.30 am, taking a left off the highway into the Marble Hill campsite, which looks like a nice place to spend the night – with a pristine toilet on the plus side and many sandflies on the minus. We drove through the campsite to the large parking area for the Lake Daniell track.

As we arrived the last of a large scout group were just getting under way. They had thoughtfully posted a notice on the (excellent) information board at the shelter, that the hut was fully booked and 25 of them were camping outside. It was going to be a busy weekend!

Marble Hill campsite
Turning off to the Marble Hill campsite – looking towards Maruia Springs

The Alpine Fault Lake Daniell Track

A very cool fact about this area is that the Alpine Fault runs through it. Not far from the car park is a low concrete wall, which was built by scientists in 1964 to gauge movement on the fault. As there has been no movement at the site since it was built, it indicates that the fault doesn’t move slowly. It is expected that any movement will be in large jumps of several metres when the big one (earthquake) happens.

This fantastic site ‘What’s On Our Plates‘ tells you all about the Alpine fault. It has some very cool interactive maps and easy-to-understand science and geology about the fault. Did you know for example that the Alpine Fault includes one of the longest, natural straight lines on earth? It measures 400km from the Lewis Pass in the north to John O’Groats in the south… and who knew NZ had a John O’Groats?

The Sluice Box

Even if you’re just driving past, it’s worth a stop at the Lake Daniell track just to get out for a leg stretch and to have a look at the ‘Sluice Box’. Five minutes after starting the track, you cross the Maruia River just after the confluence with the Alfred River. Here, the river is squeezed into a gorge, and sparkles pure green in the sun.

The Sluice Box Lake Daniell Track
The Sluice Box – Lake Daniell Track
The Sluice Box Lake Daniell Track
The Sluice Box Lake Daniell Track

Lake Daniell Track

We were under way properly by 11.50 am. The track is a very gentle climb of around 150m along its entire length, with a few undulations along the way. Compared to our usual tramps we enjoyed the ‘great walk’ standard of the track. There were some nice boardwalk sections to prevent you from getting your feet wet, and the surrounding beech forest was beautiful. There were a couple of little side streams to cross, but do-able with dry feet.

The half way point was marked, and within about an hour we passed a bench and the sign for Pell Stream – which we were going to head down to tomorrow. It was pretty chilly on this Winters day, and we were glad for the odd pocket of sunlight as it fell on us through the trees as we neared the hut.

Lake Daniell Track
Lake Daniell Track
The Alfred River - Lake Daniell Track
The Alfred River – Lake Daniell Track
Lake Daniell Track
Lake Daniell Track

Kōhanga Atawhai – Manson Nicholls Memorial Hut

We reached the 20 bed Manson Nicholls hut at 1.40 pm. Owing to the easy walk, beautiful location and great hut, it is very popular – and if you want to stay overnight you need to book online first. It has superb composting toilets (the first of its kind in NZ apparently) and a great outdoor kitchen/shelter for the campers. We stopped for lunch on the magnificent sunny deck overlooking the lake.

This hut was opened in July 2020, replacing the original hut built at this location. The original was built in 1976 in memory of three trampers who died in a landslide whilst sheltering in a fishing hut on the opposite side of the lake in 1974.

The jetty at Lake Daniell
The jetty at Lake Daniell
Camping at Lake Daniell
Excellent camping at Lake Daniell

Around Lake Daniell

We had planned to camp at the Northern end of the lake, but over lunch, we got chatting with someone who told us there were some cool camp spots in the forest just off the track on the Eastern side. After lunch, we made our way up. The track around the lake isn’t on the map but is easy to find from the lake edge corner of the camping area.

The track was marked and was more of a tramping track. Due to recent rains, it was pretty muddy, so we picked our way around. After five minutes, we began to notice LOTS of giant cow poos along the track – a herd’s worth, not a couple of individuals. We were baffled as to where they could have come from.

Continuing on, we passed a group of older scouts returning from a walk to the North end of the lake. They advised us of a superb camping spot not far up and we found the flat, mossy spot complete with bench and fireplace ten minutes later. We set up the tent immediately.

Around the Eastern side of lake Daniell
Around the Eastern side of lake Daniell
Camping on Lake Daniell
Camping on Lake Daniell

Hut Bagging

It was still early, around 2.45 pm so we decided to do a bit more adventuring and walk up to bag a couple of private huts we had on our radar. The first, Thompsons Flat hut was about 2.5 km away, to the North of the lake. We continued around to the Northern end of the lake and soon arrived at a lovely beach (disappointingly, covered with cow poo).

Our research had told us that it might be a bit muddy from here, and the recent rains made sure of it. Thirty minutes later we were out of the main forest and entered the privately-owned grassy flats to the North. It soon became clear where the cow poo had come from when we saw the state of the fence between the clearing and the conservation land.

Lake Daniell
Lake Daniell from the Northern end
Mud towards Thompsons Flat hut
Mud! Towards Thompsons Flat hut
Fungi
Very cool fungi we found in an old tree stump

Thompsons Flat Hut

We could see the hut in the clearing as we came out of the forest. Between us and the hut were a small herd of cattle and a swamp. Technically it was just a water-filled, cow-trodden grassy area of land, not an actual swamp, but the level of uncertainty about how far your legs are going to drop into the watery mud-filled holes doesn’t thrill me – especially as my balance isn’t that great. Whilst Rich waded off like a trooper and was soon at the hut, I faffed about and complained a lot whilst trying to find the more ‘solid’ tussocky lumps, which we didn’t have time for at all.

Thompsons Flat hut
Thompsons Flat hut
Thompsons Flat hut
Thompsons Flat hut
Near Thompsons Flat hut
Pigs had torn up the ground near Thompsons Flat hut

We reached the hut at 3.30 pm – it had taken 45 mins from our camp spot. The hut was very uninspiring and was in a fairly bad way, so there was no reason to hang around. Having abandoned our plan to check out a second private hut nearby we made our way back around the edge of the swamp – most of which had recently been turned over by pigs. It was much quicker and easier than the direct route through the swamp.

Homemade Dehy Dinner

Daylight was fading by the time we got back into camp, so after putting the water on to boil we got our wet boots off got and changed into our camp clothes. There was some firewood left at the site, but we knew it was a futile exercise to try to get it going.

Camping at Lake Daniell Tinytramper
In for a chilly night at Lake Daniell

Recently we have got into dehydrating our own food for tramping, so tonight’s dinner was homemade spag bol with couscous. We don’t do anything fancy for the dehy – just take regular dinner leftovers and spread it in a thin layer on the ‘fruit roll’ trays of the Sunbeam dehydrator and leave it to dry overnight.

We carry 200g of dehy (I probably eat about 60g of that) with a 60g dry portion of couscous each. In my 1 litre pot (pictured) we boil a guestimated amount of water, add the couscous, put the dehy on top so it’s all covered by the water, wrap the pan in spare clothes, leave it for 10 minutes, mix it up then eat. Because eating from bowls creates unnecessary washing up we usually just both eat from the pan. Whoever holds the saucepan on their lap has the added bonus of warm knees!

Pell Stream and Blackadder Rest

It was a chilly night in the woods, but we both got a great sleep. A misty morning dawned and we enjoyed our leisurely breakfast with a robin. As we passed the hut on our return the scout group were packing up – their grassy camping area still crunchy with frost.

Lake Daniell
A misty morning on Lake Daniell

By 9.20 am we were back at the sign for the Pell Stream turnoff. There was no track, but there was no going wrong. We headed straight down into the bush and shortly arrived at the Alfred River. After twenty minutes of bashing upstream, we popped out just above the confluence of the Alfred and Pell stream. The Blackadder Rest hut was not far up Pell stream on the true right, so we crossed both rivers and found it 20 minutes later.

Pell Stream
Pell Stream

The Blackadder Rest is a private hut, open to the public, which was used during the 1980s when the area was mined for gold. It has a couple of rooms, some great information about the mining in the area, but no bunks. The sun hadn’t quite reached the hut by the time we got there, and it was absolutely freezing! We read some of the information in the hut but decided it would be better to come back on a summer’s day to fully enjoy the experience.

The Blackadder Rest across Pell Stream
The Blackadder Rest across Pell Stream
Blackadder Rest
Blackadder Rest

Back to Marble Hill

After crossing Pell Stream again we found the four-wheel-drive track down the true left of the Alfred River at about 10.15 am and walked South towards the Maruia River. It was a nice enough alternative to the Lake Daniell track, and aside from a couple of tree falls and a slip, it was in pretty decent shape.

Four wheel drive track to Maruia River
The four-wheel-drive track back to the Maruia River
The Alfred River
The Alfred River from the four-wheel-drive track
Along the Alfred River
Enjoying the sunshine along the Alfred River

We reached the Maruia River about an hour later at 11.15 am. Although the river wasn’t that deep, it was quite swift.  Taking our time to pick a braided section upstream, we crossed it together.

The car park was just a few hundred metres away. Not having learned our lesson from yesterday we plowed straight through another swamp back to the car park rather than doing the sensible thing and going back downstream to find the track.

This was a cool weekend exploring, and nice to return another way. Next time we will come back to head up the Pell Stream to Cannibal Gorge loop.

Maruia River
Onto the river flats at the Maruia
The Maruia River
The Maruia River

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