Lewis Tops, Lucretia and Nina River
Over Labour weekend we enjoyed a superb three-day trip from the Lewis Tops down to Lucretia Hut/Biv and out via the Nina River. The plan had originally been to head to Brass Monkey Biv before going down to Lucretia Stream, but snow on the slopes beneath the high points of Lucretia scuppered that idea. The result was a slightly more adventurous trip which gently stretched my comfort levels.
The Lewis Tops Track also makes a great day walk. It begins close to the Lewis Pass car park at about 870m and climbs to 1568m to the Lewis Tops with several lovely tarns. The views across the adjacent ranges are incredible. You walk parallel to and look down upon the Lewis Pass Road and there are stunning views ahead to Mt Technical, across to the Freyburg Range, Maruia River and Spenser Mountains. Behind as you climb is the Libretto range. To the south is Mt Norma and the Sylvia Tops. You’ll come back with several more tramps added to your list.
Day 1: Lewis Tops to Lucretia Tarns
- Lewis Tops Track to pt 1568 DOC time: 1.5 hrs our time: 1 hr 50 mins (incl 20 min lost-item stop)
- Lewis Tops to the Apprentice/Mt Technical Saddle: 2 hrs (incl 30 mins lunch)
- Apprentice Saddle to Lucretia (1643) and almost to pt 1605: 50 mins
- Lucretia back to lower tarn: 40 mins
Day 2: Lucretia Tarns to Lucretia Hut/Biv
- Lucretia tarn down the basin to Lucretia Stream: 2.5 hrs
- Lucretia Stream to Lucretia Hut: 1 hr 10 mins
Day 3: Lucretia Hut/Biv to Lewis Road
- Lucretia Hut to Nina confluence: 2 hrs
- Lucretia/Nina confluence to bridge: 1 hr
- Bridge to Lewis Pass Highway: 1 hr 15 mins
Getting There – Lewis Tops
The morning’s arrangements had been made with some debate as we wanted a car at the end of the walk. We met at Springs Junction and left a car there (rather than leaving it at the Lewis Pass car park). I dropped Rich and the packs at the Lewis Pass/St James Walkway car park and drove down to park at the NZDA Palmer Lodge opposite the Nina River.
The debate was about who would drop the car and meet the other back at the Lewis Pass. Rich had offered to park the car, bike back (10 km uphill) on a knackered old bike, hide it, then collect it when we finished. I insisted we’d get a hitch within 10 minutes. Eventually, after debating who the hitcher would be, I convinced Rich I’d get a lift quicker than he would. I took my phone and a walking pole.
The car park at the lodge wasn’t very busy for a long weekend. Mostly because it was the semi-final of the Rugby World Cup. However, the traffic along the highway was still plentiful. After about five minutes of offering an enthusiastic smile and a thumb out to the drivers of the Lewis Pass road, a lovely man called Jeff pulled over in a big rental van. He’d moved his family down to Canterbury from Nelson in a day. I climbed up into the truck and we gently bumped and swayed our way up to the Lewis Pass. We wished each other the best of luck for our weekends and went our separate ways. It was the perfect hitch.
Lewis Tops Track
After a toilet stop at the Lewis Pass car park, we were on our way at 11 am. The track starts across the road through some tussock before heading into a beautiful mossy beech forest. It was initially a little muddy, and a bit tree rooty but nothing serious. It was well-marked and easy to follow.
The gradient wasn’t too steep and there were a couple of nice lookouts as we climbed higher. We reached the first lookout which had a seat, at about 11.25 am. Shortly afterwards I enjoyed a twenty-minute break at an open section as Rich realised he’d left his sunglasses on the ground when he’d taken a layer off earlier. Thankfully they were exactly where he’d left them.
A couple of girls passed me while I was waiting. They were also heading up towards Brass Monkey Biv and throughout the day we overtook each other on our respective breaks. Rich returned at 11.45 am, puffing and slightly annoyed with himself and we continued on.
After about a 400m climb we were out of the bush and up into the tussock at around 12.15 pm. It was a glorious spring weekend. Sunny with a gentle breeze. The poled climb to the tops involved about another 250m elevation.
We took micro-breaks to appreciate the already great views opening up around us. It was pretty special looking up the left and right branches of the Mariua River and looking back to the Opera and Libretto Range. Routes we’d talked about over the topo map became real.
At 12.50 pm we reached a large cairn at pt 1568 and the golden expanse of the Lewis Tops stretched out before us. The Apprentice and Mt Technical in the distance still had a sprinkling of snow. It was shaping up to be a magnificent weekend!
If you come up here on a day walk it’s definitely worth heading along the tops to see all the tarns. We said hello to numerous day walkers and picked up the pace to find a lunch spot out of the breeze, by a tarn that wasn’t already taken. We found the spot at about 1.15 pm. By now we’d said hello to the girls from earlier a couple of times and another couple (carrying their ice axes and helmets) who were heading over to camp at the Lucretia tarns and potentially climb up Mt Technical.
Towards pt 1580
After a 30-minute lunch, we continued on from tarns towards The Apprentice. We had downloaded a gpx file from Route Guides and followed the route across the tops to beneath pt 1580. There, instead of following the topo route over the lip and down the steep drop we followed a cairn up a shallow gut to the right running parallel with the edge and saw another cairn a little further on indicating a good place to drop down.
We were at the top of the gut at 2.45 pm. It was a great place to stop and take in the views of The Apprentice and Mt Technical ahead. From here we read the lumps and bumps of the flank of The Apprentice and worked out the best route up. In the low saddle between us and The Apprentice, we saw the climbing couple from earlier who were heading up the way we’d planned.
From pt 1580 to The Apprentice
We picked our way carefully down the steep, rocky drop to the saddle, which was marked with the occasional cairn. On the other side, we followed the ridge up then headed left to climb over a hump covered with red bushes then on/over the top of a second hump on a section with slip/slump scars. We ended up beneath the rocky outcrops of The Apprentice.
There was a little snow left along and above the rocky section and we didn’t want to attempt climbing up to the top of the Apprentice because of it. We skirted the snow as we headed up to the saddle with Mt Technical, carefully negotiating a large, soft snow patch just before the final saddle. We reached the saddle at 3.30 pm and took in the superb views of Mt Technical and the Lucretia tarns in the basin beneath the saddle.
The climbing couple were just ahead of us, making camp at the large tarn below. We enjoyed the easy ten-minute downhill, waved hello and continued on up to a saddle then followed the ridge up to Lucretia and pt 1643.
We stayed high scrambling up and over the broken, jumbled ridge of Lucretia, across pt 1643 towards pt 1605. The gentle breeze had turned into a strong wind up here on the exposed ridge.
At 4.20 pm about 200m before pt 1605 we were defeated by a rocky outcrop we couldn’t climb over/down. We talked about going low and sidling across and down the 120m or so to the saddle beneath pt 1605 and pt 1602. However the slope was covered with snow, leading down to rocky bluffs which dropped steeply into the Lucretia basin. To attempt it would have been foolish, and it was a definite no from me. We wouldn’t be going to Brass Monkey Biv this weekend.
Back to Lucretia Tarns
We backtracked over the ridge towards the tarns and I felt guilty for spoiling the weekend. We met the girls from earlier and had a quick chat about where we’d stopped. As they were intending to head to Brass Monkey, they wanted to get a look at it for themselves.
Heading back, we decided to camp at the lower of the large tarns, on the lip of the Lucretia basin. As we walked down we saw for the first time (and couldn’t quite believe we hadn’t noticed on the way up) a very impressive long, straight line extending down to the tarn and up Mt Technical. We were sure it must have been part of an ancient fault line.
Later, at home, I found this document which I think confirms it (Fig 2) R. P. Suggate , H. S. Gair & D. R. Gregg (1961) The south-west extension of the Awatere Fault, New Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics, 4:3, 264-269
On our way down to the tarn at 4.40 pm we found a great, mostly flat camp spot about 50m before the tarn. It was almost on the lip of the Lucretia basin. You wouldn’t want to camp here in a gale, but today we were nicely sheltered from the wind by Lucretia behind us.
I shot down to check out the flat spots next to the tarn for camping potential but they were wet and spongy. As I filled up our water vessels from the tarn outlet before the lip of the waterfall, I saw the girls returning from Lucretia. I was pleased they’d decided against continuing and was glad they were safe.
Overnight at the Tarn
As he was pitching the tent Rich was casually scoping another adventure. He invited me to take a stroll and we headed down to below the waterfall at the outlet of the tarn. He’d spotted a potential route down the basin to Lucretia Stream, which would meet the Brass Monkey – Lucretia route. The prospective route was east of the little stream from the tarn, steeply down through a maze of rock and snowgrass. I surprised myself for being up for it. If we kept mostly to the grass it looked do-able. From here we couldn’t see all the way down as it was too steep, but as long as we didn’t get into anything we couldn’t get back up out of, it was worth a go. We had two more days after all.
The sun went behind Lucretia but surprisingly, it wasn’t too cold. We made dinner and afterwards, I got my little scope out to look for wildlife on the slopes of Mt Technical. In the distance, we heard a kea and hoped none would come to harass us during the night. We enjoyed a delicious home-made ‘surprise’ dehy dinner which we couldn’t quite identify and took in the views until 8.30 pm bedtime.
Upon retiring for the evening we discovered we’d pitched the tent with a good side/bad side. I’m a bit of a princess when it comes to my tent spots and I really value my sleep, so I had the marvellous flat side. Rich had the sh*t bumpy side. My offers to find another site were in vain and instead, we packed the dips and holes with all our clothes in an attempt to make it better.
Day Two – Lucretia Tarns to Lucretia Hut/Biv
My bladder forced me awake at 7 am. I exited the tent into pea soup. We wouldn’t be going anywhere in this, so we made breakfast in our rain gear in the light drizzle. The addition of a sachet of hot chocolate into our muesli and hot milk turned an average breakfast into something quite spectacular. Why hadn’t we thought of this before?! After breakfast, we played a couple of games of Yahtzee and dozed for another couple of hours.
Even though we had no phone signal, the YR weather app from yesterday indicated the cloud would clear around 1 pm. We got up for a midday lunch and sure enough, the cloud lifted.
Lucretia Tarns to Lucretia Stream
We packed up and left at 1 pm, crossed the outlet/stream and continued left and downhill to peer over the edge of the basin towards Lucretia Stream. Again, we discussed the line we’d take down. Just as we started to descend we noticed an ancient cairn. It was reassuring to know someone else had chosen this route at some point. We continued on, taking care on the slippery grass and crossing small streams. I took waypoints for future reference.
Because we were taking it slowly, there was plenty of time to admire the epic views across the basin, to marvel at the waterfalls and the huge rock outcrops. It took about an hour to descend the steeper top section.
The Lower Slopes
Below the steeper top section, there was longer tussock, bushes and plenty of hidden water courses you could lose a leg in. We found some animal trails and followed those. From about half way down we headed towards the middle of two giant boulders in the direction of Lucretia Stream. Eventually, we went left (to the east) avoiding another steeper drop with more beautiful waterfalls.
Looking back the view up the basin was incredible. We thought it would probably be easier going up, as you had complete visibility to pick a route through the bluffs. Just before we reached Lucretia stream at 3.15 pm we found an old cairn close to the (true left) bank.
We crossed Lucretia Stream without getting our feet wet and found another cairn on the other side. On the true right, we bashed through some huge bushes and over a few massive boulders before emerging at the marked route up towards the direction of Brass Monkey at 3.30 pm.
An assortment of permolat markers and orange triangles decorated the route down Lucretia Stream to Lucretia Hut. The track was in great shape and was easy to follow through the lovely mossy forest with the occasional boggy bit. We passed a cool rock overhang that would be ok to shelter from rain, but you’d probably only want to sleep under it if you were desperate.
Lucretia hut/biv was a welcome sight. It was 4.35 pm when we unlocked the door and poked our heads in. What an absolute beauty! It was possibly the nicest two-bunk bivvy I’ve stayed in. The Hutbagger website told us later that it was restored in 2021 by volunteers. I can’t thank them enough. It was perfect.
The hut was in splendid shape with some cool features. The top bunk had a hook and tie to fold it up (so you could comfortably sit on the bottom bunk) and there was a foldaway stool/table. It had all mod cons – old pots, a chopping board, plenty of places to hang stuff, tons of firewood, hut binos and a good selection of reading material. The thing it didn’t have was a stove. There was an open fire, which going by previous experience means little heat and a smoky room.
There was plenty of camping around the hut and the river was close by for water. It got bonus points for having a toilet which looks like a rocket. We collected some firewood and settled in for the night.
Day 3 – Lucretia Stream and Nina River
We woke at 7.30 am and enjoyed a more comfortable breakfast experience than yesterday. A light drizzle fell as we left at 9.30 am and we wore our hat and gloves as the morning breeze was chilly.
The track was much the same as yesterday, very pleasant with nothing too difficult or strenuous. At 10.15 am we crossed the Lucretia River without any problems. We made it a boots-off crossing as this was the only river crossing of the day. The river was very low, but just over boot height and just wide enough not to be able to get away with a quick scamper through.
After the river and a boggy section, the track slowly climbed. At 11 am a clearing gave us great views of the Devil’s Ramparts on the opposite side of the Nina. We’d tramped an awesome Hope, Doubtful, Nina Rivers loop a couple of years ago staying at Devils Den Biv and wanted to explore the ramparts on another trip.
Meeting the true left of the Nina River at 11.20 am we recalled our freezing winter trip to Nina Biv a year or so ago (we had crossed Lucretia Stream here on that trip). From here the route took us along to the Nina Valley Track. Nothing much had changed since the last time, although we thought a little more of the track had washed away at one point.
There were some nice views down the Nina at the high points and some pleasant walking across open river flats later on. We took a ten-minute break in the sun before reaching the bridge over the gorge at midday.
From Nina Bridge
The Nina Valley Track is a popular overnight walk, so it was no surprise that we met numerous other trampers on this stretch. Apparently, the Nina Hut had been full last night with plenty of people camping too. The track is lovely, if a bit boggy in places and is easy to with some gentle ups and downs and a couple of small creek crossings. In the autumn it’s great for fungi-spotting.
We arrived at the Lewis River bridge and the Lewis Pass road at 1.15 pm. The car park was considerably more full than a couple of days ago. The sun was out again, so we took our boots off, settled down by the car and ate a giant bag of chippies. We’ll be back for Brass Monkey Biv another time.
Click the links below for more tramps in the area: