Mount Fell and Mount Richmond
In the Nelson area, we are spoilt for choice on weekend overnight tramps. For a great workout and spectacular views we decided on a quick up and down of Mount Fell and Mount Richmond. It is definitely a weekend that should be on your to-do list if you enjoy a long climb and views from the tops. There are a couple of hut options – Richmond Saddle and Mount Fell, and you can make a circuit of it or do an in-and-out the same way. We parked at Timms Creek car park and went up and down the same way to Mount Fell hut which is 12.8 km and a very decent climb to 1280m elevation. Mount Richmond takes you up to 1780m and Mount Fell is 1602m.
The track to Mount Fell is really pretty track and in great shape, with lots of variety. There wasn’t anything technical and aside from the long climb, it was pretty easy. It took us 4.5 hours to get to the hut (DOC recommends 6-7 hours), then after lunch another 1 hr 40 mins to summit Mount Richmond. You could also take in the rocky outcrops (unmarked) of Johnston Peak on the way back if you were feeling super-energetic (we weren’t on this occasion). In the morning it took us 1hr 30 mins to get from the hut to the summit of Mount Fell.
As the crow flies, Mount Fell is probably only about 25 km away from Nelson, but you have to drive a couple of hours to get there. We woke at 5 am to a full moon and clear skies – always a bonus. After a quick breakfast and a frantic packing of all the things we forgot to pack last night, we left Nelson at 6 am.
Heading North over the Whangamoas towards Picton, we looked out for the ‘forever decorated’ Christmas tree on the right. (It would be too difficult to explain where it is… keep your eyes peeled). A friend of a friend keeps it decorated all the time, but as it is nearly Christmas, it looked like a bit more effort had been put into it recently.
We stopped in at the bakery in Havelock. Weirdly for me, I couldn’t quite stomach the thought of sweet treats, but my partner knew I’d be desperate for something later, so bought the messiest item in the bakery – custard squares.
Just before Renwick we swung a right onto the Northbank road (Wairau River) and continued on for 30 more minutes. We reached the Timms creek car park 8 am, where there is no loo. We got under way at 8.20 am.
Timms Creek Track
The walk along Timms Creek was beautiful. We walked on the true right of the creek heading upstream, starting in pine forest for a short section before heading into beech forest. Not far in, we came to a nice grassy clearing which housed a family of goats.
After the clear section, we walked the ups and downs of the river bank for another 2.5 km or so. Most of the track was in good shape but some sections had slipped away down to the river, and we had to be careful on a couple of small, steep sections. The river to our right was beautiful and clear. We crossed a few small side streams but nothing to get our feet wet. One stream had suffered a significant slip, but it was pretty easy to get across the debris.
At 10 am we came to a larger tributary and took our shoes and socks off to cross. It was decided that the large flat rock on the other side would be the perfect spot for a custard square. We enjoyed a10 minute break as the sun poked through the trees above us. The climb started immediately afterwards.
Funnily enough, it was only on the way down the next day that we realised just how much of a grunt that 900m climb was! It started pretty steeply out of the creek and onto a spur which we followed for the next 2.4 km or so.
I guess we didn’t mind the climb because it was so beautiful. We passed through cushion soft beech leaves, carpets of ferns, and some aged rock fall zones. Above us, huge trees were growing on top of boulders, with roots covering the rock like octopus tentacles, and below we hopped across tree roots rippling across the ground like giant eels.
At 11 am, about half way up the climb, we stopped for a rest and enjoyed the forest around us.
By 11.50amd we reached the top of the climb. There were a further few kilometres of sidling to go, with only a gentle climb to Mount Fell hut.
In 1942 this area was the site of New Zealand’s first commercial plane crash in which five people died. The ‘Kereru’, a twin-engine Lockheed Electra, left Wellington bound for Nelson and veered off course in bad winds and poor visibility. Hundreds of local people searched the ranges for the missing plane for five days before the wreckage was discovered. The peaks of Mount Fell and Johnston are named after two of the people who perished. Today there is a plaque on the mountainside and a small piece of the nose cone of a plane. We didn’t visit the wreckage site but put it on our list to find next time.
Mount Fell Hut
At 12.50 pm we reached the gorgeous 6-bed Mount Fell hut (1280m). It had taken us 4.5 hours from the car park. As we got there a little brown goat who had been nibbling some fresh grass in the meadow, waited to see what our intentions were before charging off into the bush.
The hut was without a doubt, the cleanest I have ever stayed at. There were even cleaning products and little wiping cloths and tea towels – how lovely! The firewood had been lovingly stacked by the stove and there was even some quality reading material which we added to, and swapped for a little book, which will end up in the next hut I visit. The only disappointment was the state of the long-drop – which although clean and wasp-free, was pretty full.
The morning sun had warmed the hut and we probably could have easily enjoyed a warm, lazy afternoon. Instead, we got some lunch going outside on the picnic table to fortify ourselves for the second round of climbing.
Mount Fell Hut to Mount Richmond Summit
At 2 pm we headed up the track at the back of the hut and joined the main track which takes you to the peaks.
We headed left at the signage towards the saddle between Johnston Peak and Mount Richmond. The track was on top of a beautiful escarpment with a big drop-off to our right. It was pretty easy going across tussock and rockfall, but our walk was punctuated by the odd yelp, as we (mostly me) got stabbed by the dreaded speargrass.
The views were incredible. As we climbed higher we marvelled at the length of the escarpment which led all the way to Mount Fell summit behind us.
We reached the saddle at around 1560m then dropped down a little into the basin ‘the Devil’s armchair’. After that, it was another 250m climb over up the rocks to Mount Richmond summit (1760m – just a teensy bit higher than Mount Rintoul which I had walked as part of Te Araroa Trail). Half way up we found pockets of vegetable sheep.
We reached the summit at 3.40 pm – it had taken us 1 hour 40 minutes from Mount Fell hut.
Mount Richmond Summit
All that climbing was so worth it for the views! This was the first time I’d seen both the Tasman Bay on one side and the east coast on the other! We could see most of the Richmond Range, and I traced the line of the Pelorous River to guestimate where Middy and Rocks hut were, I followed the mountains along to Starveal then Slaty hut .The peaks of Old Man and Big and Little Rintoul stood out, and we could see the Red Hills in the distance. Behind us was Mount Fishtail and Mount Royal (on the list), and to the south was the great open expanse of the Wairau River valley. It was incredible.
We took a look off the other (steeper) side of Mount Richmond, where you can make a loop walk down to Richmond Saddle hut and out. We certainly definitely had the easier climb coming from Mount Fell!
Although it was a sunny day, it was pretty chilly and blustery up at 1760m, so we donned our jumpers and waterproofs, squatted down and took in the views from behind the little rock shelter someone had built.
It was far too cold to enjoy for too long, so at 4 pm we headed back down the same way. We took it slowly and it took us 1.5 hours to get back to the hut. We saw a big herd of goats on the way back.
On the way back we visited the original site of Mount Fell hut, not far away from its present site, and found more goats. When we got back to the hut we made a hot soup, and Rich chopped firewood as I made dinner. We were asleep before dark.
We had read that a sunrise from the meadow above Mount Fell hut would be amazing, but we didn’t fancy getting up and out too early. The need to pee drove me out around 6 am and I shot back in for my camera. True enough, the sunrise was fantastic!
After a decent breakfast, we left at 8 am to head up Mount Fell. We took the same path at the back of the hut and over the tussocked slopes to the signposts. This time we headed right, so we had the big drop on our left. The track up to the summit was similar to yesterday, over tussock and rock. There were plenty of rocky outcrops to climb up and over, and we made it to the summit by 9.25 am and viewed the world from 1602m in a howling gale!
We didn’t hang around for long at the summit – it was freezing!! and really annoyingly I had forgotten to bring my gloves. Rich leant me his, and he had his spare woollen hiking-socks-as-mittens for when the need arose.
Again we were spoiled with the epics views, which were similar-but-a-little-bit-different to yesterdays. We saw the track disappear off the summit rather steeply down to Middy hut off the Pelorous river and murmured something about putting it on the list, but very half-heartedly.
It was cool to look over to Mount Richmond, which looked bigger than it had felt when we were climbing up there yesterday
We raced back down the mountain, buffeted by the side-wind churning up and over the escarpment. I think it took half the time to get back down and we were back in the warm hut by 10.20 am.
Back Down the Mountain
We got our stuff together, had some snacks and cleaned the hut. By 11.25 am we were ready to leave and made our way back along the sidle. The return trip along the same track was one of those which seemed like a different walk, which is always cool. We noticed lots of little things we hadn’t seen on the way up. I found a giant snail shell (and yet to have yet to see one with a snail actually in it!).
On the way down we realised what a long climb it was! It seemed to go on forever! We made a pretty leisurely time of it though, stopping to taste the beech honeydew from the tiny insects that glistened on the beech trees. We also saw mushrooms the size of side plates.
At 1.50 pm we reached the big tributary close to where it joined Timms creek. We enjoyed our custard-square break so much on the rock yesterday, that we enjoyed a leisurely lunch there today. There were surprisingly few sandflies. It was warm and sunny and the water seemed even more clear and inviting today, so I stripped off for a dip – the water was freezing!! After a lovely lunch, we left at 2.40 pm.
Dark clouds gathered overhead as we hurried back along the river. We got back at 4 pm so the walk back was roughly 4.5 hours including the decent lunch stop of almost an hour. Upon arrival at the Timms car park, it started to rain – we couldn’t have timed it more perfectly!
I enjoyed the weekend so much that I will probably make the effort to get up again this summer.
The rainclouds over the mountains as we get onto the Northbank Road