Nina Valley Track to Upper Nina Bivvy
If you’re looking at a weekend in the Lake Sumner Forest Park, try this overnighter heading up the Nina Valley Track to Nina Hut then on to the Upper Nina Bivvy, returning via the true left of the Nina River. We made it a winter trip when bad weather surrounded us from all sides. It was a mostly clear and very cold trip with plenty of bog and river crossings from Nina hut to Nina bivvy – we loved it.
In the wet, slippery conditions, we took a little bit longer than the DOC times:
- Car park to swing bridge: DOC time 1 hour – our time 1 hour 20 minutes
- Swing bridge to Nina Hut: DOC time 2 hours – our time 2 hours (incl 30 mins lunch)
- Nina hut to upper Nina Bivvy: DOC time 2 hours/2.5 hours – our time 2.5 hours (river crossings, bog)
- Upper Nina bivvy to the car park via the true left of Nina River: Our time 5 hours (incl 30 mins lunch)
From Nelson, it’s roughly a 3-hour drive to the Lewis Pass in Canterbury. Head south on the SH6 to Murchison and take the SH65 towards Springs Junction then the SH7 to Lewis Pass. The day started with the obligatory pop in to the Wakefield Bakery, for a multitude of excellent savouries and sweet things ‘for the tramp’ which we immediately ate in the car. We arrived at the Lewis Pass a few hours later and parked at the NZ Deerstalkers Association Lodge opposite the start of the Nina Valley track.
It was Queens Birthday weekend, and we were one of eight cars in the car park of the Palmer Lodge. We chatted to the lads next to us who were out on a weekend hunting mission and our breath floated around us in great puffs of cloud as we undressed out of our car clothes into our tramping gear. It was a cold morning and the ground was still saturated from all the rain which had fallen during the week. Snow clung to the tops of the mountains around the Lewis Pass.
Nina Valley Track
The Nina Valley Track is just across the road from the lodge. We left the car park at 11 am, crossed the road and the swing bridge over the Lewis River and signed into the hut book on the left, just over the bridge. A couple of ladies wandered ahead of us with some very good-looking camera gear. They were here for some fungi photography. Judging by the amount and variety we saw on the track, they wouldn’t have been disappointed.
Shortly into the Nina Valley track the (usually small) stream was up and we detoured around it to avoid wet boots so soon into the walk. As it turned out it was the shape of things to come.
The track was just as we remembered it from our Hope-Doubtful-Nina 3-day adventure, undulating through the beautiful forest along the true left of the Nina River. This time it was cold, wet and slippery with very little sun. There were numerous puddles, streams and dips in tree roots but we managed to keep our feet dry.
An hour into the walk we found some delicate coral fungi to the side of the track. At 12.10 pm we dropped down to the river flats by a beautiful little gorge by the river before continuing in the bush again. Over the next ten minutes, we found lots of different fungi and wondered if the ladies we saw earlier would make it this far up the track to photograph them.
Towards Nina Hut
At 12.20 pm we crossed the swing bridge over the Nina River. The gorge was as beautiful as I remembered it from our last trip. The track was still wet and slippery and with several small streams and boggy areas to cross. We succumbed to the inevitable and embraced the water and mud.
An hour or so later it occurred to us that we hadn’t eaten lunch yet. We remembered a nice high point which we thought would be dry enough to sit down for lunch, and twenty minutes later we found it. Nestled in a pocket of sunshine, we spent half an hour soaking up the warmth.
Our lunch spot turned out to be only a minute away from the 10-bed Nina hut, and a couple of poles outside indicated the number of occupants. We were surprised it wasn’t busier already, given it was a holiday weekend.
Across the Nina River
We passed Nina hut at 2.30 pm then headed downhill behind it, towards the river. Despite the recent rain the Nina was running clear and wasn’t too high, so we crossed easily as a pair. Shortly after the crossing, we arrived at an old concrete pad which we later found out was the site of the original Nina hut.
The sign read 2.5 hours to the Upper Nina Bivvy from here. A DOC sign also pointed across the Duchess River down the true left of the Nina River to the Nina hut via the swing bridge (3 hours). There wasn’t a track shown on our maps. We found out afterwards that the original track used to be on the true left (to come to the site of the old/original hut). Upon returning that way (the next day) we thought the 3 hours around to the Nina hut would be quite ambitious.
Nina Bivvy Route – Nina Valley Track
We left the old hut site at 2.55 pm. Because the lower Nina Valley track is so well-trodden, in my mind I had envisioned a perfect track all the way to the bivvy. Across the river, it was a completely different tramp. The sun had already dipped below the Grand Duchess and Mt Hatless above us, and two words summed up the next two hours – wet and cold.
The forest was beautiful and mossy. After fifteen minutes we crossed a slip, giving us a glimpse of the mountains above and across the Nina Valley below. Coming out to an open section we realised how little sun this side of the river sees in winter. Everything was still frozen! We made our way through the beautiful ice-tipped foliage and came to the first decent bog through an area of tussock.
The track continued with some small ups and downs occasionally popping out of the trees for spectacular views of the back of the Devils Ramparts and up towards Mt Boscawen. Part way along we caught a glimpse of a high waterfall on Mt Hatless. About an hour into the route, Rich lost a leg in a bog patch – one to watch out for. There were numerous stream crossings, and our feet were numb to the cold.
The next challenges included an open flat where the razor-sharp frozen grasses whipped our bare legs and a short, slippery sidle at some height above the river which we took very carefully. At 4.50 pm we reached the river marked with a walk wire on the map (no walk wire) but it was easily crossable. The approach to the hut was along a thin hump of well-trodden grass just about clinging to the very edge of the river bank.
Upper Nina Bivvy Nina Valley Track
We were relieved when at 5 pm we saw the beautiful 2-bed Upper Nina bivvy nestled in a small, freezing cold clearing. The temperature was no different inside than out.
Rich gathered firewood while I got 2 pairs of dry socks onto my nearly frozen toes. As we brought the firwood in, we decided the combination of cold, damp wood on an open fire probably wasn’t going to give us much except a lot of smoke, which the hut book entries confirmed. We stacked the firewood neatly, hoping the next occupants would be able to make something of the marginally drier wood, got into our sleeping bags and got the water on immediately for a soup.
Rich remembered the sagging bunks and sad state of the bivvy on his last visit many years ago. It had a facelift a few years back, and today there are two firm wooden beds with lovely new thick blue mattresses.
We read numerous accounts in the huts book of routes over into the Nina from Christabel – some successful (avoiding the canyons) and some not – but all pretty adventurous. A summer Christabel trip was already on the list but a crossing would be pretty cool.
About an hour later another couple arrived, no doubt just as cold as we were. They had set off from the Nina hut a little later than planned so walked the last 30 minutes or so in the dark. Despite our offer of taking one of the bunks (cosy, but doable) they decided to camp. We cooked a very early dinner, played some Yahtzee from the comfort of our sleeping bags and got an early night.
Upper Nina Bivvy Back to Duchess Stream
We woke at 7.30 after an amazing sleep. A hard frost had set outside, but the hut felt marginally warmer than at 5 pm last night. The campers woke to a frozen tent out in the open – we were surprised they hadn’t pitched under the trees behind the hut. We said our goodbyes and we set off as they came in for breakfast.
Our return journey was fifteen minutes quicker than the inward trip. We left at 9 am and arrived back at the Nina / Duchess confluence at 11.15 am. The track was so frozen that some of the bog was now stiff bog, and we enjoyed the experience more than our inward journey.
To Nina Swing Bridge via Lucretia Stream
We decided to cross the Duchess and walk back down the valley on the true left of the Nina River. The DOC sign read we could but there wasn’t a track on our maps. Worst case scenario, I would become fed up with bush bashing fairly quickly and we’d retrace our steps. After a quick break, we crossed Duchess Stream at 11.25 am. The track on the true left was marked and a little overgrown, but easy enough to follow. Best of all it wasn’t very boggy either.
We followed the gentle ups and downs of the river bank until about an hour later we arrived in a clearing. The sun was out, so we found a spot close to the river to stop for lunch. Just as we sat down the sun went behind a giant cloud so we put our warm gear on and pretended it was warm and sunny. We set off again at 12.50 pm and arrived at Lucretia Stream five minutes later.
Lucretia Stream Nina Valley
Lucretia Stream was bigger than we’d expected. It was deeper and swifter than the Nina had been upstream. If you couldn’t navigate the Nina at the Duchess Stream confluence, I wouldn’t hold out much hope of crossing Lucretia either. We climbed down the bank and crossed as a pair and I narrowly avoided wet shorts.
About half an hour after crossing Lucretia stream at 1.20 pm we came out into the open and walked the grassy river flats. Given we’d walked the Nina track a couple of times on the opposite bank it’s always nice to get a slightly different view.
It began to spit with rain so we hurried on, and reached the Nina swing bridge at 1.40 pm (two hours and fifteen minutes from the Nina/Duchess confluence).
From there, we ambled back down the Nina Valley track to the car park. By 2.55 pm we were changing out of our wet boots and into dry socks with the car heating on full blast – perfect!!