The Wye Route to Hidden Hut
The Wye Route to Hidden Hut is a great tramp in the Leatham Conservation Area in Marlborough. We made a fairly relaxed long weekend of it, having scrapped the idea of bagging Turkey’s Nest Biv due to a dodgy knee scenario. Nevertheless, we enjoyed a rather grunty first day beginning with a climb and undulating ridge between Station Creek and Boulder Stream before the walk up Station Creek to the Wye Saddle then dropping into Wye River to Hidden Hut. On day two we camped back at Station Creek and came out via a fence line to Boulder Stream on day three.
The views along the ridge up the Leatham and across to the Pinnacle and Bounds mountains were magnificent. The route itself had a bit of everything and we enjoyed the variety of walking the ridge, bashing through the alpine garden after the saddle and the river walking. Hidden Hut was excellent.
Timings Wye Route Hidden Hut
- DOC time: 6-8 hr
- Our time: 8 hr, including 50 mins break
- Car Park to pt 869: 1 hr
- Pt 869 to rock/monolith at the bush line before Station Creek: 3 hr, including 20 min break
- Rock, up Station Creek to Wye Saddle: 1.5 hr, including 30 mins lunch
- Saddle to first Wye River crossing: 1.5 hr
- First river crossing to Hidden Hut: 1 hr
Getting There Wye Route Hidden Hut
From Nelson head down the SH6 towards St Arnaud. Turn left at the SH63 junction towards Blenheim and continue for about 20 minutes until you get to the Branch River. Turn right into Leatham Road just before Argyle Lake. Head up the Leatham, past a homestead on the left and a couple of smaller buildings on the right almost to Boulder Stream.
Watch for the ford/stream crossing a couple of kilometres before the track start. You’ll definitely need to stop and check the state of it and you may need to walk from here.
We parked on the large grassy area to the right of the track start, opposite the rough 4WD track leading up to the quarry. If you’re feeling brave you can take your vehicle up the steep track and park by the Wye route signage at the quarry to save yourself 100m or so elevation.
Day 1 – Wye Route to Hidden Hut
The day began an hour before my 5 am alarm – I was too scared of oversleeping to chance a snooze. My chariot arrived at 6.15 am and we headed south. We had both been panicking that the Wakefield bakery might not be open this early on a Sunday, but they didn’t disappoint (they open at 5 am daily). It was shaping up to be a great day. We swung right into the Leatham Road, pleasantly surprised that the 4WD track was in such good condition. Rich spotted a fully laden apple tree halfway down and stopped to pick one for lunch.
We came down this way a couple of years ago to bag the Boulder Forks huts, and I had forgotten about the stream crossing after the farm a couple of kilometres before the car park. It was a short crossing but required a plunge into a dip before crossing the stream. We took it a little too confidently without getting out to check the state of it first.
Midway down the dip, the track was gouged out around a giant boulder which would have ruined several parts of the car had we hit it. Rich rammed it into reverse and got us back up the steep track. With the smell of the burning clutch gently wafting over us, we got out to take a look. There was room to squeeze past to the right of the boulder.
The creek crossing itself was fine. On our return, we spent half an hour rebuilding the track/dip with river rocks, but you may find you have to park here and walk a couple of kilometres to the start of the track.
The Wye Route
We left the car in an open grassy area opposite the 4WD track up to the quarry. By 8.30 am we were on our way. It was a fairly steep climb and we were surprised to see a van parked above us. When we reached it, we saw the sign for the Wye Route. The 4WD track continued for a short time then became a wet, slippery, grassy and occasionally muddy walking track with the occasional marker and matagouri bush and tons of bracken.
Straight from the car with no warm-up, my calf muscles strongly protested at the initial climb of around 360m. When we got to a flat spot after Pt 869 we met a lovely dad and kids who had camped the night. Kudos to the little ones for managing the climb.
The views were great and got better as we headed along the undulating ridge following the fence line. The Red Hills and the Richmond Ranges to the north and straight up the Leatham to the south. We could almost make out where we’d crossed the Severn Saddle last year.
We enjoyed a break in the sun at 10.40 am. Rich broke out one of today’s guest foods – self-dehydrated golden kiwi fruit, which was outstanding! Twenty minutes later we were on our way towards the high point at 1149m.
To Pt 1149 and Station Creek
The track was straightforward to follow, generally alongside the fence line with the occasional marker and/or pole. It was all a bit find-your-own-way as we approached pt 1149. Unfortunately, the wilding pines had really got a hold up there. We followed our noses and bashed our way through. At least it wasn’t pollen season. *Flashback to the hideous bash from the Leatham to the Severn Saddle this summer.
We continued along the ridge and at another high point, found the fence line down to Boulder Stream that camping Dad told us about earlier. Apparently, people come in this way as an alternative to the ridge. We decided we’d walk back that way.
As we continued, excellent views opened up of Station Creek to our left, which we’d be walking up shortly. We started to descend and reached a large rock monolith at the end of the ridge at 12.25 pm. From there it was down into a small patch of beech forest before emerging and sidling until we met Station Creek.
Station Creek to Wye Saddle
It was a warm autumn day and the sun was out in full force. We stopped for lunch mid-way up Station Creek at 1 pm. Recently, we’ve been living dangerously and have extended our lunchtime cracker range. Today’s offering was a Huntly and Palmers long, rosemary flatbread which was delicious. I’m sure you’ve had the ‘what vessel shall I transport my crackers in’ dilemma and after years of bringing the box, which usually gets stuffed somewhere and falls apart, Rich revolutionised our method by making an ultralight, ultracheap, interlocking ‘milk-bottle-ends’ cracker holder. Genius.
After lunch, the slow climb took us up to the low saddle. This part wasn’t marked, but it wasn’t difficult to follow the creek up with a number of crossings on handy stepping stones. A marker at the top indicated the way up the short gravelly/scree section to the Saddle at 1270m, which we reached at 2 pm.
Wye Saddle to Wye River
I don’t know why, but I wasn’t expecting the view from the saddle across the low peaks to the Wairau Valley and the Richmond Ranges beyond. It was lovely, but it felt odd because until now it felt like we were pretty remote, when actually we weren’t. We peered up the spur to our right. The summit of ‘Bounds’ was up there somewhere at 2044m. It would be amazing to camp at Station Creek and do a day mission for a look around up there, but I’d save that one for when my fitness was better than the fairly average current state of things.
Coming down off the saddle involved an adventurous bash and sidle through the thick overgrown vegetation with the odd hidden spear grass. There were some poles with large markers on which were visible to anyone higher than 5ft 2″. We crossed a small side gully which had a lose-your-leg hole to watch out for before meeting a spur and heading down into the bush. On the way down were some of the most impressive lichen-laden trees I’ve ever seen.
The track went down a spur and crossed a beautiful, rocky, mossy stream. From there along a sidle above the river, the beech forest changed and became mixed with manuka and broadleaf and seemed rather dark and barren. The highlight was plenty of beautiful mushrooms. At 3.25 pm we arrived at the first crossing of the Wye River.
Wye Route to Hidden Hut
We crossed the Wye River six times. The first and fifth crossings were either wet boots or boots off so we opted for boots off. Shortly before Hidden Hut, we came to a signpost for Parker Spur, but it wasn’t pointing up the spur with the marked track on the topo map. (The Parker Spur signage is at the bottom of the spur marked with the 800m contour. Same on the online topo map too.) Rich had followed the track on his GPS off a spur here years ago and felt vindicated that their unpleasant bush bash had been right according to the map at least, if not on the ground.
For some reason the last kilometre seemed to drag on forever, so we were delighted when we reached the large clearing on a river bend and Hidden Hut at 4.30 pm.
Five-bed Hidden Hut had an odd smell about it when we unlocked the door and entered the enclosed porch. Thinking nothing more of it, we settled in. It was a great hut, spotless and spacious, and with a sofa (fifth bed). We immediately went to the river for water and a wash and came back to make a hot soup. The temperature dropped quite considerably as it got dark. There was plenty of dry firewood in the porch, so we got a fire going.
We had several rounds of Yahtzee after dinner, accompanied by some delicious dark chocolate-covered macadamias. What a treat!
Day 2 – Hidden Hut to Station Creek
We woke from a ten-hour sleep, full of beans. Rich had been mulling over the state of his knee which has played up now and then for a while and made the call not to go up to Turkeys Nest Biv. Instead, we decided to take a slow wander out, tenting at Station Creek tonight.
The hut was still warm from last night, so we took our time over breakfast and spent a very leisurely morning at the hut – something we never do! Rich got to work at the river sawing and chopping up some of the dead branches for firewood. I organised the firewood pile to fit in Rich’s new load. I also inadvertently found the source of the strange whiff in the porch when I grabbed a handful of dead rat under a piece of card.
We did a final sweep of the hut, had a quick snack and left at midday. Time seemed to fly by on the journey back and we enjoyed it much more than yesterday. An hour after leaving the hut we’d done all the river crossings and were making our way up through the forest which didn’t seem nearly as dark and barren when the sun was higher in the sky.
Having crossed the beautiful mossy stream we climbed most of the way up the spur and had lunch just before the tree line at 2.20 pm. Half an hour later we were on our way again and were at the saddle by 3.30 pm.
Camping Wye Route
We weren’t in a hurry and spotted a couple of decent campsite options after about halfway down Station Creek from the saddle. At 4.20 pm we found a good option just before the start of the sidle and closer to the bush edge. We set up the tent, wondering if this would be the last overnight for Rich’s 25-year-old Macpac Minaret.
The sun had already gone behind the ridge when we set up camp and it was getting cold already. We donned all our layers and had an early dinner while it was still light. Dinner was an excellent home-dehy chili con carne with fresh parmesan shavings. Parmesan is the perfect tramping cheese because it’s tasty and it doesn’t melt. It is also pretty hard, and the saw attachment on your penknife makes a perfect grater.
We crawled into the tent at around 6 pm and played some Yahtzee. Even though I’d won yesterday’s battles Rich won the war. (We have an ongoing game where it’s the first to get to 10,000 points). He won the last one too… grrrr.
Day 3 – Station Creek to the Leatham
Station Creek to Boulder Stream
After another at least ten-hour sleep, we woke to a frost. The sky was bright and clear and we lay in our sleeping bags dreading having to get out of them. Rich poked his head outside to see when the sun would hit the tent, which he gauged would be soon enough. About three minutes later it did, so we stretched our stiff bodies and prepared to get up.
We were in no hurry again today and took a long breakfast in the weak morning sun. To keep warm we pulled some wilding pines.
Towards Boulder Stream
We left at 10.55 am through the bush to the monolith then up the long ridge. After a short sidle to avoid having to walk up to the 1100m contour, we met the fence on the spur at 11.30 am. We followed the fence line down the spur finding a faint track here and there. As there is no official track there are also no markers. When things became too bashy (or when I became too huffy) we climbed up and over the other side of the fence to find a better way.
The views from the spur down to Boulder Stream and across to Pinnacle (2120m) were excellent and we were pleased we’d come this way. We visited the Boulder Forks huts a couple of years ago. The historic hut (which has Ed Hillary’s name on the wall from a climbing expedition) and the newer hut sit next to each other.
We reached Boulder Stream at 12.30 pm, where there was a gravel cliff to negotiate and a gully to our left. Bashing along to the right, we found a spot where we could take our packs off and slide down to the river flats.
After a boots-off crossing, we made our way downstream and headed across to the cliffs on the true left to find a way up to the 4WD track. After a bash around in the vegetation, willow trees and a bog, we scrambled our way up a more solid section of the cliff.
Boulder Stream to the Car
We popped out on the 4WD track along Boulder Stream at 1 pm and a great lunch spot presented itself in a sunny spot overlooking the river. We collected the rubbish which had been left there and left forty minutes later.
The walk down the 4WD track was pleasant enough and we didn’t meet any traffic. At 2.20 pm we reached the Leatham and were blown away by how different things looked from a couple of years ago. The road has been swallowed by the river immediately after the Boulder Stream confluence. You’d need a decent 4WD vehicle to get up to Caves Hut.
We were back at the car at 2.35 pm. With the walk back along the 4WD track I’m not sure if the route down the fence line saved us any time, but it was a nice detour. We stopped at the apple tree on the way back and grabbed a bag of apples.
We’d discussed the stream crossing on the road that caused us the excitement on the way in and wondered whether we’d actually get back up it. To avoid that dilemma we parked just before the river and spent over half an hour carrying large river rocks across to plug the gap in the track and make a solid ramp. I wish I’d taken before and after pics!
We really enjoyed the few days on the Wye Route and into Hidden Hut. Maybe next time we’ll bag Turkeys Nest biv!
Click the links below for some other walks in Tasman and Marlborough:
- Saxton, Severn, Leatham Molesworth loop – 4 nights, 5 days
- Lake Alexander Route – overnight
- Black Birch and Blairich loop – overnight
- Paske Hut (Rainbow Rd) – overnight
- Mt Princess (Rainbow Rd) – half day
- Bull Paddock Creek hut (Rainbow Rd) – overnight
- Parachute Rocks, St Arnaud Range – half day
- Robert Ridge to Angelus hut – day return
- Beebys Knob – day walk
- Gordons Knob – day walk