21 participants assembled at Belgrove for some transfers of people and gear between the five 4WD vehicles. Everyone very prompt and optimistic (excellent weather forecast) and after introductions we were away by 8:45am in a convoy on the St Arnaud road. At the Rainbow Road turnoff, Mike picked up Rebecca who had come through from Murchison. Pat continued down to the station driveway and got the gate key that had been pre-arranged with Nelson Honey/Rainbow Station. The current procedure is very efficient and the charge of $20 per vehicle had been prepaid by internet banking. We regrouped at the skifield turnoff and then proceeded through 6-Mile ford (bouldery but no problems) and up the rise to the locked gate followed by 4km of rough road to the Lees Creek carpark.

And then we were packed up and away to the swing bridge. Oops, a small group managed to miss the track down from the road. Not a promising start for such a large group! Spectacular site with a brilliant morning and the Wairau River an impressive flurry of blue and white as it roared through the cleft 30m below. Eventually we were all across and moving in two broad groups. Sooner than expected, we reached the swing bridge across Lees Creek and began walking up the main track on the true left bank. The track was in generally good condition and the rises up over spurs were not lengthy.

Crossing the Wairau River swing bridgeCrossing the Wairau River swing bridge

As morning became afternoon, the party became very spread out. Everyone admired the creek running clear through beach forest interspersed with grass flats all glowing in the sunshine.

Rob enjoying the beautiful view of the Lees CreekRob enjoying the beautiful view of the Lees Creek

The only significant issue was a 30m section against a bluff where the track has been washed away. This necessitated some taking to the river for some wading (river in modest flow so only knee deep) or doing a sidle on the steep bluff assisted by grabbing at a seedling bush. The tussock flat sections became larger and eventually, after a final climb in forest with many boulders, we reached the little 4-bunk hut at the start of a large tussock flat. Travel times 4-6 hours (incl lunch) and distance by GPS 11.3km.

View from our campsitejpgView from the campsite

It was decided not to proceed further up-valley so everyone pitched their tents in the area around the hut which was only used for cooking. It was mild with no wind, so Debbie led an instructive game of Monopoly Deal outside and then it was early to bed.

Social nightcap in the hut by the warm fireSocial nightcap in the hut by the warm fire

Sunday morning dawned even more brilliant and clear with a -6 degree frost.

Frosty morning campsiteFrosty morning campsite

A large keen group departed after breakfast for a half-day trip to explore up-valley in the true L-branch. The faster group didn’t follow Pat’s instructions clearly about following the river and soon found themselves climbing over and under windfall halfway up the hillside. Good to stay high, right! They returned to the river and after a walk in the now dry river bed, over and around large boulders for a bit of morning gym workout, they caught up with the slower group, much to their surprise and amusement. The faster group got to the forks at 1300m to view a nice little campsite in the remnant forest. The slower group enjoyed the sunshine next to the spectacularly long waterfall. Others remained around the hut enjoying the brilliant sun and surroundings.

Veronica doing her morning gym workoutVeronica doing her morning gym workout between the boulders

Packing up and away times varied depending on individual fitness and speed with the aim for all to be back at the carpark by 5pm latest. It was a very enjoyable walk back down valley with the washout being the only obstacle. Several small groups tried the sidle and all were led astray by a goat track that took them way too high and into even more precipitous bluffs. Backtracking was required and then the ignominious wade after a wasted 30 min. The trip leader was very relieved when back-marker Mike arrived at the car-park and the final head count was 21. And so travel down valley and back to Nelson in the exact reverse of the day before.

Debbie Veronica and Annette enjoying the walk in the stunning valleyDebbie Veronica and Annette enjoying the walk in the stunning valley

A great team effort by this large party aided by the magnificent weather. Everyone agreed that Lees Creek is a gem that deserves revisiting for more exploration including trips into the upper basins in the Raglan Range and over into the Branch or Misery catchments.

Participants: Pat (Leader & scribe), Mike, Jo, Andrew, Tim, Cath (+ Clyde 9yr), Annette, David, Debbie, Era, Kathy, Stephen, Nina, Veronica, Penny, Era, Yumi. Visitors: Rebecca, Rob, Sam, Tessa.

Link to Google Photos album:  https://photos.app.goo.gl/BBGqF3mMNktS6Hia8