South Westland Double
The weather was absolutely perfect as we sat in Hokitika watching a few well known hunters give it their all in the annual Hokitika wood chopping competition, however this was supposed to change. As we discussed plans with a local he told us if we didn’t get into the hills today we wouldn’t be going as the creeks can be notorious on the walk in, a rushed packing job saw us heading south before stretching the legs and racing up a well known South Westland valley. We hadn’t made it far when the heavens opened drenching us from head to toe, this seems to be a reoccurring event in recent times. Onwards we trekked negotiating the first few crossings, however inside Tim and I both knew that we were pushing our luck as the worst was still to come, darkness was closing in and river levels were rising quickly. I think it’s fair to say we were relieved to make the hut around midnight after a few hair raising river crossings I would not like to repeat.
Day one: It was a surreal feeling waking to the beautiful South Westland after a long night, with 5 days to explore there was no real hurry to hit the hills we spent time around the hut sorting wet gear and watching heavy rain showers come and go. The day wore on and we managed to get out for a few hours, Thar were spotted scattered around the valley a majority nannies and young, with the odd bull up high in inaccessible areas, typical of Thar they began to move at around 4pm and by 6pm were generally down a lot lower in feed country, this meant if we decided to go after an animal morning or late afternoon was going to make the approach a lot easier, easier on the lungs anyway.
Day 2: An early start saw us crossing the dew covered river flats, which clearly outlined the animal tracks from the night before. It wasn’t long before we sat down and glassed a loan bull across the main river while behind us a number of nannies and young animals were lingering around on a near vertical rock face. Glassing from the river didn’t last long as the sand flies ran rampant and we moved off. The plan was to follow a side creek, before hitting the leading spur and following this to the tops. Sneaking up the chosen creek we came around the corner to see a chamois doe and kid departing at a rate of knots. Our chosen spur proved slow going with thick bush and large boulders in the end we decided to pull pin and spend the remaining avo back in the lower country. Now back in the river Tim and I were discussing plans when a 6 point velvety stag walked out only 10m away. He wasn’t stupid and quickly made tracks pausing briefly in the river bed before being swallowed up by thick scrub. Only 100m from here we rounded the bend and there standing on a large boulder was a neat looking Chamois buck. Tim settled in and let strip, dropping him in his tracks. Now we had to work out how to get up on the boulder which was around 3m high and not easy, after some trial an error we found a way up and were greeted by a very tidy 9inch Chamois buck, they truly are crafty little buggers the places they can reach are quite extraordinary.
Day 3: Breakfast consisting of fried cheese and salami wraps went down a treat, heading off in different directions neither Tim nor I had any success for the morning although we both saw a number of Thar. The avo was much the same although again the rain was back and once again bucketing down. Sneaking quietly along the river edge I spotted a lone Chamois buck up ahead, he was across the river which was raging so was left alone feeding which allowed me to snap a few photos. It was only half an hour later when another velvety took off leaving nothing but the distinctive stench of stag.
Day 4: As I hit the hills for the fourth day I decided to hunt one of the creeks close to the hut, I worked my way up the boulder filled creek going was slow but based upon the map I figured if all went well I would be able to reach the tops where we had glassed a lone chamois buck and a number of Thar earlier in the trip including several bulls. As I climbed the creek chamois sign was abundant and hopes were high. Nearing the tops I was ducking under a massive overhanging boulder when movement to my right caught my eye. It was a mature scrub bull feeding on a slip, at 120 yards the 308 roared stopping the bull in his tracks. There lay my best bull to date, a mature animal of around 8 years with horns of 12 inches. He had some real character with broomed off tips, no ridges and a very wide spread. Shooting this bull was by far the highlight of the trip for me. The same day Tim hunted an infamous part of the valley and tipped up a nanny Thar so all in all a good day on the hill.
Day 5: How time flies when your having fun. We were both due back at work the following day so with heavy packs and big grins we strolled on back to the truck and made the journey back to civilisation. It was a mint trip into some of the most spectacular country in New Zealand and to top it off we had both tipped a representative animals, seeing over 100 Thar, half a dozen Chamois and a couple of Deer.