The Wharfedale track is a biking and hiking route starting just outside Oxford, about 45 minutes from Christchurch. It’s a fairly smooth track (hence the biking), and leads to an 8 bunk hut, Wharfedale Hut.
This week I had a couple of days off to myself, so I decided to head out and do my first solo overnight tramp. I’m not sure why I’ve never been on an overnight hiking trip by myself before, but it seemed like a good way to start off my thirties, so off I went.
The Wharfedale track starts at View Hill carpark, but the first kilometre or so is through farmland, so I decided to start at Coopers Creek carpark. This meant adding about 7 km onto the first day, by walking along the Ryde Falls and Link tracks, to meet the Wharfedale at the 1.5km mark.
So I’d walk 20 km on day one, but only 11 km on day two, when I’d be returning to Coopers Creek over Mt Oxford. I thought I’d appreciate the shorter distance on a day with a mountain to climb.
The walk along the Ryde Falls and Link tracks was pretty forest ambling, mercifully shaded on a hot day. This first section only took me an hour and 10 minutes, not the 2 hours 30 minutes the sign claimed.
When I arrived at this sign at the junction with the Wharfedale track I felt pretty cocky. I hadn’t started the walk until 3.15 pm, so I was glad to be going faster than anticipated. Maybe I’d be at the hut by 7 pm?
The Wharfedale track is also very pretty, if not spectacular. There aren’t any grand sweeping vistas, but it’s lovely and peaceful winding through the forest with just birdsong and gurgling streams to hear. It’s also very smooth underfoot, and doesn’t have much elevation to gain. Easy peasy, right?
By the time I’d reached the high point at Wharfedale Saddle though, I was beginning to tire. 20 kilometres is actually quite far, and the sections on the Wharfedale track itself were taking me exactly as long as DOC estimated. Bummer.
It’s still another hour and a half from the saddle to the hut, and it felt like it. Perhaps such monotonous (lovely, but unchanging) scenery wasn’t the best choice for a solo hike. But I eventually made it, after nearly five hours of quiet solo plodding through the woods. I was at the end of my water, and nearly at the end of my energy.
Not at the end of daylight though, as we’re so close to the summer solstice now here. I had a good hour and a half before dark to cook my dinner, have a bit of a chat with the one other person at the hut, and try reading my book outside, before giving up due to sandfly irritation. Sandflies are a constant companion to summer hiking in New Zealand, and they seem to especially love biting me.
Soon it was time to turn in, and though I was a little sad not to get a night in the wild completely by myself, I was sort of glad of company when the crazy animal noises started up not long after dark. It sounded like a large animal at first tried to get in the door, then gave up and began snoring loudly on the porch.
I lay still trying to decided if it was a wild pig, or just something small that had grown in my imagination. There was no way to look out without opening the door, so I had to wait until it went away for my midnight pee. In the meantime other crazy animal noises started up, mostly from the surrounding forest, but there were definitely a few coming from the top bunk too. Maybe I should add earplugs to my tramping packlist.
In the morning my hutmate took off about 8.30, and I took advantage of having the place to myself to have a dip in the creek below the hut. There’s only a small pool that’s deep enough to get in, so it’s more of a plunge than a swim. But the water was pretty fresh so a brief dip was just fine.
By 9.30 I was all cooled off and ready to start walking again. As I was packing up a trail runner arrived at the hut. From the hut logbook it looks like this hut is a popular point to run out and back to. It must be nice running terrain on the Wharfedale track because it’s so even underfoot.
I wasn’t going back the nice flat way though. I’d decided to return via the summit of Mount Oxford (1364m). It was pretty hot going, climbing up the initial 400 metres or so of ascent. It starts out steep straight from the hut, and stays quite intense until you reach the ridgeline, initially at about 950m.
By the time I reached the junction of the two Mt Oxford tracks, at 1130m, I’d had two snack breaks and half of the three litres of water I was carrying. The DOC signs said this section should have taken 1 hour 30 minutes coming uphill, but it took me 2 hours 10 minutes. In my defence it was very hot, and I had very tempting snacks (cheese and crackers ftw).
Fortunately, by the time I popped out above the treeline, cloud had swept over and there was a nice chill breeze. The summit of Mt Oxford looks a bit like a big hill from this angle, which I suppose it sort of is.
Unfortunately, what goes up must come down, so there was some descending to do. I find downhill walking pretty heavy on my knees, so slow going and not too much fun. It’s a nice enough walk down, initially down a fairly steep ridge above the treeline, and then down a gentler gradient in the forest. At the bottom there’s a little walk through some paddocks full of picturesque beehives, before crossing Coopers Creek on a bridge to get back to the carpark.
All in all it’s a pretty manageable walk, though the distance on the first day might wear your feet down a bit, and there’s a bit of steep climbing to get up Mt Oxford. The real challenge is trying to get back into your car without letting the resident swarm of sandflies in with you.
This challenge I failed miserably at.
Coopers Creek to Wharfedale Hut loop Vital Info
Start/Finish: Coopers Creek car park (Mt Oxford carpark)
Length: 31 km