By Dave Mitchell
As far as river valleys go the Hopkins must be one of the best for all sorts of reasons, some solid and some liquid, but mostly because it’s always a great ride amongst awe inspiring mountains, waterfalls and glaciers.
Ditte and I swatted the opportunist sandflies and mounted our bikes as the sun popped up like toast above the Ben Ohau mountain range. It had nowhere to hide all day with barely a wisp of cloud floating overhead. We rode from our Temple Campsite past Glenlyon Station sheltered by an old stand of pine trees and an ever-expanding self-seeding forest to the Temple Lodge. A large DOC map, intentions book and gate marked the true start of our adventure. This is where the Dobson and Hopkins rivers meet amongst a massive 3km wide riverbed.
The Hopkins track follows the true right of the valley to Monument hut. It’s an old farm 4WD track that has gradually moved up the river terraces as the Hopkins River nibbles slowly away at the grassy bank. Directly opposite Monument hut we crossed the shallow braided Huxley River onto a well-defined two track that leads through a sea of river stones, dotted with tussock and lichens. The main flow of the Hopkins was divided in two, with late snowmelt running fast and cold. At just above knee deep it made for an invigorating crossing on the way to Red Hut.
DOC have done a great restoration job, painting it bright red and installing new beds and a Pioneer stove. From the hut we picked up a smooth 4WD track that headed up the valley below Mt Glenmary to the Dasler Pinnacles. Spring flowers had finally made their appearance beaming triumphantly from the meadows they call home. Within a couple of kilometres our track disappeared and we headed around the corner of the valley and into riverbed. Opposite us the Moore Glacier hung precariously from Mt Jackson at the head of the Elcho Stream. This is the Main Divide of the Southern Alps and slowly but surely the valley is heading to meet it. We crossed and re-crossed the upper Hopkins on our way to Dodger Stream flat. A large expanse of river terrace grazed by the local high country station.
We bounced across the bouldery bed of Dodger Stream and climbed to the bush edge. The valley narrowed considerably from there, with the Richardson Glacier hovering amongst a string of 2500-meter peaks. Surrounded by snow and glaciers we descend the smooth trail and enjoyed a fast ride back to the next set of river flats. At river level we forded a small stream to find the NZFS built four-bunk hut they call Dodger. It’s hiding in the bush well above the river on an idyllic river terrace. A new coat of paint had enveloped its flat tin, a shiny new Pioneer stove has replaced the open fire place and insect screens cover the new aluminum windows recently installed.
We unpacked the food, pot, burner and sleeping bag before we headed further up the valley to explore. A vague stock track took us up to the end of valley and the start of a tight gorge. Beyond it Erceg Hut, Richardson Rock Biv and the Richardson Glacier’s moraine lake reside. With stomachs rumbling and the sun ducking behind the Southern Alps we headed home. For a while Dodger Hut remained warm in the sun and we watched as the shadows descended silently across the mountains and valleys leaving just the high peaks of the Southern Alps in a lipstick sunset. Plates of steaming pasta and mugs of hot tea appeared from nowhere and disappeared just as fast. Only the soft sound of the fire crackling and distant river drifted into our candle lit abode. The stars were out in style that night with no moon to take away their shine as we drifted off to sleep.
The next day the sun invaded the valley early as we breakfasted, packed and made lunch for the trip out. We climbed yesterdays downhill and dropped to the swing bridge that spans the Hopkins River from the Dodger terrace. As an alternative route back we crossed the bridge and rode a well-used stock track that wanders over the adjacent tussock flats. This eventually climbed into the Beech forest to Cullers Hut. We checked out the hut and the track up the Elcho Valley, but were soon back on the bikes peddling across the shingle bed of Elcho Stream to the Alpine Club’s Elcho Hut.
Elcho Hut exhibits lots of character, new paint and climbing memorabilia inside and out, with views to climb into. Its front lawn was a great place to snack before we headed over the main flow of the Hopkins back to the main 4WD track just below the Dazzler Pinnacles. A slight tail wind eased us along to Red Hut and back across the Hopkins to the Monument Hut. The warmth of day had raise the river temperature to just above freezing. Long shadows seemingly followed our every move, distorted by the moving terrain on the final few kilometres back to camp and our previous days start point. Our sunbathing solar showers was soon hung from an appropriate tree and delivered the best shower ever two tired and dusty mountain bikers.
Maps: Tasman H37, Twizel H38
Distance: 44kms return
Camping: DOC Temple Campsite.
Access: From SH8 South of Twizel head up the Lake Ohau Road past the lake to Temple Campsite or the end of the gravel road.
Notes: Be aware of nesting birds in the riverbeds from August to December, don’t run over their eggs. Extreme weather can roll into these high mountains any time of year so go prepared. Treat all the river crossings with great respect. There is an excellent network of huts all in good nick.
Your overnight MTB adventure list.
After the getting fit bit, the planning and maps bit, its time to pack the kit bit and book the weather.
The most important thing is weight, the less the better so you can enjoy all that great technical single track and arrive at your destination without a sore butt. The good news is you don’t have to compromise comfort or safety to achieve this.
- A lightweight pack of 20-25 litres with a waist harness should do the trick. Just remember if the pack is too long it will push your helmet over your eyes on those steep and gnarly downhills.
- The smallest sleeping bag you can find that packs down well.
- A pot for two or three bods and fit into it your tiny gas burner and gas canister padded out with spare socks to stop everything from rattling.
- A Waterproof jacket is a must along with a down jacket for the winter months, the ones that pack down tiny. Lightweight weatherproof leggings are also a good addition
- Extra clothing: A long sleeve skin layer for in the hut, long johns, hat and gloves.
- Take: Candle, torch, matches, high-energy food eg: pasta, rice, tuna salami, cheese, pita bread, miniature steam puddings yummy, dried fruit & nuts, muesli bars and cake, yeh.
- Tools: pump, tube, puncture repair kit, lube, tyre levers, chain breaker & spare chain joining link, multitool and a sharp knife.