Having just graduated to the role of new parents earlier in the year, we were really keen to find a track we could take a baby on for a few days to get back into multi-day hikes once the weather warmed up. Knowing we would be based in Hanmer Springs over the New Year's break, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to do some exploring a little further north than we normally get from our home in Christchurch. The Arthur Range and Tablelands circuit just south of Motueka ticked all the boxes for us and although you could spend much longer exploring the various tracks and huts in the region, we settled on a two night, three day adventure taking us from the Flora car park to Salisbury Lodge and over the ridge to Mt Arthur Hut and out again. There was a bad weather bail out option at the top of Gordon's Pyramid that gave us some flexibility around the little guy (which we ended up using but more on that later).
This is honestly a great trip for beginners as well as the more experienced of you with some really good hut options and a mix of forest and open tussock travel. One of the only real challenges we found after making the drive up from Hanmer in the morning, was the access road to Flora car park which is steep, very rutted and would be difficult to negotiate in a 2WD. Don't take your camper van up there! The car park itself is big but we arrived to find it almost at capacity already. The Mount Arthur day walk is hugely popular so it may pay to arrive early in the morning if you want to guarantee parking during busy holiday periods. There is a toilet and a shelter at the beginning of what starts out as a 4WD track and continues as such all the way to the Gridiron Rock Shelters. For those wanting to climb Mt Arthur directly, follow this track to Flora Saddle and turn off to your left up the Mt Arthur Track. Mt Arthur Hut is situated at around 1300m (about a 90 min walk) and the top of the mountain is another 5km and will take you 2-3 more hours to summit. Those who choose to complete the loop will descend from the summit to the second fork in the track (almost back at Mt Arthur Hut) and instead turn north to drop down to Flora Hut before heading back to the car park.
We didn't stop at Flora Hut, just a quick look in to see what the accommodation was like (pretty neat and cosy) before we continued on up Flora Stream. DOC put the time to Upper Gridiron Shelter and Hut as 1 hour 30 mins. We were a bit quicker even with heavy packs so these are very achievable times. The Shelter is an impressive overhang with a small platform and two mattresses if you're game to sleep out in the open. While it was definitely a novelty, I don't know that you'd have an amazing sleep here so perhaps the Upper Gridiron Hut (3 bunks) might be a better option if you don't want to walk as far as Salisbury Lodge. We had our first break here, I was carrying the baby as well as some of our gear for the first time and it was a lot more weight than I'm used to! The stream here would be a great spot for a swim on a warmer day but we we gave it a miss in the milder weather and crossed the swing bridge instead.
From here the 4WD drive track finally narrows to a single walking track but is no less easy on the legs. We made good time to the Growler Rock Shelter which would be alright to sleep at in an emergency but not nearly as comfortable as an actual hut. It made a great spot for afternoon tea but as the temperature was beginning to drop we got going rather quickly for the final march onto Salisbury Lodge. As you approach the lodge the track finally leaves the shelter of the forest and makes its way out into the open tussock of a large plateau. You pass the site of the old Salisbury Lodge a few minutes before the current version can be spotted through the trees.
Salisbury Lodge is a serviced 22 bunk hut with some rather fancy (as far as long drops go) toilets, lots of firewood and a generous communal area. The views from the kitchen aren't bad at all and we reluctantly retired to the back deck to prepare dinner as we were camping out for the night. Thankfully for us we found a couple of decent spots to pitch our tents at the back of the hut but there aren't too many more options to do so comfortably in the immediate vicinity. We had no idea how the 8 month old would handle sleeping outside of his cot with us so we felt it would be more considerate not to be in the hut depending on how he went for the night. To cut a long night I mean story short we were glad we made that call. The temperature definitely drops overnight even in summer as the hut itself is at 1130m so we had brought a pretty serious insulation set up for the baby. There were so many things we learnt taking him tramping that it deserves its own post but rest assured he was warm and comfortable the entire trip!
After getting a limited amount of shut eye it was time to de-camp and head into the first climb of the whole trip up Gordon's Pyramid. We had to retrace our steps a few hundred metres (you can take the Potholes track for a trip past Sphinx Valley Cave instead if you wish) before joining up with the clearly signposted Gordon's Pyramid Route. This is an easy to follow track with a short amount of scrambling as you make your way up through the forest to the open ridge line. I was still adjusting to carrying a significant load so it was a slow and steady climb for almost 2 hours up to 1489m whilst being buffeted by some pretty strong winds. Although it was a beautiful clear day, traversing the rest of the ridge with gusts that were nearly knocking us over didn't seem like the best idea with the baby. Once we reached the summit of Gordon's we immediately dropped off the tops to the welcome peace of the north side. This was our bail out option and would take us down off the tops past the old Cloustons Mine before rejoining Flora Stream and the way we had come in.
After settling in for lunch and a breather out of the wind, we were joined by a guide and his client running the Mt Arthur, Salisbury Lodge, Flora Hut circuit for the day (I know, goals right?!). If this sounds like something you'd be interested in, check out Trail Explorers, they're a Nelson based company running private trips in the area and look like a great way to experience some of these tracks. From here we dropped quickly down a sharp incline to the bush line where the opening to the old mine is a short 2 minute detour from the main track. I'm going to be honest, the mine wasn't that exciting for me personally but the well cut track that descends at a very gentle gradient back to the valley courtesy of said miners was something I could get enthusiastic about. This 5km section took us 1 hour 20 mins before we were deposited back out onto the relative highway of the Salisbury-Flora Track. Having a rather long 4 hour drive back to Hanmer Springs we decided to make our way as far as Flora Hut again and stay the night before finishing the last small stretch to the car and driving back in the morning.
This ended up being a great option as we found the hut empty when we arrived and made use of the picnic tables out in the sun to deal to the rest of our food supplies. The little stream just down from the hut and the relative ease of access from the road end makes this a fantastic place to bring kids and families. There is a lot of space for tenting as well as the 12 bunks in the huts which several groups made use of later in the evening. Just a word of warning to those heading into the area, be very wary of the innocent looking Weka, they're crafty and totally unafraid of you. My husband lost part of his bagel right from his hand following a ninja-like maneuver from one of the audacious little buggers.
We made our way back to the car the following morning and passed around 25 people all heading up Mt Arthur. The car park was still full and luckily we only had to pass two other vehicles on the way back down the narrow access road. A few body confident festival goers on the way out to the highway made the drive out rather interesting but all in all it was a very successful first outing with the little guy.
Flora car park to Salisbury Lodge - 3hrs 40mins
Salisbury Lodge/Gordon's Pyramid/Cloustons Mine to Flora Hut - 5hrs
Flora Hut to Flora car park - 30 mins
Navigation - Very Easy
Fitness - Moderate (if you haven't carried a big pack uphill too often the Gordon's Pyramid climb is tough)
Bonus Points - If you're a keen mountain biker (or just fancy yourself as one) you can ride from Flora Saddle to Barron Flat
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