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In a previous post, I described the first part of a trip we made up to Fenella Hut in the Kahurangi National Park – a trip complete with a February snowfall. Here’s the long promised, second part of that trip – a two-day walk out along the Lockett Range, an unmarked route from Fenella out to the Cobb Dam via Lake Sylvester that provides an alternative to going back down the main valley track.

Fenella to Ruby Lake

We had had two relatively easy days at Fenella so were feeling ready for a full day. Despite this, the initial climb from Fenella north up onto Lockett Range is direct enough for you to know how much a full pack slows the rate of progres – 250 m of unremitting climb. But the marvellous views from the ridge crest made the sweat worth while – west to Xenicus Peak, Mt Gibbs and Lake Cobb, south to Mt Prospect on the other side of the valley, east across to Mt Snowdon in the head of the Waingaro River, and southeast along the Lockett Range itself with its sequence of unnamed peaks, each one higher than the last, and culminating in Mt Benson (below).

Southeast along the Lockett Range

Looking southeast along the Lockett Range – unnamed peaks of 1390 m (middle) and 1503 m (middle-left) culminating with Mt Benson 1660 m (left distance).

After a quick breather we set out along the range, the route generally clear enough, with the odd cairn and a moderately worn path in places. Elsewhere, particularly where the rough going would have made a path most useful, the way ahead was much less clear. A pronounced step on the range-crest just after dropping down from the point 1390 was the most challenging, but eventually we found the odd cairn marking a half-worn route scrambling along on its southern side.

From there we made our way easily along to the point 1503 from where the ridge drops down to a steep sidle beneath a spectacular limestone gendarme. The other half of the partnership was particularly unimpressed by the terrain and the nature of the ‘track’ here, but eventually we reached the saddle on the far side. Here, the reward for our previous efforts was the prospect of a 250 m climb up scree and then through boulder-fields to reach the top of Mt Benson – afternoon tea was a slightly subdued affair, despite a visit from a questing falcon working the treeline.

Lockett Range sidle

The start of the infamous Lockett Range sidle, beyond which lies the scree climb up onto Mt Benson.

However, once underway we made steady upward progress sidling below the highest points and working along the range until we were looking down through the gathering cloud at Ruby Lake, our goal for the night. The 360 m drop down to our planned campsite seemed to go on for ever, but eventually our little Xped was snugly pitched in the mountain beech beside the lake, and the gas-cooker was ‘chirring’ away. Dinner slipped down very easily!

Back down into the Cobb

The next morning saw spectacular light with valley cloud rising as it was warmed by the sun. After a dawdling start with a leisurely breakfast and time for photos, we shouldered packs again and headed back up to the range crest, this time heading for a low saddle only about 200 m above the lake. Part way up the slope, walking through dense snow-grass and shrubs we spied a beautiful large speckled skink (Oligosoma infrapunctatum) sunning himself in the open, a gorgeous rich brown colour with strong markings. Unfortunately he wasn’t into photo opportunities and scuttled for cover before the camera was even pointed anywhere near him!

Once on the range crest we headed south, sidling below a low knob to the next saddle, before heading over the edge and down into the bush dropping back down to the Cobb, where we intended to camp for the night before heading out to our car early in the morning for our trip back to Nelson. The going was mostly very easy, with only the odd patch of windthrow to contend with, although again, not every member of the party appreciated the absence of a ‘track’. Coming to the bottom I spied a large chestnut brown shape on the grassy flats – a very well-conditioned young stag feeding on the introduced grasses. With no telephoto lens I was a bit limited, although the sharpness of the Olympus 45 made for a reasonable photo of a now-alert deer.

South Island robin

Feed-me, feed-me!

Our last night’s camp by the river was idyllic – a little valley fog prevented any star photos, and I dozed off vowing to check during the night to see if it had cleared. I woke to bright sun, having slept the whole night through. Shaking the frost off the tent, we quickly packed and headed for the road, a trip interrupted only by the cheekiest food-begging robin I have ever encountered – so much so that I took his full frame portrait with a standard lens! Further photos from this trip can be found here.