Manakau Mission

Great evening views from high up on Manakau
Four weeks out from Godzone, Chris, Rhys, Matt and I decided a proper mountain adventure was exactly what we needed to make sure we were fully prepared for this year's Godzone. Seeing as Godzone is based in Kaikoura, that seemed like a sensible place to plan a mission.

Unfortunately we were all at work and Chris had a little spare time to sit down and ponder a map - this normally results in bad consequences. Sure enough, he soon had us all convinced to embarking on an ambitious two day trip, which involved an ascent of Manakau (2600m) the highest peak in the Seaward Kaikoura Mountains.

Matt, Chris and I (being Christchurch based) piled three bikes and a whole heap of gear in the car on Friday night and headed up towards Mt Lyford. Lara was busy heading the other way to spend the weekend training down in Geraldine with her team mates from "Chimpanzeebars". Somehow we couldn't find a map, so in the dark made a night time car nav blunder that cost us half an hour! Not a positive start.

Finally we found the intended carpark at Kahutara Stream. At about midnight Rhys pulled up - having missed the turnoff he too had driven about half an hour more than needed, some navigators we all were! After a good sleep the alarms rang out at 7 and we were up and off on our bikes. The road is a good quality 4WD track which winds up over 1000m to Blind Saddle. The clouds cleared and it was a beautiful morning with the bush clad steep sided peaks close around. The hills are covered in scrub including lots of wild spaniard, and travel in many of them looked tricky.

Above the cloud on Blind Saddle

Biking up to Blind Saddle
After a hot and humid climb we descended down the other side of Blind Saddle into the amazing Clarence Valley. I was loving the feeling of being here early morning, sometimes a Friday escape is really worthwhile. We then biked up Valley, following the Clarence River. The water was running low in the river and the temperature soared. After a quick stream soak which Matt strangely declined we headed up the next hill to the top of Limestone Hill, another 1000m climb. This turned into a bike push and we all felt a bit hot and pooped as we neared the summit.


The road winding down into the Clarence River

On top Matt was definitely feeling the effects of the heat. My sandwiches went down well, and so did a yummy boiled egg. I must remember to take boiled eggs on adventures more often - they really are delicious.

I knew to get to the base of Manakau we had to climb over two saddles, then descend to Dubious Bivouac. From there we could access the ridge that Chris thought looked 'fairly climbable'. From our lunch spot we looked across the two saddles and on to the flanks of Manakau itself. We left our bikes in a neat pile on the summit and headed down grassy tussock slopes to crest the saddles one after the other. By this stage we had all run out of water, so the creek at Dubious Biv was to provide the next water stop. We saw several chamoix along the way.




By the time we reached Dubious (a tiny wee 2 man hut) it was 5pm and we all dived in the Dubious stream for a swim. Mat was feeling decidedly bad from heat and dehydration. We now had a 1800m climb directly up the ridge to Manakau. As we climbed the sun set and the hills turned pink. The ridge became more difficult, with some steep scrambling involved. Mat was feeling really bad at that point, so he made the good call to head back to the hut.

Finally on the ridge up Manakau

Chris enjoying the climb
All feeling it was time for a rest!

We climbed on up through a wee bluff section just as the sun went down. Rhys and I were a bit concerned about descending this in the dark, but Chris spotted a better descent route directly down the face with a sidle back on to the ridge. We had a nasty down climb which Chris needed to lend a shoulder to help me reach the ground and then we were on easier ground  again. We climbed up and up and I was feeling pretty knackered after about 4500m climbing all day!
My trusty 'Source Bladder'

Some rock scrambling in the sinking sun

It was quite surreal to reach the top just as it got really dark and look down on the twinkling lights of Kaikoura. My source bladder was great because I was still really thirsty from such a hot day. The wind was blowing, so we didn't muck around. We dropped down some steep scree slopes avoiding some bluffs. After what felt like an age of awkward sidling we found ouselves on a magnificent scree which we could run down. Rhys's goal for the trip was to bomb down some scree in the dark - he certainly managed that!
Black on top - the lights you can see are Kaikoura!

The ridge was quite difficult to get down in the dark, so we spent some time scouting to find our original route. We were all feeling hot and tired after the 3 hour descent, when we finally arrived back at Dubious Biv at about midnight. We had another quick swim to clean off in the river as the night was so mild, then cooked up a wee feast in the hut. Mat was feeling cross when we got back, having been asleep and still not feeling great, so he mooched off for a midnight swim and came back in a better frame of mind.

Morning dawned hot and clear again. We needed to get going reasonably early, as we had about an 8 hour trip out still and we didn't want to get back to Christchurch too late. The day was heating up already as we scrambled through bush directly after leaving the hut, and then climbed the slopes up and down and up again back to Limestone Hill.

Dubious Biv by morning
Walking back out over two saddles
Our bikes greeted us, and a tricky downhill which ripped Mat's tire apart. A quick toilet paper and superglue fix seemed to hold for the day! Back down by the river we basked in the water and Chris built a damn to deepen our bathing pool. Mat was feeling better and diving into the water at every opportunity. We cooked up a two minute noodle feast for lunch, and then rode the 20 km back to the base of Blind Saddle. There are some great Doc huts in the valley which would be cool to stay in, I like the idea of a trip back to this area. But we had to get back to town, so we climbed up the hot road finally making Blind Saddle at about 4pm.

Chris in stream
Heading down into the cloud
As we whizzed down the other side back into the Waiou Valley the easterly mist came rolling in and we had to put jackets on. A quick descent and we were back at the cars. We parted ways with Rhys, and headed back to town. We'd had a very tough weekend, but a great adventure and it was pretty cool thinking this amazing weekend was just a "training" trip for an even greater adventure just around the corner...

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