Our intention for New Year 2017 was to do a 4-day tramp in the upper Rangitata area, however the unsettled weather meant that only two fine days were available. This was just enough to get in an overnight trip to Manuka Hut in the Ashburton Lakes area, a region I hadn’t visited for many years. It was a chance to bag a new hut, a new SOTA summit, check out an area rich in other summits easy and hard, and to try carrying my SOTA gear with an overnight pack for the first time.

There was a strong northwest wind blowing, but clear skies above us, as we drove in along the 4WD track to the Lake Emily carpark and set off on foot.

At the start of the walk: Lake Emily, Emily Hill (summit at left) and Mt Taylor behind, beneath the cloud
At the start of the walk: Lake Emily and Emily Hill, with the Mt Somers Range behind, Mt Taylor beneath the cloud

The track is easy, following vehicle tracks for most of the way, except for a short climb over into the Stour River valley.

Short descent into the Stour valley, Emily Hill summit at left
Short descent into the Stour valley, Emily Hill summit at left

Manuka Hut was reached in about 1 hour 40 minutes. It is an old musterers’ hut, somewhat renovated by DOC and with considerable charm. There are 6 bunks, and because it is along the Te Araroa Trail we weren’t sure how crowded it might be. Luckily this night only two other walkers arrived.

Because there was no cellphone or repeater access, I needed HF radio to let Geoff ZL3QR know of my SOTA intentions for the next day. The antenna was erected after some struggles with matagouri and wind, and I joined the Awards Net at 0800 UTC. I received good reports from the few on the net, who were pleased to contact a new Maidenhead grid “square.” As the weather forecast was dubious, Geoff agreed to monitor 3.677 from 10 until 12 the next morning in the hope that Emily Hill would be clear.

Lake Heron from Emily Hill summit
Lake Heron from Emily Hill summit

We woke to low cloud and drizzle, but by 10.45 am the summit was clear enough for me to set off and up to the top – only 40 minutes from the hut. Julia stayed behind to read and to battle the sandflies.

Geoff heard me first call and Bev ZL3OV also worked me (another new square, you see). After that it was a real struggle. The bands seemed in poor shape but I was very pleased to nab Mitch VK7XDM for a summit-to-summit with Tasmania. 20 metres was dead, and I thought this might be my first failed activation, until after a fair bit of CQing, Kevin ZL1KRH called me and I had the required 4 QSOs.

Log: 1 Jan 2017
Log: 1 Jan 2017

A quick pack-up of the gear and down the hill, back to the hut for lunch.

The walk back out to the car once again took us about 1 hour 40 minutes, without getting rained on.

This summit could easily be done as a day walk from Lake Emily carpark, about 4 hours return (not including activation time, of course). It is also possible to bike in via a slightly longer route.

ZL3/CB-657 Emily Hill

Height: 963m ASL
Directions: From the point where the track leaves the fenceline in the direction of Manuka Hut, walk west over to the bottom of the hill and climb directly up to a prominent rock outcrop. Continue up under and around the right (north) side of this outcrop to join the summit ridge, then along left (south) a short distance to the summit.
Time to summit: 30 mins ascent (200m height gain) from the valley floor. 1.5 hours to the start of the climb from the Lake Emily 4WD carpark, or 10 mins from Manuka Hut.
Summit marker: Rock cairn and wooden pole
Land access permission: Not required, Hakatere Conservation Park
Repeater access: None
Cellphone access: None
Map: NZ Topo Map
More information: sota.org.uk