Tableland Circuit

A great weekend walk, the Tableland Circuit offers some of the best views in Kahurangi National Park (also home to the better known Heaphy Track) and some eclectic accommodation options.

The circuit starts from Flora car park, a 1.15 hour drive from Nelson. This is at the end of a 6km unsealed section of Graham Valley Road which has been inaccessible on numerous occasions after large storms. As of April 2019 it was open and drivable with care in a 2WD car. DOC recommend a 4WD in winter or after heavy rain which I can understand as the road is steep, narrow and rutted. It was a relief to make it to the top…

I flew down from Auckland to Nelson on a Friday afternoon, which gave me some lovely views of Nelson from the plane, and time to walk the 4.2km from the car park to Mt Arthur Hut while there was still some daylight.

The cosy eight bunk hut was already home to five Australians, and there was an Argentinian couple behind me, so I decided to pitch up my tent in front of the hut. The upside was avoiding the snorers and the risk of knocking myself out trying to get from the low roofed top bunk during the night. The downside was that it got rather cold, to be expected at 1,310m above sea level, but it got steadily colder as the night went on, until I was wearing everything I had with me (five layers of merino and two down jackets) and pulled my sleeping bag over my face. It started to rain gently in the middle of the night, but then quietened down. I discovered why when I got up to find that it had turned to snow…

Which made for a particularly cold, but also beautiful start to the day. While packing up my tent strange noises were heard from the bush, which could have been some sort of animal. As they got louder it became clearer though as a group of young Germans singing as they raced up the hill to get their selfies before soon returning back down again. Somewhat unexpected…

They had headed about 150m past the hut to the first epic viewpoint of the track.

From there I walked carefully through the fine covering of snow up to the 1,795m high summit of Mt Arthur, which offered suitably spectacular views of the surrounded landscape, with the beautiful Tasman Bay in the distance.

Coming down was trickier but thankfully the snow melted fast, offering completely different views of Mt Arthur on the descent.

From there there were a number of steep ridge lines to descent and ascend, and a near vertical rocky patch requiring particular care, on the way to the Gordons Pyramid at 1,489m. I didn’t linger there for long as lunch was well overdue.

The lunch venue was Salisbury Lodge which seem to take an age to get to, descending through some lush forest, before taking the admittedly slightly longer route there via the underwhelming Potholes, and pleasant Sphinx Creek.

Even at 3pm I was the first to arrive at the hut, though was soon joined by five others. I didn’t linger long though as one thing I’ve learnt is to make the most of good weather while it lasts. I continued on in a clockwise fashion on the circuit, having done all the hard parts for the day already. The remainder was almost entirely downhill, along mostly wide and well graded track running alongside Flora Stream.

Along the way are some wonderful sites DOC have set up underneath natural rock outcropping, offering shelter from the rain and even mattresses. In order I went past the sizeable Rock Shelter (Dry Rock Camp), the tiny Growler Rock Bivy, and the pretty epic Gridiron Shelter.

I ended the day though at the quite unique Upper Gridiron Hut, a three bunk hut built under a rock ledge, complete with a super comfortable swing chair. I had the hut all to myself, as ever (fourth time this has happened to me) a somewhat scary / exciting experience as it got pitch dark and someone could have arrived at any moment… but thankfully didn’t.

The next morning it didn’t take long to reach the wonderful Flora Hut built in 1927. The track there was classified as easy mountain biking, so on foot it was pretty tediously simple, though the occasional rays of morning sunshine enlivened things.

The plan had been to drop my overnight pack at Flora car park and take a day pack up to the 1,462m high summit of Lodestone. Gaining my first mobile signal since Friday the forecast had changed though from sunshine to rain arriving late morning. Lodestone is one of the best viewpoints in the area, though apparently it’s a steep and rooty track through bush, with the summit only 50m above the bushline. I’d already enjoyed the higher Mt Arthur summit in near perfect weather though so decided to return to Nelson early instead, and enjoy a well earned tasty brunch…

Author: jontycrane

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