Now that winter has well and truly set in and the merinos are on, I can’t help casting my mind back to the warmer days and to one of my favourite weekend adventures so far this year – exploring Bealey Spur and Cave Stream.
Back in late February Nick and I decided to have a particularly adventurous weekend tackling the Bealey Spur day tramp (near Arthur’s Pass), and then meeting up with my adventure minded cousin Alice and her husband Matt to do the walk through Cave Stream. It’s always tough getting up early on a Saturday, but we were treated to a really beautiful sunrise that eased the pain of the early morning start. We couldn’t have picked a better day for it either, the weather was perfect, still and warm, with a hint in the air that it would be a hot afternoon.
It’s around a two hour drive to Bealey Spur from Christchurch and the drive will take you through some really incredible scenery so try and allow for some extra photo taking time on the way there. The car park for the Bealey Spur tramp is visible on the left hand side of the road just as you arrive at Bealey (which is not a town but rather a collection of cribs aka small holiday homes). After parking Nick and I saddled up with the appropriate day walk gear (rain jackets, lunch, first aid kit, extra layers etc) and headed up the road towards the cribs. After a five minute, pretty steep walk up the road we came to the proper start of the track with the usual green DOC sign. The sign advised us that the tramp would take 4 to 6 hours return to get to the Bealey Hut and back. We were aiming to get the walk done in less than four as we needed to make it back down in time for our second adventure of the day. As always how quick you will take depends on your fitness, so if you aren’t feeling you fittest it might be best to allow yourself the max time, just in case.
The well marked track began in really nice mountain beech forest beautifully covered in some furry moss. With the sun streaming down through the leaves it was a really magical spot. While the walk is definitely up hill it isn’t steep and we started off making a good pace. Because Bealey Spur has such a wide track and is a really gradual climb I would say this walk is definitely family friendly, though make sure little ones don’t get too close to the steep edges as you head further up the track.
About three quarters of the way up, we emerged from the forest and walked through scrub for a while before rounding a corner and being greeted with breathtaking views of snow capped mountains and the Waimakariri River Valley. It was absolutely stunning. Big ups to that last ice age and all those glaciers for doing all the hard work carving out these incredible valleys. This was also perfect spot for a break because you need some time to take it all in. The sun was rising and the day was getting warmer though so we didn’t linger for too long, keen to get to the hut before the day’s temperature reached its peak.
The track then continued further up the hill, disappearing back into forest and scrub, and becoming a boardwalk in certain places before going past some really nice tarns. The boardwalks offered a nice flat reprieve from the mainly uphill track. Then just as suddenly as last time the view unfolded before us again, just as wonderful as the first time.
From there it turned out to be a short walk to the perfectly situated historic Bealey Hut. #Hottip: If you feel like making the tramp up Bealey Spur an overnight outing you can by staying the night at the hut and heading down the next day. Just make sure you have a backcountry hut pass which you can pick up at any DOC office I think. The money from these passes goes towards the maintenance and upkeep of the backcountry hut network so everyone can enjoy them. The are outside the front of the hut would have been a perfect spot for lunch, but a large group had beaten us to it and we end up sitting in the grass off to the side, looking out at the hills behind the hut while we munched on our buns. Apparently you can head on further up the hill for even better views but as we needed to get back to Cave Stream before 1pm we didn’t have time to go further than the hut, so after lunch we packed up and headed back down.
It was definitely a quicker walk back down from the hut, I think it took us only an hour, with the whole tramp taking around three hours (win). We actually had time to spare so we decided to drive on another 14km to Arthur’s Pass Village to get ourselves a nice drink from Arthur’s Pass Cafe and Store (great milkshakes) before heading to Cave Stream. We didn’t do it this trip but a great short walk at Arthur’s Pass Village is theshort but steep climb up to the impressive Devils Punch Bowl Falls. The walk takes about 20 minutes and the views of the falls are spectacular.
Cave Stream is about a 40-50 minute drive from Arthur’s Pass back towards Christchurch. It’s a really pretty spot (apparently some of the first Narnia film was shot here) and home to 594m cave that, in good conditions you can walk through unguided, exactly what we were planning on doing. We rolled up to the car pack at 1pm ahead of Matt and Alice to discover it was packed. I blame social media for the packed car parks at spots like these days. Damn you Instagram! We managed to squeeze into a car park and then kept our eyes peeled for a spot for Matt and Alice. They actually had to circle the car park for a bit and wait for people to leave before they could grab one (and it’s not a small car park my friends). Insanity! By now the sun was at full force and it had turned into one of the warmest afternoons of the summer. Perfect weather for cooling off wading through a cave.
Walking through the cave takes about an hour. There is a pretty deep stream running through the cave that you have to wade through for the entire time you are inside the cave and because it can be chilling we layered up in merinos and thermals at the car park. It felt a wee bit ridiculous putting on all the extra clothes because it was so hot out, but I get cold very easily so it was better to be safe that sorry, and DOC recommend you wear a few layers or a wetsuit before heading into the cave. You can only walk through the cave in one direction due the nature of the entrances (one features a waterfall), so from the carpark we headed off down the hill to the right and followed a path to the opening of the cave.
The entrance to the cave
The water felt pretty darn cold when we first entered and there were a few squeals as it got up to chest level (though this turned out to be as high as the water levels got). After the wide entrance, we turned a corner and the cave quickly narrowed. From this point on we had to walk single file with Matt and Alice taking the lead, Nick bringing up the rear and myself comfortably placed in the middle. I think we all loved feeling intrepid wearing our head torches, crouching through low sections and climbing up little waterfalls. None of us had done the walk before so the excitement factor was high amongst the crowd while many exclamations of “this is so cool!”. The stream turned out to have strong current in the places where the cave would narrow and while it wasn’t anything an adult couldn’t handle comfortably, you would probably want to be careful with children in these spots. One of the coolest things about this particular adventure was that even though there were other groups going through the day we were there we never saw them (I think because you can only go through the cave in one direction), so I really felt like an intrepid cave explorer. It also really felt like the kind of thing you would normally pay to do, so it felt even more special that we were just wandering through on our own for free.
The only real challenging bit of the walk was at the end because of my annoying fear of heights. We had to climb up some metal rungs attached to the cave wall and crawl through a narrow space with a drop off on one side (though there was a chain to hold on to). I froze with the fear shakes for a wee bit at the top of the mental rungs after I looked down at the drop off but once I started crawling I was fine. No one else in our group had any trouble so if you are cool with heights you should be fine. When we emerged back into the sun light we found it was still boiling, so rather than head straight back to the cars we lay in the stream in the sun chilling out, cooling off and chatting about how awesome the day had been. It felt really, really great to have really made the most of an incredible day! To cap it all off after we all got back to Christchurch Matt, Alice and our lovely friend Ash came round to our flat and we watched The Descent, because what better film to watch after you’ve been caving!
#hottip: I wouldn’t recommend attempting the walk through the cave in winter and nor would DOC as the stream can reach freezing temps in winter. If you do decide to go through the cave at any time of the year make sure to check out the DOC website first to get the low down of everything you need to know and have to do the walk through safely, and always check the weather report before you head off. Cave rivers and streams can rise incredibly quickly when its raining.
And that pretty much sums up the best day of the year for me thus far. It was wonderful packing two awesome adventures into one day! I hope this post has inspired you to make the most of our incredible backyard here in New Zealand (we really are so lucky), but whatever you do decide to get up to this weekend, whether it’s a tramp, a bike ride, a kayak or a Sunday drive, I hope its a fantastic adventure!