Camping at Lake Minchin

January 14, 2022

I have been overdue for a solo trip for a while now, and what’s better than finding a remote lake to camp beside? Without too much additional thought, I packed my tent and headed for Lake Minchin.

The track consists of three parts: a hilly section over Casey Saddle, a flat bike track along the Poulter riverbed between Casey Hut and Poulter Hut, and finally a gentle uphill approach to the lake.

Day one

A mere 200 metres in to the track, I tripped and almost fell into a bush of Matagouri. Not the most elegant start.

The following 15 or so kilometres to Casey hut has a couple of surprisingly steep ups and downs: don’t underestimate the change in altitude between 550m and almost 900m! On the downhill approaching Casey hut I felt my IT band starting to play up. With 12km of walking remaining, this was not a great sign.

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Dense beech forest somewhere near Casey Saddle, including this large trunk with something resembling a tumour

Before I knew it, I was back on the flat in the Poulter Valley, and the pain vanished. It’s quick travel up the track all the way to Poulter Hut.

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Beelining across the Poulter River to reach Poulter Hut. The hut becomes visible at quite a distance but I kept GPS handy just in case.

Nearing the hut, I heard a vaguely familiar “kekekekekek” sound and looked up to see a kārearea (NZ falcon) chasing a kāhu (harrier hawk). The falcon wasn’t flying much faster than the hawk and would take a while to catch up to it, performing a dive bomb then repeating the whole process. They carried on like this for a good few minutes; it was majestic to watch.

Poulter Hut looked very tidy. I stopped for a snack and filled out the intentions book before resuming up to the lake. It would be quite nice to come back here another day.

It didn’t take long to cover the ground to Lake Minchin. The track meets the Lake at its southern point and continues around to the north. This northern shore is where I set up camp on some nice spongy ground.

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Lake Minchin comes into sight. The view unfortunately includes a flock of Canada Geese, a common pest in otherwise pristine areas like this.

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Reflections in the lake

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Camp, with Pt. 1546 looming in the distance. Not pictured: the friendly hoard of sandflies following me around.

I should pause here to make a couple of points that I wish I had known before camping here:

  • The sandflies can be vicious. They sounded like rain on my tent. If you’re going here, bring DEET and/or your favourite long clothing. I’m personally quite sensitive to insects and I found their presence made it a fair bit harder to relax and enjoy the view!
  • More importantly, with rivers running low I struggled to find a clean water source near the lake. There was a creek I had topped up at halfway between Poulter Hut and the lake, but I really should have taken that opportunity to fill up my bottles.

Nevertheless, this spot was truly beautiful and ticked the boxes I had set out to tick. I felt truly physically isolated from anyone else and completely in the middle of nature. Most people don’t get to feel that feeling very often!

Day two

Slightly thirsty and plagued by the gradually-awakening sandflies, my plan in the morning was simple: wake up, pack up, and hurry up to Poulter Hut for breakfast. It became quickly apparent I had aggravated injuries to both my IT band and ankle; walking was pretty uncomfortable. But there’s not much that can be done in these situations. I scoffed some painkillers and focused on moving. This would be a day to get over and done with.

I couldn’t help but stop just a half hour later when I spotted a kea chilling on a trunk off the side of the track. It seemed very interested in me as I watched it. A second kea appeared behind me on the track and started hopping closer while screeching. Next thing I knew, both of them were dive-bombing me as I escaped towards the hut. I’ve never seen such odd behaviour from these birds!

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One of the two irritated kea that chased me down the track

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Poulter Hut catching the morning rays

After filling up on porridge and some much-needed water, I was back out on the riverbed. My two kea friends (frenemies?) emerged from the forest and circled me for a surreal few minutes, screeching the whole time.

A day of backtracking proceeded. I saw a human for the first time in 23 hours somewhere just beyond the Casey Hut turnoff. Eventually I reached Andrews Shelter, clutching a sore leg but thankful for the weekend adventure that had been.

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The steep (and leg-breaking) final descent to Andrews Shelter