Welcome Rock Trails weekend
By Vicki Wooley on 17th January 2018 Trail Reports
Getting there: Nevis Road off SH6, one hour south of Queenstown
Distance: 28km loop
Elevation: 650m ascent & the same of descent
Terrain: Undulating, hardpacked walking trail
Full trail run info:Â www.wildthings.club/trails/southland/garston/welcome-rock---roaring-lion-trail/
The good dirt:
Close your eyes for a moment and imagine having 28km of well-groomed Otago high country trail virtually to yourself. Now, imagine watching the sun rise and set from an outdoor bath beside a hut reserved for your own personal use. From there it is only a small step to imagining your partner or bestie clamouring to join you for what promises to be a special weekend - even a partner or bestie of the non-running variety.
Welcome to Welcome Rock Trails, a privately-owned hiking and mountain-biking playground perched high above the Mataura Valley. The brochure boasts 'a historical and ecological journey' with stunning mountain views, quirky accommodation options, possibly a tot of whiskey and of course - the outdoor bath. Intrigued, Mal, Sally and I headed in for a weekend.
From the eclectic Southland Ski Hut, an easy three-kilometre hike carried us to the first hut via Welcome Rock itself. Once a place for settlers climbing out of the Nevis and Nokomai valleys to meet and trade, rumour suggests a bottle of whiskey was stashed in the rock to warm travellers climbing to the 1130m summit. Another rumour suggests the bottle of whiskey is still there... and we can vouch that it is (was!)
Nestled into the saddle a short distance beyond the rock lay our destination for the night, Slate Hut - although the word 'hut' is slightly misleading. Luxury awaited in the form of insulation(!), a gas burner, full complement of kitchen utensils and comfortable beds: carpet and a loo-with-a-view topped off the grandiose experience! We felt rather spoiled as, happily tucking into after-dinner chocolates, a glorious sunset shot the Eyre Mountains into stark relief.
Morning, and six short downhill kilometres on swooping, cambered mountain-bike trail took us to our next place of residence - Mud Hut, a beautifully restored 17th century sod crib. Here we swapped heavy tramping packs for light daypacks and began our run in earnest.
Way back in the late 1800's Chinese and European labourers toiled for three years to build New Zealand's second-largest water race to carry water from the Nevis into the Nokomai Valley for gold-sluicing. Welcome Rock has been in the O'Brien family for more than a century and current owners Tom and Katie spent two years hand-building a trail along parts of the original water race. Roaring Lion Trail - named after the intense roaring of the original creek that fed the race - is dotted with artefacts of the mining era including original fluming pipes and a poignant 'shovel' memorial. The O'Brien's are in the process of installing interpretation panels along the trail: in the interim, hovering larks and dizzying views down into the valleys on each side of the hill provided ample distraction as we trotted around the loop.
Approximately 15km in and shortly after crossing a crystal-clear stream, a rather gorgeous permanent tent (Flumings Camp) with its stunning outlook towards the head of the Nokomai piqued our curiosity: later we discovered a quintessentially Kiwi woolshed located beside the family homestead rounds out the four accommodation options. A maximum number of two to four guests per site guarantees a very personal overnight experience; back in the solitude of Mud Hut we tucked into hobbit-sized beds and recounted overcrowded hut 'horror' stories with glee.
The compact nature of Welcome Rock Trails and short distances between accommodation lends itself to be enjoyed by runners, walkers or cyclists of any ability. Tear around on foot or two wheels in a single day; hike in for a self-sufficient mini-break or push the boat out with bag transport, meal delivery and guided yoga sessions for a romantic weekend get-away. Whichever way you spin it, Welcome Rock Trails is a unique and delightful wee adventure best enjoyed with good friends.
*Bear in mind the trail is subalpine so take all the necessary precautions: waterproofs, thermals and emergency/first-aid gear suitable for a backcountry hike.
See more photos from this trip here