Hacket Track, Whispering falls, and Chromite Mine loop

Date: 24 February
Distance: 11.6km
Time: 2:22

A few weeks back Wouna found a notice about an upcoming textile art exhibition and competition (the Changing Threads National Contemporary Textile Fibre Art Awards) that was open for entries, so she decided to give it a go and entered a couple of her large patchwork-style fabric portraits. Initial digital entries were submitted, from which one of her pieces made it through to the shortlist for the exhibition. This required couriering the artwork down to Nelson’s Refinery ArtSpace, where the exhibition was held. And then came the nail biting wait to hear if she made the finals.

When we got the news that her “Jacinda #1” made it through, we jumped into action (after some suitable celebrations) and before long we had an Airbnb and ferry-tickets booked, and our bags packed for a 4-day mini-holiday (plus two days travel) in the upper South Island to attend the opening of the exhibition. And of course, being in such a beautiful region, we were hoping to explore some local tracks and trails.

Our accommodation was on a farm just outside Richmond, and after our first breakfast I started scouring the internet for trail running opportunities in the area. As is often the case, the Wild Things Trail Directory proved a solid source of information. We found there were a range of interesting-looking routes (loops and out-and-back options) heading out from the DOC Hacket car park, which happened to be just a few kms down the road from where we were staying.

It was a rather dreary looking morning, with MetService promising rain from around midday, but luckily the Hacket trails offered many distance options, so we decided to head out and adjust our explorations to the weather as we went.

The track to Whispering Falls looked a no-brainer – a short-ish out and back with a beautiful waterfall at the furthest point, that should see us back at our car before the rains came. It proved a lovely run across varied but mostly runable terrain and the dainty waterfall was really pretty. About 1km before the falls, you have to cross the river where the path has been washed away. This will likely be a problem when the river is high, but luckily we got out and back before much rain had fallen so we could rock-hop without getting our feet wet.

Heading back, shortly after the stream hopping, a signposted turn-off to the left leads to Hacket Hut, some 3.5 km further out. We didn’t want to head quite that high up, but also on offer was another enticing option, the Chromite Mine loop, which starts on the Hacket Hut Track and then turns off to the right to wind its way back to the car park some 6.5km on.

While a 6.5km loop isn’t a big deal distance-wise, the day had gotten progressively darker with a light drizzle starting to fall. And as is always the case when it gets dark and overcast, unknown trails look just that little more remote and scary. So we hemmed and hawed for a bit about whether we should do the loop or just head straight back to the car. Eventually the realisation that we probably wouldn’t return to this area soon (we were hoping to rather continue exploring other areas during the rest of our stay) swayed our decision towards doing the loop, so up the hill we went.

The Chromite Mine loop starts at an incline, and for a couple of kilometres the uphill didn’t let up. We walked most of this, except for one stretch where we could hear some tree-felling activity quite close by so we decided to get through that section as fast as possible to limit the risk of a massive pine tree coming down on our heads. I’m sure that would not have happened as the tree fellers will be well aware of the track just beneath them, but one never knows. Accidents do happen. Once past the old mining area (which has warning signs to not explore), the track contours its way around a couple of hills on a good quality, very runnable old road that must have been built to service the mines or the forestry activities. After another kilometre or so, the track leaves this road and starts a rapid descent back to the river. This downhill went straight down and felt never ending – hard to believe the gradual uphill we did earlier took us this high into the mountain. We were relieved we did the loop in the direction suggested on the Wild Things site – going the other way would have given us a climb to rival the Rain Gauge track between Atiwhakatu and Jumbo huts in the Tararua Range.

After lots of downwards scrambling we eventually rejoined the track we took earlier heading out to the falls. From here it was less than 3km on a gentle downhill back to the car park – a perfect finish to a most enjoyable outing. While it’s a pity we didn’t get so far as to bag any huts on our morning’s outing, we were glad we ended up doing both the waterfall and the Chromite Mine loop – this is a beautiful and varied trail which I have no doubt would have become a regular part of our training regime had we lived in the area.