Wednesday, 17 May 2023

Red Hill-Mount Lyndon circuit - May 2023

Despite being named as a hill, Red Hill in the Korowai-Torlesse Conservation area is a decent mountain at 1641m. Dave and I have been planning this circuit for a while but needed a suitable weather pattern to turn up. Saturday 6th May looked good so off we went. An early start was in order to make the most of the weather window and get back to Springfield by 4pm for a coffee and debrief!

I left home at 5:30am to pick Dave up in Sheffield at 6:20am and we were at the start point on Lyndon Road ready to go at 7am. No headlamps needed as the spectacularly full moon was really bright. We made good time up the valley and even found some size 15 boot prints left by John ZL3MR the previous weekend!

Heading up Red Hill, spectacular views.

Arriving at the summit 25 minutes earlier than our alerted time, we got everything set up quickly and were on air at 9:42am NZST. As is our standard practice, Dave started on 40m and me on 2m. We soon had our required contacts (including Summit to Summit with John ZL3MR on Cloudy Hill ZL3/CB-474) and had worked all the usual Chasers. The Nor' West wind was quite strong at times so, once our alert time had passed, we packed up quickly and headed off.

The transit around the ridgeline to Mount Lyndon is a really nice walk with tremendous views either side but very exposed to the wind - gloves, hats and windproof layer were the order of the day. Near the end we spotted another tramper catching us up rapidly - "Hope he's not a 70 year old"! Just after passing the scree we would use later to descend, he caught us up, a young German. Relief! 

Looking back from Mt Lyndon to Red Hill (top-centre)

About this time, we saw John (with brother-in-law Robert) had arrived on their second summit ZL3/CB-469 which is adjacent to Mt Lyndon. We hustled on and arrived at Mt Lyndon ZL3/CB-460 35 minutes early, just before noon. Getting straight onto 2m, we worked John and a few others prior to the UTC rollover at noon (0000z). HF followed where Dave worked a nice pile of VK WWFF Hunters and Rick ZL3RIK at Arthurs Pass National Park. Again, we made sure we stayed on-air until after our alert time had passed before packing up about 12:40pm and retracing our track back to our scree for the descent. 

Weather has been quite wet all summer so the scree and underlying soil was nice and soft (very important for clapped out knees). It was a very rapid and enjoyable descent down to our usual lunch point at the bottom of the scree before tackling the waterfall sidle and a bit of scrub bashing down to the valley floor. When coming off Mt Lyndon, we normally turn left at this point and head over the saddle to the Lyndon Lodge but this time we carried on down the valley to join up with our morning track and back to the car.

Looking down the valley from our lunch stop

A great walk and very enjoyable day with 10 SOTA points as a bonus.

Note that much of our route was over Brooksdale Station land - thanks to Stu for his generous permission (see Dave for more info).

Circuit is clockwise, Red Hill on left, Mt Lyndon on right


18 km of walking with 1300 m of vertical. 8 hours for whole the trip including two 30 minute activations and a 30 minute lunch stop.

2m/70cm coverage of Canterbury excellent from both summits.

Friday, 5 May 2023

Mt Terako ZL3/MB-083

 Also known as Mount Lyford skifield, this is a private summit right on the Marlborough/Canterbury border. It's run as a multi-facet business and very well too, it seems. Payment of the $40 per head access fee is done on line and you get the code to unlock the gate just beyond the Mt Lyford Village.

The road is good but not for the faint-of-heart! Rick was activating Lake Stella and Snowdon Scenic Reserve so we followed him up to make sure his 2WD Mitsi was ok. I had trouble keeping up! Lake Stella is a great location with several lodges and a well appointed amenities hut. The only downside is all the solar inverter hash on 20m... 

Leaving Rick to get set up, we carried on to the skifield base. This part of the road (4WD) has a lot of sharp rocks - be careful if on road or even R/T tyres. After checking a couple of options, we found a track that led to our spur, parked up and headed up. It's not far but it IS steep and is all scree to the top. 

Hey, who's that white headed old fella?! Must be the morning sunlight...

40 minutes and we were on a very pleasant summit with amazing views from Kaikoura and Mt Fyffe right down the Hundalees and Conway to the Port Hills.

An unexpected but very apt can found stashed in the summit cairn!

Setting up the gear we found that 20m was very noisy - almost certainly due to all the solar inverters down below. 2m and 70cm back to Christchurch were both easy with big signals - didn't need the 2m dipole!

6m telescoping pole with EFHW apex and 2m vertical dipole. Port Hills on the horizon

Meanwhile Dave was working up and down the country on 40m including Matt ZL4NVW on an Otago summit. We also worked Warren ZL2JML and Ada ZL2ADA on a Manawatu summit. 

Dave working 40m. EFHW feed-point on walking poles behind him.

I jumped on to the CW end of the bands and worked Japan on 20m, 15m and 10m and plenty of strong USA and Australian stations on 10m.

Weather was nice so we worked the UTC rollover at noon then headed down to have lunch with Rick. The descent down the scree was much quicker (and more fun) than the climb!

Rick was in good form when we got there with a very slick setup. 

Rick's setup - drive-on stand supporting the pole and linked dipole. Big 2m colinear on the car!

We had a very nice lunch and then headed off to get to Culverden for coffee before they closed. A very pleasant day indeed!

Private summit - access pass is required ($40 per person but worth every bit of it).

This would make a great base for a SOTA expedition!

Climb: 380m approx 40 minutes up a scree spur

2m: amazing

Sunday, 19 March 2023

Mt Winterslow ZL3/CB-379 - March 2023

 Mount Winterslow is a 1700m mountain situated in Mid Canterbury. Neighboring peaks are Mt Somers to the South and Mt Alford to the North. It is private land, part of Mt Winterslow Station and access needs to be negotiated via the owners - please contact Dave ZL3DRN for info. Also, see his blog post here: SOTA activities David ZL3DRN

Thanks to Dave's hard work, we were able to get access and headed down early to take full advantage before the changeable autumn wind got up. Having left Christchurch at 5:30am, we arrived at the locked gate in the dark just before 7am (along with a party of local hunters). We established where each group was headed and then tackled the two steep (50%), wet, grassy stages to gain the ridgeline. Views were spectacular in the early morning light. It's a relatively straightforward climb (once you leave the grass behind) with great views of North, Central and South Canterbury. We did hear a few rifle shots so the lads were obviously successful on their hunt a couple of valleys away.

The second steep grassy section - afternoon shot

Near the top we came across the biggest flock of vegetable sheep I have seen!

Dave amongst the flock of vegetable sheep

Arriving an hour before our scheduled on-air time, it was a leisurely setup of the HF gear - KX2, 20m long EFHW antenna as an Inverted V on 6m telescoping pole. Lots of photos taken and then Dave started on 40m SSB with plenty of callers. 

I worked the VHF/UHF bands and had a ball with the CHC gang sending them SSTV pictures of our view of Mt Cook using the excellent Android Robot36 app (using Scottie2 mode) on 70cm. Superb quality images both ways - thanks guys!

I then jumped on the HF rig and worked visiting ham Jamie N6JFD as ZL/N6JFD/P on Te Aroha ZL1/WK-035 on 40m (and later on 20m), John ZL3MR on Quartz Knoll ZL3/OT-318 and then worked my way up the bands as usual. A real mixed bag of contacts resulted - NZ, Australia, Taiwan, Japan, USA (CA and MN). Dave had worked into California on 10m SSB - a good result for 10W and a bit of wire!

View of Mt Cook (left) and Mt Tasman (right) from Mt Winterslow summit

Around noon, the wind came up and we were reaching for warmer clothes - with all the advertised summit-to-summit contacts completed, we decided to pack up and head down the hill to a sheltered spot for lunch out of the wind. We were rewarded with a view of a NZ Falcon flying up the valley to the saddle we were just above and instantly reconfiguring into high speed mode as he crossed the saddle - absolutely amazing to watch.

An uneventful descent from there and we very carefully picked our way down the still-damp grassy lower slopes back to the car. A big day but very rewarding in all aspects - a nice walk (13km and 1142m vertical), nice summit with good radio conditions and a spectacular NZ wildlife display to boot.

Access: Private property, please contact Dave ZL3DRN for info. The road in is shingle but the last couple of km are 4WD track with a couple of creek crossings.

VHF/UHF coverage: all of North, Central and South Canterbury

Trig - no, just a wooden pole and cairn (with a very touching memorial plaque)

Saturday, 7 January 2023

Mt Fyffe ZL3/CB-425

This one has been on the to-do list for a couple of years. 
Dave ZL3DRN grew up on Mt Fyffe Station and has been keen to activate it. Finally the weather and time-off aligned and we planned it for the first week of 2023. Wednesday looked like the best day albeit with cloud and wind forecast for the afternoon. We decided on an early (6am) start to beat the heat and ensure we could activate and get down before the forecast weather arrived.

I picked Dave up at 5.30am and we were on the track at 6.05am. It's a bit of a beast - you climb 1411m of the 1602m height over a distance of 8.5km. It's a relentless climb up a 4WD track with little shelter or shade. 

Biggest Spaniard flower I have ever seen!

We reached the hut at 8am, had a brief refuel and carried on to the top. DOC signage suggests 1 1/2 hours from the hut to the summit. This is the steepest section and the track becomes a narrow walking track. After a few micro-breaks we reached the summit. The views were spectacular and made it all worthwhile.

Summit sign looking back to the Kaikoura Peninsula

We set up well away from the trig. This is a popular summit and we wanted to stay out of the way of other users. 

Not long after we arrived, a helicopter set down it's passengers in the saddle between us and the next summit, Gable. The first of many visitors to "our" mountain!

One of the aims of this trip was to work VHF/UHF into Wellington and Christchurch so I had packed my dual band (Ed Fong design) J-pole. Spots sent and calling CQ but no one could hear me... There must be something wrong, we could see Banks Peninsula! I changed to my usual Signal Stick 1/4 wave whip with counterpoise and bingo, worked a number of CHC stations on 2m. Switching to 70cm, signals were even better so we tried Fusion (C4FM) and this too was successful. No Wellington stations worked despite an "advertising call" via the Belmont repeater.
I then went and worked HF; Australia, USA, Japan and New Zealand SOTA and WWFF Chasers aplenty.

A last round of calls on 2m to see if we could get to Wellington and I am answered by Mark ZL3AB from his deck in Hanmer Springs! Massive surprise but after a couple of repeats, we managed a solid contact. Must have been some knife-edge refraction off a ridge somewhere or maybe sporadic E. Amazing.
By this stage there was a steady stream of visitors arriving at the summit so we had lunch and packed up the HF gear to declutter the view for them. Of course they all decided to leave then! 

We headed down, stopping at the hut to replenish our water bottles. Temperatures around 31 C seen on our Garmin sensors at various places along the track... It's just as relentless going down, especially on dodgy knees. 2 1/2 hours later we were pleased to arrive back at the car. Home for a well deserved shower and out to (early) dinner with Francie and Julie at Donegal House.
I was asleep on the couch by 8pm, a big day!

Permission: Not required, Ka Whata Tu o Rakihouia Conservation Park ZLFF-0082/POTA ZL-0141
Trig: Yes
Time: 3 1/4 hours ascent (8.5km/1411m vert), 2 1/2 hour descent.
Repeaters: All Canterbury and Belmont (WLG)

Kaitoa ZL3/CB-767

New Years Day 2023 found us camping at Peketa, just South of Kaikoura. 
Most of the SOTA summits around the area are on private land apart from Mt Fyffe ZL3/CB-425. I had already arranged to activate it with Dave later in the week so, after a bit of research and a phone call, settled on Kaitoa ZL3/CB-767. It's a sugarloaf just North of the township, up the Puhi Puhi River Valley, near Hapuku. The farmer was happy for me to have access - for his contact info, email me.
New Years Day dawned fine and I was soon at the start point, parked up by the woolshed. Seeing signs of life as I walked past the house, I stopped in and met Rob. He gave me a couple of tips on the best routes up and down.
It's a straightforward walk up well maintained farm tracks to the summit. Apart from a short section of native bush, you are in open paddocks all the way.

View from the summit back towards Kaikoura

You pass a substantial comms/internet installation on the way but I had no noticeable interference from it's equipment or solar regulators.

Keen on VHF contacts to Christchurch and with fairly benign (albeit cool) weather, I set up right at the top, bungeeing my pole to a convenient fence post.
EFHW and Coaxial 2m dipole on mast. 2 element Arrow yagi against trig

I had also taken my 3 element 2m Arrow yagi (uses a walking pole as the boom) but when assembling it, found the bottom element mount missing... Oh well, try it as a 2 element! As it turned out, it was a couple of S points better to Rick ZL3RIK on Mt Pearce than the dipole and I worked Roger ZL3RC at home in West Melton with solid signals (horizontally polarised). There was a slim chance of a contact with Brendon ZL1ALF on his summit (ZL1/WL-059 McKerrow) in Wellington. We tried a few calls each but nothing heard either way.

HF was in good shape and I had a ball working other portable operators around New Zealand and Australia. USA and Japan stations were also logged but my focus today was on Summit-to-summit (S2S) contacts, each side of the 1pm UTC rollover. Thus, I spent much more time on 40m SSB than is normal for me. The strategy paid off with 60 contacts, 29 of them S2S.

The walk down was uneventful and again, had a chat to the farmer as I went past the house.
A really enjoyable and productive New Years activation.

Access: Private land, permission required. Contact me for details.
Trig - Yes
Time: 1 1/2 hours (New years day pace...) 4.8km/676m vertical
Repeater: didn't try but 705/725 should be Ok. VHF LOS to Banks Peninsula Summits.

Sunday, 18 December 2022


 This un-named summit lies above Lake Rubicon just South East of the Torlesse Range. It's surrounded by private land belonging to Brooksdale Station and accessed from SH73 near the historic Roadmans Hut. Dave happens to know the station manager so permission was secured and off we set on a mild December morning. It starts with a 2km walk up the riverbed (or farm track, your choice) before finding a suitable spur to climb to the ridge and along to the generous-sized 4 point summit at 1261m.

We chose the farm track and, only about 1km from the state highway, were rewarded with seeing 3 chamois nannies only 40m or so away. As we both reached for our cameras, they took off, bounding up the hill with graceful ease. A great way to start the day!

Dave will describe the route in his blog but suffice to say the first part is tough with a bit of scrub bashing up a steep section. Once above the scrubline, it's a straightforward slog up to the ridge.

Dave climbing up through the Spaniard and Matagouri. Kowai River below and SH73 Porters Pass in the background

The summit is a good size so we were able to find some shelter from the gusty (but dry) Nor Wester on the lee (Christchurch) side. Dave started on 40m SSB and I hit 2m and 70cm. A great run and 18 contacts in the log before I returned to the HF setup. I then worked some HF CW, local and DX (2 USA and 2 JA).

Antenna (EFHW on 6m Tactical Mini) with Mt Torlesse in the background

We both had evening appointments and wanted to take a circuit route home so packed up around 1130am, had some lunch and set off along the really nice ridgeline traverse to Pt1230. We then dropped down a spur to the riverbed. More bush-bashing involved and a descent down a creek. Back across the river and down the farm track towards the car. A bee sting to my hand forced a quick stop for an anti-histamine and then back to the car. 

NE View from the ridgeline, Lake Rubicon in the middle.

Another great day in the Korowai-Torlesse Tussocklands Conservation Area (this brought up my 500th QSO for this park).

See Dave ZL3DRN's blog for access and route details.

Mt Isobel and Dumblane double

 Mark ZL3AB and I have discussed this potential double for a while but this was my first opportunity to try it. The two mountains are opposite each other with Jacks Pass in between. Another weather window presented itself, between 30 degree days late in the week and a wet period beginning Sunday - let's do it!

Conservative as always, I allowed a couple of hours for the trip to Hanmer and 1 1/2 hours for the ascent of Mt Isobel from Jacks Pass. As it turned out, I was way too conservative as we were walking by 7:40am NZDST and on the summit an hour later. A full hour prior to our alerted time. Mt Isobel is acknowledged as Canterbury's most climbed peak and today was proof of that. There were 4 cars in the carpark when we arrived and we met 2 parties heading up and one coming down on our ascent. We got set up on the summit, well away from the trig to minimise annoyance for others, sent out some alerts and text messages and go into it. I got my 4 contacts on 2m and Dave had a nice pile on 40m. Thanks to those who were listening early - we really appreciate it. I jumped on HF and worked Phil ZL1PSH (strong from his new home station) and Chris F4WBN on both 40m and 20m! By this time, the heat was building and several more parties were arriving at the summit so we decided to get moving to avoid climbing Dumblane in the heat of the day. Sadly we missed Warren ZL2AJ on his summit by a few minutes - we were walking off the summit when his message came through... (I might need to make a loaded, telescopic whip for 40m situations like this)

View back towards Christchurch from Mt Isobel, Hanmer springs in the foreground 

We carefully picked our way back down to Jacks Pass, a quick stop at the car to replenish water and take on some calories and off to Dumblane, adjusting our Sotawatch alert time to on the way. 

I had promised Dave that we wouldn't be bothered by the same number of visitors on Dumblane as it is not so well known... Now fully poled and obviously well used, we encountered two parties at the summit! The climb was uneventful however hot in places, my temperature sensor recorded 30 degrees C in one section. Average temp was 23, we wouldn't have wanted it to be any warmer.

View from Dumblane back to Mt Isobel. Jacks Pass road with the car park (left) and the start of the Mt Isobel track visible.

Set up here was the same as the previous, EFHW and KX2. We worked Rick ZL3RIK at his Castle Hill Park and locals on 2m and 70cm. Good conditions on the higher HF bands saw contacts with Taiwan, Japan (S2S) and USA.

Worked the UTC rollover, had lunch at 1:30pm NZDST and headed down.

A big day but very rewarding and good fun. The views back over Hanmer Springs and into the back country are great.


Permision - none needed, both summits are on Conservation Land. Dumblane is also in WWFF - ZLFF-0044 and POTA ZL-0269 Hanmer Forest Park. Careful location of the operator at Mt Isobel could also place you in the park and SOTA AZ but we did not try this.


Jacks Pass to Mt Isobel - 1 hour, 3 km, 500 m vertical

Mt Isobel to Jacks Pass - also 1 hour, there are several sections where extreme care is needed descending.

Jacks Pass to Dumblane - 1 hour 10 minutes, 3.3 km,  466 m vertical

Dumblane to Jacks pass - also 1 hour - tired knees by this point!

Total - 12.54 km and 1051 m vertical