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Introduction

The Whataroa, Butler and Perth river valleys tracks and routes provide rugged backcountry opportunities for those with suitable skills and experience.

Track overview

One way

Walking and tramping

3 days + Advanced: Tramping track
Expert: Route

Dog access

Dogs with a DOC permit only. Contact the relevant DOC office to obtain a permit.

About this track

Description

The Whataroa, Butler and Perth valleys contain a good network of tramping tracks and routes. They are suitable for well-equipped and experienced backcountry trampers and climbers only.

Times given are guides only and will vary greatly with fitness and weather conditions. Tramping in this area is very demanding and you should allow plenty of time to reach planned destinations. The best seasons to go are summer and autumn.

The tramping tracks are well marked with orange plastic markers - windfalls are cleared annually and the tracks are scrub cut every three years. The routes are also well marked and windfalls are cleared every two years.

On this page:

Road end – Whataroa-Perth Track junction tramping track

Time: 2 hr

Early winter at the top of the Bettison Route, overlooking the Perth River valley.  Photo: Geoff Thomas.
Early winter at the top of the Bettison
Route, overlooking Perth River valley

From the car park the track initially follows the 4WD track and markers up the true left bank. Just beyond the derelict bulldozer it is quicker to follow the old riverbed before rejoining the 4WD track further on. The river edge is loosely followed to Big Creek where the 4WD track finishes.

If this creek poses any difficulty and further rain is imminent, the valley should not be entered as other creeks will be impassable. From Big Creek, boulder hop around ‘Big Bend’, cross a short gravel beach, then from here look for the marker on the large grassy flat on the right.

Another marker indicates the track entrance further on at the bush edge and the track then continues upstream on bushed terraces. A couple of boulder-hopping sections will see you passing opposite the Perth River confluence before reaching the Whataroa-Perth swing bridge.

This section of track is an excellent day trip. Around 100m beyond the bridge there is a sign-posted junction of the Perth River and Whataroa River tracks.

Perth River valley

Whataroa-Perth Track junction – Scone Hut tramping track

Time: 7 hr

The track climbs steeply to a large forested terrace, which is crossed in about an hour, before dropping down to the top of the gorge. Rock hop up the true left of the river to Hughes Creek. This creek quickly becomes impassable after rain so take care. After a further short boulder hop, Nolans Hut is reached.

Nolans Hut. Photo: Eric de Boer.

Nolans Hut

Category: Basic/bivvies
Facilities: 4 bunk beds, heating, mattresses
Bookings not required - first come, first served

Beyond Nolans Hut, the track crosses Nolans Flat, before re-entering the bush. If the river is running high there is a high-level route marked and sign-posted at the top of Nolans Flat. A couple of short steep bluffs follow before more beach travel. The track then alternates between bush terraces and boulder hopping to Scone Hut, with several notable side creeks needing to be crossed. The entire track is on the true left of the Perth River.

Scone Hut

Scone Hut

Category: Standard
Facilities: 6 bunk beds, heating, mattresses
Bookings not required - first come, first served
Perth headwaters/Adams Wilderness Area access

Time: 30 min to end of track

To access the Perth headwaters and Adams Wilderness Area from Scone Hut, follow the track across Lower Scone swing bridge, then to Redfield swing bridge. The marked track ends approximately 200 m above the Redfield swing bridge.

Scone Creek tramping track

Time: 1 hr to track end

Follow the track from the hut past Lower Scone swing bridge (remaining on the true left of Scone Creek) upstream. The marked track ends at the small clearing approximately 300 metres downstream of the former Upper Scone swingbridge.  The bridge was destroyed by a slip in July 2014. Crossing Scone Creek on foot may be possible in low flow conditions. Do not attempt to cross if you are inexperienced at river crossings or when the river is high or in flood. 

Bettison Route

Time: 2 hr to bush edge

To access the Bettison Route from Scone Hut follow the track upstream over Lower Scone swing bridge to the sign-posted junction. The route then climbs through the forest to approximately 1200 metres, giving access to the upper Bettison Stream and Dennistoun Pass areas.

The marked route ends at the two yellow and blue deer posts. Travel beyond this point is suitable only for those experienced in alpine travel.

Whataroa River valley

Whataroa-Perth Track junction – Butler Junction Hut tramping track

Time: 6 hr
 
The track to Butler Junction continues up the Whataroa valley with several short climbs before dropping steeply down to the beach downstream of The Twister. After walking along the beach and fording The Twister, the track climbs steeply over a terrace before dropping back down to Harry Creek. The track continues, mostly on the beach, until Barrowman Flat, where the track traverses along an easy bush terrace.

Above Barrowman Flat, the track sidles for some time, alternating from bush to riverbed travel. Travel through this particular section is quite demanding with several small creeks, climbs and boulder sections. Butler Junction Hut is reached about ten minutes past McCormicks swing bridge.

Butler Junction Hut.

Butler Junction Hut

Category: Standard
Facilities: 8 bunk beds, heating, mattresses
Bookings not required - first come, first served
Gunn Ridge Route

Time: 2 hr

From Butler Junction hut head downstream on the Whataroa valley tramping track for approximately 10 minutes until you reach McCormicks swing bridge. Cross the bridge to the true left of the Whataroa River and follow the marked route up through the forest. The route climbs steeply at first, before reaching the open tops of Gunn Ridge.

The marked route ends at the two yellow and blue deer posts. Travel beyond this point is suitable only for those experienced in alpine travel.

Butler Junction Hut – Whymper Hut tramping track

Looking towards Whymper Hut.  Photo: Katrina Henderson.
Looking towards Whymper Hut

Time: 4 hr

The track follows Butler River on the true right bank before crossing Butler Junction swing bridge. Turn right at the sign-posted intersection and travel in the bush until reaching an unnamed creek. The track descends across a slip and side creek, and enters the bush again close to the Whataroa River.

The track alternates between bush and riverbed travel up to Rocky Creek and then crosses the Whataroa River over Rocky Creek swing bridge. The track continues up the true left bank along shingle river flats, with markers at the bush edges, crossing four main creeks that also become avalanche chutes during winter and spring.

Avalanche debris may still cross the track into summer. The track then emerges onto an obvious open area towards the headwaters before climbing steeply up an old moraine wall on the true left to reach Whymper Hut.

This track crosses several known avalanche paths. During heavy snow conditions, do not travel in this area unless sufficiently equipped and experienced to assess the conditions.

Whymper Hut

Whymper Hut

Category: Standard
Facilities: 6 bunk beds, heating, mattresses
Bookings not required - first come, first served

Butler River valley

Butler Junction Hut – Top Butler Hut tramping track

Time: 2 hr

From the hut the track follows the Butler River up the true right bank before crossing the swing bridge. Once on the true left, turn left at the sign-posted intersection. From here the track climbs and sidles across steep hillsides and creeks originating from King Peak, before reaching Top Butler Hut.

Top Butler Hut. Photo: K Henderson.

Top Butler Hut

Category: Standard
Facilities: 6 bunk beds, heating, mattresses
Bookings not required - first come, first served
Top Butler to Ice Lake tramping track

Time: 2 hr

Note: A significant flood/probable river surge event has destroyed the swing bridge across the Butler River (South Branch). The bridge primarily provided access to the track to Ice Lake and for hunting in the area. The bridge was installed in 2009.

Crossing the Butler River (South Branch) on foot may be possible in low flow conditions. Do not attempt to cross if you are inexperienced at river crossings or when the river is high or in flood.

The bridge over the Butler River (South Branch) at this location will not be replaced in the near future. Parties planning on tramping or hunting in the area need to be aware that travel beyond Top Butler Hut can only be achieved if the party is experienced and able to cross the river in suitable conditions on foot.

The track then heads upstream on the true left of the Butler River. The track alternates between forest and increasingly open subalpine country, until the open headwaters are reached. Boulder hop from here up to Ice Lake, where there are great views and small campsites.

Getting there

Access is off State Highway 6, five kilometres north of Whataroa. The car park is well sign-posted off the highway as a tourist site. A number of helicopter operators provide access to the more remote areas of the valleys.

The land around the car park and along the first kilometre of track is privately owned by David and Bernadette Friend of Whataroa (phone +64 3 753 4091). Get their permission before starting your trip. Care should be taken to not disturb their stock.

Nature and conservation

Rugged forest, raging rivers and high mountain peaks are just a few of the natural features of the Whataroa, Butler and Perth valleys.

About the valleys

The Whataroa, Butler and Perth river valleys offer hunters, trampers, kayakers and mountaineers many challenging opportunities and rewards.

The catchment area of these rivers totals over 50,000 hectares of wild and rugged West Coast country. The rivers originate from the Main Divide and most tributaries are glacier fed leading to high river levels during periods of snow melt and difficult conditions at times.

Ice Lake. Photo: Wayne Costello.
Ice Lake

Native species

The forest, which is dominated by southern rātā, kāmahi, Quintinia/tāwheowheo and Hall’s tōtara, gives way to dense alpine scrub, grasslands, herbfields, bare rock and ice at higher altitudes.

Possum control is undertaken every 3–4 years in parts of the catchment and as a result the forest shows much less possum damage and dieback. This helps protect tree species such as fuchsia and southern rātā, which provide valuable food sources for native birds such as tūī and kererū, allowing populations to thrive.

History and culture

The rough terrain meant that large areas of these catchments remained unexplored until relatively recent years. Deep gorges and turbulent rivers thwarted the intentions of many early mountaineering parties wishing to explore the alpine routes in to the catchments of the West Coast and neighbouring Canterbury valleys. The bulk of the exploration did not occur until the 1930s-50s.

During the 1970s huts, swing bridges and more tracks were constructed to enable easier foot access to the heads of the major tributaries, mostly for wild animal management by the NZ Forest Service. Access is still difficult, if not impossible, during periods of heavy rain, when many unbridged side creeks become uncrossable.

Hunting

Tahr and chamois are the main species hunted in the area and fine trophies of either may be taken at any time of the year. There are low numbers of red deer particularly in the Perth River valley. Some impressive brown trout are taken each year predominantly in the lower Whataroa and Perth Rivers. 

Hunters must obtain a hunting permit prior to their trip and carry this with them at all times.

Know before you go

Whataroa-Perth swing bridge. Photo: Katrina Henderson.
Whataroa-Perth swing bridge

NZTopo50 maps: BW16 Whataroa, BW17 Harihari, BX16 Mount Elie De Beaumont

Hazards

Hazards include flooded rivers, rockfall and avalanche.

This trip should not be attempted when it is raining, rain is forecast or the river is running high. 

If you are travelling beyond the snowline then make sure you check avalanche conditions, are sufficiently equipped and experienced to assess the conditions and choose a safe path through avalanche terrain.

Weather

  • The climate in Westland mountain areas is extreme and variable.
  • Rainfall is generally over 5000mm per annum and can occur for days on end at any time of the year. 
  • Snow can occur during any season.
  • Rivers can rise and fall rapidly during and following rain but can also remain high for days especially when fed by snow melt large snow fields or glaciers.

Safety is your responsibility

  • Check the latest conditions at the Westland Tai Poutini National Park Visitor Centre in Franz Josef before leaving - conditions can change rapidly. 
  • Carry a personal locator beacon and fill in the hut books.
  • Note: True left and true right refer to the side of the valley or river when facing and looking downstream.

Before you go into the outdoors, tell someone your plans and leave a date to raise the alarm if you haven't returned. To do this, use the New Zealand Outdoors Intentions process on the AdventureSmart website. It is endorsed by New Zealand's search and rescue agencies and provides three simple options to tell someone you trust the details about your trip.

Dogs

Dogs are prohibited except where authorisation has been granted by DOC. If you wish to take a dog into this area you must obtain a dog permit from the Franz Josef Waiau Area Manager at least one week prior to your trip.

Contacts

Westland Tai Poutini National Park Visitor Centre
Phone:      +64 3 752 0796
Address:   13 State Highway 6
Franz Josef Glacier 7856
Email:   westlandnpvc@doc.govt.nz
Full office details
Franz Josef Glacier Base
Phone:      +64 3 752 0796
Email:   westlandnpvc@doc.govt.nz
Full office details
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