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Arthur's Pass: Harper Pass route

Alert/Important notice

Track damage, radio, emergency shelter

Updated November 2014:

  • There are major slips around the headwaters of the Taramakau River resulting in longer track times.
  • Fallen trees and slips on Otira flood-track - very difficult and slow going.
  • The radio in Locke Stream hut has been permanently removed.
  • The emergency shelter at Taramakau junction has washed away.

Track category

Route

Time:  

4-5 days

Description

You are recommended to start the trip from the west as fine weather is required when crossing the Otira, Otehake and Taramakau Rivers. These rivers are dangerous to cross in bad weather.

The eastern side is easier because bridges over all major rivers and good forest tracks make tramping possible even in unpleasant conditions.

Aicken-Kiwi Hut-Locke Stream Hut

Time: 6 hr

If the Otira River is not easy to ford, postpone your tramp until another day.

Parties travelling from the east and finding themselves stuck on the far side of the Otira can use an emergency flood track, adding two hours to the tramp. This marked route starts just above the shelter and takes you to the Morrison footbridge at the confluence of the Otira and Deception rivers. In extreme weather conditions, this route can also be cut off by flooded sections. Do not use the emergency flood track to start your tramp as there are many river crossings further up the Taramakau valley.

If the Otira is able to be forded, start from the Aickens car park, cross the stile and follow the fence line to the river. After fording the Otira, make for the gap at the end of the band of tall trees immediately opposite (marked by orange triangle).

A track leads through high bracken and scrub to grassy flats. Continue walking along these grassy flats past Pfeifer Creek and the sign-posted turn-off to Lake Kaurapataka. Stay on the true left bank and cross Otehake River and then the Taramakau separately.

Continue along the true right for about a kilometre above the Otehake where a sign will indicate the short side-track to Kiwi Hut (8 bunks).

Above Kiwi Hut pick your own route, crossing and re-crossing the river to take advantage of stable mossy flats. Towards Locke Stream the riverbed begins to narrow and eroded banks on the true right become steeper. Cross to the true left and continue on as far as Locke Stream where a short track leads through fuchsia forest to Locke Stream Hut (No.4) The hut has a radio link to Arthur’s Pass Visitor Centre.

Locke Stream Hut - No.3 Hut

Time: 6 - 7 hr

Above Locke Stream Hut the track travels along the true left, at times in the forest and at times in the riverbed. The swing bridge is about one hour from Locke Stream Hut. Beyond the bridge the track switches to the true right of the river, again through forest and riverbed.

Eventually the track leaves the river and begins to climb towards the pass. The track is steep and rough in places. As forest gives way to alpine scrub and tussock, the gradient eases. A sign marking the summit of the pass is reached in three hours.

The track drops fairly quickly on the eastern side of the pass into the headwaters of Hurunui River. After 30 minutes you will reach the two-person Harper Pass Biv, which is attractively sited in a grove of ribbonwood/mānatu above the stream on the true right.

Below Harper Pass Biv walking becomes a lot easier as the track drops down through beech/tawhai forest. As the valley opens, the track emerges onto river flats, with Camerons Hut standing out from the edge of the forest. (Harper Pass Biv to Camerons Hut two hours.) Camerons Hut is showing its age.

Cameron Stream has an emergency walk-wire 100 metres up from the Hurunui riverbed. From here the track returns to the forest and keeps just within the fringes until it emerges again on river flats at Hurunui No.3 Hut.

No.3 Hut to Hurunui Hut

Time:  4 hr

Below Hurunui No.3 Hut, the track follows easy grassy flats across the valley floor. The track keeps to the true right, at times on the flats or in the forest. The forest sections sidle up and down the hillside to bypass places where the river cuts in against the bank.

The highlight of this part of the journey is the hot spring about two hours walk from Hurunui No. 3 Hut. This spring flows from the rock about 30 metres above the bed of the Hurunui River and sends sulphurous waters down an open scar in the forest. The track crosses the scar below the spring. A small pool has been formed at the spring. Keep an eye out for the turn-off as it is easy to miss.

From the hot springs the track returns to river flats, then sidles up through mānuka forest to Hurunui Hut, sited well up the hillside.

Hurunui Hut to Hope- Kiwi Hut

Time: 6 hr 

From Hurunui Hut the track descends to the swing bridge across Hurunui River.

Cross the bridge and take the 4WD track to the forest edge on the far side of the matagouri flats. Continue along the forest edge to where the track heads into forest at the headwaters of Lake Sumner. After a short return to grassy flats the track enters the forest again and begins to climb easily to Three Mile Stream.

After crossing Three Mile Stream, the track climbs steadily to Kiwi Saddle through forest dominated by tall red beech/tawhairaunui. Just before the summit there is a short two-minute side track to a lookout across the lake. This is well worth a photo stop.

From the saddle descend to the swampy grasslands of Kiwi valley. Follow the track on your left to avoid the bogs and then pick up a four-wheel-drive track on the true right of Kiwi River across the open grasslands to Hope Kiwi Lodge. 

Hope-Kiwi Hut to Lewis Pass highway

Time: 5 - 6 hr

Follow the poled route from Hope Kiwi Lodge along the forest edge to the Hope River swing bridge about 30 minutes from the hut. For an hour or so below the swing bridge the track wanders down the broad grassy flats until eroded riverbanks mean a return to the forest. The third time the track leaves the river it climbs the bank to Hope Shelter. (Note: The fireplace has been removed.)

After Hope Shelter the track keeps to the beech forest for 2–3 hours on terraces high above the riverbed. At the forest edge, a vehicle track descends down through mānuka and tussock to the swing bridge over the Boyle River gorge. Amuri Area School Outdoor Education Centre is here and five minutes down the shingle road is the shelter and car park at Windy Point, just off Lewis Pass Highway.

Lake Karapataka side trip

Time: 6 - 7 hr or 1 - 2 days

Follow the Taramakau track from the shelter as far as the sign-posted turn-off at Pfeifer Creek. Follow the streambed of Pfeifer Creek for about 100 metres to the start of the track on the true right. The track passes through attractive red-beech forest to the confluence of Pfeifer Creek and the stream draining the lake. It crosses the stream and continues up the true left to the lake. There are several good campsites along the lake edge. Cairns mark where to leave the track to find the campsites.

The track to the Otehake River continues around to the head of the lake, up a short climb to the saddle between the lake and the river. From here the track drops steeply into the Otehake and another good campsite. The route down the Otehake is mostly on the true right, boulder hopping beside the river, crossing where necessary. This is not possible in rain or if rivers are high. Ford the Otehake again just above where it joins the Taramakau and then walk down the river flats back to Otira River.

Getting there

This trip starts at the Aicken carpark beside SH 73, 5km west of the Otira Township. You need to ford the Otira River to access the Taramakau Valley.

The trip finishes at the shelter and car park at Windy Point, just off the Lewis Pass Highway (SH7).

Plan and prepare

  • Grades: West, unmarked route. East, tramping track.
  • Experience: Suitable for well-equipped people with previous back-country tramping experience. Rivercrossing and route finding is required on the western side.
  • NZTopomap50: Moana BU20, Haupiri BU21, Lake Sumner BU22, Boyle BU23. 

You are recommended to start the trip from the west as fine weather is required when crossing the Otira, Otehake and Taramakau Rivers. These rivers are dangerous to cross in bad weather.

The eastern side is easier because bridges over all major rivers (except Three Mile Stream) and good forest tracks make tramping possible even in unpleasant conditions.

Safety on Arthur's Pass routes

  • Allow adequate time. Note the times given for each section are guides only.
  • Check snow and weather conditions. Mountain weather forecasts are available from the Arthur's Pass Visitor Centre.
  • Know your ability. Arthur's Pass National Park is mountain country. Navigational skills and ability to judge weather and river conditions are essential. Be prepared to turn back if conditions are not safe.
  • Never travel alone. This route is difficult.
  • Take a map and compass. Topomaps for the area are available to buy or hire from the Arthur's Pass Visitor Centre.
  • Cross rivers safely. Take care with river crossings especially after heavy rain. If in doubt, wait it out.
  • Note: True right and true left refers to the sides of the valley when 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.


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Contacts

Arthur's Pass National Park Visitor Centre
Phone:      +64 3 318 9211
Address:   State Highway 73
Arthur's Pass
Email:   arthurspassvc@doc.govt.nz
Full office details
Rangiora Office
Phone:      +64 3 313 0820
Email:   waimakariri@doc.govt.nz
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