Arahura & Styx valleys tracks

Alert/Important notice

Styx River conditions:

Styx Valley Track is very rough with numerous slips to be negotiated. These slips are moving after each rain event and can be difficult to cross by inexperienced people.

The Styx River has cut into a vertical gravel cliff 20 minutes from the Styx car park. To continue up the valley be prepared to cross the river at normal flow below and above this slip. Parties or individuals that are not confident with river crossing should travel through via the Arahura valley.

The alternative via the Arahura Track has a major slip south of Snowball Creek. Caution is advised when crossing this slip.

Track category

Tramping track

Time:  

2 - 4 days. Times shown are a general guide only.

Description

Tussock butterfly on red tussock. Photo: Rod Morris.
The route passes through a large tussock flat where you can see sights such as this Tussock butterfly on red tussock

Styx Road End to Grassy Flat Hut

Time: 4.5 - 5 hr

From the end of the 4WD track, walk around the riverbed at the base of the bluffs to the start of the benched track. Note that presently part of the flow of the river runs against the bluff and this section can only be negotiated at normal to low flow.

The track remains on the true right Styx River bank crossing numerous side streams on the way. At various points the track descends onto the riverbed for short distances before climbing back onto the benched formation. Note that in the vicinity of Tyndal Creek a slip has cut the track at a point where the track is about 10 metres above the river. This slip is steep but has a narrow "benched" route across it. Some people may find the sense of exposure off-putting at this point. 

Upstream of the turn-off to Mid-Styx Hut, the track has been rerouted over a high bluff. Presently the river runs hard against the base of this bluff at a point and cannot be negotiated.The track eventually emerges onto the bottom end of Grassy Flat, just upstream from the remains of an old swing bridge. Travel upstream across toe toe flats for about 200 metres then ford the Styx River to the true left and the beginning of the track (marked with a large orange triangle) through the tussock and scrub to Grassy Flat Hut. The hut sleeps 10 and is heated by a wood stove.

Grassy Flat Hut to Styx Saddle

Time: 1 - 1.5 hrs

The track leaves Grassy Flat Hut and crosses the unnamed tributary of the Styx immediately upstream of the hut. Rock cairns and orange markers show the way to a short section of track through scrub, which takes you to the Styx River. Cross the river and follow the track through tussock and grass and enter the bush. The track climbs and finally exits onto the tussock covered boggy saddle. Here the route is marked with tall poles and crosses the saddle to descend and join with the sign posted junction in the track, high above the Arahura River.

Styx Saddle to Mudflats Hut

Time: 2 - 2 .5 hrs

The track leaves the benched formation at the un-named creek upstream of Snowball Creek and follows this down. The track is picked up on the true left of this creek some 150 metres before it joins the Arahura River and drops gradually through the bush to the river bed. The track follows the riverbed for a short distance before climbing onto a low scrub and tussock terrace to reach the swing bridge. Mudflats Hut can be seen on a high terrace on the true right and is reached by crossing the river via the Mudflats Swing Bridge.

Note: From Styx Saddle to Mudflats Hut the track crosses several deep guts which in the winter time during extreme snow conditions can become avalanche chutes. Extra care is required at these times.

Mudflats Hut to Lower Arahura Hut

Time: 4.5 - 5 hrs

From the swing bridge at Mudflats the track leaves the true left bank of the Arahura River and climbs steeply, crossing Visitor Creek to join the benched formation once again high above the Arahura River. This formation is followed (with some detours where it has slipped or washed away) and finally drops down on unnamed creek to rejoin the track some 30 minutes above the Lower Arahura hut. Follow the track to the hut ignoring a swing bridge which is passed on the way.

Lower Arahura hut to Road End

Time: 2.5 - 3.5 hrs

From this hut travel is a mix of track and riverbed, negotiating several “washed out’ side streams on the way until the swing bridge over the Arahura River at the “Cesspool” is reached. Cross this bridge to the true right and follow the old logging road and river flats through private farmland before reaching the public road near the Milltown Bridge over the Arahura River. This road leads to Lake Kaniere and onto Hokitika, some 26 kms away.

Extended trip

Styx Saddle to Harman Hut

Time: 1.5 - 2 hrs

A further day can be added to the trip to take in a well worthwhile visit to Lake Browning/Whakarewa and Browning Pass/Noti Raureka. From the sign-posted junction at Styx Saddle follow the benched track which sidles and climbs high on the true left above the Arahura River, before dropping down to the swing bridge across Harman River. Cross this bridge and climb back on to the terrace and follow the track across alpine bog-land to Harman Hut. Harman Hut has 6 bunks and a wood stove. Firewood is very scarce however.

Harman Hut to Lake Browning/Whakarewa and Browning Pass/Noti Raureka

Time: 3 - 4 hours

From Harman Hut follow the benched track for about 1.5km before dropping down an un-named side stream to the Arahura River. A short section of track takes you out to the open riverbed. Boulder hop up the true left bank for about 1 km keeping an eye out for a large orange triangle on the true right, which marks the beginning of the climb to the benched track sidling high above the Arahura avoiding a tight gorge and a 100metre fall. The track and the much reduced Arahura River eventually meet. Cross the stream at this point. The track follows marker poles steeply before reaching a boggy terrace. It winds its way through to the lake, sidles the lake and climbs diagonally to the Pass just east of spot height 1426 metres. During misty, low cloud conditions it can be difficult to locate and follow the markers. Care is needed. 

Getting there

Access to the Styx Valley is off the Kokatahi/Lake Kaniere circuit road approximately 1 km on the Lake Kaniere side of the Mark Wallace Styx River Bridge. The track begins at a car park about 500 metres along the Dorothy Falls Road from the last road bridge across the Styx River and initially follows a rough 4WD route.

Activities

Bird and wildlife watching Bird and wildlife watching
Kayaking and canoeing Kayaking and canoeing

Bird and wildlife watching

The Styx River is a good place to see Whio (blue duck). Sit near the river and be quiet and patient - you should see some ducks surfing the rapids.

Hunting

Find out about hunting here.

Kayaking and canoeing

People kayak both the Arahura and Styx Rivers and access is gained either by walking, or for longer trips flying in by helicopter.

Arahura

  • Classic grade 4 and 5 technical, steep, medium volume river running.
  • The Arahura is 14km of the most dynamically and aesthetically satisfying grade 4+ kayaking available in the world! 

Styx

  • The Styx River is steep, technical, varied and similar to the helicopter access trips in the region.
  • Classic ‘read and run’ technical grade 4/4+ whitewater in the first 1.5km. Classic grade 3 whitewater from there down. Tight lines, fairly steep gradient, short drops which are often close together to form longer sequences. 

About the area

The Arahura/Styx Valleys are popular areas for hunting and tramping, with the lower valleys of both rivers also popular for trout fishing. Much of the track in both valleys was constructed in the late 1860s in an attempt to connect the West Coast Goldfields with Canterbury via Browning Pass/Noti Raureka.

The low Styx Saddle connects the two valleys allowing round trips during the summer and autumn. Browning Pass/Noti Raureka at the head of the Arahura River gives access across the Main Divide to the Wilberforce River. It is also on the route of the “Three Pass Trip” from the Waimakariri River over the Harman Pass, Whitehorn Pass and Browning Pass/Noti Raureka to the Arahura headwaters. View Arthur's Pass: Three Passes Route.

The area has an interesting history of use by early Maori, early European explorers and gold miners.

In early 2011 the track between the road-end and Grassy Flat suffered severe storm damage. While useable the nature of the track as a predominantly benched "even graded" formation has changed with one major re-route to avoid the river and other minor re-routes where the benched formation has been eroded.

Plan and prepare

Suitability

The Styx Arahura Track is suitable for well equipped people with previous backcountry experience.

Best season

The best seasons for walking this track are summer and autumn.

Hazards

  • Flooded rivers and side streams.
  • Avalanches down any of the side streams are a risk if a diversion to Browning Pass/Noti Raureka is undertaken during the winter/early spring. Ice axes and crampons may be required if travelling to Browning Pass/Noti Raureka in the winter.
  • Progress may be slowed by storm damage to the route and re-growth of vegetation.
  • Bad weather and track damage may mean allowances need to be made for possible delays.

Safety

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.

Information in this guide is an indication of conditions only. 

Note: True left and true right refer to the side of the valley or river when looking downstream.

Call at the Department of Conservation office for the latest track conditions and to purchase your hut tickets prior to starting the trip. 

Before embarking on the Styx-Arahura Valley walk and for track conditions, maps, weather forecasts and more information on the area contact:

Hokitika Office
Phone:      +64 3 756 9100
Email:   hokitika@doc.govt.nz
Full office details
 

This route guide should be read in conjunction with Topographical Maps NZ Topo50-BV19 Lake Kaniere.

Wear tramping boots and take wet weather gear in readiness for sudden weather changes common on the West Coast.


Related links

Saving the whio in Styx Valley

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Hokitika Office
Phone:      +64 3 756 9100
Email:   hokitika@doc.govt.nz
Full office details

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