Making my own tracks (Arthur's Pass NP, South Island, New Zealand)

Published: February 16th 2010
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(Day 676 on the road)Hiking in wild Arthur's Pass National Park is a trekker's delight. I spent four days there (way too short, I wish I could go back); first I did a day trip up and around Avalanche Peak, and then a wild and very tough, mainly unmarked three-day trek up Goat Pass Valley, over a saddle, and back out via Edwards Valley.

The coastal drive from Westport via Greymouth was stunning to say the least, first cruising along the coast, stopping to view a large seal colony and at the famous Pancake Rocks (and numerous other times to take in the great views of the rough sea, the steep cliffs and the wild beaches). After that, the drive to atmospheric Arthur's Pass Village (with a mighty population of 50) from Greymouth was no less scenic, through narrow valleys, across high bridges, and over Arthur's Pass itself. The village has a great feel to it, with most people coming here to do some serious trekking. Early in the morning you can see hordes of hikers lacing up their boots, checking their maps, and setting off into the wild terrain. Arthur's Pass National Park is the smallest and (deliberately) least developed park in New Zealand. Whilst there are numerous maintained trek, the real joy of trekking here is to get a good map and venture out into unmarked territory, making your own tracks. And that is exactly what I did.

On the first day, I set off on a beautiful, sunny day with the information from the DOC (Department of Conservation) office that the trek up and down Avalanche Peak would take "a minimum of five to six hours", and that I should take "three litres of water". To my surprise however, I reached the peak in just over and hour and a half, having drunk no more than a few sips of water. Great, thanks once again for the accurate walking times. And this even though I asked for a realistic estimate for a reasonably fit person. Ah well.

So, I was at the top well before ten in the morning, but after less than five minutes up there I got chatting to Kiwi Ian and his wife Annie. Ian lives in Christchurch (two hours away by car) and has been hiking in this area for over 40 years. He knows all the routes and pointed out an awesome looking loop to get back to the village across numerous ridges, rather than going down the main path (which would get me back down in an hour or so). It looked amazing and just as I was about to set off Ian looked at his wife Annie with a kind of longing look in his eyes, and Annie just said "All right then, you just go ahead my dear, I will go down the main track and see you back in the village tonight." Ian was happy as anything, as he hadn't done this trek in about ten years as he told me later.

So Ian and I set off to a most splendid day of hiking in completely unmarked terrain, over and across numerous rocky ridges, then shooting down the loose gravel of an avalanche path, in the end following a river down the valley. Later at night I should hear people at the campsite talking about "these two people that went off trekking into nowhere from Avalanche Peak". But I have to admit that Ian was a considerably more experienced hiker than me and thus quite a bit faster, especially downhill. His technique was simply amazing. We finished very close to a small weekend-house that belongs to a friend of his, and Annie and two other couples were waiting there for us with cold drinks and fresh fruits. As it turned out, these three couples had got married together 35 years ago to the day and were having their yearly wedding-celebration. I didn't stay for their special dinner of course, but I did spend a couple of hours chatting to all of them in their comfy backyard, sipping tea and eating delicious home-made cake. What a way to end a perfect day...

That same evening, my luck continued when I met adventurous Annie (another Annie, strange) from Canada at the campsite in the village. Ian had given me invaluable tips where to go for a multi-day hike in the area, and as Annie was also keen to this particular route we teamed up and set off early the next morning on a three-day trek. It was Annie's first hike in New Zealand so she was a little nervous about the terrain and her satmania, but in the end it was all good. Plus she immensely amused me with her "h". As you might know, most French speakers have big problems pronouncing the "h" in English - so hot becomes 'ot, horrible becomes 'orrible and so on. Annie did well on these, but she overcompensated by putting a lot of "h" where there are none. She would say stuff like "I like eating my hoats in the morning" or "we have to be careful at the steep hedge over there". It made me laugh so hard, especially the very dangerous "hedge".

The following three days were technically very demanding, but worth every bit of it. The first day, after almost ten hours of walking (as opposed to a mere six hours as the DOC office had told us), we camped next to stunning Lake Mavis, high up at 1600 metres and far away from any marked track. The night was bitter-cold, but we were rewarded the next morning with a spectacular sunrise.

The next day, we first attempted to circle around Mt. Oates to avoid having to climb it, but that came to an abrupt stop at a steep bluff right in front of us (I made a mental note to improve my map-reading skills). In the end, we had to climb across Mt. Oates and down the other side to an unnamed but simply beautiful tiny lake, the perfect place for a lunch stop. After that, we were looking for a route down into Edwards Valley. We couldn't quite make out where exactly we were and were moderately worried as the map showed steep cliffs and bluffs in the area. But we were lucky by picking a route down along a riverbed and made our way down without encountering any impassable sections. It was however a very tough descent by any standard. It was windy, cloudy and drizzling, and we had to climb and then scramble down across small and large, pretty slippery rocks all afternoon, before finally reaching the valley. After that it was an easy stroll to Edwards Hut, crossing a few rivers along the way.

Day three was easy in comparison to the strenuous first two days, mainly just down the valley back to the road. From there, we got a lift back to the village with the Rough Guide's author of their upcoming new edition of the New Zealand Rough Guide, who was currently researching the area. A highly interesting encounter to end four simply amazing days.

Next stop: Young-Siberia Valleys Trek (South Island, New Zealand).

To view my photos, have a look at And to read the full account of my journey, have a look at the complete book about my trip at Amazon (and most other online book shops).


16th February 2010

I just love your pictures. How on earth do you get these stunning views in 2D with a simple camera????
16th February 2010

amazing wish i could join you on your travels
17th February 2010

Just wanted to say that I've enjoyed reading this post and your last one. I've never done any trekking but looking at your pictures really makes me want to try it. Sounds like a great trip! Enjoy! :)
22nd April 2010

promotion Arthurs Pass
Hi We love your photo's and would be interested in using them to promote the Selwyn area for Selwyn District Council. Would you be interested. Kind Regards Alex Rutherford

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