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Most climbing on the St Arnaud Range is accessed from the upper Wairau valley, but the range can also be reached from Lake Rotoiti and the Travers River in Nelson Lakes National Park.
Access: Most peaks are reached from tributaries of the Wairau beyond a locked gate at Six Mile Creek. From St Arnaud head towards Blenheim on SH63 for 9km, then turn onto the skifield road. After about 3.5km the road is joined on the left by that from the homestead, 1.5km back down-valley. Continue from the homestead turn-off for 13km to the locked gate. Beyond here you pass the Hamilton River (6.5km from the gate) and Connors Creek (12km). To get into the Rainbow Valley, turn right onto a 4WD track just before the road swings left to cross the Wairau River, 15km from the locked gate. Park near the pylons. The farm manager no longer permits 4WD vehicles up the riverbed. Rough but okay for mountain bikes. Access to the western side of the St Arnaud Range is from the shores of Lake Rotoiti or from the Travers Valley. From St Arnaud, a track leads to the range via Parachute Rocks (1470m) in about 2½ hours. A range traverse south, towards Rainbow Skifield and Mt McRae is a good day trip, particularly for ski touring. Access down to Lake Rotoiti is easy in several places. Easy ridge travel and good ski touring along the range from Pk 1880m (above St Ronans Well) almost to the Camel.
The skifield road is open for foot access year-round but to vehicles only when the skifield is open. From here there are good day trips by foot or skis. Note that if you walk out of the area controlled by the skifield, you are required to sign an intentions book. The operators are responsible for safety, and don’t want to search needlessly for a walker or climber or the occupants of a vehicle that hasn’t left at the end of the day.
Access: The skifield road is open for foot access year-round but to vehicles only when the skifield is open. From here there are good day trips by foot or skis. Note that if you walk out of the area controlled by the skifield, you are required to sign an intentions book. The operators are responsible for safety, and don’t want to search needlessly for a walker or climber or the occupants of a vehicle that hasn’t left at the end of the day.
Fifteen Mile Spur
Access: Hamilton River (http://climbnz.org.nz/nz/si/nelson-lakes/st-arnaud-range/hamilton-river) Connors Creek (http://climbnz.org.nz/nz/si/nelson-lakes/st-arnaud-range/connors-creek) Begley Creek (http://climbnz.org.nz/nz/si/nelson-lakes/st-arnaud-range/paske-creek-upper-rainbow-river-and-begley-creek)
An attractive peak visible from near the gorge in the Rainbow. Slightly East of St Arnaud Ra.
Access: Rainbow River (http://climbnz.org.nz/nz/si/nelson-lakes/st-arnaud-range/rainbow-river) Paske Creek (http://climbnz.org.nz/nz/si/nelson-lakes/st-arnaud-range/paske-creek-upper-rainbow-river-and-begley-creek)
St Arnaud to Hanmer Road Built in the 1950s to service the hydroelectric power pylons marching northwards, this follows a historic droving route up the Wairau Valley and into Canterbury. The historic cob-built Tophouse accommodation house (near St Arnaud) is still in use, while the old Rainbow Homestead (also cob construction) is used during summer when the road is open to the public. It is a public road as far as the Rainbow Skifield turnoff.
Access: This is a public road as far as the Rainbow Skifield turnoff. Just beyond here, there is a gate at Six Mile Creek. During summer, this is usually open, and a $25 per vehicle road toll collected at the old Rainbow Homestead, 10.5km further. The DOC Visitor Centre at St Arnaud can advise on the road opening times. Although 4WD is seldom needed, the road can get washed out in several places, making it difficult for lower suspension or 2WD cars. However, it's easy for mountain bikes. Locked gate information The road is a toll road managed by Rainbow Station (Star Holdings Ltd) and is open from 26 December to 5 pm on Easter Monday. There is a $25 toll per 4WD vehicle, $15 per motorbike, $2 per mountain or push bike, $2 per tramper. Outside the open period contact Star Holdings Ltd to arrange access through the station to 4WD, tramp, hunt, fish or mountain bike. The DoC website also has information.
The Raglan Range runs between the Branch River and the Wairau Valley.
Access: Lees Creek At about 6km beyond the locked gate at Six Mile Creek there is a footbridge over the Wairau River, and a track to Lees Creek Hut (4 bunks, standard).
The Peak is slightly east of the main Raglan Ra. Scott Stream is the easiest access.
Access: Scott Stream is the easiest access. From Greigs Hut cross the Branch, following a track into the stream. Good campsites in a basin at 1200m. In winter, ice forms in runnels and on buttresses above the campsite.
Attribution: Ben Winnubst. photo Mark Holmes
Access: From the power pylons, follow farm tracks up the Rainbow River; this is the main access route to excellent climbing in the headwaters. Two hours of easy riverbed travel brings you to a gorge. Rainbow Hut (4 bunks) on the south bank is now controlled by Rainbow Station. Climb around the gorge on a stock track on the true left and descend to Rainbow Junction flats.
St Arnaud Range
Attribution: Photo & text by Ben Winnubst
St Arnaud to Hanmer Road
Access: Easy to get to even without a key or 4WD, being only 30min on the MTB from the skifield car park. A marked track follows the true right bank of the Hamilton River. Where it peters out continue up the bouldery riverbed to campsites in the upper basin near the bush edge.
St Arnaud Ra
Attribution: Ben Winnubst
St Arnaud Ra
Attribution: Ben Winnubst
Drains into Upper Wairau Valley.
Access: From the Rainbow Junction flats just above the gorge, stock tracks up terraces on the true left of Paske Creek lead to Paske Hut (6 bunks, standard). About 1½ hours travel up the Rainbow there is a second fork; the north branch gives access to a delightful tussock basin under Kehu Peak, and the south branch leads to Mts Paske and McKay, and a good saddle to the large tarn source of the East Sabine. Begley Creek From the Rainbow Junction flats, a track leads to Begley Hut (8 bunks, standard) and saddles with Connors Creek and the Hamilton River.
Named for Frederick Weld, who in March 1855, with Alphonse Clifford, climbed onto a high point on Turk Ridge and spotted Tarndale, which led to the upper Clarence and opened up the important droving route to Canterbury.
Attribution: Ben Winnubst
All routes reached from the Begley and Rainbow valleys are steep, and probably best done as spring snow or ice climbs. This magnificent peak has some of the best climbing in the park, with nice rock on the normal summer route, and more difficult winter and spring climbs. It is the only major Travers Valley peak visible from Lake Rotoiti, and is named after Thomas Brunner’s Maori guide Kehu (or Ekehu) without whom his epic 18 month journey from Nelson to Paringa would have been impossible.
Attribution: Photo & Text by Ben Winnubst
The Travers Range is the most popular climbing range in the Nelson region. Both easy and challenging routes exist on the four main peaks: Angelus, Hopeless, Cupola and Travers. Access is best via Robert Ridge (see above) or the Travers Valley. As well as the track and huts in the main valley there are tracks into three side creeks and three high huts: Lake Angelus (36 bunks, serviced), Hopeless Hut (6 bunks, standard), Cupola Basin Hut (8 bunks, standard).
Access: Access is best via Robert Ridge or the Travers Valley.
Robert Ridge offers a high route to Lake and Mount Angelus at the tip of the Travers Range.
Access: Drive west along SH63 from St Arnaud and turn left on to West Bay Road. Follow it for 5km, crossing the Buller River and climbing to the upper Mt Robert car park. Walking time from here to Angelus Hut (36 bunks, serviced) is 5-8 hours. The route to Angelus Hut along Robert Ridge is a superb ski tour but beware of avalanches on the two sidles. A more sheltered access is via the track to Speargrass Hut (12 bunks, serviced) and then a poled route to Robert Ridge, or via the Cascade Track up Hukere Stream (beware of ice here in winter). Allow 5-7 hours for either option (less if you take the water taxi for the latter).
Several good routes are possible from Cupola Basin Hut, including some buttresses of reasonable quality rock.
Access: Cupola Basin Routes A marked track to Cupola Basin Hut leaves the Travers Valley at a small clearing. At 1370m and with spectacular views nearby the hut is well sited for climbs.
Attribution: Ben Winnubst Text & upper photo Lower photo: Craig Potton
The highest point on the Travers Range, with routes accessible from either the upper Travers Valley or Summit Creek.
Attribution: Ben Winnubst
Between Mt Cupola & Mt Travers
The Ella Range divides the D’Urville River and the Matakitaki River.
At the head of Lake Rotoroa, that other jewel of inland Nelson, are the Sabine and D’Urville Valleys. Surrounded by extensive beech forest, with great views of the major Travers Range summits, Lake Rotoroa is larger and even more stunning than Rotoiti. There is a camping ground and tourist lodge, but no general store like at St Arnaud. The lake was visited by William Fox, Thomas Brunner, Charles Heaphy and the Maori guide Kehu in February 1846. Stock were once run in the lower valleys and on Mt Misery, but the vegetation has regenerated well, due perhaps to the higher rainfall than in areas further east.
Access: The easiest approach to climbing routes is to take the water taxi up Lake Rotoroa, avoiding a 5-6 hour lakeshore walk. Contact Craig Simpson, phone 03 523 9199. Alternatively, walk from Mt Robert car park to Speargrass Hut (12 bunks, serviced) and the track to Sabine Hut (32 bunks, serviced). East Sabine River At the Sabine Forks, take the track to the swingbridge over the gorge. Cross the bridge to follow the track to reach Gunsight Pass and Travers Saddle. From the bridge, the remnants of an old track follows the river on the true left for about 3 hours to a large grassy flat east-southeast of Mt Franklin. The large tarn which is the source of the East Sabine is further upriver, and can also be reached via Lake Tennyson and Clarence Pass. Good campsite 50m south-west of the tarn outlet. West Sabine River Blue Lake Hut (16 bunks, serviced) in the West Sabine is about 3 hours from Sabine Forks. In winter, large cones of avalanche debris can come off the slopes of the Mahanga Range and cross the track.
Highest mountain in Nelson Lakes National Park. First climbed by a Tararua Tramping Club party led by Bill Bridge in February 1947.
Northern Peak 2220 of Franklin Ridge
Southern 2220 of Franklin Ridge
Lake Rotoiti and the Travers Valley at its head is surely one of the most scenic places in the upper South Island. Mixed beech and podocarp forest extends down to the lake shore, and in winter, there are glimpses of rugged snowclad peaks.
Access: Well formed tracks and day walks lead from St Arnaud village to the tussock and scree tops of the St Arnaud Range, and also along the Robert Ridge, thence by a high route to Lake Rotoroa and Lake Angelus. A water taxi operating on Lake Rotoiti saves the three hour walk around the lake (Contact Bill Butters, Rotoiti Water Taxis, St Arnaud, phone 03 521 1894). It takes 5-8 hours to walk from the lakehead to Upper Travers Hut (24 bunks, serviced), via John Tait Hut (3-5 hrs from the lake, 30 bunks, serviced). Lake Rotoiti was first seen by Pakeha in January 1843, when surveyor John S Cotterell, farm worker Richard Peanter, and a Maori guide negotiated the trackless forested terrain from Nelson through Big Bush. They pushed on to the lake head and up the Travers River, and climbed onto the Divide, probably near Cotterell Peak (the name was given by Charles Heaphy and J S Spooner, who came there in December 1843). Within a few years, sheep and cattle were grazing on flat land near the lake and upper Buller River. The legacy of pastoral clearing can still be seen in burnt stumps on the face of Mt Robert, the Travers River flats, and areas of manuka and second growth.
Named by Stanton and Dumbleton, after they climbed it on an Easter evening.
Attribution: Ben Winnubst, Richard Thomson/ growingwild.co.nz
A striking peak, especially when seen from Cupola Basin Hut, with a variety of routes. An excellent spring and early summer traverse is to climb the Hopeless Couloir and descend the South West Ridge or the Hopeless Creek route to Hopeless Hut. Reputedly named by an early survey party with a poor attitude.
Access: Cupola Basin Routes A marked track to Cupola Basin Hut leaves the Travers Valley at a small clearing. At 1370m and with spectacular views nearby the hut is well sited for climbs. Hopeless Creek Routes A marked track leads from the Travers Valley to Hopeless Hut. A popular trip is to continue up the valley and across Sunset Saddle to Lake Angelus. This route angles up scree (the slopes above catch the sun early, beware of avalanches or ice cannonballs) to a ledge, which gains the crest of the cirque headwall. Continue past tarns to Sunset Saddle (see Sunset Saddle Route Mt Angelus).
Attribution: Ben Winnubst. Craig Potton. Davi Jewell.
In the western part of Nelson Lakes National Park is the wide Matakitaki Valley.
Access: At Longford on SH6, about 20km east of Murchison, take the road to Tutaki and then south to Ella Station. Gold mining was carried out in the Matakitaki during the Nelson goldrush, and the remains of diggings can be seen in Burn Creek and near the junction of the East and West branches. Peaks on the ranges west of the valley can be gained by rather circuitous routes along the tops, but the best climbing is on the Ella Range peaks. Access is through leasehold land of Mt Ella Station. From the DOC sign near the milking shed an old 4WD track follows the valley floor for 4½ hours to the historic pitsawn Downies Hut, built about 1900 (4 bunks, standard). Interesting and sometimes challenging mountainbiking along muddy forest tracks and easy open flats. Above McKellar Stream the track has been recut around a big washout, making it very rough for biking till the easy Downie flats are reached. Quad bikes are permitted but not 4WD vehicles.
The D'Urville is the longest, most remote, and most heavily forested of the valleys draining into lakes Rotoiti and Rotoroa.
Access: Access is best by boat up Lake Rotoroa (see Sabine Valley). The D'Urville can also be reached over Mole or Tiraumea saddles but the track in Bull Creek is no longer maintained, and the footbridge has been removed. Few climbs are known on the D’Urville side of the Mahanga and Ella ranges. Ella Hut (16 bunks, standard) is now renamed George Lyon Hut in honour of the long serving Chief Ranger who built many of the original two-roomed huts in the park.
The Mahanga Range rises from the Rotoroa lake shore and separates the D’Urville and Sabine Valleys.
Southern end of the Mahanga Ra, possibly in the Spenser Mts.
Ella has three summits; a rope may be needed for the middle and south summits. The middle one is a split pinnacle climbed via a chimney. The southern, highest summit is climbed by a ledge on its eastern side, which can be reached from the snowfield via a col south of the peak.
Attribution: Ben Winnubst