A classic crossing of the Main Divide, following the deep valleys of the Hope Fault from the Arthur's Pass road to the Lewis Pass road.
Later, it was used in the 1860s by diggers and stock drovers heading for the West Coast goldfields. In 1940, a series of four high grade huts were constructed over the route. Evidently, the plan was to create a tourist walk comparable to the Milford Track in Fiordland. Two of these huts have since disappeared: the No. 1 Hut from the eastern end of Lake Taylor, and the No. 2 Hut from the Hurunui River near Lake Sumner. The No. 3 Hut is looking tired but habitable, while the No. 4 Hut has been recently renovated, and is more charming than ever.
The long, straight valleys of the Taramakau, Hurunui, and Hope Rivers are all aligned along the Hope Fault. The track described here follows the Hope Fault east-by-northeast along 65km of its length, only departing from it briefly around Lake Sumner. Here, the route bends around the northern shore of this large but isolated lake, climbing over a glacial moraine on the Kiwi Pack Track, and dropping back to the fault along the Hope River.
Today, the walk sees relatively few visitors. Much of the journey is along riverbeds with little or no track marking, and frequent river crossings. Valley walking is commonly in the open, with no shelter from summer sun. The track over the pass is rough and slightly overgrown. The heavy natural erosion in the area means tracks are damaged easily, and slips can change the route and the courses of rivers. Times may be unreliable, and huts are unevenly spaced. Walkers are strongly advised to carry a tent, as well as 1:50 000 scale topographic maps. Note that the 6 bunk biv has been removed from Harper Pass, and the 2 bunk biv is frequently occupied.
Although traditionally walked from east to west, taking advantage of an easy climb to the pass on the eastern side, DOC now recommends a course from west to east. This results in the major river crossings being undertaken immediately, rather than at the end of a long tramp. If the weather is bad or the rivers are up, walkers can then opt not to begin walking at all. The route described here is the prescribed DOC route from west to east.
The track begins at Aickens Corner on the West Coast Road (SH73) where the Otira River, draining Arthur's Pass, joins the Taramakau, and the road bends onto farmland. A sign indicates Taramakau Valley access, and a car park and intentions book are located here.
The track ends at Windy Point, between Boyle Village and the Hope Bridge, on SH7, the road through Lewis Pass. Buses pass both track ends around the middle of the day. Check times before setting out.
The track may also be accessed by driving along the Lake Sumner Road inland from Hawarden and Waikari. Park at Lake Taylor, and walk 2-3 hr to Hurunui Hut.
The Hurunui Valley beneath No. 3 Hut amd the Kiwi and Hope Valleys are private land. Respect the landowners' rights. Leave gates as you find them, and do not disturb stock.
DOC Aickens Base - Kiwi Hut: 3¾ hr
From the car park, follow the right side of a fenceline directly toward the Otira River, and down onto the wide, stony riverbed just south of its confluence with the Taramakau. The Otira River is swift and may be over waist deep, even in dry conditions. Scour around for the best crossing. Once across, head for the gap in the trees, a little north. A vehicle track takes up in the scrub and passes a shelter (0:30).
The vehicle track continues across the flats, often mixing up with animal tracks. Generally, the foot track sidles near the trees at the top of the flats. Crossing a shallow creek, the vehicle track leads drearily over gorse-choked flats past the deeply incised valleys north of the Taramakau. As the track drops onto the wide riverbed, a side track to Lake Kaurapataka is marked just before the Pfeifer Creekbed. The flats soon run out, and the wide riverbed becomes littered with tree trunks and forest debris. It is worth crossing to the true right bank, with tedious, stony walking under the steep hillsides north of the river (2:10).
Before the Otehake River mouth becomes visible across the river, a vehicle track enters the forest margin. You can follow this through a brief stretch of forest to a substantial grassy glade. The private Taverners Hut is here, and there is easy walking for a few minutes before another vehicle track returns to the riverbed.
Beyond Jacksons Creek, the next significant valley on the true right, grassy flats appear. A vehicle track leads across them, with a junction marking the side track to Kiwi Hut after some distance. Kiwi Hut sits on a terrace overlooking another long grassy flat, hidden beyond a strip of beech forest.
Kiwi Hut - Locke Stream (No. 4) Hut: 3½ hr
Grass flats, sand, old river channels, and red lichen-encrusted stones make for tedious walking as the valley bends leftward. Soon, the view extends to the head of the valley, and the pass itself seems deceptively low. A return to the true left is necessary at some stage. Eventually, the twisting and renowned Townsend Creek descends from Minchin Pass on the true left, and Yeo Creek is nearby on the true right. A series of small slips mark the true right bank as the valley narros distinctly. Across the wide fan of Locke Stream, a track begins at the bush edge. Where the track returns to the river in a few minutes, a wet weather route continues in the bush. This is probably the best option in any weather.
Locke Stream Hut is situated in a pretty clearing above the river, opposite where Dixon Creek enters the Taramakau, and there is no escaping the noise of flowing water. Because of its inaccessibility, the hut was constructed of handhewn, local cedar and totara. The 1940 hut has recently been renovated and is looking most handsome, although the original carpentry is still visible.
Locke Stream (No. 4) Hut - Harper Pass: 3¾ hr
The climb over Harper Pass involves riverbed travel, overgrown and eroded tracks, and times may be deceptive. Sections of overgrown track lead through the bush occasionally on the true left, and a footbridge is provided to allow the crossing to the true right before the final climb. Don't be deceived by this -- much of the walking is along the riverbed, with extensive crossing back and forth beneath the bridge. Generally, it is a matter of picking your way up the riverbed until a large slip (1:30). Beyond here, the track enters a handsome forest of buttressed red beech and comes upon the footbridge. A campsite amongst the trees appears to be well-used here.
Staying on the true right now, a rough track picks its way along the grasses at the river's edge, before turning up a creek and leaving the Taramakau behind. The climb is steady, and there are soon good views back along the Taramakau Valley. Check them out now, for the views from the pass are very limited. Neinei and inanga soon accompany the mountain holly and ribbonwood and the track levels out (3:15). This is not the top, however. It's a pleasant sidle to a creek and welcome water supply before a small climb and a little more fuss onto Harper Pass (963m), where Lake Sumner Forest Park takes over from Arthur's Pass National Park. Views from here are limited, but better views can be obtained by climbing up onto the tops from here.
Harper Pass - Harper Pass Biv: 1 hr
A track descends gently as the Hurunui River takes up as a tiny creek. Although smooth and easy, the narrow track is hidden by grasses that crowd it on either side. After disappearing into the creekbed briefly at a small flat, the track enters forest on the true left and comes out at another small flat, thick with grasses and edged with ribbonwood. Two small streams enter from the left and the right, marking the location of the biv on the true right. The track crosses here to that bank. The small biv is often occupied, but there is grassy camping alongside.
Harper Pass Biv - Camerons Hut: 2 hr
Fast and easy tracks through the beech forest alternate with unmarked routes across easier river flats as the valley widens. Markings are often poor, and the occasional slip has damaged the track.
Beyond a wide shingle fan, the track crosses grass flats with a hut visible at the edge of the forest in the distance. Camerons Hut is an old and rough cullers' hut, but welcoming.
Camerons Hut - No. 3 Hut: 1 hr
Entering forest just beyond the hut and crossing a shingle fan, the track soon comes to a three-wire bridge at Camerons Stream (0:30). In normal conditions, it can also be forded. Following the flats and occasionally slipping into the forest, the track soon leads to the old hut. Sitting away from the river and surrounded by matagouri, the disheveled relic was constructed in anticipation of a tourist era that never came.
No. 3 Hut - Hurunui Hot Springs: 2 hr
A wide track continues on to the nearby cattle fence that crosses the valley floor. Steps lead over the fence under trees on the true right, and the track quickly returns to the valley floor. The flats are private land and stocked with cattle. There are even magpies in the treetops. Soon, a bend of the river cuts off the flats, and the track detours into rougher hillside forest.
After a long sidle, the track bends around a small corner and drops close to the river. A brief track leads up to the right from here to the Hurunui Hot Springs. (If you miss the junction, you should notice the warm, algal runoff from the springs crossing the track a few metres on. From here return to the corner and climb up the hillside a minute or so.) Water has been channelled into a single concreted pool, and cascades down the hillside continuously. The pool is very hot, sometimes even too hot to enter. Alternatively, there is good but icy swimming in the river below.
Hurunui Hot Springs - Hurunui Hut: 1½ hr
Around here, we leave the Hope Fault behind for a while as it cuts directly through to the Hope River on a northeasterly course. Our route follows the Hurunui River to the east, before edging around Lake Sumner and bending sharply northward, across Kiwi Saddle to rejoin the Fault near Hope-Kiwi Lodge.
Across a few creeks in the forest, the track emerges onto the wide cattle flats, and the route up the Mackenzie River is indicated across the valley. With hot, tedious, unshaded travel, a vehicle track eventually appears, bending sharply into forest by an old river fan (1:00). The vehicle track soon begins to climb off the valley floor, and to the east, the distant lake is revealed not so much by its blue reflections as by the unobscured shapes of the mountains beyond. Hurunui Hut is soon reached, situated in a sunny clearing amongst high beech forest.
Hurunui Hut - Hope-Kiwi Lodge: 5 hr
Back behind the hut, the track strolls easily through beech forest down to the river. Climbing onto the hillside for a moment, where a junction is met. The track to the No. 2 Hut site and the Lake Sumner Road continues straight ahead. Our route, however, leaves the Harper Pass Track behind, dropping back to the river, with a glimpse of the lake, on the way down. A rocky path bends back upriver to the Hurunui Swingbridge, a long bridge over the wide and shallow river (0:40).
Crossing the matagouri flats of Lakes Station, the route turns right, down the long grass cattle flats. Gradually, the flats become narrower, and the lake more prominent in the distance as a side track to Mac's Knob is passed. The birdlife is rich in this area, with bellbirds, robins, fantails, and parakeets in the matagouri, and black fronted terns circling about the river.
As a terrace begins to form on the left (1:30), the track bends sharply to enter forest, and climbs onto a vague sidle along the top of the terrace. This bend is very poorly marked for west-to-east walkers (you must look back west to see it!) and is usually missed. In normal conditions, walking is easier on the river flats, anyway, although the river cuts right into the bank at one point.
The track soon drops back to the flats and meets the lake edge, although the impression is more of a continuation of the river flats just below the water level.
You can say hello and goodbye to Lake Sumner in one easy breath as the track cuts inland immediately to cross a low spur. An old, alternative track follows the water's edge amongst the trees to Charley's Point. But this old trail is rough and tedious. A stroll along the stony, kowhai-fringed beach is worthwhile, and it is possible to see trout basking in the shallows. You can continue along the beach all the way to Charley's Point, a slightly tedious 1 hr walk.
The marked track climbs easily over a low spur to meet Three Mile Stream and a swingbridge(2:30). (From here you can follow the true right riverbank through light beech forest out to Charley's Point, a good camping or lunch spot by the lake. This side trip is 20 min each way.)
A good track climbs relatively easily through pretty beech forest, eventually surmounting the moraine, levelling out and passing a 2 minute side track on the right (3:30). The lookout point here would provide panoramic views of the entire lake if the trees weren't in the way.
Beyond a side track to Lake Marion, the track drops easily and quickly onto the rolling, parklike grassland of the Kiwi Flats (4:15). The route stays under trees for a few minutes before crossing the valley on a vague 4WD track. The track avoids the numerous swampy patches hidden in the grass but offers no shade from the sun at all.
Hope-Kiwi Lodge is fenced in to keep out cattle and resembles a backpackers hostel rather than a backcountry hut. It is visited by relatively large parties, including horse trekkers.
Hope-Kiwi Lodge - Hope Halfway Hut: 2 hr
Beyond the Lodge, the track is vague. Make your way down to the Hope River and simply ford it if it is low. Pick up the trail heading downstream on the true left bank, avoiding the misleading cattle trails that wind through the matagouri. Alternatively, there is a swingbridge a few minutes upstream along the Hope River.
As the river cuts into its bank, the track climbs into forest, where a winding, narrow track edges along the soft, eroding terrace. The sparsely furnished hut is located at the edge of a high grass flat.
Hope Halfway Hut - Windy Point: 3¼ hr
Beyond here, the track is indistinct. If you can't find markers, cross the broken flats and watch out for them near the forest edge. Don't drop onto the river flats. If in doubt try cutting directly into the forest for a minute or two. The eyes can make out tracks everywhere in the open beech forest, but the real trail is wide, smooth, and unmistakeable.
On a quick but long trail, the track climbs higher and higher above the river until it breaks onto scrubby flats (2:30) and follows a vehicle track down toward the river. Opposite some buildings (the Amuri Area School Outdoor Education Centre), a foot track drops down to the gorge of the Boyle River, where a particularly high swingbridge has been installed. Past an intentions book, the track meets the road in to the school buildings. Follow this out to the car park and shelter.
There is no shade at all by the SH7 roadside, where the buses pass around midday.