Acheron Road
Image: Paul Mahoney | DOC

Introduction

Acheron Road will reopen on Saturday October 21, Labour Weekend, 2017. Note the Clarence Bridge is currently closed due to flood damage. This means that no access is available between the Awatere (Marlborough) side of the Acheron Road and Hanmer Springs. Please check alerts on this page for this road, before your trip.

Track overview

207 km one way

Mountain biking

Advanced: Grade 4

Other activities

  • Four wheel driving

Seasonal restrictions

Acheron Road is closed for the season. It will reopen on the Saturday morning of Labour Weekend 2017.

The Acheron Road through Molesworth Station is open 7 am – 7 pm daily from the Saturday of Labour Weekend to Easter Monday or the second Sunday in April, whichever is the later date.

It can close without warning due to weather conditions or fire danger. Check the current status.

Dog access

No dogs

About this track

Description

The journey from Blenheim to Hanmer Springs follows the Awatere River, then crosses Wards Pass to follow the Acheron to its confluence with the Clarence River.

After 100 km of travel up the Awatere Valley, you reach the Molesworth Cob Cottage. The main section through Molesworth between Cob Cottage and Acheron Accommodation House is 59 km, taking a minimum of two hours of driving. There are several shelters and information panels along the way.

Note: Distances in brackets are provided firstly from Blenheim end of The Acheron Road, and secondly from Hanmer.

Awatere turn-off (22 km/185 km)

From Blenheim, follow SH1 south, then turn right at the Awatere Valley intersection just north of Seddon and the Awatere Valley Bridge. A sign here will indicate whether the Molesworth Road is open.

Along the public Awatere Valley Road, picnic and toilet facilities are offered at the Marlborough District Council’s Blairich Recreation Reserve (37 km/161 km) and the Hodder Bridge Picnic Area (76 km/132 km). The latter is where trampers set out to climb Mount Tapuae‑o‑Uenuku (2885 m), New Zealand’s tallest mountain outside the southern divide.

The Awatere Valley is known for fine‑woolled merino sheep and distinctive wines.

Molesworth Cob Cottage (122 km/85 km)

For visitors who have travelled up the Awatere Valley, the original cob homestead built by John Murphy in 1866 is the gateway to Molesworth where the Acheron Road begins. If the road is closed, please go no further.

Cob Cottage.

Molesworth Cob Cottage Campsite

Category: Standard
Facilities: 20 non-powered/tent sites, water from tap
Bookings not required - first come, first served

Cobb Cottage to Acheron Accommodation House (the section within Molesworth Station) is 59km. 

Wards Pass (131 km/76 km)

Crossing the flats from the cottage, look south towards the triangular‑shaped Dillon Cone (2174 m) and straight ahead to Barefell Pass, recorded by Frederick Weld in 1850 and still used for moving stock from the Awatere to the Acheron catchment. The road then climbs to Wards Pass (1145 m), closed by snowfalls for long periods.

As you drop from Wards Pass, you cross a section of Muller Station, courtesy of the runholders.

Isolated Flat (132 km/75 km)

The 250‑hectare expanse of Isolated Flat is an outwash plain,bounded by the Awatere Fault.

From January until April, masses of tall, white gentian flowers can be seen growing amongst clumps of short tussock and pasture grass. Introduced blue borage (Echium vulgare) also grows profusely, the blue flowers attracting bees, which produce delicately flavoured honey for sale throughout New Zealand and are important pollinators for pasture plants, including clover.

The flood‑prone, braided bed of the Acheron River is a habitat for numerous bird species, including the nationally threatened banded dotterel and black‑fronted tern that breed in the area, as well as native fish species and trout.

Leaving the flat, the road climbs up and over Isolated Saddledown to the junction with the Tarndale track.

Red Gate (145 km/62 km)

Here, the Severn River, which has a significant catchment starting on the Molesworth boundary, meets the Acheron River.

To the right of Alma Valley is Mount Augarde. From here, looking down the Alma Valley you can see the routes to the upper Wairau and Tarndale, where cattle spend summer after calving. The Tarndale turn‑off (no public access up this track) leads to the historic Tarndale Homestead, built from cob in 1874 and still used by stock workers.

Severn to Sedgemere 4WD Road (145km/62km)

The Severn to Sedgemere 4WD road starts/ends here.

Severn Rock Shelter (149 km/58 km)

A toilet and a shelter are located here. Information panels about historical access routes and accommodation, and the life of packmen, stockmen and musterers are inside the shelter.

Guide River (161 km/46 km)

On the opposite side of the Acheron is the confluence with the Guide River, important for stock movement between the Awatere and Acheron Valleys leading up to Barefell Pass.

Pig Trough Suspension Bridge (167 km/40 km)

Pig Trough Suspension Bridge is one of three built by the New Zealand Electricity Department in the early 1980s to provide access to towers where the high‑voltage direct current line crossed the river away from the road.

The other two bridges have been washed away in floods. The unusual name comes from the wild pigs often seen around a wet soak near the head of the gully named Pig Trough Gully. A toilet, shelter and information panels are located here.

Lower Acheron Suspension Bridge (180 km/27 km)

Lower Acheron Suspension Bridge is a historic stock bridge built in 1945 by students from Canterbury University’s Engineering School. It was built to replace an older, dilapidated bridge. It is a remnant of the old sheep farming days when St Helens Station had to periodically move up to 15,000 sheep safely across the Acheron River. It is now maintained by the Department of Conservation as a historic bridge.

Acheron Accommodation House (181 km/26 km)

At the confluence of the Acheron and Clarence Rivers, the Acheron Accommodation House is the oldest building on Molesworth. 

Information panels about Māori trails, explorers, past runholders, the building and history of the accommodation house, and St Helens Station are located here.

Acheron Accommodation House Campsite.

Acheron Accommodation House Campsite

Category: Standard
Facilities: 20 non-powered/tent sites, water from tap
Bookings not required - first come, first served

Acheron Confluence Shelter (182 km/25 km)

This is also at the confluence of the Acheron and Clarence Rivers. A toilet, a shelter and information panels on modern cattle musterers, the Clarence River and historic runs (stations) of the area are located here.

Jollies Pass junction (193 km/14 km)

This original road to Hanmer is now suitable only for 4WD vehicles. Cattle leaving Molesworth from the southern end are driven over Jollies Pass from the Clarence Valley and trucked from Landcorp’s bull farm at Hanmer.

Jollies Pass was once the social centre of the district, boasting a store, unofficial Post Office and hotel.

Vegetation, including mountain beech forest remnants on the west side of the Acheron River between the Accommodation House and Jollies Pass reflects a slightly higher rainfall than on the rest of the route. Unfortunately, pines and exotic broom are abundant.

Jacks Pass/Rainbow junction (199 km/8 km)

Here, the main route to Hanmer turns left, heading over Jacks Pass and into town. The Hanmer to St Arnaud Road turns off to the right.

Linking to Rainbow Station

Two days should be allowed to ride between St Arnaud and Hanmer Springs, on the Hanmer-Rainbow Road. For informatin on road conditions and access, see the Rainbow Station website.

You can also ride the Severn to Sedgemere 4WD track from 5 January - mid February without a permit.

Getting there

The Acheron Road is 207 km long, going from Blenheim to Hanmer Springs.

The road is unsealed and suitable for two wheel drive cars. Vehicles towing trailers, caravans, buses or vehicles over 7 m long are not permitted.

Mountain biking

Mountain biking is permitted on The Acheron Road during the open access period. At other times you will need an activity permit.

History and culture

Molesworth Cob Cottage

The existing Molesworth homestead (closed to the public) replaced Molesworth Cob Cottage in 1885 and still houses the farm manager and his family. The homestead, historic woolshed, staff accommodation and various outbuildings, including a blacksmith shop for shoeing the 80‑odd horses on the station, can be viewed from a low hill behind the cottage.

Respect residents’ privacy by staying away from this area. The Molesworth Homestead Lookout Track (10 min) starts behind the cottage and provides views over the settlement.

Acheron Accommodation House

Constructed in 1862 by cob builder Ned James, it is the oldest building on Molesworth. It features a tussock‑thatched roof with beech rafters tied with flax, still visible from inside the building.

This was an overnight stop for travellers and stockmen moving though the inland route between Nelson and Canterbury until 1932. Two shillings and sixpence (25 c) bought a bed, meal and stabling for horses.

More about the history of Molesworth Station.

Know before you go

Road conditions

  • The road is unsealed, with areas of potholes and corrugations. 
  • The highest point on the road is Wards Pass (1145 m) which is a 245 m elevation gain from Cobb Cottage.
  • The road is exposed to the weather during its entire length, with interpretation shelters offering some shelter, although they are not enclosed. 
  • You are advised to carry your own water for the trip, or boil/treat water taken from streams.

Be prepared

  • Careful and slow driving is needed on the narrow, unsealed road. 50 km speed limit applies through the Station.
  • No mobile coverage.
  • No fuel or food available.
  • Check your spare tyre before you go – space saver tyres are not suitable.
  • Follow the Molesworth care code.
  • Keep to roads and marked walking routes only, as cross-country cycling is not permitted.
  • These are high altitude routes where weather conditions can change rapidly. Always carry wind and water-proof clothing.

Accessing Acheron Road outside the open period

Outside the open period you need to apply for a permit. Permits will not be issued during winter months (June-August inclusive) except in exceptional circumstances. They are also unlikely to be issued in April or late September/October due to farming operations.

Contacts

Wairau / Renwick Office
Phone:   +64 3 572 9100
Address:   Gee Street
Renwick
Marlborough 7204
Email:   renwick@doc.govt.nz
Full office details
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