Introduction

This mainly unmarked loop route travels the Leatham Conservation Area and into the magnificent Molesworth Station Recreation Reserve, traversing mountain tops and tussocky valleys.

Track overview

56 km loop

Walking and tramping

4 - 5 days Expert: Route

Seasonal restrictions

A permit is required for travel above Saxton Hut between 1 January and 30 April. Apply to the Wairau / Renwick Office.

Dog access

No dogs

About this track

Description

This route is unmarked and is suitable for trampers with a high degree of off-track experience and fitness who should allow at least 4-5 days and, if possible, 1-2 extra days to complete the trip.

It starts at Bottom Gordon Hut in the Leatham Conservation Area, and travels via Severn and Saxton Huts in the Molesworth Recreation Reserve, around to Top Gordon Hut and back to Bottom Gordon Hut.

Bottom Gordon Hut to Top Leatham Hut

Time: 4 hours
Distance: 7.4 km

There is an obvious old bull dozer track that starts at Bottom Gordon Hut on the true left of the river. For the first 4 km, the track crosses to both sides of well terraced extensive river flats. Orange track markers are visible up the river. There are occasional greywacke slips to cross, but the old bull dozer track is easily followed and mostly close to the river.

The track drops down to a tributary creek on the true left bank at approximately the 4 km mark, an orange triangular track marker is visible straight opposite on the true right bank. Cross the river and follow the track through the pines; after 1 km enter the beech forest onto an undulating tramping track. After another kilometre cross the main river and continue on the true left side and arrive at Top Leatham Hut.

Top Leatham Hut.

Top Leatham Hut

Category: Standard
Facilities: 6 bunk beds, heating, mattresses
Bookings not required - first come, first served

Top Leatham Hut to Severn Hut

Time: 6-7 hours
Distance: 13.6 km

The track starts directly behind the Top Leatham Hut. Follow the track markers and gradually climb 300 m to a creek confluence, about 1 hour. Cross to the true left to an orange track marker and head up the spur into the beech forest.

A steep 1 hr, 200 m climb up a visible track leads onto a tussock spur. Follow the poled route up a further 100 m to the open tussock and scree and across to the Severn Saddle (1500 m); beautiful views down the Leatham Valley are the reward.

There are no markers from the Severn Saddle heading into Molesworth Recreation Reserve. Once at the Severn Saddle head down into the Severn River on the true left using the scree to sidle and drop. A descending sidle for at least 750 m will pass an 18 m waterfall; use height wisely, take care not to sidle too fast, and stay on the true left.

Cattle graze the open river flats of Molesworth Station; there are good cattle tracks to follow about 100 m away from the river on the true left - this also keeps you out of the odd swamp. Travel 8 km down the Severn River to the near new Severn Hut.

Severn Hut.

Severn Hut

Category: Standard
Facilities: 6 bunk beds, mattresses
Bookings not required - first come, first served

Severn Hut to Saxton Hut

Time: 8-9 hours
Distance: 11 km

East of the hut take the spur on the true right of the creek to the high point marked 1764 m (1604617E–5342762N). It is a steep climb of about 2 hr 30 min.  Once on top, head down the scree to the main unnamed stream (locally know as Boundary Stream).

Follow the stream down to the confluence where it meets the Saxton River, this takes approximately 6 hours. The Saxton Hut is situated on a river terrace at this confluence on the true right of the Saxton River.

Saxton Hut, 2012.

Saxton Hut

Category: Standard
Facilities: 6 bunk beds, heating, mattresses
Bookings not required - first come, first served

Saxton Hut to Top Gordon Hut

Time: 7-9 hours
Distance: 18.5 km

Access to the Saxton River Catchment has been negotiated between DOC, Landcorp and Muller Station. A permit is required from DOC for all access above the Saxton Hut from the 1st January to the 30th April each year. A condition of this access is that visitors only travel upstream to avoid moving stock out of the valley.

From the Saxton Hut head up the Saxton River. At times you will have to ford the river and negotiate a small gorge. At the 5 km mark you will pass the Team Hut, not for public accommodation. This hut is used by Molesworth and Muller staff and is situated on the true right. From here, the route is easy travelling along the Saxton River, using the stock trails. There are occasional briar plants and slips or tributary creeks (Oyster Creek) to negotiate, but the degree of difficulty is minimal.

After about 4–5 hrs the foot of the Saxton Saddle is reached - a rounded hill compared to the surrounding country. At 1617060E–5355247N head up the hill to Saxton Saddle, an approximately 1 hour climb. There is a DOC sign at the top of the saddle but no track markers.

Sidle down Gordon Stream on the true left following the stream for approximately 30 minutes. There are track markers on the true left of Gordon Stream, follow these down into the beech forest; the route to the hut is well marked and signposted. Top Gordon Hut is located on a sunny terrace on the true right of Gordon Stream.

Top Gordon Hut.

Top Gordon Hut

Category: Standard
Facilities: 6 bunk beds, heating, mattresses
Bookings not required - first come, first served

Top Gordon Hut to Bottom Gordon Hut

Time: 3 hours
Distance: 5.5 km

Leave the hut and cross Gordon Stream, follow the sign and the marked track on the true left. Follow the track through beech forest for approximately 1 km where the track meets Gordon Stream, the track is in the stream bed for a short time. Watch for the big orange marker on the true left, follow the track that climbs up into the beech and then undulates along a well formed track for 1.5 km to extensive river flats.

Continue on the marked track through manuka and beech forest. After 1 km the track crosses to the true right and meanders comfortably along for another 1 km to another crossing. The track continues on the true left for the final section along some flats and across a swing bridge back to Bottom Gordon Hut.

Bottom Gordon Hut.

Bottom Gordon Hut

Category: Standard
Facilities: 6 bunk beds, heating, mattresses
Bookings not required - first come, first served

 

Getting there

Access to the start of this loop route is via Leatham Road, which is approximately 70 km from Blenheim on SH63 heading towards St Arnaud. Bottom Gordon Hut is located at the end of the Leatham 4WD road (38 km from SH 63).

Nature and conservation

The Leatham Molesworth route travels through the stunning Clarence (Ka Whata Tu o Rakihouia) Conservation Park, Molesworth Recreation Reserve and Leatham Conservation Area.  

Ka Whata Tu o Rakihouia Clarence protects some of the highest mountains in New Zealand outside the Southern Alps. It is of national significance geologically and for the many rare, interesting and unique native plants and animals it harbours. This valuable conservation land is managed by the Department of Conservation following purchase by the Forest Heritage Fund in 1993.

Today Molesworth is managed by the Department of Conservation with Landcorp Farming Limited responsible for farming operations under a lease agreement.

Looking down on Severn Valley. Photo: Paul O'Fagan.
Severn Valley

Leatham Molesworth Route in snow.
Leatham Molesworth Route in snow

Know before you go

  • Remember - safety is your responsibility.
  • Huts - Backcountry Hut Tickets or a Backcountry Pass entitles you to stay in DOC huts. Tickets or a pass can be purchased at a DOC office and most i-SITEs. Get your tickets or pass before you start your trip. The huts on the East West route and Leatham Molesworth route are Standard - 1 Backcountry Hut Ticket per night.
  • Water - it is recommended you boil, filter or treat drinking water collected in this area.
  • Weather - check the weather forecast before you go.
  • Hunting and fishing - each hunter must carry a hunting permit; each angler must carry a fishing licence.
  • Environmental care - minimise your impact on the environment by using a portable cooker. Use only dead wood in fireplaces at huts. There are no rubbish facilities in the backcountry.
  • Rubbish - carry out your own rubbish.

Experienced required

The East West route and Leatham Molesworth route are suitable for trampers who have high level of back country experience including navigation and map reading skills. Major sections of these routes are unmarked and follow natural features such as streams, rivers and ridges.

Trampers should be well equipped, fit and self-sufficient. Poor visibility due to mist on the tops can make route finding and orientation difficult. The terrain is often rough. Rain and flooded streams can alter your plans and freezing conditions can occur at any time of year.

Maps required

Trampers will need to carry and know how to use a topographic map. The relevant 1:50,000 Topo50 maps are:

  • BT26 Mount Clear
  • BS25 Severn
  • BS26 Mount Muller
  • BS27 Tapuae-o-Uenuku
  • BT27 Kaikoura
  • BT25 Mount Northampton

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.

We also advise you to carry a GPS and an emergency beacon (hire outlets are listed on www.beacons.org.nz).

Hazards

  • Wasps are a known hazard and are particularly common from December until April. Carry antihistamine if you are allergic to their stings.
  • Avalanches occur in winter.
  • River Crossings are unavoidable on this route. Some rivers, especially the Clarence River, may be uncrossable after heavy rain. Do not attempt to cross a flooded river.

Contacts

Wairau / Renwick Office
Phone:   +64 3 572 9100
Address:   Gee Street
Renwick
Marlborough 7204
Email:   renwick@doc.govt.nz
Full office details
Rotoiti / Nelson Lakes Visitor Centre
Phone:   +64 3 521 1806
Address:   View Road
St Arnaud
Email:   nelsonlakesvc@doc.govt.nz
Full office details
Rangiora Office
Phone:   +64 3 313 0820
Address:   32 River Road
Rangiora 7400
Email:   waimakariri@doc.govt.nz
Full office details
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