Morning view of Copland Valley from the Welcome Flat bridge
Image: Bob Christie ©

Introduction

The Upper Copland Valley Track provides access to Douglas Rock Hut. It is suitable for well-equipped and experienced backcountry trampers and mountaineers only.

Track overview

Walking and tramping

3 days + Advanced: Tramping track
Expert: Route

Seasonal restrictions

During severe weather, such as sustained or heavy rainfall, the Copland Track may be closed (often at short notice) due to flooding or other damage. If closed, notices will be placed at the start of the track. Check the weather and conditions at the nearest DOC office before you depart.

Dog access

No dogs

About this track

Description

Note: true left and true right refer to the side of the valley or river when facing and looking downstream.

Car park to Welcome Flat Hut

Time: 7 hr
Distance: 18 km 

Follow Copland Track to Welcome Flat Hut via Architect Creek Hut.

Architect Creek Hut.

Architect Creek Hut

Category: Standard
Facilities: 2 bunk beds, heating, mattresses
Bookings not required - first come, first served
Welcome Flat Hut. Photo: Sally Jackson.

Welcome Flat Hut

Category: Serviced
Facilities: 31 bunk beds, heating, mattresses
Bookings required

Welcome Flat Hut to Douglas Rock Hut

Time: 3 hr
Distance
: 7 km

The suspension bridge near Welcome Flat Hut leads across to the true left of the Copland River and onto a series of extensive grassy river flats. Along the flats there are fine views into the Ruera Valley and the Navigator Range beyond, while Mount Sefton and the Footstool rear up behind The Sierra Range, reaching heights over 2000 metres above the valley floor.

Track to Douglas Rock near Welcome Flat.
Track to Douglas Rock near Welcome Flat

Occasionally the track wanders into low forest but returns to the grassy flats before crossing the multiple channels of Scott Creek. This creek can be extremely hazardous in wet weather.

Beyond Scott Creek the track enters the forest again and begins to climb gradually above the upper gorge. There are a number of open slips to cross with views up and down the river. Eventually the swingbridge across Tekano Creek is reached and the views to the upper valley open out in front of you. Douglas Rock Hut (8 bunks) is nestled in a forest glade just across the bridge. On a clear day the views from the hut are expansive.

Douglas Rock Hut. Image: S Jackson.

Douglas Rock Hut

Category: Standard
Facilities: 8 bunk beds, heating, mattresses
Bookings not required - first come, first served

Above Douglas Rock Hut

Past Douglas Rock Hut, a marked route continuestowards the Copland Pass. Avalanche and flood riskis high on this route. This route should only be attemptedby those with alpine experience, mountaineering skillsand equipment.From Douglas Rock Hut, the route ascends throughsubalpine vegetation with improving views of the highmountain peaks surrounding the upper Copland River.

Marked by cairns and poles, the route sidles above the river, with Aoraki/Mount Cook coming into view near Fiddian Creek. The route continues to sidle until directly below Copland Pass, at which point it zigzags its way up the steep slopes into an alpine basin.

Warning: The route ends at the alpine basin. Do not attempt to climb to and cross Copland Pass unless you have a high level of mountaineering experience and appropriate mountaineering equipment. Over the years a number of climbers have died attempting to cross Copland Pass. Access on the eastern side of the divide is difficult due to erosion. It is strongly recommended that you do not attempt to cross Copland Pass from the west.

Getting there

Access is off SH 6, 26 km south of Fox Glacier. The turn-off to the car park is well signposted on the northern side of the Karangarua River bridge. Drive approximately150 m down the gravel road to the car park.

Buses pass the road end each morning and afternoon and will drop off and pick up pre-booked passengers.

Nature and conservation

Forest track near Welcome Flat Hut.
Forest near Welcome Flat Hut

The forests of the Copland valley are visually dominated bya healthy canopy of southern rātā, a spectacular sight during the summer flowering season. The forest gives way at higher altitudes to the upper montane vegetation of tree daisies and dracophyllums, which in turn give way to the truly alpine habitats of tussock grasslands and native herbs.

Regular possum control has been undertaken since the mid-1980s, and as a result the forest damage is significantly less than in the neighbouring Karangarua valley, which has extensive canopy dieback.

History and culture

The Copland Track was built by the Tourist and Health Resorts Department to provide a tourist route across the Southern Alps linking the West Coast with the Hermitage, a popular lodge at Mt Cook.

In 1901 New Zealand became the first country in the world to form a government department to develop and promote tourism. Along with places such as Rotorua, the Chateau (Tongariro) and Milford, The Hermitage and the Southern Alps were becoming popular destinations with the growing number of international tourists.

Track workers during construction of the Copland Track, early 1900s.
Track workers, early 1900s

Construction

The track was constructed over several years from c1901-1913. Construction was slow and hampered by labour shortages. The harsh alpine weather made it impossible to work on the track during winter, so work was restricted to the summer months. Work was also delayed by the unstable nature of the landscape and high rainfall in the area.  This meant sections of track often had to be rebuilt due to damage from flooding, erosion and landslides.

At first the track was little more than a blazed line through the bush that had the tendency to become quickly overgrown. Eventually the track was widened and developed into a pack track.

There were no other tracks of this scale constructed solely for tourist use on the West Coast. The doggedness with which the completion of the track was pursued by the Government highlights the importance the Copland Track had in their plans for tourism in the South Island.

Welcome Flat hot pools

During the construction of the track, workers came across the natural hot pools at Welcome Flat. This was a great find - thermal attractions were proving popular with visitors and seen by the government as key to stimulating tourism. The route quickly became a popular tourist trip and was one of the key tourist attractions that sustained the fledgling tourist industry in the area.

Know before you go

Experience: Suitable for well-equipped and experienced backcountry trampers and mountaineers only; navigation and survival skills required. The track beyond Welcome Flat Hut is more difficult as the conditions underfoot are rougher and the majority of creeks are unbridged and may be impassable during and after heavy rain.

Best time to go: Summer and autumn

Maps: NZTopo50: BX14 Gillespies Beach; BX15 Fox Glacier

Hazards: Flooded rivers, rock fall and avalanche.

Flooding: This valley is subject to flooding at any time of year. Do not attempt this trip in bad weather or when rain is forecast. If rivers and side streams are inflood, do not attempt to cross. The Copland River can flood sections of track making it impassable.

Avalanches are possible in the upper valley – care is required throughout winter and spring, in particular.

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.

Contacts

Westland Tai Poutini National Park Visitor Centre
Phone:   +64 3 752 0360
Address:   69 Cron Street
Franz Josef Glacier 7856
Email:   westlandnpvc@doc.govt.nz
Full office details
Hokitika Office
Phone:   +64 3 756 9100
Address:   10 Sewell Street
Hokitika 7810
Email:   hokitika@doc.govt.nz
Full office details
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