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Craigieburn Forest Park: Cass-Lagoon Saddle tramping track

Track category

Tramping track


2 - 3 days


Cass car park to Cass Hut

Time: 4 hr

From the signposted car park at the east end of the Cass road bridge, follow the vehicle track next to the row of pine trees until it meets Cass River.

Follow the riverbed upstream, keeping to the true right bank as much as possible. (Do not take the obvious track up Pylon Gully on the true left). You will need to cross the river several times. The track climbs into the beech/tawhai forest at a marked point just below the junction with Long Valley Stream; it is easy to miss if you are on the wrong side of Cass River. The river is crossed again via a bridge, then the track climbs for another 20–30 minutes before crossing the river again. Cass Hut is reached soon after this crossing to the true right bank. It has three bunks and a wood-burning stove.

Water can be obtained from a small stream just to the southeast of the hut.

Cass Hut to Hamilton Hut

Time: 2 hr 30 min 

The tussock basin above Cass Hut is reached shortly after leaving the hut, and the poled route climbs gradually to the saddle. On a fine day there are excellent views, and Hamilton Hut can be seen in the distance down the valley. Traverse left for 200 metres to the start of the cut track.

This area is subject to avalanche activity during the winter. During heavy snow conditions, we advise visitors not to travel this route unless sufficiently equipped and experienced to assess the conditions and choose a safe path through avalanche terrain.

The track drops steeply from the saddle, and then more gently through the bush terraces, joining Hamilton Creek 30–45 minutes from Hamilton Hut. This can be seen from where the track exits the forest onto the tussock-covered flats. The 20-bunk hut has a wood-burning stove and a radio linked to Arthur's Pass Visitor Centre. Calls can be made during office hours to obtain weather forecasts.

Side trip: The Pinnacles

Time: 4 - 6  hr (return) 

In the lower Harper valley, erosion has formed an interesting geological feature that makes a worthwhile side trip from Hamilton Hut.

The Pinnacles are made from geologically young rock, probably 3–7 million years ago, consisting of alluvial sands and gravels. Erosion, caused by rain water washing away the exposed soil, has formed the pinnacle shapes. Pebbles or small stones may be seen on the tops of the pinnacles, temporarily protecting them from erosion. Nearby, the Harper River has exposed older rocks, containing fossils of marine origin.

The best way to reach The Pinnacles is to walk downstream from Hamilton Hut, initially following a walking track, then a 4WD track. The Harper River needs to be crossed several times and crossings should not be attempted if the river is high. The 4WD track crosses private farmland; please do not disturb any stock. The Pinnacles are set back a short way on the true right bank.

Hamilton Hut to West Harper Hut

Time: 2 hr 30 min 

Ten minutes downstream from Hamilton Hut the route crosses Hamilton Creek at the foot bridge and leads to a swing bridge across Harper River, a short distance above its confluence with Hamilton Creek.

After crossing the swing bridge, the route continues upstream on the true right of the river to West Harper Hut. In fine weather and suitable conditions, the riverbed offers an easy alternative with several fine swimming holes along the way. West Harper Hut (an historic hut, built in the 1950s) has five canvas bunks, a fire place and a dirt floor.

Side trip: Mirror Tarn

Time:  20 min return   A side trip can be made to Mirror Tarn while on route to West Harper Hut. Once you have crossed the foot bridge, continue up the Harper River track a short distance, until you see the sign indicating Mirror Tarn on the true left. Follow the marked track steeply uphill for about ten minutes to reach the tarn.

West Harper Hut to Lagoon Saddle Shelter

Time: 2 - 3 hr

From West Harper Hut the track bypasses a small gorge (negotiable if the water level is low), to reach river flats which are then followed to the confluence of Long Creek and Harper River. Care should be taken here as Long Creek appears to be the major tributary (carrying the most water), joining the Harper River from the west, or the true right in this case. From here, the route follows the Harper riverbed (there is an orange triangle on a tree
50 m upstream of the junction) for approximately 500 metres and then a formed track on the true left climbs steadily to Lagoon Saddle Shelter (2 bunks), situated in a clearing at the end of a short track. Lagoon Saddle Hut is located just across the river and has three bunks but no mattresses, and is in poor condition.

Cairns on riverbeds and markers at the bush edges should be looked for to indicate the route when walking up the riverbed.

Lagoon Saddle Shelter to Bealey Hut and SH 73

Time: 2 - 3 hr 

The track from Lagoon Saddle Hut to Bealey Hut is not marked correctly on earlier editions of Topomap K34 or some Arthur's Pass and Craigieburn maps. It climbs and descends more gradually than older maps indicate.

From Lagoon Saddle Hut the track gradually climbs through patches of beech forest above the tarns on Lagoon Saddle. It is marked by poles and markers.

Once on the northern face of Mt Bruce, the track descends through tussock and gives views of the snow-capped peaks of Arthur’s Pass National Park and the braided Waimakariri River.

The track enters beech forest and exotic forest to Bealey Hut (six bunks). A further five-minutes walk from the hut takes you to the car park by Cora Lynn Station, and another ten minutes to SH 73.

If you are walking this route in reverse, take the Cora Lynn Road to the Arthur's Pass Wilderness Lodge and Cora Lynn Station and enter through the gate signposted ‘Cass – Lagoon Track’. Note that times may be longer on the uphill sections of the track when walking in this direction.

Getting there

Both track entrances are alongside SH 73 between Christchurch and Arthur’s Pass. Some bus services that run from Christchurch to the West Coast will drop you off by arrangement.

The Cass River end of the track starts from the signposted car park at the east end of the Cass road bridge, opposite Cass settlement. This car park is frequently targeted by vandals/thieves. Do not leave valuables in your car.

To reach the western end of the track, turn off SH 73 about 14 km east of Arthur’s Pass village, onto Cora Lynn Road. This road also leads to the Arthur’s Pass Wilderness Lodge and Cora Lynn Station.

Enter through the gate signposted ‘Cass – Lagoon Track’; there is a car park here for trampers.

Plan and prepare

  • Suitable for trampers with moderate back-country experience
  • Best season: summer
  • NZTopomap50 - Otira BV20, Cass BV21, Lake Coleridge BW20
  • Hazards - avalanche, flooded rivers.
  • Route- finding skills are necessary.

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.

For information, hut tickets, maps, weather forecasts and track condition updates, contact the Arthur's Pass Visitor Centre.

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Arthur's Pass National Park Visitor Centre
Phone:      +64 3 318 9211
Address:   State Highway 73
Arthur's Pass
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