The Motatapu Track above the Fern Burn
Fern Burn carpark to Fern Burn Hut
Time: 3 - 4 hr, 7 km
The track meanders gently along the true right of the Fern Burn through riparian shrubland and grassy flats before climbing into a forest of mountain, silver and red beech. At this point the Fern Burn narrows and cascades and waterfalls become a feature. The track briefly enters the 4,144-hectare Stack Conservation Area, which has other access points from the Spotts Creek and Roys Peak tracks.
It is possible for experienced parties to negotiate the conservation area and use these routes. The Motatapu Track continues to the bush edge and then on to upland tussock country and the 12-bunk Fern Burn Hut.
Fern Burn Hut to Highland Creek Hut
Time 4 - 5 hr, 6 km
This leg is more arduous. It continues along the Upper Fern Burn through tussock country before reaching 1,275-metre Jack Hall’s Saddle - it and the nearby creek were named after a local shepherd. Then there's a steep descent into a creek bed, before traversing another two ridges descending to Highland Creek, The 12-bunk hut of the same name nestles in this spectacular upland basin.
Lake Wanaka, beyond the the track's
Highland Creek Hut to Roses Hut
Time: 7 - 8 hr, 11 km
After crossing Highland Creek the marked track sidles and climbs above an unnamed creek onto a prominent spur. It continues up this spur before sidling along a steep tussock face; stunning views across the Motatapu Valley are a highlight of this section. The track then drops into a small gully and crosses the creek through a small patch of beech forest, then climbs out onto the leading south-west ridge off Knuckle Peak. Follow down this ridge to the Motatapu River. The 12-bunk Roses Hut is an easy tramp across the open flats.
Roses Hut to Macetown
Time: 5 - 6 hr, 10 km
Sidling on the Motatapu Track
Cross the small creek to the old pack track that climbs the main ridge above 1,270-metre Roses Saddle. At the crossover point between the Motatapu and Arrow catchments, the ridge descends to the Arrow River. During low and normal river levels, it’s quicker following the river to Macetown. This way you pass old gold workings, especially hand-stacked, stone walls. If the river is high or discoloured, follow the track that sidles above the river before joining an old water race that leads to Macetown, passing several small dams and other gold mining relics. Find out about historic Macetown.
Macetown to Arrowtown
Time: 3 - 4 hr, 15 km
From Macetown, a 15-kilometre 4WD road winds its way to Arrowtown. In good conditions, the numerous river crossings may be negotiated by 4WD vehicles or trampers with care. If the river is too high then you are advised to wait.
An alternative route via Big Hill Track (4-5hrs) starts from the 4WD road 20 minutes from Macetown. Although this route avoids some of the larger river crossings, it climbs above 1000 metres and is not recommended in adverse weather. In fine conditions, it repays the effort with views over the Wakatipu Basin and beyond.
Note: Slope on this diagram is exaggerated due to scale restrictions.
The Motatapu Track can be accessed from either end.
From Arrowtown: Take the Macetown Road, this is a 15km, 4WD road with 22 fords over the Arrow River. Access is also by foot (3-4 hours) and shuttle.
From Wanaka: Turn off the road to the Matukituki Valley at Glendhu Bay, 12km from town. The Fern Burn carpark and track start are signposted on this road.
Plan and prepare
The Motatapu Track is particularly demanding. Please note and adhere to the following:
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.
- Due to the exposed nature of the Motatapu Track and its physically challenging terrain, it is only suitable for experienced trampers.
- Several steep sidles require care, and tramping times should be adjusted for those not confident in this type of country.
- The climate is typically Central Otago, and very hot, dry conditions are common in summer.
- Carry plenty of water, as water sources are limited, and have adequate protection against the sun.
- Wintry conditions can occur at any time of the year, with the higher country subject to snow, especially during winter.
- Be prepared by having warm, windproof clothing and the appropriate footwear.
Track standard and terrain
While the Motatapu Track meets DOC's tramping track standards, at this early stage only the section between the Fern Burn carpark and and above the Stack Conservation Area, and some shorter sections in the Arrow, have been benched. The balance of the track is well poled but has several steep sidles which require care.
Respect landowners’ stock and property
The Motatapu Track both crosses and borders private land. Please respect landowners’ stock and property. Ensure that gates are closed and, where provided, that the stiles are used.
Motatapu Track brochure (PDF, 920K)
Adventure to Fern Burn Hut, along the Motatapu Track - Blog post 17 October 2013
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