Experience the best of Arthur's Pass National Park's stunning alpine landscapes. The picturesque hanging valley at Walker Pass is a fitting reward and worth every step over Taruahuna Pass and the steep climb up to Tarn Col.
Note: True left and true right refer to the side of the valley orriver when facing and looking downstream.
Well-equipped and experienced backcountry trampers can walk the full route. For people with low-moderate tramping experience, the walk from Hawdon Shelter to Hawdon Hut is an easier overnight option.
SH73 to Edwards Hut
Time: 4–5 hr
5 km south of Arthur’s Pass village, cross the Bealey River just above its confluence with the Mingha River. If the river is not easy to cross here you will have problems further on, so save the trip for another day. The track begins at the bush edge downstream of the Edwards-Mingha confluence.
Look for the sign and orange markers on the river flat which mark the start of a 20-minute track to bypass the lower Edwards gorge.
When the track emerges on to the riverbed, travel upstream on the true left for 1 hour, climbing the bank once or twice when necessary. Cross the East Branch of the Edwards River (difficult when high) above where it joins the main river and pick up the marked track 100 m up the East Branch on the opposite bank. The track rises and falls several times avoiding steep side gullies, and gives the odd glimpse of waterfalls as it follows the Edwards River canyon. Take extreme care on this part of the track as there are large drop-offs and steep sections of track.
The track leads to a large upland valley, emerging finally among red tussocks on the upper river flats (take care as it is easy to lose the way in the maze of tussocks.) The track leads back into the forest for a short section before emerging on the river flats with a clear view to Edwards Hut. Total time from the road is 4–5 hours, the junction with the East Branch being a little under halfway.
The radio at Edwards Hut is monitored by Arthur's Pass Visitor Centre during office hours, 7 days a week. Some groups have had difficulty reaching the centre on this radio so please read the instructions carefully. There is a log burner in the hut for heating, but you will need your own cooker and utensils.
Edwards Hut to Hawdon Hut
Time: 6–9 hr
Note: The wide variance in times is due to the steep ascent of Tarn Col and how long trampers take to do this. Visibility on Tarn Col and Walker Pass can also slow progress.
If you are not able to complete the tramp between Edwards Hut and Hawdon Hut in a single day, it is possible to camp at Tarn Col and Walker Pass Tarns. Please care for these special places by carrying out any toilet waste or buying it at least 50 m from any tarn or waterway.
Edwards Hut to Taruahuna Pass
Time: 2 hr
From Edwards Hut continue upstream along the true left bank over tussock flats or in the riverbed to the summit of Taruahuna Pass. Travel is slow but on easy gradients and is sometimes helped by well-trodden paths. The pass itself is a huge pile of mountain debris, the result of a landslide from Falling Mountain triggered by a large earthquake in 1929. Look for the sign that points to Tarn Col on the western side of Taruahuna Pass and below Tarn Col.
Warning: This area is subject to avalanche activity during the winter. Do not travel this route during heavy snow conditions.
Taruahuna Pass to Walker Pass
Time: 2–4 hr
From the rocky debris of Taruahuna Pass the route turns abruptly right and goes extremely steeply up to Tarn Col. Be aware of rockfall risks on the ascent slope from Taruahuna Pass to Tarn Col, and in the creek canyon from Tarn Col to the East Otehake River.
Climb across the landslide debris on Taruahuna Pass towards the foot of the grassy saddle on the right (east). This is Tarn Col and the best route up is to climb beside the creek that drops down from the lowest point on the col. Be careful on the steep, slippery snowgrass.
Warning: When Tarn Col is covered in snow the route is difficult and an ice-axe and crampons will be needed. If the creek bed is icy, climb to the rocky point on the ridge to the right (i.e. the true left of the creek) and then to the col. Time for the climb is about 45 min. Poor visibility will complicate route finding and if you have been climbing for more than 45 min it is likely you have chosen the wrong place and are climbing Fallen Mountain instead.
Go around the tarn and follow the marker poles that drop immediately into the bed of the creek draining the tarn. Avoid the temptation to stay on the flat tussockland on the true left as you will end up in bluffs.
Suspended layer of ice covering the creek
Image: Max Wallder ©
In late spring/early summer, there can be a suspended layer of ice above the creek that runs from Tarn Col to the East Otehake River. The ice can easily break if walked on – we strongly recommend that trampers do not walk on it.
Travel down the creek until it joins the larger Otehake River East Branch (the first main stream coming down from the right) and then turn south. It is easy to go the wrong way from here so check your map and compass bearing. Make sure you are going upstream and south. Be careful crossing this stream, and others, on your way to Hawdon Hut as the tracks are extremely slippery.
Travel up the of the Otehake East Branch riverbed for about 20 minutes. Climb through scrub to the low saddle on the left (true right). This is Walker Pass. A well-trodden track through the scrub begins at a cairn in the riverbed, 100 m below a low cliff where the river swings south-west towards Amber Col.
Walker Pass to Hawdon Hut
Time: 2–3 hr
Pick up the creek draining the tarn on the pass and follow down the creek through boulders and scrub. A helpful track zigzags the creek. Marker poles starting in the creek show where to leave the stream towards the bush track. The poles lead you up past a rocky knoll. From here the track descends through the bush past Twin Falls to the creek. Once at the Hawdon River it is only 5 minutes to the Hawdon Hut.
The original Hawdon Hut burnt down in 2005 and the replacement hut, built in 2007, is on the flats above Discovery Stream, about 15 minutes upstream from the original location. Hawdon Hut has a radio which is monitored by the Arthur’s Pass Visitor Centre during office hours, 7 days a week.
Hawdon Hut site to Hawdon Shelter
Time: 3 hr
Follow the Hawdon Hut Track on the true right of Hawdon River until just above the point where the East Hawdon Stream joins the main Hawdon River. If the rivers are low, cross the main river here, then cross the East Hawdon Stream. Follow the open grassy flats on the true left to a line of cliffs. Recross the Hawdon and follow the river down the bush edge where a last crossing of the river is needed to reach the Hawdon Shelter at the road end.
If the rivers are in flood stay put at the hut until they drop down to a safe level.
Note: Hawdon valley is home to the endangered orange-fronted parakeet/kākāriki. DOC staff use 4-wheel motorbikes to access the valley and do work to protect these birds. Coloured markers and tape in the valley mark access points for DOC staff. Do not follow these markers – follow only the standard orange track markers.
The Edwards valley end of the track starts beside SH73, 5 km south of Arthur’s Pass village, close to Greyneys Shelter. The Hawdon Valley Track is accessed via Mount White Road, which turns off SH73, 24 km east of Arthur’s Pass.
Experience: Suitable for well-equipped and experienced backcountry trampers only. Alpine experience and equipment essential.
Best season: Summer and autumn. Extreme avalanche danger in winter and spring. If you are considering attempting this track in winter or spring, check the Avalanche Advisory before heading out and speak to the Arthur’s Pass Visitor Centre about the current avalanche conditions. Make sure you have the skills and equipment to handle the conditions, including an ice axe, crampons and avalanche rescue equipment (and that you are confident using them).
Required maps: NZTopo50: Otira BV20, Cass BV21.
What to expect:
This is a remote, backcountry tramp and you need to be well-equipped. Pack plenty of warm and waterproof clothing, navigational equipment (such as a map and compass), a distress beacon, an emergency shelter and at least an extra day’s food (in case you are delayed by weather or rivers). Check the DOC multi-day tramping packing list.
Most of the route is marked except for the section between Edwards Hut and Taruahuna Pass where you follow a well-worn path up the Edwards valley marked with occasional rock cairns.
Groups not used to this type of travel may take longer than the times indicated. Times are likely to be slower travelling from Hawdon Hut west to Tarn Col, than those travelling in the direction this route guide recommends, as navigation is more difficult.
Rivers are not bridged and river crossing skills and experience are essential. Be aware Hawdon river also has a stock exclusion fence near Hawdon shelter. This can act as a strainer to rafters or people in the river.
Hazards: Avalanche, flooded rivers and rock-fall.
Safety: This route guide must be read in conjunction with Tramping in Arthur's Pass National Park (PDF, 762K), and New Zealand's Outdoor Safety Code.
Stay safe when crossing rivers
If you plan to cross unbridged rivers, know how to cross safely and be prepared for if you cannot cross.
Do not cross if the river is flooded, you cannot find safe entry and exit points or are unsure it’s safe. Turn back or wait for the river to drop. If in doubt, stay out.