IntroductionHarper Pass was the main pathway to and from the west coast for Māori when trading for pounamu (greenstone). Follow this historic route from west to east.
It's best to start the trip from the west as fine weather is required when crossing the Otira, Otehake and Taramakau rivers. These rivers can rise quickly during rain, and you're advised not to attempt any river crossings while river levels are high. The eastern side is easier because all major rivers are bridged and good forest tracks make tramping possible even in unpleasant conditions.
Note: True left and true right refer to the side of the valley or river when facing and looking downstream.
Aickens-Kiwi Hut-Locke Stream Hut
Time: 6 hours one way
Parties travelling from the east and finding themselves stuck on the far side of the Otira can use an emergency flood track, adding 2 hours to the tramp. This marked route starts upstream and takes you to the Morrison footbridge at the confluence of the Otira and Deception rivers. In extreme weather conditions, this route can also be cut off by flooded sections. Do not use the emergency flood track to start your tramp as there are many river crossings further up the Taramakau valley.
If Otira River is safe to cross, start from the Aickens car park, cross the stile and follow the fence line to the river. After crossing the Otira, make for the end of the band of tall trees immediately opposite (marked by an orange triangle).
A track leads through scrub and gorse to grassy flats. Continue walking along these grassy flats past Pfeifer Creek and the signposted turn-off to Lake Kaurapataka. Stay on the true left bank and cross Otehake River and then further upstream cross the Taramakau to its true right at the best place for you.
Continue along the true right for about a kilometre above the Otehake where a sign will indicate the short side-track to Kiwi Hut (8 bunks).
Warning: The Taramakau River below Kiwi Hut has changed course and most of the track has been washed away. Expect numerous random river crossings.
Upstream from Kiwi Hut remain on the true right. Towards Locke Stream the riverbed begins to narrow and eroded banks on the true right become steeper. Cross to the true left just downstream of the Taramakau/Locke Stream confluence and continue on over Locke Stream where you will locate a short track leading through the forest to Locke Stream Hut (18 bunks).
Locke Stream Hut
Locke Stream Hut – Hurunui No 3 Hut
Time: 6–7 hours one way
Above Locke Stream Hut the track travels along the true left, at times in the forest and at times along the riverbed. The swing bridge is about 1 hour from Locke Stream Hut. Cross the bridge to the true right of the river, where again the track travels through forest and riverbed.
Eventually the track leaves the river and begins to climb towards the pass. The track is steep and rough in places. As forest gives way to alpine scrub and tussock, the gradient eases. A sign marking the summit of the pass is reached in 3 hours.
The track drops fairly quickly on the eastern side of the pass into the headwaters of Hurunui River. After 30 minutes you will reach the two-person Harper Pass Bivvy, which is attractively sited in a grove of ribbonwood/mānatu above the stream on the true right.
Harper Pass Bivvy
Below Harper Pass Bivvy walking becomes a lot easier as the track drops down through beech/tawhai forest. As the valley opens, the track emerges onto river flats, with Camerons Hut standing out from the edge of the forest. (From Harper Pass Bivvy to Camerons Hut is 2 hours.) Camerons Hut is showing its age.
Cameron Stream has an emergency walk-wire 100 metres up from the Hurunui riverbed. From here the track returns to the forest and keeps just within the fringes until it emerges again on river flats at Hurunui No 3 Hut (16 bunks).
Hurunui No. 3 Hut
Hurunui No 3 Hut to Hurunui Hut
Time: 4 hours one way
Below Hurunui No 3 Hut, the track follows easy grassy flats across the valley floor. The track keeps to the true right, at times on the flats or in the forest. The forest sections sidle up and down the hillside to bypass places where the river cuts in against the bank.
The highlight of this part of the journey is the hot spring about 2 hours walk from Hurunui No 3 Hut. This spring flows from the rock about 30 metres above the bed of the Hurunui River and sends sulphurous waters down an open scar in the forest. The track crosses the scar below the spring. A small pool has been formed at the spring. Keep an eye out for the turn-off as it is easy to miss.
From the hot springs, the track returns to river flats, then sidles up through mānuka forest to Hurunui Hut (15 bunks), sited well up the hillside.
Hurunui Hut to Hope Kiwi Lodge
Time: 6 hours one way
From Hurunui Hut the track descends to the swing bridge across Hurunui River.
Cross the bridge and take the 4WD track to the forest edge on the far side of the matagouri flats. Continue along the forest edge to where the track heads into forest at the headwaters of Lake Sumner. After a short return to grassy flats, the track enters the forest again and begins to climb easily to Three Mile Stream.
After crossing Three Mile Stream, the track climbs steadily to Kiwi Saddle through forest dominated by tall red beech/tawhairaunui. Just before the summit there is a short 2-minute side track to a lookout across the lake. This is well worth a photo stop.
From the saddle descend to the swampy grasslands of Kiwi valley. Follow the track on your left to avoid the bogs and then pick up a 4WD track on the true right of Kiwi River across the open grasslands to Hope Kiwi Lodge (20 bunks).
Hope Kiwi Lodge
Hope Kiwi Lodge to Lewis Pass Highway
Time: 5–6 hours one way
Follow the poled route from Hope Kiwi Lodge along the forest edge to the Hope River swing bridge, about 30 minutes from the hut. For 1 hour or so below the swing bridge, the track wanders down the broad grassy flats until eroded riverbanks mean a return to the forest. The third time the track leaves the river it climbs the bank to Hope Halfway Hut (note the fireplace has been removed).
Hope Halfway Hut
After Hope Halfway Hut the track keeps to the beech forest for 2–3 hours on terraces high above the riverbed. At the forest edge, a vehicle track descends down through mānuka and tussock to the swing bridge over the Boyle River gorge. Amuri Area School Outdoor Education Centre is located here and the shelter and car park is 5 minutes down the shingle road at Windy Point, just off Lewis Pass Highway.
Lake Kaurapataka side trip or round trip
Time: 6–7 hours or 1–2 days return
Start as for the Harper Pass Route and follow the Taramakau track from the shelter as far as the signposted turn-off at Pfeifer Creek. Follow the streambed of Pfeifer Creek for about 100 metres to the start of the track on the true right. The track passes through attractive red beech forest to the confluence of Pfeifer Creek and the stream draining Lake Kaurapataka. It crosses the stream and continues up the true left to the lake. The return trip from Aickens to the lake via this route can be done in a day. Otherwise there are several good campsites along the lake edge. Cairns mark where to leave the track to find the campsites.
To do a 1–2 hour loop walk, continue on the track to the Otehake River around to the head of the lake, up a short climb to the saddle between the lake and the river. From here the track drops steeply into the Otehake and another good campsite. The route down the Otehake is mostly on the true right, boulder hopping beside the river, crossing where necessary. This is not possible in rain or if rivers are high. Cross the Otehake again just above where it joins the Taramakau and then walk down the river flats back to Otira River. The loop walk can be undertaken in a long day or as an overnight stay.
This trip starts at Aickens car park beside SH73, 5 km west of Otira township. To access the Taramakau valley, you need to cross Otira River.
If the Otira River is not easy to cross, postpone your tramp until another day as crossing the Otehake and Taramakau rivers further upstream will be impossible.
The trip finishes at the shelter and car park at Windy Point, just off Lewis Pass Highway on SH7.
Experience: Suitable for well-equipped people with previous backcountry tramping and river-crossing experience.
Best season: Summer, autumn and winter
Required maps: NZTopo50 Moana BU20, Haupiri BU21, Lake Sumner BU22, Boyle BU23
Hazards: Flooded rivers, steep drop-offs
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.
Before setting out, check the latest track conditions and avalanche advisory with the Arthur's Pass Visitor Centre.
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.
Thieves targeting cars at Arthur's Pass
There have been reports of cars being broken into and disabled at track ends.
- Don't leave valuables in your vehicle.
- Consider using more public parking sites – ask at the Arthur's Pass Visitor Centre for alternative options.
- Report any suspicious activity to police on +64 3 363 7400.
Harper Pass was the main pathway to and from the West Coast for Māori when trading pounamu (greenstone). It continued to be an important route during the gold rush in 1864–65.