IntroductionThis challenging trip above the bushline in Mt Richmond Forest Park offers outstanding views over the Waimea Plains and the Inland Kaikoura Ranges.
The Alpine Route is a challenging trip above the bushline in Mt Richmond Forest Park, which offers outstanding views over the Waimea Plains, toward Kahurangi and Abel Tasman National Parks, and to the rugged hills of South Marlborough and the Inland Kaikoura Ranges.
It is only suitable for experienced and well equipped groups. There is little or no formed track in many places, the terrain is steep and rugged and good fitness and navigation skills are needed.
Hacket road end to Starveall Hut
Time: 6 hr
The track starts at the picnic area just past the junction of the Hacket Creek and Roding River. It crosses a wooden footbridge across the Roding River and, after 1 km, a suspension bridge across the Hacket Creek.
The track follows the creek through private land before reaching a picnic area at the junction of the Miner River. A further 30 minutes upstream, at the junction of the Browning Stream, a sign-posted track leads to Browning Hut. Walkers should continue on the right-hand track to Hacket Hut.
From Hacket Hut the track continues upstream, crossing the creek a number of times, before sidling up towards the impressive Pyramid Rock. It then climbs steadily before zig-zagging the final steep stretch to Starveall Hut. The hut is located at the edge of a large clearing on a spur below Mt Starveall.
Starveall Hut to Slaty Hut
Time: 2 hr, 30 min
The Alpine Route begins from Starveall Hut and is marked with poles, leading up to the summit ridge of Mt Starveall.
Halfway along the ridge, the route drops off to the left and descends to a distinct forested ridge that leads towards Slaty Peak. The route sidles across the northern face of Slaty Peak to Slaty Hut, located just above the bushline.
It is possible to detour to the Mt Starveall summit (1511 m) enroute to Slaty Hut, which provides magnificent views over Nelson and Tasman Bay.
Slaty Hut to Old Man Hut
Time: 5 hr
The Alpine Route sidles around the basin below Slaty Peak before climbing gradually back onto the main ridge, which is followed right through until Old Man Peak. The route is entirely above the bushline, except when it descends into forested saddles before Ada Flat and at the base of Old Man Peak.
There is a sign-posted junction at the summit of Old Man Peak (1514 m), with the left-hand route leading down to Lake Chalice or to the Forks/Top Valley.
Refer to 'Walks, tracks and routes, Northbank road access brochure' for more information on this option.
The Alpine Route continues along the main summit ridge. Old Man Hut is located on a natural grassy clearing 200 m below the ridge, and is reached on a sign-posted access track.
Old Man Hut
Old Man Hut to Rintoul Hut
Time: 5 hr
A sign-posted access track leads back to the main ridge, from which the Alpine Route climbs up blocky scree to the summit of Little Rintoul (1643 m). The route descends 250 m down a rocky ridge to a saddle, then climbs steeply again to the Mt Rintoul summit (1731 m).
It is possible to climb along the very sharp and rugged ridge, or to sidle on the southern side below the ridge.
This is the highest point of the Alpine Route and is also the most difficult part of the trip. The terrain is steep and broken and can be treacherously icy during winter. Particular care should be taken.
From the summit, the route descends the summit ridge before dropping down scree slopes to the bushline. A short track then leads to Rintoul Hut. Both the hut and Mt Rintoul summit offer magnificent views, particularly over the Waimea Plains and Tasman Bay.
From Old Man Hut, it is also possible to head directly down to the Goulter River. Refer to 'Walks, tracks and routes, Northbank road access brochure' for more information on this option.
Mt Rintoul Hut
Rintoul Hut to Tarn Hut
Time: 5 hr
From Rintoul Hut the Alpine Route leads through mountain beech forest to climb the scree and rock faces of Purple Top (1532 m), before descending down the main summit ridge. The route then sidles across the southern face of Bishops Cap (1425 m) to join the main forested spur to the south.
Tarn Hut is located at the edge of a small tarn, to the east of the main ridge, and is reached on a sign-posted access track.
Two options to exit the route
There are two options from Tarn Hut to leave Alpine Route:
- Tarn Hut to Wairoa road end
- Tarn Hut to Goulter road end
Tarn Hut to Wairoa road end
Time: 6–8 hr
A sign-posted access track leads back to the main ridge, from which the track leads down the ridge to a sign-posted junction shortly before Bushy Top, with the right-hand track leading to the Wairoa road end.
The track sidles on the western side of the ridge, eventually reaching a prominent spur which is followed to the left branch of the Wairoa River.
The final descent to the river is particularly steep. At this point, you arrive at Mid Wairoa Hut.
Connect to Red Hills Route
Mid Wairoa Hut is the point at which you can start the Red Hills Route.
Continue to Wairoa Road end
A swingbridge crosses the river just downstream from the Mid Wairoa Hut. The track follows the Wairoa River which has steep difficult sidles to negotiate, before opening out onto a forestry road, which must be followed for about 4 km, right down to a locked gate.
You should allow an extra one to two hours if starting the trip from the Wairoa.
Mid Wairoa Hut
Tarn Hut to Goulter road end
Time: 5-6 hr
At the sign-posted junction shortly before Bushy Top (see above), the left-hand branch leads to the Goulter road end.
The track climbs over Bushy Top (1257 m) before descending down a prominent spur to the Goulter River opposite the Lower Goulter Hut. The river is not bridged and no attempts should be made to cross it while in flood.
From the hut, the track carries on for 45 minutes to a 4WD road end. It is a further two hours to Tiphead Stream, which is generally accessible to two-wheel drive vehicles.
Walkers should allow an extra one to two hours if starting the trip from the Goulter.
Lower Goulter Hut
Understand if you are ready for the Richmond Ranges Alpine Route
Watch the NZ Mountain Safety Council’s walk-through video which takes you through how to prepare for this track. Including facilities, key decision points, hazards and typical conditions for the area.
Most trampers start from the Hacket road-end, 29 km south of Nelson and walk through to Starveall Hut to begin the Alpine Route. From Tarn Hut, they complete the trip by descending to either Wairoa road-end, inland from Wakefield, or to the Goulter road-end, on the north bank of the Wairau River.
The Alpine Route is also accessible on tracks from the Goulter River, Lake Chalice, or via the Te Hoiere/Pelorus River.
From Nelson, trampers transport services operate. Unfortunately this type of service is not available from Blenheim.
What to expect
The Alpine Route is a rewarding but very challenging trip. It is one of the most difficult sections of Te Araroa. You will encounter:
- unbridged river and stream crossings
- an alpine climate with heavy rain, freezing temperatures, strong wind and snow – even in summer
- little or no formed track in places
- rough and uneven ground, including large boulder and scree slopes
- narrow ridges and scrambling around steep drops.
The Alpine Route must be accessed via other tracks. If you are continuing from Wairoa to Red Hills, be aware that this is another tricky section with dangerous river crossings.
What you need
- To be fit enough to walk 6-8 hours a day for multiple days in rough, steep terrain.
- Experience in backcountry alpine tramping, including in untracked areas and in bad weather – you need to be able to judge when the conditions are safe to proceed and when to wait at a hut, camp where you are, or turn back.
- Navigation skills, eg able to use GPS or a map and compass.
- Good river crossing skills.
- A companion – this is not recommended for solo tramping. Going with a tramping club is a good option.
How to plan and prepare
The best time of year to walk the route is November to April. During other months ice, snow and fog are more common.
Avoid crossing the rivers/creeks if they are in flood or if there is heavy or consistent rainfall. Turn back, wait in a hut, or camp until water levels drop. Rivers in the Richmond Forest Park are dangerous and people have died crossing them. How to cross a river safely.
When packing for this trip, note:
- warm and waterproof clothing is essential for the alpine environment
- sturdy boots and walking poles will help you avoid twisted ankles
- pack a tent and bedroll even if you plan to stay in huts – in case you don't get a bunk and for emergency shelter
- pack a distress beacon and leave your intentions in the hut books
- water is scarce in summer – carry at least 3 litres per person and stay hydrated
- wasps are common between February and April, so pack antihistamines and consider carrying an EpiPen
- delays are likely, so pack extra food.
Check the Mount Richmond weather forecast – NIWA website.
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