Motutapu Track

Image: DOC


The Motatapu Track follows much of an historic route that linked the Wanaka and Arrowtown areas. It's a demanding alpine tramp for experienced parties.

Track overview

34 km one way

Walking and tramping

3 - 4 days Advanced: Tramping track

Dog access

No dogs

About this track


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 ha 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.

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

Cross the small creek to the old pack track that climbs the main ridge above 1,270 m 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 km 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 (4-5 hrs) starts from the 4WD road 20 minutes from Macetown. Although this route avoids some of the larger river crossings, it climbs above 1000 m and is not recommended in adverse weather. In fine conditions, it repays the effort with views over the Wakatipu Basin and beyond.

Track profile

Note: Slope on this diagram is exaggerated due to scale restrictions.

Motatapu Track profile.

Adventure to Fern Burn Hut, along the Motatapu Track - Blog post 17 October 2013

Getting there

The Motatapu Track can be accessed from either end.

From Arrowtown: Take the Macetown Road, this is a 15 km, 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, 12 km from town. The Fern Burn carpark and track start are signposted on this road.  

Know before you go

  • The Motatapu Track is particularly demanding. 
  • 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.

Be avalanche alert: This area has terrain that can produce avalanches that cross the track, usually from May into November. View avalanche information.

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.

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. Respect landowners’ stock and property. Ensure that gates are closed and, where provided, that the stiles are used.


Whakatipu-wai-Māori / Queenstown Visitor Centre
Phone:   +64 3 442 7935
Fax:   +64 4 471 1117
Address:   50 Stanley Street
Postal Address:   PO Box 811
Queenstown 9348
Tititea / Mount Aspiring National Park Visitor Centre
Phone:   0272696871
Fax:   03 4437660
Address:   1 Ballantyne Road
Wanaka 9305
Postal Address:   PO Box 93
Wanaka 9343
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