Introduction

The Wanganui River valley provides rugged backcountry opportunities for those with suitable skills and experience.

Track overview

Walking and tramping

3 days + Advanced: Tramping track
Expert: Route

Dog access

Dogs with a DOC permit only. Contact the relevant DOC office to obtain a permit.

About this track

Description

The Wanganui valley contains a good network of tramping tracks and routes. They are suitable for well-equipped and experienced backcountry trampers and climbers only.

Times given are guides only and will vary greatly with fitness and weather conditions. Tramping in this area is very demanding and you should allow plenty of time to reach planned destinations. The best seasons to go are summer and autumn.

The tramping tracks are well marked with orange plastic markers - windfalls are cleared annually and the tracks are scrub cut every three years. The routes are also well marked and windfalls are cleared every two years.

Road end - Hunters Hut

Time: 5 hours

The track begins by crossing a couple of paddocks and joining the access road to the rock quarry. The track then skirts underneath the quarry (beware of falling rocks and follow all instructions/signs), before climbing onto a terrace.

After travelling through a section of gorse and scrub, then crossing a rocky beach, the track enters a bush section that carries through to Shearers Flat. From this point follow the riverbed up to Hendes Creek. A three-wire bridge across Hendes Creek was built in 2013. Above here the track heads up Mystie Flat, before another riverbed section.

The track then crosses a small flat, before entering the bush again. After Steep Creek, riverbed and flats are crossed before the track climbs up and over Annoyance Bluff. From here up to the cableway across the Wanganui River the track traverses Jones Flat. Ensure that you follow the operating instructions on the cableway as improper use could cause injury. Once across the cableway, an easy ten-minute walk downstream on the true left bank takes you to Hunters Hut.

Lambert Tops Route

Time: 4 hours to bush edge from Hunters Hut

Follow the track from Hunters Hut to the Lambert River and cross the Lambert swing bridge (replaced in 2013). Follow the track to the sign-posted junction before turning left and climbing steeply up a ridgeline, following a spur that runs alongside Lambert Gorge. The route provides access into the Adams Wilderness Area and numerous hard mountaineering trips are possible.

The marked route ends at the two yellow and orange deer posts. Travel beyond this point is suitable only for those experienced in alpine travel.

Blue Lookout Route

Time: 3 hours 30 min to bush edge from Hunters Hut

From Hunters Hut follow the track towards the Lambert swing bridge. The route to Blue Lookout is sign-posted at Benighted Creek. Follow the creek upstream for approximately 500 m and look for the orange marker on the true left of the creek. The route heads steeply up through stunted forest, before opening out to subalpine scrub and huge rock slabs. This route also provides access into the Adams Wilderness Area.

The marked route ends at the two yellow and orange deer posts. Travel beyond this point is suitable only for those experienced in alpine travel.

Hunters Hut - Smyth Hut tramping track

Time: 6 hours

Safety alerts: As a result of heavy rainfall in January 2013, the upper Wanganui valley track between Hunters Hut and Smyth Hut sustained major damage, making access extremely difficult. Smyth swingbridge was destroyed by these floods and there is no longer bridge access across the Wanganui River at Smyth Hut.

The tramping track to Smyth Hut is on the true left of the Wanganui River.

At Poker Bluff, a low-level route follows the river bank - use the hand chains and ladder to continue upstream. If river levels are high, follow a marked line that starts at the lower end of the slip, just upstream from the cableway. It climbs high above the bluff before dropping steeply down in to the riverbed again upstream of the bluff. From here the track up to Devastation Creek follows the river edge all the way. There are sections of track over two small bluffs, and these are marked at each end by large orange markers.

The last section of track starts just downstream of Devastation Creek. Cross the creek and follow the markers as a guide to meet up with the track upstream again. This area is quite changeable so take care and follow the markers. The track then climbs around steep bush hillsides and slips, and includes several short beach sections over huge boulders, which must be negotiated.

Smyth Hut is perched on a terrace opposite the Smyth River. 

Getting there

Harihari is 72 km southeast of Hokitika on SH6. 

Access is 8 km north of Harihari on SH6 (on the northern side of the Wanganui River bridge) where a small side road takes you to the start of the track. The end of this road has been seriously eroded by the river, so be careful to turn your vehicle and park well back from where the road is cut off.

Access

Like the nearby Whataroa, Butler and Perth valleys, the Wanganui saw the construction of huts, swing bridges and tracks during the 1970s enabling easier foot access up the valley, mostly for wild animal management by the NZ Forest Service. Access is still restricted during periods of heavy rain, when many unbridged side creeks become uncrossable.

Nature and conservation

The Wanganui River catchment has an area of approximately 40,000 ha and offers hunters, trampers, kayakers and mountaineers challenging terrain in an impressive West Coast river valley.

About the valleys

The forest is typical of the central Westland beech gap with a canopy dominated by southern rātā, kāmahi, Quintinia/tāwheowheo and Hall's tōtara. Rimu is locally common at lower altitudes. The forest grades into a zone of dense subalpine scrub which includes a mix of Dracopyllum and Olearia species.

Above this are extensive tussock grasslands, herb fields, bare rock and ice. There has been no possum control undertaken by DOC in this catchment, and the effects of browsing by the uncontrolled possum population can be seen in the extensive canopy dieback of species such as southern rata and Halls tōtara. This is especially evident when compared to the nearby Whataroa valley where possum control is undertaken and the forest remains healthy.

Hot pools

Impressive hot pools can be found nestled amongst massive boulders in the riverbed near Smyth Hut. Follow the track back downstream for approximately five minutes from the hut, where a short, marked side track heads down through the bush.

The pools are in a small creek/flood channel spread across a short stretch upstream from where the track emerges. Several pools ranging in size from small one- or two-person pools up to larger pools accommodating around six people, offer a relaxing reward with stunning alpine views for those who visit.

Amethyst hot springs are about 15 minutes walk from the road-end car park. These pools are easily flooded by the main river and therefore often need to be dug out so make sure you have a shovel with you. The pools provide a relaxing end to a long trip in the hills.

Hunting

In the Wanganui valley you can find red deer, tahr and chamois, as well as a few feral goats in the lower section.

Chamois can be found in most of the river’s tributaries from the low level to the alpine herb fields. The higher concentrations of tahr are found in the Adams Wilderness Area above Hunters Hut, with groups also around the head of the river near Smyth Hut. Red deer are found throughout the catchment. Good trophies of all three species may be taken in the Wanganui.

Hunters must obtain a hunting permit prior to their trip and carry this with them at all times.

View information about the Wanganui hunting area.

Know before you go

NZTOP50 maps: BW17 Harihari, BW18 Whitcombe Pass

Hazards

Hazards include flooded rivers, rockfall and avalanche. 

This trip should not be attempted when it is raining, rain is forecast or the river is running high. 

If you are travelling beyond the snowline then make sure you check avalanche conditions, are sufficiently equipped and experienced to assess the conditions and choose a safe path through avalanche terrain.

Weather

  • The climate in Westland mountain areas is extreme and variable.
  • Rainfall is generally over 5000 mm per annum and can occur for days on end at any time of the year. 
  • Snow can occur during any season.
  • Rivers can rise and fall rapidly during and following rain but can also remain high for days especially when fed by snow melt from large snow fields or glaciers.

Safety is your responsibility 

  • Check the latest conditions at the Westland Tai Poutini National Park Visitor Centre in Franz Josef before leaving – conditions can change rapidly. 
  • Carry a personal locator beacon and fill in the hut books.
  • Note: True left and true right refer to the side of the valley or river when facing and looking downstream.

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.

Dogs

Dogs are prohibited except where authorisation has been granted by DOC. If you wish to take a dog into this area you must obtain a dog permit from the Franz Josef Waiau Area Manager at least one week prior to your trip.

Contacts

Westland Tai Poutini National Park Visitor Centre
Phone:   +64 3 752 0360
Fax:   +64 4 471 1117
Email:   westlandnpvc@doc.govt.nz
Address:   69 Cron Street
Franz Josef Glacier 7856
Postal Address:   PO Box 14
Franz Josef Glacier 7856
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