The Arahura/Styx Valleys are popular areas for hunting, tramping and kayaking, with the lower valleys of both rivers also popular for trout fishing.
The low Styx Saddle connects the two valleys allowing round trips during the summer and autumn. Browning Pass/Noti Raureka at the head of the Arahura River gives access across the Main Divide to the Wilberforce River. It is also on the route of the Arthur's Pass: Three Passes Route from the Waimakariri River over the Harman Pass, Whitehorn Pass and Browning Pass/Noti Raureka to the Arahura headwaters.
It is suitable for well equipped people with previous backcountry experience. The best seasons for walking this track are summer and autumn. There are four huts to stay in along the way – hut tickets are required.
Note: True left and true right refer to the side of the valley or river when looking downstream.
Time: 4.5 - 5 hr
From the car park follow the 4WD track up the true right side of the Styx River. When the 4WD track ends use the riverbed and walk around the base of the bluffs to reach the start of the benched track. At present, part of the river flows against the bluffs and this section can only be negotiated at normal to low river flows.
Once on the benched track, make your way up valley, staying on the true right river bank. The track crosses numerous side streams and in a few places it drops onto the riverbed for short distances before climbing back up to the benched track. In the vicinity of Tyndal Creek there is a short exposed section of track where a narrow route has been cut into a slip, approximately 10 m above river level.
Upstream of the turn-off to Mid-Styx Hut, the track has been rerouted over a high bluff. This is because the river currently runs hard against the base of this bluff making it impassable at river level. Beyond this point the track continues and eventually emerges onto the bottom end of Grassy Flat, just upstream from the remains of an old swing bridge. Walk upstream across the flat for about 200 m then cross the Styx River to the true left bank to rejoin the track, which is marked with a large orange triangle. Follow this track through the tussock and scrub to Grassy Flat Hut.
Time: 1 - 1.5 hr
Leaving Grassy Flat Hut the track heads upstream and crosses an un-named creek. From here rock cairns and orange markers show the way to a short section of track which takes you through scrub to the Styx River. Cross the river and continue on the track through tussock and grass before entering the bush and climbing to the Styx Saddle. Here the route is marked with tall poles and crosses the saddle to descend and join with the sign posted junction in the track, high above the Arahura River.
Time: 2 - 2 .5 hr
Follow the benched track until it ends at an un-named creek, immediately upstream of Snowball Creek, follow the un-named creek down until rejoining the track on the true left bank about 150 m before the Arahura River. From here the track drops gradually through the bush to the river bed and then follows this for a short distance before climbing onto a low terrace to reach a swing bridge. Mudflats Hut can be seen on a high terrace on the true right of the Arahura River and is reached by crossing the swing bridge.
Note: In winter the track from Styx Saddle to Mudflats Hut crosses several deep guts which can become avalanche chutes. Extra care is required during heavy snow conditions.
Time: 4.5 - 5 hr
From the hut cross back to the true left bank of the river, rejoin the track and climb steeply before crossing Visitor Creek. From here the benched track follows a contour high above the Arahura River. Follow this formed track (with some detours where it has slipped or washed away) down the true left of the valley, continuing past the turn off to Newton Creek Hut.
Above the Lower Arahura Hut the track gradually descends from its high contour before dropping into an un-named creek and emerging onto a short section of track closer to river level. Follow this to the hut, ignoring a swing bridge which is passed on the way.
Time: 2.5 - 3.5 hr
From the hut to the road end travel is a mixture of track and riverbed. You will need to negotiate several washed out side streams between the hut and the swing bridge at The Cesspool. Once reached, cross this bridge to the true right bank of the Arahura River and follow the old logging road and river flats through private farmland before reaching the public road near the Milltown Bridge. This road leads to Lake Kaniere and then onto Hokitika which is 26 km away.
Time: 1.5 - 2 hr
A further day can be added to the trip to take in a well worthwhile visit to Lake Browning/Whakarewa and Browning Pass/Noti Raureka. From the signposted junction at Styx Saddle follow the benched track which sidles and climbs high on the true left above the Arahura River before dropping down to the swing bridge across the Harman River. Cross this bridge and climb back on to the terrace to follow the track across alpine bog-land to Harman Hut. Harman Hut has a wood stove but firewood is scarce in the area.
Time: 3 - 4 hr
From Harman Hut follow the benched track for about 1.5 km before dropping down an unnamed side stream to the Arahura River. A short section of track takes you out to the open riverbed. From here boulder hop up the true left bank for about 1 km keeping an eye out for a large orange triangle on the true right bank. This marks the beginning of a climb to the benched track which sidles high above the Arahura River, avoiding an impassable gorge.
The track eventually meets back up with the river. Cross at this point and follow the marker poles up a steep section before reaching a boggy terrace. From here the track winds its way through to Lake Browning before sidling the lake and climbing diagonally to the Pass just east of spot height 1,426 m. During misty, low cloud conditions it can be difficult to locate and follow the markers. Care is required.
Access to the Styx Valley is off the Kokatahi/Lake Kaniere circuit road approximately 1 km on the Lake Kaniere side of the Mark Wallace Styx River Bridge. The track begins at a car park about 500 m along the Dorothy Falls Road from the last road bridge across the Styx River and initially follows a rough 4WD route.
Styx Valley Track is very rough with numerous slips to be negotiated. These slips are moving after each rain event and can be difficult to cross by inexperienced people.
The Styx River has cut into a vertical gravel cliff 20 minutes from the Styx car park. To continue up the valley be prepared to cross the river at normal flow below and above this slip. Parties or individuals that are not confident with river crossing should travel through via the Arahura valley.
The alternative via the Arahura Track has a major slip south of Snowball Creek. Caution is advised when crossing this slip.
This information is an indication of conditions only.
NZ Topo50-BV19 Lake Kaniere
Before you go into the outdoors, tell someone your plans and leave a date and time 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.
The Styx River is a good place to see Whio (blue duck). Sit near the river and be quiet and patient - you should see some ducks surfing the rapids.
The route passes through a large tussock flat where you can see sights such as the tussock butterfly.
Much of the track in both valleys was constructed in the late 1860s in an attempt to connect the West Coast Goldfields with Canterbury via Browning Pass/Noti Raureka. The area has an interesting history of use by early Maori, early European explorers and gold miners.