Collier Gorge Swing Bridge, on the Whitcombe River
Image: Brian Dobbie | ©
The Whitcombe Pass Track takes you through the very rugged bush clad valleys of the lower Hokitika and Whitcombe Rivers to the Main Divide. During winter and early spring months you can expect snow to the valley floor in the Whitcombe headwaters.
This track is suitable for fit, well equipped and experienced backcountry trampers only. The best seasons to go are summer and autumn.
The first few km of track are the historic benched remains of what was to be the Mathias Pass Road linking the West Coast with Canterbury.
Time: 2 hr 30 min - 3 hr 30 min
Once at the road end drop down to the riverbed and walk upstream along the river’s edge for 15-20 minutes to where rock cairns and orange markers show the way to the cut track. Climb up the bank and follow this benched track to the cable way which spans the Hokitika River just below Rapid Creek Hut.
Cross the cableway to the true left bank. Five minutes walk along the track brings you to Rapid Creek Hut. This hut has 4 bunks and a wood stove.
Note: Ignore the locked cableway at the road end.
Time: 3 - 4 hr
Following heavy rainfall Rapid Creek quickly becomes impassable. A swingbridge now crosses Rapid Creek a few hundred metres upstream of the confluence with the Hokitika River and this should be used if the creek is above normal flow or if the crossing looks difficult.
Once across Rapid Creek the Hokitika River bed is followed for a further 300 m before entering the bush to cross a low terrace to join the Whitcombe River just above the Hokitika/Whitcombe Junction. Travel from here to the Collier Gorge Swing Bridge across the Whitcombe River alternates between the riverbed and along sections of track cut through the bush. The river boulders are huge through this section. Cross Collier Gorge Bridge to the true right and travel is via the riverbed to Dick Creek where a short section of track is picked up before dropping back onto the riverbed 1 km below Tom Creek.
The route remains on the riverbed until you are below Frew Hut, just downstream of the Frew Creek confluence with the Whitcombe River. Frew Hut is reached by following a short track onto a low terrace above the true right bank of Frew Creek. Frew Hut contains 10 mattresses on two platforms, a table, platforms and a wood stove.
Time: 5 - 6 hr
From Frew Hut, drop down to Frew creek and cross it. The track re-enters the bushon the true left bank of Frew Creek some 100 m above the Frew Creek/Whitcombe River. After heavy rain Frew Creek becomes impassable.
The track travels through the bush above the river. After about one hour it by-passes the Cropp Swing Bridge (do not cross) and drops down to the riverbed for a short distance before re-entering the bush to lead to Vincent Creek swing bridge. Cross this bridge and travel down the true left of Vincent Creek for 30 to 40 metres to a spot where the track leaves the creek bed.
Between here and Price Flat the track occasionally returns to the riverbed but generally sidles above the river crossing numerous creeks and slips. At some of these slips route markers may have been obliterated and the route may no longer be well defined. Care is needed to locate track entrances before proceeding. Generally exit and entrance points over the slips are at similar levels.
From the lower end of Price Flat the route passes Price Flat Swing Bridge (do not cross). It then returns to the riverbed. Follow the riverbed until a marker pole shows the way onto grassed flats. The historic slab hut on the flat is habitable but there is a more recent hut on the terrace above. This hut is reached via a short section of track which leaves the main valley track between the historic hut and Cataract Creek Swing Bridge. Price Flat Hut has 6 bunks and a wood stove.
Time: 4 - 5 hr
After leaving Price Flat Hut and crossing Cataract Creek the track continues across the bush face crossing or climbing above large, active slips before returning to the riverbed just above Chairman Creek. From Chairman Creek the track follows the riverbed for several hundred metres before re-entering the bush and continuing up the valley.
On the way up valley the track passes a sign posted side track which leads to Wilkinson Hut. This side track crosses the Whitcombe River to the true left via a swing bridge. It takes 15-20 minutes to reach Wilkinson Hut which has 4 bunks and an open fire. The main valley track continues through the bush to Neave Creek Hut passing Cave Camp at the Wilkinson river/Whitcombe River confluence. From here, there are excellent views of Mt Evans and the Wilkinson Ice Fall, and Shelf Glacier.
From Cave Camp the track to Neave Creek Hut alternates between bush and riverbed travel, at one part climbing high above the Whitcombe. Neave Creek Hut has 6 bunks and a wood stove.
Time: 3 - 4 hr
From Neave Creek Hut the track leads through alpine scrub to the Whitcombe River near the Gateway. From here travel to the Pass is via the riverbed, crossing the river where convenient.
Access from Hokitika is via the Kaniere/Kowhitirangi Road travelling toward the Hokitika Gorge some 30 km inland from Hokitika.
After leaving the sealed road, cross two concrete bridges (Diedrich and Granite Creeks). A side road to the left some 100 m past the second bridge leads to the Whitcombe road end. This side road is signposted 'Access to Whitcombe Valley'.
The road is prone to flooding part way along and is sometimes left impassable to vehicles. A gate part way in is sometimes locked. At this point there is good parking for vehicles. Beyond the gate the road is suitable for 4WD vehicles only.
Topomap: NZTopo50: BV18 Kokatahi and BW18 Whitcombe Pass.
Huts: Huts generally contain no cooking equipment trampers are advised to travel “self contained”. A tent or fly could also be carried. You need to purchase tickets before using the huts.
Hazards: Flooded rivers and side streams. Snow and ice in the headwaters during winter. Some of the steep side streams at this level become avalanche chutes during winter/early spring.
Hokitika River Cableway, Whitcombe Valley (E1438829 - N5235905) and Price River Swing Bridge, Whitcombe Valley (E1437336-N5224434 were removed several years ago.
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