Descending to the Karangarua River

Image: Andrew John Mitchell | Creative Commons

Introduction

The Karangarua and Douglas valleys offer hunters, trampers and mountaineers many challenging opportunities and rewards within the rugged backcountry environment of Westland Tai Poutini National Park.

Track overview

Walking and tramping

2 days + Expert: Route

Dog access

No dogs

About this track

Description

The Karangarua River valley route to Christmas Flat is well marked with orange plastic markers and windfalls are cleared annually. The routes into the Douglas River valley are mostly unmarked. These routes are suitable for well-equipped and experienced backcountry trampers and hunters only. Windfalls are cleared less often.

Best seasons to go are summer and autumn. These valleys are subject to flooding at any time of year. Do not attempt this trip in bad weather or when rain is forecast. If rivers and side streams are in flood, do not attempt to cross.

Karangarua River valley

Karangarua River bridge – Cassel Flat Hut

Time: 5 - 6 hours
From the road bridge head up the true left bank of the Karangarua River keeping mainly to the riverbed until you reach a large grassy flat just before the Karangarua – Copland junction. At the top of this flat, the route enters the bush at a point indicated by markers. It is about one hour’s walk from the road to this point. The route to the 6 bunk Cassel Flat is marked and easy to follow – alternating between flood channels, bush, boulders and grass flats.

 

Cassel Flat Hut – Lame Duck Hut

Time: 7 hours
From Cassel Flat to Lame Duck Flat, follow along the river to the junction with Tui Creek where the marked route commences. Follow the river to the base of a scrubby face, before climbing steeply to the top of a prominent ridge. The route travels along this ridge above the bluffs and then sidles, gaining height through more bluffs at a higher level. The route is less defined here but is easily followed using the markers. Care should be taken on exposed, slippery stream crossings and especially when crossing a washout with 70m exposure about two-thirds of the way along the sidle section.

After the gorge section the route traverses high above the river on poorly drained terraces before rejoining the river just below Lame Duck Flat.

Lame Duck Hut – Christmas Flat Hut

Time: 3 hours
From Lame Duck Flat follow markers through a stand of beech next to the river for about 20 minutes. The route then climbs about 100m and follows roughly at this level to an old open slip face before coming out onto the face beside a prominent rata tree 50m above the river. Descend down across the face to the river. Cross the Karangarua River to avoid the bluff, recross and then cross the Troyte River.

The route starts close to the river 30m above the Troyte and travels along a terrace for 15 minutes, before climbing steeply for about 50m – generally following at this level to a grassy slip. Cross the slip and travel down it, almost to the riverbed, where the route re-enters the bush and continues to the 4 bunk Christmas Flat Hut.

Important note: 

The route described below is only suitable for parties who are highly skilled and experienced, and well-equipped. The majority of this route is unmarked and parties require a very high level of navigational skills. The route requires good weather and snow conditions to allow for safe travel – high avalanche danger is possible.

Douglas River valley

Cassel Flat to Horace Walker via Regina Creek

Time: 13 hours

From Cassel Flat Hut cross the flats and use the cableway to cross the Karangarua River to the true right. Ensure that you follow the operating instructions on the cableway as improper use could cause injury.

After about 5 minutes the route goes out onto a slip then traverses up a steep bank into the bush. Follow the markers. The route is reasonably well defined but can be lost in fuchsia clearings and windfalls areas. There is a campsite just across the 3-wire bridge over Regina Creek.

From Regina Creek follow the route markers across to the bottom of the climb to Conical Hill Saddle. From here to the scrubline the route is well defined and blazed. There are two sections of exposed bedrock where the route regains the scrub after a few minutes. From the scrubline to the tussock line the route is well defined and it is marked across the saddle with metal poles.

From Conical Hill Saddle the route is unmarked. Head north-east up the ridge. There is a section of tight bluffs just up from the saddle, if you stick to the true right of the ridge you should pick up a goat track and a narrow scrubby ledge that is passable. Once through these bluffs change to the true left of the ridge and traverse up until about the 1400m contour. Traverse up the valley staying high to avoid the bluffs on this contour. When the Horace Walker moraine can be sighted straight down below, descend to reach a tussock terrace west of the moraine wall and then drop down to the terrace beside the Douglas River. Traverse east to the 4 bunk Horace Walker Hut. You will need to cross the Horace Walker River to reach the hut.

For information on other routes in the area see guidebooks such as 'Moirs Guide North'.  Such routes are not marked and not maintained by the Department.

Getting there

Access is off State Highway 6 approximately 26 km south of Fox Glacier Weheka township. There is a small parking area next to the Karangarua River bridge on the true left of the river, and the route begins directly across the road.

Nature and conservation

The forest in these catchments are varied. Rimu, kamahi and tree ferns are the most common species in the lower altitude forest, giving way to southern rata, kamahi and Hall's tōtara dominating the montane forest above about 500 m.

Of particular interest are the patches of silver beech forest on the south bank of the Karangarua downstream of the Troyte confluence. These are the northern most limits of beech at the southern end of the Westland beech gap.

At around 900 to 1000 m altitude forest grades into a subalpine scrub. Snow tussocks occupy the low-alpine belt with a range of alpine herbs such as spaniards, mountain daisies and the Mount Cook lily. Short grasses and herbs grade into bare rock and permanent snow and ice at higher altitudes.

The pattern of canopy dieback on the upper north bank of the Karangarua provides a good example of the impact of invading possum populations. A survey in 1978 found no possums in this area. In the mid-1980s the forest canopy in this area remained in good condition. There has been no possum control in this area and today there are extensive areas of dieback of southern rata and Hall’s tōtara.

Hunting

Red deer can be found throughout the area at any time of the year however spring hunting on the grass flats and the Roar are the most popular hunting times. The area around Cassel Flat is particularly popular but deer can be found in most places.

Chamois are found throughout the area. Open stream beds and slips on the lower slopes are a good place to locate chamois. 

Tahr can be encountered anywhere and are common at higher altitude especially around steep bluff areas that can be difficult to hunt.  Popular areas include the steep faces behind Cassel Flat, Lame Duck Flat, Christmas Flat and Horace Walker. Coleridge Creek gives good access to the tops.

Hunting information:

Know before you go

NZTopo50 maps: BX14 Gillespies Beach; BX15 Fox Glacier

Hazards

Hazards include flooded rivers, rock fall, steep and exposed terrain, and avalanche.

These valleys are subject to flooding at any time of year. Do not attempt this trip in bad weather or when rain is forecast. If rivers and side streams are in floor, do not attempt to cross.

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 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 or DOC office in Fox Glacier before heading into this area – conditions can change rapidly.
  • Carry a personal locator beacon, and don’t forget to fill in the hut books.

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.

Note: true left and true right refer to the side of the valley or river when facing and looking downstream.

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
Hokitika Office
Phone:   +64 3 756 9100
Fax:   +64 4 471 1117
Email:   hokitika@doc.govt.nz
Address:   10 Sewell Street
Hokitika 7810
Postal Address:   Private Bag 701
Hokitika 7842
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