Note: true left and true right refer to the side of the valley or river when facing and looking downstream.
Time: 7 hr
Distance: 18 km
Follow Copland Track to Welcome Flat Hut via Architect Creek Hut.
Time: 3 hr
Distance: 7 km
The suspension bridge near Welcome Flat Hut leads across to the true left of the Copland River and onto a series of extensive grassy river flats. Along the flats there are fine views into the Ruera Valley and the Navigator Range beyond, while Mount Sefton and the Footstool rear up behind The Sierra Range, reaching heights over 2000 metres above the valley floor.
Occasionally the track wanders into low forest but returns to the grassy flats before crossing the multiple channels of Scott Creek. This creek can be extremely hazardous in wet weather.
Beyond Scott Creek the track enters the forest again and begins to climb gradually above the upper gorge. There are a number of open slips to cross with views up and down the river. Eventually the swingbridge across Tekano Creek is reached and the views to the upper valley open out in front of you. Douglas Rock Hut (8 bunks) is nestled in a forest glade just across the bridge. On a clear day the views from the hut are expansive.
Past Douglas Rock Hut, a marked route continues towards the Copland Pass. Avalanche and flood riskis high on this route. This route should only be attempted by those with alpine experience, mountaineering skills and equipment. From Douglas Rock Hut, the route ascends through subalpine vegetation with improving views of the high mountain peaks surrounding the upper Copland River.
Marked by cairns and poles, the route sidles above the river, with Aoraki/Mount Cook coming into view near Fiddian Creek. The route continues to sidle until directly below Copland Pass, at which point it zigzags its way up the steep slopes into an alpine basin.
Warning: The route ends at the alpine basin. Do not attempt to climb to and cross Copland Pass unless you have a high level of mountaineering experience and appropriate mountaineering equipment. Over the years a number of climbers have died attempting to cross Copland Pass. Access on the eastern side of the divide is difficult due to erosion. It is strongly recommended that you do not attempt to cross Copland Pass from the west.
Experience: Suitable for well-equipped and experienced backcountry trampers and mountaineers only; navigation and survival skills required. The track beyond Welcome Flat Hut is more difficult as the conditions underfoot are rougher and the majority of creeks are unbridged and may be impassable during and after heavy rain.
Best time to go: Summer and autumn
Maps: NZTopo50: BX14 Gillespies Beach; BX15 Fox Glacier
Hazards: Flooded rivers, rock fall and avalanche.
Flooding: This valley is 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. The Copland River can flood sections of track making it impassable.
Avalanches are possible in the upper valley – care is required throughout winter and spring, in particular.
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.
The Copland Track was built by the Tourist and Health Resorts Department to provide a tourist route across the Southern Alps linking the West Coast with the Hermitage, a popular lodge at Mt Cook.
In 1901 New Zealand became the first country in the world to form a government department to develop and promote tourism. Along with places such as Rotorua, the Chateau (Tongariro) and Milford, The Hermitage and the Southern Alps were becoming popular destinations with the growing number of international tourists.
The track was constructed over several years from c1901-1913. Construction was slow and hampered by labour shortages. The harsh alpine weather made it impossible to work on the track during winter, so work was restricted to the summer months. Work was also delayed by the unstable nature of the landscape and high rainfall in the area. This meant sections of track often had to be rebuilt due to damage from flooding, erosion and landslides.
At first the track was little more than a blazed line through the bush that had the tendency to become quickly overgrown. Eventually the track was widened and developed into a pack track.
There were no other tracks of this scale constructed solely for tourist use on the West Coast. The doggedness with which the completion of the track was pursued by the Government highlights the importance the Copland Track had in their plans for tourism in the South Island.
During the construction of the track, workers came across the natural hot pools at Welcome Flat. This was a great find - thermal attractions were proving popular with visitors and seen by the government as key to stimulating tourism. The route quickly became a popular tourist trip and was one of the key tourist attractions that sustained the fledgling tourist industry in the area.