IntroductionThe Whataroa, Butler and Perth river valleys tracks and routes provide rugged backcountry opportunities for those with suitable skills and experience.
The Whataroa, Butler and Perth valleys contain a good network of tramping tracks and routes. They are suitable for well-equipped and experienced backcountry trampers and climbers only.
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 sidestreams are in flood, do not attempt to cross.
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.
On this page:
- Road end – Whataroa-Perth Track junction tramping track
- Perth River valley
- Whataroa River valley
- Butler River valley
Time: 2 hr
From the car park the track initially follows the 4WD track and markers up the true left bank. Just beyond the derelict bulldozer it is quicker to follow the old riverbed before rejoining the 4WD track further on. The river edge is loosely followed to Big Creek where the 4WD track finishes.
If this creek poses any difficulty and further rain is imminent, the valley should not be entered as other creeks will be impassable. From Big Creek, boulder hop around ‘Big Bend’, cross a short gravel beach, then from here look for the marker on the large grassy flat on the right.
Another marker indicates the track entrance further on at the bush edge and the track then continues upstream on bushed terraces. A couple of boulder-hopping sections will see you passing opposite the Perth River confluence before reaching the Whataroa-Perth swing bridge.
This section of track is an excellent day trip. Around 100m beyond the bridge the junction of the Perth River and Whataroa River tracks is signposted.
Whataroa-Perth Track junction – Scone Hut tramping track
Time: 6 hr
The track climbs steeply to a large forested terrace, which is crossed in about an hour, before dropping down to the top of the gorge. Rock hop up the true left of the river to Hughes Creek. This creek quickly becomes impassable after rain so take care. After a further short boulder hop, Nolans Hut (four bunks) is reached.
Beyond Nolans Hut, the track crosses Nolans Flat, before re-entering the bush. If the river is running high there is a high-level route marked and sign-posted at the top of Nolans Flat. There are a couple of short steep bluffs before more beach travel. The track then alternates between bush terraces and boulder hopping to Scone Hut (six bunks), with several notable side creeks needing to be crossed. The entire track is on the true left of the Perth River.
Perth headwaters/Adams Wilderness Area access
Time: 30 min to end of track
To access the Perth headwaters and Adams Wilderness Area from Scone Hut, follow the track across Lower Scone swing bridge, then to Redfield swing bridge. The marked track ends approximately 200 m above the Redfield swing bridge.
Scone Creek tramping track
Time: 1 hr to track end
Follow the track from the hut past Lower Scone swing bridge (remaining on the true left of Scone Creek) upstream. The marked track ends at the small clearing approximately 300 m downstream of the former Upper Scone swing bridge. The bridge was destroyed by a slip in July 2014. Crossing Scone Creek on foot may be possible in low flow conditions. Do not attempt to cross if you are inexperienced at river crossings or when the river is high or in flood.
Time: 2 hr to bush edge
To access the Bettison Route from Scone Hut follow the track upstream over Lower Scone swing bridge to the sign-posted junction. The route then climbs through the forest to approximately 1200 m, giving access to the upper Bettison Stream and Dennistoun Pass areas.
The marked route ends at the two yellow and blue deer posts. Travel beyond this point is suitable only for those experienced in alpine travel.
Whataroa-Perth Track junction – Butler Junction Hut tramping track
Time: 5 hr
The track to Butler Junction continues up the Whataroa valley with several short climbs before dropping steeply down to the beach downstream of The Twister. After walking along the beach and fording The Twister, the track climbs steeply over a terrace before dropping back down to Harry Creek. The track continues, mostly on the beach, until Barrowman Flat, where the track traverses along an easy bush terrace.
Above Barrowman Flat, the track sidles for some time, alternating from bush to riverbed travel. This part of the track is quite demanding with several small creeks, climbs and boulder sections. Butler Junction Hut (eight bunks) is reached about ten minutes past McCormicks swing bridge.
Butler Junction Hut
Butler Junction Hut – Whymper Hut tramping track
Time: 4 hr
The track follows Butler River on the true right bank before crossing Butler Junction swing bridge. Turn right at the sign-posted intersection and travel in the bush until reaching an unnamed creek. The track descends across a slip and side-creek, and enters the bush again close to the Whataroa River.
The track alternates between bush and riverbed travel up to Rocky Creek and then crosses the Whataroa River over Rocky Creek swing bridge. The track continues up the true left bank along shingle river flats, with markers at the bush edges, crossing four main creeks that also become avalanche chutes during winter and spring.
Avalanche debris may still cross the track into summer. The track then emerges onto an obvious open area towards the headwaters before climbing steeply up an old moraine wall on the true left to reach Whymper Hut (six bunks).
This track crosses several known avalanche paths. During heavy snow conditions, do not travel in this area unless sufficiently equipped and experienced to assess the conditions.
Butler Junction Hut – Top Butler Hut tramping track
Time: 2 hr
From the hut the track follows the Butler River up the true right bank before crossing the swing bridge. Once on the true left, turn left at the sign-posted intersection. From here the track climbs and sidles across steep hillsides and creeks originating from King Peak, before reaching Top Butler Hut (six bunks).
Top Butler Hut
Top Butler to Ice Lake tramping track
Time: 2 hr
Note: A significant flood/probable river surge event destroyed the swing bridge across the Butler River (South Branch).
Crossing the Butler River (South Branch) on foot may be possible in low flow conditions. Do not attempt to cross if you are inexperienced at river crossings or when the river is high or in flood.
The bridge over the Butler River (South Branch) at this location will not be replaced in the near future. Parties planning on tramping or hunting in the area need to be aware that travel beyond Top Butler Hut can only be achieved if the party is experienced and able to cross the river in suitable conditions on foot.
The track then heads upstream on the true left of the Butler River. The track alternates between forest and increasingly open subalpine country, until the open headwaters are reached. Boulder hop from here up to Ice Lake, where there are great views and small campsites.
Access is off SH6, five kilometres north of Whataroa. The car park is well sign-posted off the highway as a tourist site. A number of helicopter operators provide access to the more remote areas of the valleys.
The land around the car park and along the first kilometre of track is privately owned by David and Bernadette Friend of Whataroa (phone +64 3 753 4091). Get their permission before starting your trip. Care should be taken to not disturb their stock.
BW16 Whataroa, BW17 Harihari, BX16 Mount Elie De Beaumont
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.
- 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.
Stay safe when crossing rivers
If you plan to cross unbridged rivers, know how to cross safely and be prepared for if you cannot cross.
Do not cross if the river is flooded, you cannot find safe entry and exit points or are unsure it’s safe. Turn back or wait for the river to drop - which often takes a few hours after rain.
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.
Predator Free South Westland is working on a long-term project to remove predators in the Perth River valley. You may see trapping, batiting and other predator control in the area.
Rugged forest, raging rivers and high mountain peaks are just a few of the natural features of the Whataroa, Butler and Perth valleys.
About the valleys
The Whataroa, Butler and Perth river valleys offer hunters, trampers, kayakers and mountaineers many challenging opportunities and rewards.
The catchment area of these rivers totals over 50,000 hectares of wild and rugged West Coast country. The rivers originate from the Main Divide and most tributaries are glacier fed leading to high river levels during periods of snow melt and difficult conditions at times.
The forest, which is dominated by southern rātā, kāmahi, Quintinia/tāwheowheo and Hall’s tōtara, gives way to dense alpine scrub, grasslands, herbfields, bare rock and ice at higher altitudes.
Possum control is undertaken every three to four years in parts of the catchment and as a result the forest shows much less possum damage and dieback. This helps protect tree species such as fuchsia and southern rātā, which provide valuable food sources for native birds such as tūī and kererū, allowing populations to thrive.
The rough terrain meant that large areas of these catchments remained unexplored until relatively recent years. Deep gorges and turbulent rivers thwarted the intentions of many early mountaineering parties wishing to explore the alpine routes in to the catchments of the West Coast and neighbouring Canterbury valleys. The bulk of the exploration did not occur until the decades between 1930 and 1950.
During the 1970s huts, swing bridges and more tracks were constructed to enable easier foot access to the heads of the major tributaries, mostly for wild animal management by the NZ Forest Service. Access is still difficult, if not impossible, during periods of heavy rain, when many unbridged side creeks become uncrossable.
Tahr and chamois are the main species hunted in the area and fine trophies of either may be taken at any time of the year. There are low numbers of red deer particularly in the Perth River valley. Some impressive brown trout are taken each year predominantly in the lower Whataroa and Perth Rivers.
Hunters must obtain a hunting permit prior to their trip and carry this with them at all times.