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The Mount Owen Track
At 1875m Mt Owen is the highest peak in Kahurangi National Park providing unlimited views on a fine day. The surrounding karst landforms, glacier-scoured and eroded by water, are spectacular and unique. It is a popular destination for a long weekend. In April 2008, DOC built a new 12-mattress hut at Granity Pass. The hut has no fireplace, so do bring your own cooking gear and be prepared to keep yourself warm! As this place is very popular, it is also advisable to carry a tent or at least a sleeping-mat, especially on weekends.
There are different approaches to the top of Mt Owen. This description is of the northern approach from Courthouse Flat about 32km from Tapawera and 94km from Nelson. At Courthouse Flat, there is a large car park with ample space for camping, a toilet and water from Granity Creek.
Approximate Time: 2-3 days, moderately demanding
Approximate travel time from Nelson: 1 hr 50 min
Map ref: Wangapeka M28
Courthouse Flat (360m) to Granity Pass Hut (1220m) via Billies Knob
Approximate time: 5-6 hours
From Courthouse Flat car park, cross the bridge over Granity Creek. Here, you are immediately given two options of how to begin the strenuous 900m ascent laying ahead: via Blue Creek or via the ridge. Be prepared and carry plenty of water as there is none found along this section.
Via Blue Creek: Turning right, you find a gentle start along pretty Blue Creek, past some remains of the area’s gold-mining history, followed by a steep 500m ascent onto the main ridge through beautiful mixed forest with plenty of bird life. This is the shadier option on a hot day.
Via the ridge: Turning left leads you directly onto and along the main ridge, a somewhat more direct route. Here, you climb steadily through open Manuka and broadleaf scrub, catching glimpses of the surrounding scenery. The ridge catches full midday and afternoon sun and can get really hot! After about 1½-2 hours you enter shadier, more mature beech forest and reach the junction with the Blue Creek Track.
The track now climbs for a further hour along the ridge until it exits the forest onto a clearing. This is a good lunch spot with fine views north and west across Kahurangi National Park and Tasman Bay. The track soon reaches the highest point of the day, levels and leads onto another clearing at Billies Saddle from where a first panorama of Mt. Owen can be admired.
A steep 150m descent, known as the “staircase”, leads down into Blue Creek Valley through diverse vegetation and along impressive rock faces. A couple of small streams are crossed here, providing the only water source en route to the hut. The old, now derelict prospector’s slab hut is passed just before beech forest gives way to a beautiful maze of mountain neinei. The last kilometre is walked partly in the usually dry marble creek bed.
Once you leave the creek bed, it is only 5 minutes to the new Granity Pass Hut (1220m), built in April 2008. The hut sleeps 12 and is well insulated, but has no fireplace, to preserve the fragile local vegetation. Camping is possible near the hut, but better spots can be found only an hour further up towards Mt Owen.
Granity Pass Hut (1220m) to Mt Owen (1875m)
Approximate time: 6-8 hours round-trip
Mt Owen can be reached from the hut in 3 hours. However, it would be a pity to hurry through this fantastic landscape. So it is worthwhile allowing yourself a day or two to explore the various ridges and basins in the area.
From the hut, a well-beaten path leads west along and up an old glacial moraine (known as the “Railway Embankment”) into Sanctuary Basin, a large area of tussock grassland. There, it turns south towards Sentinel Hill, which it passes on the eastern side. Once the little saddle south-east of Sentinel Hill is reached (after about an hour), there are expansive views over the Owen massif and the meadows below. In fine weather, excellent camp sites can be found here where many tarns provide water year-round.
From here, an obvious route marked with cairns, leads through the marble outcrops and alpine wild herb fields. This route is easy to follow in good weather, but can be difficult and dangerous to follow in snow, misty or bad weather. From the tarns, it takes about 1½-2 hours to reach the trig on top of Mt. Owen, but plenty of time can be spent exploring the wonder world of this intriguing landscape beyond the marked route. On a fine day the views from the top are absolutely breathtaking – south to the Southern Alps and north to Golden and Tasman Bays.
Return via the same route or take off exploring with your map and compass. There are alternative routes up from and down to the south – either via Sunrise Peak, Bulmer Creek or the Fyfe River – which are harder and longer than the route described above.
By Inna Alex (29/04/2008)