Nelson, New Zealand is locationally blessed with three National parks and one forest Park on our doorstep as well as a raft of smaller reserves.
Some destinations are easy to find such as the Abel Tasman Coastal track and the Heaphy track…. but there’s some equally good if not better adventure destinations when you scratch beneath the surface.
One such location is located in the Mount Owen area, everybody’s heard about the Mount Owen range and they usually hike there from the Wangapeka catchment. This year we decided to access Mount Owen via the Lookout Range but with a little twist.
We added another on track/ off track route to it…. This one you won’t find signs posted or on the DOC website… however it’s possible to access the Lookout Range route via the track up to Mount Hope.
There was the unique problem of getting back to the vehicle from the end, but a cunningily stashed e bike solved this easily.
Day one was pretty easy as it just involved packing our bags and dropping off the bike before a pretty chilly summer night at The Kawatiri DOC campsite. The weather belted in that evening , but the old sheltered Railway platform gave us good shelter and a chance to absorb some of the fascinating history of the incomplete railway that was to connect to the west coast
We’d delayed our hike due to weather whick allowed us to hit the sweet spot for alpine travel. The wind blustered through the trees and pushed through the tussock on the way to Mount Hope. The skies however had cleared and great views were afforded down into Tasman bay and into the mountainous hinterland.
Mount Hope is a great 4-6hr day hike, it’s not an official DOC track but is very well maintained up to the bushline, from there, in good visibility it’s fairly easy to navigate yourself on top of the broad flanks of Mount Hope. The entrance to the track is easily missed, but lookout for the cut in at boulder stream( signed) halfway between Glenhope and Kawatiri Junction
From Mount Hope the way across the flat tops is to put it mildly … indecisive; and requires a little bit of navigation. It’s quite scrubby but interspersed with enough clear alpine meadows to keep the cursing to a minimum. It kept the day really interesting as you emerged from a maze-like scrub to be greeted by mountain tarns and extensive views. This time of year is also great for alpine fauna, we often stopped to admire the alpine orchids and flowers.
Camping early allowed us to enjoy the evening sun and to wash off the sweat of the day in a nearby creek. The winds increased during the night and we awoke to face a howling wind a cap cloud on lookout range where we were planning to hike over… ever optimistic we set out into the wind and managed to get ourselves up onto the range no problems where the wind started to dissipate
The hike and views across the Lookout Range are second to none, you are flanked on your left by the steep marble flanks of the Own Massif and you have views all the way down to Tasman bay and Nelson in the other direction
Dropping down off the Lookout range we descended down to Granity creek, into what is the hardest part of the lookout range route, the route on the map is quite frankly wrong and you are better off finding your way down into the creek from the saddle between Granity creek and Owen river and then feeling your way up to the rocky ledge that gets you up into the final approaches to Granity hut. We spent a good hour thrashing around in the thick scrub trying to find the route down as indicated on the map. The final valley to Granity pass hut is pretty magical, the valley full of summer alpine flowers as you wind your way through the meadows beneath marble peaks on both sides.
In the morning we got up rather casually and packed a light bag and spent the day exploring the alpine basins, and rocky outcrops below Mount Owen. It was great to have a slower day and absorb some of the mountain scenery at leisure and spend some time chatting to the other adventurers in the full Granity pass hut
The next day we retraced our routes , pausing to add some more rock cairns at critical points on the Lookout Range route, we split from the lookout range and descended into the headwaters of the Dart river before ascending and walking the strange dessert like barren tops all the way to conical hill. We descended slightly and found a beautiful camp spot on the track nestled in the forest. While views were lacking, this was made up for by the abundant birdlife feeding on the Rata flowers in the lower forest
The last day was an easy walk out. Rosie jumped on the e bike to recover the vehicle and I made a small side trip to the Huia cave to explore.
All in all this route is a great experience for those wanting a reasonably easy backcountry route close to Nelson, the diverse Geology and stunning alpine views are the highlight of the trip. We’re always happy to discover new routes closer to Scottish Express HQ to share with other adventurers, and we look forward to our next expedition in the Nelson area.
Please get in contact if you want some more info