The Dew Lakes and Dun Mountain Loop
The great thing about living in Nelson, is the accessability to so many great hiking spots on your doorstep. The Dew lakes and Dun Mountain loop starts from the Maitai dam just a 20 minute drive from the city. This awesome day walk is around 23Kms and takes you through a variety of forestry, bush/scrub, beech forest and open tops. Be prepared for a great workout – it’s a decent climb up to 1143m over Little Twin and 1129m over Dun Mountain. With a 20 minute break at Dew Lakes and an hour for lunch on the mountain it took us 7 hours for the round trip. As my hiking buddy put it.. ‘it’s an honest days’ walk’.
The Maitai dam is just a 20 minute drive from Nelson. Follow the Maitai Valley Road from the Eastern side of town (which eventually becomes unsealed) and continue until you get to the end. The road is in great condition and you don’t need a four-wheel drive vehicle. There is plenty of parking at the end, but when you get there check the times the gates are locked. We parked a little before the resevoir car park, before the gates, just in case we didn’t get back by dusk.
Dew Lakes Dun and Mountain Loop
As it’s a loop walk you can walk it in either direction. I had walked up the Dun Mountain track in the rain to access the Richmond Ranges Alpine Crossing portion of Te Araroa Trail, last summer. With a pack loaded with 8 days’ worth of food (the crossing took 5.5 days) I remember it being a very hard, monotonous, uphill slog. We started today’s walk in the opposite direction, towards Dew Lakes. It was still very ‘uphill’ this way – you’re covering 1000m up to Little Twin, but after the initial forestry section it was really pretty and had lots of variety along the way.
Maitai Dam to Rush Pools
We started at the Maitai dam at a very leisurely 10.40am. The track takes you over a little bridge where you get a great close-up view of the mesmerising reservoir overflow. From there it was a few Kms up a forestry road which wasn’t difficult at all, but was pretty hideous to look at.
The views across to Dun Mountain more than made up for it though. They looked very far away, but the variety of scenery on the way up kept things interesting, and we really enjoyed the hike.
At around 10.50pm, we came to a fork in the road and took the upper (right hand) track.
We reached the Rush Pools at 11.20 – 40 mins after we started our walk. Looking back at the photo of the signage, it read that Rush Pools would take 2.5 hours. I guess if you are a novice or have a young family in tow, this might be more accurate.
The Rush Pools aren’t actually ‘pools’ any more. According to the Nelson City Council walking guide, they were are a man-made pond used by early Maori in the process of quarrying Argillite to make tools. According to the Nelson Trails website, fires were lit underneath rocks to heat them, and rapid cooling with water from the ponds caused them to split and shard.
This ‘mineral belt’ in the mountains near Nelson is famous for it’s ancient rocks including serpentine, which 280 million years ago formed the ocean floor befor New Zeland broke away from the mega-continent Gondwanaland.
Rush Pools to Dew Lake
From Rush Pools we headed up towards Dew Lakes. The trail was quite a relentless uphill and was pretty steep in parts with some nice lookouts. The track took us through a mixture of scrub/mineral belt and beech forest. I was glad I wan’t hiking this in summer as a couple of sections of the forest were so black with sooty mould, it would have been swarming with wasps. This was probably the worst affected area I’d ever seen.
In the beech forest we heard lots of birdsong, and stopped a few times to listen. As we neared the Dew lakes it was progressively more boggy underfoot, however given that this was a mid-winter trip we were pleasantly surprised that the trail was in such good shape. We reached Dew Lakes at 12.30pm – almost 2 hours after we started (the signage recommended 5 hours).
The Dew Lakes are beautiful shallow tarns surrounded by low trees and squishy moss. We had a good look around. There are a numer of lakes to find if you wander around a bit and get yourself off-track. We found a beautiful sheltered spot that wasn’t too wet to sit down, and enjoyed a lovely break in the sun for 10 minutes or so.
Dew Lakes to Little Twin
We got going and made a push from Dew Lakes to Little Twin (1143m). We were getting pretty hungry, but wanted to save lunch for Dun Mountain. The final 400m or so up to Little twin were pretty steep, through beautiful rocky, tree-rooty forest. We reached Little Twin at 1.30pm.
Little Twin to Dun Mountain – Trail blazing…
The trail was a breeze from Little Twin to Dun Mountain. It was downhill through the beech forest, then uphill onto the beautiful tussock of Dun Mountain itself.
My hiking buddy casually slipped the educational potion of today’s hike into this section, and I was amazed I hadn’t heard of it before. He pointed out several trees with strange circular bits cut out of the trunk. I guess I had always assumed these were where branches had fallen off (or something…??) but apparently they were likely trail ‘blazes’ … i.e a trail marker of days gone by.
People used to cut a slice/slash into the trees as a waymarker… When I returned home I asked Wikipedia to enlighten me further. Of course I’d heard of ‘trail blazers’ and ‘blazing a trail’ etc… but I didn’t know it referred to an actual backcountry practice. Very cool.
The walk up and over Dun Mountain was beautiful. There were awesome views across the Tasman in one direction and the entire Richmond Ranges in the other. It was cool to know that I was walking the ridge directly above the Pelorous Track where I’d previously walked Te Araroa Trail from Captains Creek to Middy hut, and Middy to Rocks hut.
We reached the summit of Dun Mountain at around 2pm and enjoyed a magnificent lunch.
It started to get pretty cold, and we still had a decent hike ahead of us of around 12 Kms (according the the marvellous Nelson Trails website). We left the top at 2.50pm and descended down to the Dun Saddle via the Dun Shelter. I popped my head around the door of the tiny shelter, which allowed me to officially ‘bag’ it for Hut Bagger NZ. It took half an hour to get down to Dun Saddle, the one place in NZ where it is impossible to get lost! 🙂
The Dun Mountain Track
From the Dun Saddle we took the Dun Mountain Track back down to the Maitai Dam. The signage read 3.5 hours, but it took us just over 2 hours from here – around 10Kms I’d guess.
The Dun Mountain track is a walking and mountain biking track. It’s probably very exciting to mountain bike, and much less exciting if you’re walking. I enjoyed it marginally more on the descent than I had when I hiked up it 9 months ago, but only because it wasn’t raining. The views were nice though.
The trail wasn’t difficult, and had us following a mostly straight section for a KM or so before a short forested area, which was a bit wet following the gully down. Then it was out into the open again and descending the zig-zagged trail to the Maitai River.
When we hit the river it was a quick 3.5Kms or so back to the car. This section through the forest was as nice as I had remembered it being.
We reached the car right on 5.30pm and just as it was getting dark and really cold. As usual my fingers had gone numb, so we were grateful to be sipping a hit glass of mulled wine in the pub only 30 minutes later… wonderful!
We had a great day (7 hours including breaks and lunch) on the Dew Lakes and Dun Mountain Loop! On a summer’s day it would be cool to spend longer on top of Dun Mountain exploring, and even go over to Copermine Saddle, Rocks hut and up to the Rocks. There are so many potential options from here – I will definitely be back.
See my other hikes around the Dun Mountain area:
- Te Araroa Trail 2017 – walking out of Richmond ranges from Rocks hut via Copermine Saddle to The Brook
- Te Araroa Trail 2018 – start of Richmond ranges alpine crossing from Maitai dam to Rocks hut