Lake Peel Track and Mount Peel Summit
The Lake Peel track, followed by a hike up to Mount Peel summit (1654m) in the Kahurangi National Park makes for a great day out. It boasts a great track, some lovely forest, a nice climb, two bodies of water and beautiful walking across the tops. Then of course, it has incredible mountain views as far as you can see in every direction. The Lake Peel track is part of a network of hikes you can access from the far end of the Cobb resevoir in the Cobb Valley. It is 123Kms and about 2.5 hours drive from Nelson and 60Kms from Takaka in Golden Bay.
DoC rate the hike to Lake Peel as an Advanced tramping track 2.5 hours one way. I hiked up to the lake in 1.5 hours, and reached Mount Peel summit in 3 hours. All up I made a 5.5 hour return of it in a day climbing from 830m at the car park to 1654m at the summit. You could ping off to Balloon hut if you wanted to stay overnight, or make a wonderful loop to take in a number of other huts in the area on a multi-day expedition.
Driving up the Cobb Valley
The road up the Cobb Valley warrants a special mention. I drove in from Motueka 70Kms away. It took 2 hours to get to the car park at the Lake Peel track. After driving over the Takaka Hill, I took the left-hand turn down Cobb Dam Road heading for the Power Station.
The road turned into one lane after a few Kms, with the Takaka river down a perilous drop to the immediate left and cliffs looming above me on the right. There were plenty of blind corners. One lane was definitely one lane, although there were occasional, very tight passing places. I spent the entire journey petrified that I would meet a car coming the other way. I didn’t want to have to reverse 200m around a blind corner with a sheer drop and no barrier to my left, and a rock wall to the right. It was early morning, so luckily I didn’t meet any traffic.
From the Power Station the road was unsealed and became steep and even more winding. There were a few more possibilities for passing as I climbed over the mountain towards the Cobb dam. There was a car park/lookout and a toilet at the top of the mountain, which I used before heading off down into the Cobb Valley itself. The Lake Peel track car park is about 8Kms away at the other end of the reservoir.
Lake Peel Track
I started at 9.30am. The track started through grasslands for the first 10 minutes or so, and I stopped at the little booth to sign my name in the DoC intentions book. Even if you’re only doing a day hike it’s the best way of someone finding you in the event of an emergency.
After a Km or so, and a climb of about 100m, I reached the cute 4 bunk Myttons hut. I stopped to chat to a young family who had had it to themselves that night.
Myttons hut to Lake Peel
From Myttons hut the track climbed steadily through the forest in a series of switchback turns. The track was in good shape, and was easy to follow but it was completely un-marked (i.e. no orange markers to follow).
As well as the lack of markers, the other thing I noticed was thebird song!! Even though I have hiked plently of trails in New Zealand, and can honestly say I’ve never heard anything like it. I stopped for a while to look up into the canopy and listen… it was wonderful. I mad a mental note to myself to call DoC and ask them why there were so many birds here compared to anywhere else I’ve tramped in NZ.
The forest around me changed as I climbed. As usual I scolded myself for not being able to identify the trees around me as I climbed higher.
Up to the Tops
It took me 30 minutes to climb to the first area of open tussock, and within an hour of setting off from the car park I had climbed around 600m and reached the tops at 1400m. From the open tussock the route was marked with orange poles. I caught my first glimpse of the Cobb Valley and the Cob reservoir. The water level was really low after this long, hot, dry summer.
By 10.30am I was on the tops with incredible views over the Peel and Cobb ridge and the Tablelands area. The cloud was just beginning to creep into the next valley over from me. I came upon a handy little signpost, and promptly followed it the wrong way!
Towards Lake Peel
I headed towards the view of Lake Peel, to err… get a view of Lake Peel. I continued on from there wondering why the path suddenly ran out. At that moment I remembered that to get to Lake Peel I should actually have been on the track to Balloon hut (which had continued over the tops straight on and down, and not to the right as I had gone). I quickly checked the map and I was probably 50m too high. I could see the trail below me way in the distance.
Instead of walking back the way I came, I went off-piste and took an inordinately long time to wade and slip my way through the lumpy tussock on steep terrain down to the track… grrrr. After 20 minutes I was back on the trail, and I spent some time chatting to a young hunter who suddenly appeared from nowhere, having spent a few days unsuccessfully hunting for deer.
I reached lake Peel at 11.05am. The lake is in a small cirque surrounded on 3 sides by mountains. It was a lovely view, but I knew I’d get a better one from above. I continued on as if to go to Balloon hut. The track was a little boggy by the lake but nothing that really got my feet wet.
On Towards Mount Peel
I didn’t want to attempt to climb the inner cirque up to the tops and Mount Peel summit (the photos don’t really justify the steep climb). Instead I continued on the trail until I got to the next ridge heading for Balloon hut. I came across a little sign post and thought this would be a good spot to make my ascent up the (unmarked) ridge to Mount Peel summit.
I scrambled up directly behind the little sign and just as I came over the brow onto the top, I saw a huge cairn marking the route.
From here, it was follow-your-nose stuff over the top to the summit. It was really easy keeping the bluffs of the cirque to my right and continuing straight on up. The terrain wasn’t too bad at all, with a mix of grasslends, scree and the odd bit of rock hopping. It was probably about a 150m climb over undulating tops. There were several more cairns marking the way. The views as I’d hoped, were spectacular!
As I continued on, the terrian became less grass and more scree, but it was easy walking with amazing views.
Mount Peel Summit
The summit of Mount Peel stands at 1654m. You get some beautiful views of both the Cobb reservoir and the lake from along the tops.
I reached the summit at 12.15pm. It had taken nearly 3 hours from the car park (including my little detour!). It was a fine, early autumn day but the wind was blowing hard up on the top, and there was no shelter, so I got cold pretty quickly. I donned all my windproof clothing. The views were incredible, and it was only when I was up here that I realised how that long drive in really brings you to deep into the Kahurangi National Park. It was well worth the drive and the climb.
I got so cold that I left the summit 15 minutes later and headed back down. It was good to get moving again.
The views going back down were equally as spectacular! I admired a nice patch of cushion plants on the return journey.
I was back off the tops and down to the Balloon hut junction by 1.10pm. It was great to be out of the wind again. I ate my lunch overlooking the Tablelands towards Mount Arthur. After lunch I retraced my steps the Km or so back to Lake Peel then headed back around the valley before the small climb to the final ridge. From here I dropped down into the tree line and headed back down the zig-zags through the forest. An hour an a half after lunch (3pm) I was back at the car park again.
I thoroughly enjoyed my first visit to the Cobb valley, and it was definitely worth 4 hours in the car (two hours each way from Motueka) for the experience of getting up to the tops and those epic views! Next time I’ll come back on a multi-day mission 🙂