Mount Arthur – Kahurangi National Park
This hike comes with a warning!! Before you attempt Mount Arthur, make sure your car is in good shape 🙂
Mount Arthur, in the Kahurangi National Park, stands at 1975m and forms part of the mountainous horizon you see as you look West from Nelson. The wider Tablelands area has some fascinating landscapes – karst rock slabs, huge rock outcrops, caves and sinkholes. These special ecosystems are quite rare and are home to some threatened species. There are lots of day hikes and multi-day walking opportunities in the area, and it is well worth a visit. I reached the summit and back, with a quick lunch stop in 5 hours.
I give a special mention to transport in this post. Mount Arthur is accessed from the Flora car park at the end of the Graham Valley Road in the Motueka valley. The good thing is that the road takes you up to 930m (which means less to climb on foot). The bad thing is that the track up to the car park is steep, narrow, rutted, and pot-holed. DoC recommend that you take a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
I don’t have a four-wheel-drive vehicle. I have an aging people-mover/camper van. So I engaged the advice of someone with the same vehicle as mine who assured me it would be fine, and off I went…
She coped admirably as I drove the final 4Kms of steepness at a walking pace. When I reached the Flora car park and got out, there was a very strange smell about her. Nothing had actually overheated according to the dashboard, but the smell indicated that something somewhere wasn’t right. There was no smoke, so I went on my way…
Flora Car Park to Mount Arthur Hut
I used the loo at the Flora car park. All I can say is go before you come, or mind out for the wasps! There is also a lovely little shelter at the car park with some nice information boards about the area, the walks and the conservation work going on.
I started walking at 8.50 am. The trail started off as a wide, well-graded four-wheel drive track. Having reached a junction about 10 minutes in, I headed towards Flora saddle and Mount Arthur hut.
The trail through the forest was beautiful, climbing gently before opening up a little. The track was in good shape and I met some DoC guys who were clearing the path, ahead of some forecasted rain.
It was a pleasure to hear lots of birdsong too, and I saw a few riflemen. These tiny little birds are not much bigger than the size of a ping pong ball. Their call is so high-pitched it is barely audible.
At 9.40am I reached the gorgeous 8 bed Mount Arthur hut. I poked my head in, said a quick hello to the occupants and was on my way.
Mount Arthur Hut to Mount Arthur Summit
Just a little further on from Mount Arthur hut is the turning off to Flora hut, and just after that, I was above the tree line. There were wonderful views across to Nelson.
I am someone who prefers an epic view with my hiking. I do like the forests, but I would much rather have a sweeping vista and this was definitely shaping up to be my kind of day! The trail followed the ridgeline of the tussocked hills in front of me, and in the far distance could see the summit.
The landscape was immediately quite different, with exposed, windblown rocks and sinkholes dotted here and there.
Out of the tree line, the trail gently climbed over the near hills. I did my best to avoid the large clumps of speargrass dotted around. If you haven’t come across this before, you’ll know about it when you step in one, or worse – put your hand in one! The points are razor sharp!!
After about 30 minutes I came to the turn-off to Gordons Pyramid and Salisbury Lodge. These take you down through the Horseshoe basin area. As I came over the hills not long afterward I was rewarded with incredible views of the basin and added the other trails to my growing list of must-dos.
The Final Stretch
Eventually, I rounded the giant cirque I’d been walking and saw Mount Arthur summit ahead of me. From here the trail got more interesting as it went up and over the rocky slopes. There were a couple of little scree slopes and a bit of climbing – nothing too difficult if you’re up for that kind of thing. (I’m scared of heights, but I found this fine).
I should probably mention that DoC rates this as an ‘expert’ route. If you struck a bad weather day you certainly wouldn’t want to be up here. As it was, on this glorious, clear summer’s day it was perfect, but it goes without saying that I was prepared for the worst – even on a day like today.
After the final scramble, I crawled up and through a narrow gully, and found myself on the flat, rocky tops of Mount Arthur. It took my breath away! I could see all the way across the Kahurangi National Park to the West and to Nelson and Richmond ranges in the East.
As I looked back, I could see the trail behind me skirting Horseshoe Basin.
I added the ‘Tablelands’ plateau area to my list for next time.
I reached the summit at 11.15 am. To say it was windy up there would be something of an understatement! Luckily someone had thoughtfully built a little rock wall – just big enough to shelter a few people from the worst of it. I ate my lunch and enjoyed the incredible views for a while.
I started to make my way back down at 11.40 am. I was back at Mount Arthur hut by 1 pm and reached Flora car park by 1.45 pm. You could take an alternative return track, via the Flora hut, which is definitely on the list for another time.
If it wasn’t for the drive up to the Flora car park, I would be up Mount Arthur every other weekend. As it turns out the van wasn’t apparently any worse for wear, but I’m not sure I would want to take it up that hill too many more times!!!
*Update Dec 2021 – See my subsequent visits to the area:
- Tablelands Circuit – via Asbestos hut, Salisbury Lodge, Balloon, Lake Peel and Cobbn Ridge
- Tableland Loop – via Gordon’s Pyramid, Salisbury, Balloon hut, Flora hut
- Lake Peel and Mt Peel
- Ellis Basin Route