Mount Owen via Granity Pass Hut
The spectacular rocky mass of Mount Owen is the highest point in the Kahurangi National Park, standing at 1875m. It looms over a beautiful glaciated limestone karst landscape, famous for it’s incredible rock formations and huge underground cave networks. There are several ways to walk to Mount Owen, and I took the easiest and most popular track from the Courthouse Flat DoC campsite. DoC recommend 6 hours to walk the 8.3Kms to Granity Pass hut, and I made it in nearly 4 hours.
To get to Courthouse Flat campsite, travel South from Nelson on SH6 and turn off to Tapawera. From there it is about an hour’s drive up Tadmor Valley Road and the Wangapeka River Road. The road narrows and becomes unsealed, but there are plenty of passing places, and when I went the road was in decent shape. It’s certainly a beautiful drive along the Wangapeka River. Beware however that there are numerous small fords to cross. Just before you get into the Kahurangi National Park itself, you cross a long concrete ford over the Dart River. Apparently, it can silt up really badly and in heavy rains becomes impassable. There is an intentions book at Prices Clearing 7Kms into the park.
Courthouse Flat campsite
I spent the night alone at Courthouse Flat DoC campsite. It is a big site next to a creek with one (decent) toilet, some nice information boards, a couple of picnic benches and a firebox. If you have time you can explore the historic Goldfield sites and walks just across the creek. I woke at 7.30 am to my first frost of the Autumn and a completely frozen van. After breakfast and a mixture of mochaccino and caramel latte coffees (too sweet if I’m honest), I left at 8.30 am. Everything was frozen, including my hands and feet. Good thing it was an uphill slog right from the start!
Taking the ridge track
There is a choice of an upper or lower track to start the walk, which meet after around 2.5 Kms. I took the ridge track up the mountain and would take the lower track via Blue Creek on my return. The ridge track wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but I enjoyed it. I took off all my layers, hat and gloves within 500m.
It was pretty steep and climbed from around 320m at the campsite to around 860m at the junction with the Blue Creek track. There were no markers on this stretch, but I’m sure it would be impossible to get lost…
I was carrying four days’ worth of food with me, as I wasn’t sure how long I would stay. For the first time since Te Araroa Trail, I was using Big Bertha a.k.a my Lowe Alpine Airzone Trek 45-55 litre pack. My amazing, and very much lighter Osprey Eja (which I used for the South West Coast Path and all subsequent trips) is being replaced by Osprey US. It has been ‘being replaced’ for some months now owing to a deep squeak I could no longer bear after almost a year of use. The track was relentless up and despite the pack, and the slog it felt great to be out there. Taking this way up was definitely worth it for the great views. I reached the junction at 9.45 am.
Ridge Track junction to The Staircase
The two tracks meet in a beautiful beech forest. As soon as I entered the forest section I was immediately struck by the number of birds I heard, and I saw lots of robins, bellbirds and fantails. In the background was an ever-present hum of wasps. I could see them high up in the branches, after the honeydew being produced by the tiny insects in the beech trees.
The track was well marked from here and was in really good condition. The climb continued for the next couple of kms or so to around 1300m.
The track came out of the forest onto open tops with tall clumps of grasses, and from there was in and out of the forest. The views of the mountains of Kahurangi National Park to the North were incredible. Billies Knob was directly South, and Culliford Hill to the West.
I reached the next landmark at 11 am – The Staircase. You never really know what to expect when the contour lines on the map are so close together they’re almost solid. Each line indicates an ascent/descent of 20m, so the one thing you do know is that it’s going to be steep. Heading towards Mount Owen you take the staircase down.
In actual fact, it wasn’t too bad at all, and was just over 150m or so drop. It started with a series of reasonably steep switchback turns on a decent track. Easy-as. As I descended I passed some rocky bluffs and it became a little steeper. There were just a couple of times near the bottom where I needed to scramble down using both hands and feet.
Blue Creek to Granity Pass Hut
Once out of the staircase there was a flatter section through more forest, coming eventually to a grassy almost marshland area. I almost got lost amongst the huge grasses, but then spied a marker.
The trail from here was easy and flat on an open, nicely cut track through the valley. There were beautiful bluffs towering over me to the left and right. There were lots of birds in this little pocket too, and I had the feeling of being in a lost valley in a Bond movie.
At 11.50am I reached the section which walked up the dry river bed of Blue Creek. This section didn’t take long 20 minutes or so.
Then all of a sudden with numerous unnamed peaks in front of me, the trail swung a right and I was at Granity Pass hut. It was 12.15 pm. DoC’s estimated 6 hours from the campsite had taken me nearly 4 hours.
Granity Pass hut
Granity Pass hut sits at around 1200m elevation. It is a gorgeous 12 bedder set in a stunning location in Ghost valley, surrounded by mountains. I signed the intentions book then ate my lunch on the beautiful verandah in the sun. I kept an eye on the weka nosing around at my feet. (Note, I had no phone signal at the hut, but did get one just before first tarns on the ridge about 1km up from the hut).
After lunch, I inspected my feet. My hiking shoes (old Salomons, but barely worn) had been rubbing my heels, so I’d taped my feet this morning. However, they felt sore for the last Km or so. When I took my shoes off I saw that both my socks had worn through to a hole at the heels (they’ve given me around 1500Kms) and all the tape had come off… The beginnings of a blister was starting to form on my right heel grrrr. I swore, put a compeed blister plaster on my heels and found my spare pair of socks.
Granity Pass hut to Sentinel Hill and the tarns
I left the hut at 1 pm. Granity Pass hut to Mount Owen is an unmarked route, but from the hut, there is a very well-worn path up the ridge overlooking Sanctuary Basin. In good weather, you almost can’t go wrong. In bad weather there is certainly potential to go wrong, so keep the map and GPS handy.
Heading up the ridge, the narrow track leads you to the East of Sentinal Hill. Around the hill, it was a teensy bit boggy – if I’m being really picky… I didn’t actually get my feet wet or anything. The views in all directions were absolutely amazing.
I was around Sentinel Hill and at the saddle below Mount Owen about an hour later. There are a number of tarns (mountain lakes) on the saddle. I found a flat spot above the largest tarn on some dry ground and set up my tent. There wasn’t a breath of wind, and the sun was still shining.
I had brought a tiny day pack with me, into which I transferred all the safety essentials – then went exploring. I read that you can get up Mount Owen in a couple of hours from here, but after a little while, I decided to turn back. There was no need for me to race up there today and have to beat the clock down before dark on this Autumn day. So I had a wander around the saddle and enjoyed the sunshine.
I enjoyed an early dinner at 4.30 pm and watched a huge hawk catch the last of the warm Autumn air overhead.