Sugarloaf, Rockburn and Lake Sylvan Loop

Dart sugarloaf Pass track

Sugarloaf, Rockburn and Lake Sylvan loop

This is a great little 15Km hike in Mount Aspiring National Park. It takes in the Sugarloaf Pass via the Sugarloaf track, then heads down the Rockburn track to the old Rockburn shelter site. Finally it picks up the Sylvan track around Lake Sylvan and back to the Sylvan DoC campsite. Apart from the initial 650m climb, it is a moderate (I didn’t find it too easy nor difficult) loop trail, and I made it in a 7 hour day. DoC rate it as an Advanced track and recommend 8-11 hours.

From the Routeburn onto the Sugarloaf
From the Routeburn onto the Sugarloaf

Starting at the Routeburn

As it’s a loop track you can do it in either direction. I started on the Routeburn track and after a short while turned off to the Sugarloaf track up to the left. Note that it’s not a ‘complete’ loop. The Routeburn track is a 5Km walk or hitch further up the road from the Sylvan Road end/campsite.

As extraordinary luck would have it, I got a ‘super- hitch’ this morning. I was heading out to the trail from Glenorchy, and picked up a hitchhiker – a farmer heading up the road to pick up a van. He offered to follow me (in his van) to the Sylvan Road campsite, where I would park my van, then he drove me to the Routeburn track 5Kms up the road in his van – Fantastic!

A glimpse towards the Routeburn
A glimpse towards the Routeburn

I started on the Routeburn track at 8.30am and around 15 minutes later turned off left, onto the Sugarloaf track.

The Sugarloaf Track to Sugarloaf Pass

The trail was well marked and in good condition. It was a steady uphill climb through tree-rooty beech forest, which I really enjoyed.

Going up
Going up!

I was traveling pretty light and going fast this morning. Although I was carrying all the necessities and emergency gear my day pack was tiny and didn’t bring my poles, so I pushed myself. I enjoyed sweating out the little cold I’d been carrying around with me for a couple of days and easily tackled the light scramble sections.

Through the beautiful forest
Through the beautiful forest

By 9.15am I had wet feet from crossing the first of many gullies/little streams. It had rained heavily last night and the whole trail was pretty wet.

Out of the tree line and up to Sugarloaf Pass
Out of the tree line and up to Sugarloaf Pass

I was up and out of the bush line by 9.40am. The climb over the grassy saddle was beautiful. Looking back, there were views across to the Humboldt Mountains and the Dart river valley.

Looking back to the Dart basin from Sugarloaf Pass
Looking back to the Dart basin from Sugarloaf Pass

It was pretty boggy over the saddle. If there can be such a thing, it was one of the nicer bogs, with plenty of good foot placements most of the way, and trickling streams and the odd deep pool here and there. The trail itself was more like a little stream.

Crossing the Sugarloaf Pass
Crossing the Sugarloaf Pass
Towards the Rock Burn Valley
Towards the Rock Burn Valley
The mountains of Aspiring National Park from Sugarloaf Pass
The mountains of Aspiring National Park from Sugarloaf Pass

I took it easy, admired the views, and was over the pass by 10.15am heading down towards the Rockburn track. Just before the tree-line, I got a decent look at Mt Earnslaw off to the right.

The track down was a little more gnarly than coming up (I always prefer ascending to descending). I slid over a couple of times – nothing major. There were numerous trees down on this side of the mountain, no doubt because it was the more windy side.

Plenty of tree fall
Plenty of tree fall
There's a trail in there somewhere
There’s a trail in there somewhere
... and here
… and here

The Rockburn Track

I reached the turning to Theatre Flat by 11am. Last night I had read about the ‘five passes‘ route you can do from here (Sugarloaf being the first of the five)… continuing on to Theatre Flat and beyond. I added it to my list of must do’s.

Waterfalls on the Sugarloaf Rockburn Sylvan loop
Waterfalls on the Sugarloaf Rockburn Sylvan loop
More pretty streams to cross
More pretty streams to cross

The track continued downwards and crossed lots of little gullies with streams. I heard lots of planes overhead – the mountains and glaciers of Mount Aspiring National Park being a huge draw for tourists. After a little while I reached the Rock Burn (river) and the track leveled out a little. I could hear the roar of a jet boat speeding up the Dart river a few Kms ahead of me.

A beautiful view towards Mt Earnslaw from the Rockburn Track
A beautiful view towards Mt Earnslaw from the Rockburn Track

Just then, I had a rather nice moment with a large black and white Dragonfly. I disturbed him from the bushes and he hovered around me for a while. He landed on my index finger when I held out my hand! Stunned, I brought him in closer for an inspection and we looked at each other for a minute, before he flew off again.

Rock Burn towards the Dart Valley
Rock Burn towards the Dart Valley

By 12.45pm I had reached the turning for the Rockburn chasm and old shelter site. I walked to the chasm first, 15 mins away. I crossed a wooden bridge wondering what all the fuss was about, then I looked down!!

Rockburn chasm
Rockburn chasm

Considerably far beneath me in a very narrow gorge, the river raged it’s way through a very narrow rock passage. It was pretty impressive.

I wandered down to the shelter site on the river for lunch at 1.20pm. I didn’t stay for long as there were hundreds of sandflies.

Rock Burn river towards the Dart Valley
Rock Burn river towards the Dart Valley

The Lake Sylvan Rockburn Track

The final section for today – the Sylvan trail – was a quite unremarkable, flat-ish, wet and often boggy track to Sylvan Lake. I reached Sylvan Lake at 2.30pm. The clouds had come in, and there was a gentle rain falling.

Lake Sylvan
Lake Sylvan

I hurried on, afraid the skies might open into full rain, and reached the lake outlet and lookout by 2.50pm.

Lake Sylvan outlet and lookout
Lake Sylvan outlet and lookout

The Lake Sylvan Walk

From the lookout, the last stretch of trail is known at the Lake Sylvan Walk. The track was around 2Kms to the carpark and Sylvan Road DoC campsite. It was so perfect it could have been a ‘great walk’. Behold!! a lovingly gravelled, wide, flat, winding path through the forest – a complete contrast to most of the day’s trail.

Lake Sylvan Walk towards Lake Sylvan campsite
Lake Sylvan Walk towards Lake Sylvan campsite

As I approached the car park, I recognised the swing bridge over the river, and realised I had been here before with my family 12 years ago (although we had just picnicked here and didn’t stay) funny how you instantly remember those times…

Swingbridge from Sylvan campsite to Lake Sylvan Walk
Swingbridge from Sylvan campsite to Lake Sylvan Walk

I got back to the van at the Very lovely Sylvan campsite at 3.20pm. Today’s circuit had taken around 7 hours. I was pretty tired and extremely relieved that I didn’t have to walk another 5Kms up the Routeburn road to collect the car!

I thoroughly enjoyed the day, and was amazed that I didn’t see another human on the entire trail until 1Km from the end. Given that it’s only a few Kms from the busy Routeburn track, I felt lucky and privileged to have it all to myself!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.