Whitcombe Pass – Butler Saddle Route Guide - Feb 2009
The times in this guide are based on clear weather with rivers running slightly above the regular low level. Travel was at a steady pace and includes a few short breaks here and there along the way.
The start of the track proper at the end of the gravel road is marked with a large DOC sign which indicates the travel times to all of the huts up the Whitcombe Valley. For the most part we found the times to be reasonably accurate with the exception of the time to Neave Hut which is given as 14 hours. We found this to be somewhat optimistic.
Road End to Rapid Creek Hut – 2 hours
The initial travel is via the river bed on the true right and then the route picks up a wide benched track to the cableway which is a short distance downstream from Rapid Creek Hut. The going is very good and the track is clearly marked. The cableway is in good order and easy to operate.
After crossing the Hokitika River travel up the true left for about 5 minutes to the hut. Rapid Creek Hut has 4 bunks and is well maintained. There is a log fire and a bit of dry wood when we were there.
Rapid Creek Hut to Frew’s Hut – 3 hours
The Rapid Creek outflow into the Hokitika is about 10 minutes walk upstream from the Rapid Creek Hut. Rapid Creek is very steep and carries a fair bit of water. Even if it is running slightly higher than usual it can be a challenge to cross. If it is not possible to cross low down it is worthwhile exploring upstream towards the start of the gorge where a bit of study may well reveal a fordable spot.
Continue up the riverbed on the true left and pick up the marked track where it enters the bush. Once again travel is pretty good and you will pick up the Whitcombe River just above confluence with the Hokitika River. A section of newly cut track which passes a couple of shelter rocks is a bit tough going. Continue up through the bush and riverbed to the Collier Swing Bridge. It is well marked and straight forward to follow.
After crossing the Collier Gorge Swing Bridge to the true right of the Whitcombe River travel up the riverbed to Dick Creek. From here there is a short section of benched track immediately above the riverbed which is easily missed. The route then drops back to the riverbed. Pick up the benched track again on the upstream side of Vincent Creek and follow it to Frew’s Hut, which has been rebuilt further upstream by Frews Creek and is not correctly marked on some maps.
The grid reference for the new location is: GR 507935
There is a wood stove and 6 bunks.
Frew’s Hut to Prices Hut – 4 ½ hours
The cut track leads to Frew’s Creek which is another impassable creek if running high. Continue up the true right of the Whitcombe above the river. The route is generally cut through the bush but there is a fair bit of up and down with the occasional drop to the riverbed.
The going is just slow and arduous despite the track having been cleared of windfall in the last few weeks. The Cropp swing bridge appears to have been recently replaced but this is bypassed and you continue up on the true left of the river. The route generally sits high above the river and there are numerous slips to be negotiated some of which are still quite active. Keep a good eye out for the orange triangles as nearly all the entrances and exits are still pretty well marked.
Continue straight past Prices Flat swing bridge and drop to the riverbed which by now has widened considerably. Gain the grassy flats and follow the markers to the old slab hut and then on to a short section of track which you turn off to the left and climb to the newer hut. Prices Flat Hut is quite a welcome sight. It sits on a cleared terrace, 5 minutes further on and above the old slab hut. It has a wood stove and rain water tank and appears very comfortable and clean.
Prices Flat Hut to Neave Hut – 5 ½ hours
Leave the hut and cross the Cataract Creek swing bridge and continue up the true right of the Whitcombe.
The going is generally pretty slow and the key is simply to keep moving forward. The route stays high in the bush for the most part and crosses more slips. Some of the creeks look like they might be quite interesting to cross in heavy rain.
Wilkinson Hut is clearly signposted. The side route to this hut crosses the Whitcombe via the swing bridge and then travels back down the true left of the Whitcombe for about 15 minutes to reach the Wilkinson Hut. Given the effort required to get thus far you could be forgiven for any reluctance to backtrack on the other side of the river to Wilkinson Hut.
Continue up through the bush to Cave Camp which is near the confluence of the Wilkinson and Whitcombe. It would provide welcome shelter in heavy rain and there are great views of Mount Evans to be had on a good day.
The route continues up the true right. Some of it is through cut bush and some via the riverbed. The going remains pretty slow throughout.
Neave Creek Hut has 6 bunks and a wood stove and is a nice warm hut.
Neave Creek Hut to Whitcombe Pass – 4 hours
The route pretty much follows the riverbed all the way to the pass. There is a fair bit of alpine scrub for the first half but it opens up to easier travel as you get closer to the pass. The route is not marked or cut to any extent beyond Neave Creek Hut but it is pretty straight forward going and the route is obvious – just a bit slow.
Whitcombe Pass to Reischek Hut – 3 Hours
Drop off the pass down towards Louper Stream. Just before the stream drops to the left into a gorge climb a low grassy saddle and drop off to the right avoiding a narrow bouldery gorge which is passable but tough going. Continue to pick a route down through the boulders to the Rakaia.
If you are lucky and the river is low you should be able to cross on the braids just below Reischek Hut. Look for an enormous cairn sitting in the middle of the riverbed on the line between Louper Biv and Reischek Hut. This is a good place to start sorting out a possible crossing point. This river is generally cloudy and swift and needs to be treated with great respect (there have been drownings here peviously). If not fordable at this point it might be best to look further downstream towards Totara Point as the river flows in a single channel above Reischek Hut.
Reischek Hut has a mountain radio, 6 bunks and a wood stove. It is in a great spot and may well have some food in it from leftover food drops.
Reischek Hut to Butler Saddle – 4 hours
Almost all of the first hour is taken up wandering up to the base of Mein’s knob. The track to Mein’s Knob was cut last year and is much improved on what it was. The lower sections could do with a few more markers and a pair of secateurs to cut back the odd bit of scrub regrowth would not go amiss.
The last part of the route is well poled to the top of Meins Knob. Follow the poles to the top and then turn left and up towards the large tussock face. The route to Butler saddle is not marked. We climbed pretty well straight up and crossed a small stream at around 1400 metres and picked up the spur to the left. Continue up the spur to just above the 1800 metre mark and drop left into a hanging basin. Sidle and climb to the 1966 spot height and drop left to Butler Saddle.
Butler Saddle to Lawrence Hut – 6 hours
Drop down the unnamed side stream from Butler Saddle to the Lawrence River the best way you can. The going is steep and rubbly with some pretty good sized boulders to negotiate. The scree is quite good at the top but for the most part stick pretty close to the river bed.
Once the Lawrence River is reached it is simply a matter of bashing down the stones and trying to break it up with a bit of tussock travel here and there. There is sometimes a bulldozed track in the riverbed downstream from the Hermitage Hut which can make travel slightly less demanding.
The Lawrence hut has been moved from its original position and is now about 500 metres upstream of the site marked on the map. It is tucked in close to the beech trees and immediately upstream of a protruding terrace. It can be hard to see when travelling downstream as there is a high river terrace obscuring the view unless you are out in the middle of the riverbed.
The grid reference for the new location is: GR 389521
The hut is extremely well appointed. It has 6 bunks, a wood stove and is very clean and tidy.
Lawrence Hut to Erewhon Station – 3 hours
If there is a bulldozed track try and get onto it as long as you can but essentially set a course for the distant pine trees at Erewhon Station down the middle of the riverbed. Keep going downstream past the pine trees before cutting into the station thereby avoiding the sheep yards.