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3 trips on Motatapu Station

Approaching Advance Peak. Photo: David Barnes

Music tycoon’s generous gift opens classic Otago high country for trampers. Here’re three top trips to try now

Music producer and philanthropist Robert ‘Mutt’ Lange has built up quite an estate of South Island high country. His four stations – Motatapu, Mt Soho, Glencoe and Coronet Peak – total more than 53,000ha and cover land from the Shotover River to the Cardrona Valley and from Arrowtown to Glendhu Bay.

Almost all of Lange’s holding will be protected in an open space covenant under the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust. This means Lange and all future owners will be bound to protect its landscape and biodiversity values.

While describing it as New Zealand’s first private national park is overstating the case, there’s no doubt this is an extraordinary gift to the nation.

The land will still be owned by Lange, and with ownership comes control of access. But Lange and the trust are working with the NZ Walking Access Commission to formalise 21 tracks and routes, and to establish four new ones.

In the meantime, try these three for size.

Advance Peak

Many photos and paintings of Macetown, a mining ghost town and historic reserve up-river from Arrowtown, feature a backdrop of an imposing, tussock-clad peak. This is Advance Peak, and it’s well worth a wander.

Macetown can be approached on foot over the aptly named Big Hill, or by a vehicle track up the Arrow Gorge. This means that Advance Peak can be done as a relaxed three day trip, with time to explore the history of the ghost town, or as a day trip using a four wheel drive for access.

Although unmarked, the route from Macetown is straightforward. Head for the fence marking the cemetery and then follow your nose up the ridge. On reaching the 1749m summit, you’ll be rewarded with views of The Remarkables, Mt Aspiring and Mt Earnslaw, while to the east there’s an array of Central Otago ridges and summits. An alternative return route along an old pack track a couple of hundred metres down the southern slopes can be taken, although be prepared for some scrub-bashing as you make your way down the Rich Burn.

Access: Arrowtown Grade: Moderate Time: Arrowtown-Macetown via gorge, 3-4hr, via Big Hill 4-5hr; Advance Peak,  3-4hr; descent via Rich Burn, 4-5hr

Motatapu Track

Was this a case of being in the right place at the right time? Mutt Lange and his former wife, singer Shania Twain, were buying Motatapu and Soho Stations at the time the Te Araroa Trail was becoming a reality. The purchase required Overseas Investment Office approval, and the upshot of some clever negotiating was that the new owners allow and fund the creation of a track from Macetown to near Lake Wanaka. The track is only lightly formed, has almost no flat sections and is exposed to the weather for most of its length. No surprise some find it tough going.

It takes three days, although most add another day to walk in to Macetown. From there, the track initially follows the Arrow River, then commences a steady climb to Roses Saddle before dropping to Roses Hut by the Motatapu River. The next day begins with a 500m climb up a ridge towards Knuckle Peak. That height is immediately lost as you drop into a gully, then gained and lost all over again before Highland Hut. The final day starts with a sharp climb, which is followed with a meandering descent of the Fern Burn.

Access: Arrowtown Grade: Moderate-difficult. Time: Macetown-Roses Hut, 5-6hr, Roses Hut-Highland Hut, 6-7hr; Highland Hut-car park 6.5-8.5hr

Sawpit Gully

Sawpit Gully provides a nice loop from Arrowtown, with enough climbing to ensure great views. Starting from near the recreated Chinese village, the track follows the true left of Bush Creek, then climbs steeply through trees to reach an open terrace.

The track drops into the head of Sawpit Gully and soon there are views into the Arrow Gorge. The track then heads down sharply into the gorge, to follows an irrigation pipeline downstream to the starting point.

Access: Arrowtown Grade: Easy Time: 2-3hr

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