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A back-of-beyond trip

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December 2023 Issue

Severn Hut, Molesworth Recreation Reserve

Tucked into the back of inland Marlborough is a relatively unknown tramping circuit, the Three Passes of the north. It’s a 56km route on Molesworth Station, which was once the country’s largest farm. The Leatham–Molesworth loop links three major tussock valleys with three sub-alpine passes, and it’s an excellent trip for those who like moving fast in open terrain.  The tussock valley is usually uninhabited, the climate is dry and bleak, and having been modified by a century of grazing it’s almost devoid of trees. 

Severn Hut is the route’s jewel. It’s a beautiful building, constructed in 2006 and strategically placed on the arduous east–west route linking the Clarence and Awatere valleys. The hut book reveals that few have frequented this forgotten corner of the country. 

It can be reached in two ways from the north. The direct route is from Top Leatham Hut via Severn Saddle (1580m), which can be tricky to find. From the pass, a 30-degree scree slope leads to the true left of the desolate Severn Valley, where waterfalls are thin white ribbons against shadowy bluffs that form an impenetrable wall in the valley head. Allow 1.5 days.

The alternative route is also from the Leatham Valley but takes three days over two passes. From Top Gordons Hut a marked trail crosses over Saxton Saddle (1419). Down on the cattle flats below, travel is fast and vegetation sparse. From Saxton Hut, a ramble up Boundary Stream requires a nose for navigation as a faint ground trail is followed along river terraces, avoiding prickly matagouri and jumping the bouldery creek. There are no trail markers, but this off-track route is straightforward. An unnamed saddle needs to be climbed, then a steep spur drops abruptly to Severn Hut.

If escaping the madding crowds appeals to you, this is a largely untracked, barren wilderness at the back of beyond.

Total Ascent
Moderate / Difficult
4–6 days. Bottom Gordons Hut to Top Gordon Hut, 2–3hr; to Saxton Hut, 7–9hr; to Severn Hut, 7–9hr; to Top Leatham Hut, 6–7hr; to Bottom Gordon Hut, 3–4hr
From Leatham Road end, off SH63. It is possible to drive the 4WD road to Bottom Gordons Hut
BS25, BS26