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Big sky views

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October 2020 Issue

The Dusky Trail offers high country history and massive views right on the doorstep of the highest peak in the land.

The Dusky Trail was named after the Dusky run block, and half of it travels through Pukaki Downs, Rhoboro and Ben Ohau stations on public easements. The rest of the trail passes through Ruataniwha Conservation Park. This 37,000ha park takes in large tracts of high country between lakes Ohau and Pukaki, along the Ben Ohau Range and below the Neumann Range.

The trail initially climbs through a forest of self-seeded conifers tightly packed together like soldiers on parade. They have spread to the edge of a terrace where you drop down onto the open flats of the Twizel River. Clumps and individual trees from wind-blown seed are colonising the river flats to the base of the Black Hills. It looks as though they could eventually swallow up the whole of Otago – but wilding pine control efforts by DOC and Environment Canterbury are slowing the spread.

An old farm track climbs very gradually, following the Twizel River to the Baikie Hut turn-off. This goes further up the Twizel River to the confluence of the Duncan and McKenzie Streams, where the hut sits on the true right riverbank. It is well worth the 4km side trip to this newly-renovated four-bunk hut. It was originally built in 1948 by the Baikie family, which owned Pukaki Downs Station.

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Riding the old 4WD track above Fraser Stream. Photo: Dave Mitchell

Return back to the Dusky Trail and ford the Twizel River. This can be swift and deep, and is best avoided after heavy rainfall. The track heads past another mustering hut, its corrugated iron roof held down by an assortment of large river stones. It’s old, original and unrestored.

The trail then follows Gladstone Stream for a few kilometres through a newish rabbit-proof gate and into Ruataniwha Conservation Park. From there, purpose-built single-track undulates to Dry Stream and climbs steeply through mānuka and kānuka, hebes and tussock to a picnic table at the high point of the trail at 700m. There are stunning views to Lake Pukaki and Benmore, and the milky blue canals of New Zealand’s largest hydro scheme.

A short switchback descent drops into Fraser Stream which is easily forded and climbs steeply up its opposite bank. A gradual downhill zooms along parallel to the Fraser amongst willow trees and river rocks. It heads to the confluence with Darts Bush Stream and a four-way intersection. Go west on the Rhoboro Track towards Flanagan Pass, climbing alongside Darts Bush Stream. This is open country where a long straight fence line is tacked onto an ancient telegraph line. Some of the tall poles, insulators and single-strand No.10 wire are still intact. They once provided communication over   Flanagan Pass to Ohau.

A tarn near Fraser Stream, below the Ohau Range. Photo: Dave Mitchell

Follow this line to the edge of Darts Bush and eventually to another track intersection. A side trip to the top of Flanagan Pass, on the Ben Ohau Range, is a gnarly washed out climb and is mostly unrideable, but from it are great views of Lake Ohau and the surrounding valley and big mountains behind.

Back on the main trail, it heads to Pyramid Saddle and onto single-track. A short set of switchbacks sets you up for a long, fast downhill onto the farm flats below, where you head along another fence line and into the forest. This pine plantation provides shade and shelter before dropping to the lower paddocks and the run out to Glen Lyon Road at the edge of the Ben Ohau Wetlands adjacent to the Pukaki Canal. This is the southern entrance to the Twizel trail system with parking and information panels.

Follow the Glen Lyon canal road north for a short distance and then drop onto the smooth single track at the southern end of the Dusky Trail. This leads back to the early four-way intersection to Flanagan Saddle. Take a right and head through farm paddocks on Rhoboro Track to Rhoboro Downs Road above the Waterwheel Wetlands and Lake Poaka. Then it’s out to SH8 for a short spin up to the Aoraki/Mt Cook turn-off and back to the start point. A big day out if you ride the optional side-tracks.

 

Distance
46.3km
Total Ascent
727m
Grade
Moderate / Difficult
Time
3-5hr (not including side trips)
Accom.
3-5hr
Access
From a sign-posted parking spot on the Aoraki/Mt Cook Road, 4km from the SH8 turn-off
Map
BZ15

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