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April 2011 Issue
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Douglas Range, Kahurangi National Park

Tramper Lou Thornley on the Douglas Range, near Yuletide. Photo: Shaun Barnett/Black Robin Photography

The Douglas Range contains perhaps the most spectacular tramping country in Kahurangi National Park – and in a 450,000ha wonderland, that’s really saying something. Stretching between the Cobb Valley in the south and the Aorere Valley in the north, the range is one of contrasts: delicate tarns fringed by bogs where sundews trap hapless insects; peaks so precipitous they cast shadows even at noon in summer; stunted beech forest mingling with rocky outcrops; the jumbled chaos of the Lead Hills, where granite blocks lie like some sort of precarious game.

And then there are the lakes: Lonely Lake, Adelaide Tarn and Boulder Lake – the sites where the range’s three huts are located.

Much of the Douglas range offers challenging tramping; its most rugged section around the Dragon’s Teeth is not for the faint-hearted, but the satisfaction of traversing the range is measurably all the greater for it.

1 Kakapo Peak

Kakapo Peak is the first significant mountain on the Douglas Range when traversing south to north. A broad, rounded peak, it offers grand views and a rich diversity of alpine plants; whorls of vegetable sheep provide shelter for more delicate alpine flowers.

2 Lonely Lake and Hut

Lonely Lake is aptly named; by the time you reach it, you feel a long way from the gentle and accessible Cobb Valley. The lake fills a small basin surrounded by bluffs, an intimidating place when mist drapes the landscape. The hut, built by the Golden Bay Alpine and Tramping Club in 1973, is pretty small, but there’s good camping nearby.

3 Dragon’s Teeth Low Route

To reach Adelaide Tarn from Lonely Lake requires traversing past the Dragon’s Teeth. The easiest option is to drop into the Anatoki River from the Drunken Sailors and follow a vague trail into the headwaters before scrambling onto the tops again near The Needle.

4 Dragon’s Teeth High Route

For the more adventurous, an occasionally-cairned route leads along the crest and flanks of the Douglas Range north of the Drunken Sailors, as far as Anatoki Peak, where the fun really begins. Difficult scrub bashing, steep terrain and challenging navigation are required to tackle this so-called ‘high route’ east of the Dragon’s Teeth and along to Mt Douglas.

5 Yuletide

The track from Anatoki Forks Hut over Yuletide provides an alternative route into Adelaide Tarn. From the summit of Yuletide, a cairned route weaves an ingenuous passage through small bluffs and stunted scrub up through the Needles Eye, and then down to the fabulous Adelaide Tarn.

6 Adelaide Tarn and Hut

Adelaide Tarn occupies a cirque basin, surrounded by fine peaks and from the Needles Eye the Dragon’s Teeth rear toothily beyond. The diminutive Adelaide Tarn Hut was built in 1963 and, although very cramped, provides good shelter when the weather isn’t welcoming.

7 Boulder Lake and Hut

Boulder Lake Hut was the first hut built by the Golden Bay Alpine and Tramping Club in 1961. The old hut is still there, tucked into the bush, but a new very comfortable DOC hut has been in place since 1994. The most popular route to the hut is over the Brown Cow Track, although last summer floods wiped out a crucial access bridge on the access road. It’s worth having at least a day at Boulder Lake to visit the spectacular waterfall at the outlet and the old dam here used during gold mining days.

8 The Lead Hills and Lake Clara

An alternative exit route to the Aorere Valley from Boulder Lake is over the curious granite boulder jumbles of the Lead Hills. This curious landform is just the sort of scenery that has earned Kahurangi its reputation as a park of exquisite geological diversity. Lake Clara is an enchanting spot for swimming or camping.

9 Caesar Knob

Another worthwhile side-trip from Boulder Lake Hut is to scramble up onto Caesar Knob, where there’s a panoramic view over Boulder Lake and surrounds. Energetic trampers can carry on over the Haupiri Range as far as Slate River Peak or the festively named Mt Christmas. Amazing to think this country was all grazed in days gone by.

10 Mt Olympus

An outlier of the Douglas Range, near the Lead Hills, Mt Olympus also features curious granite formations. It earned brief fame as the scene in one of the Lord of the Rings film (it’s where Legolas and the hobbits have to hide from a flock of Sauron’s raven spies). There’s no official track to the tops, but experienced trampers can find suitable routes.