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Four ways to Kowhai Hut

Image of the February 2018 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more articles from the
February 2018 Issue

Take your pick of routes to this hut in the Seaward Kaikoura Range.

Tucked deep in a cleft among the mountains behind the coastal plain at Kaikoura is the lovely little refuge of Kowhai Hut.

The six-bunk hut lies halfway up the Kowhai Valley and along the Hapuku-Kowhai walking track, making it a great overnight destination. It is also an excellent base for exploring the upper valley and perhaps attempting Mts Saunders and Snowflake.

The upper valley is attractive and, unlike the lower reaches, contains fine stands of native bush and even a few grassy riverside terraces near the hut.

Although only a short tramp from the road end, the sense of isolation is one of the hut’s pervading characteristics. Combined with the views of the high craggy mountains that dominate the valley at every viewpoint, it makes for an appealing destination.

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1. Kowhai River

This is the easiest and most direct route to the hut – a two to three hour walk straight up the Kowhai River from the car park at the base of the Mt Fyffe 4WD road. The river is normally easy to ford and requires multiple crossings between short sections of track. The valley is quite tight in places, but often rolls back at major junctions to reveal the high tops, especially at Snowflake Stream. There are also pockets of mature podocarp forest on some of the small terraces.

2. Hapuku River

A longer and more interesting route, the Hapuku is accessed north of Kaikoura township and has a large open riverbed to follow to a small gorge upstream. A steep track then leads over to the Hapuku Forks. From here, follow the west branch to Hapuku Hut and then to the poled route over Kowhai Saddle (1153m) and on to Kowhai Hut.

This route will take around six to seven hours from the road end.

3. Mt Fyffe Hut and Spaniard Spur Track

A more strenuous way in is to link the steep 4WD walking route to the spectacularly-sited Mt Fyffe Hut at 1100m with Spaniard Spur Track. The hut is on the south-east ridge of Mt Fyffe, while the Spaniard Spur Track descends to the west from the hut, directly down a steep spur to the Kowhai, just north of the Snowflake Stream junction. This is a novel and moderately challenging trip with a possible overnight stay at Mt Fyffe Hut to experience sunset and sunrise over the Pacific Ocean and Seaward Kaikoura Range. It takes five to six hours.

4. Mt Fyffe and Gable End

The pick of the routes into the hut, for those with good navigation skills (and snow skills in winter), is to climb to the summit of Mt Fyffe (1602m) for a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean and the mountains of coastal Marlborough. From here, the undulating but easy ridge is followed east and north, traversing Gables End (1592m) and then descending steeply to Kowhai Saddle. This is a grand journey of discovery and adventure taking one or two days (10-12hr walking time).