Like a great rough-sided triangle the Ragged Range is lodged between the Rakaia and Mathias watersheds in central Canterbury’s Rangitata-Rakaia Conservation Area.
Beginning on the Main Divide at Mt Neave (2290m) it heads east and south before finally running over Manuka Peak to reach Manuka Point at the confluence of the Mathias and Rakaia rivers. Much of the range’s territory is taken up with tributary streams of these two mighty rivers which, in only a limited way, provide access over the range. The entire range boundary, contained as it is between the rivers, is often difficult to access, but when conditions are favourable some excellent trans-alpine and climbing excursions can be made, especially to the west.
1. Mathias River
Providing the Rakaia can be forded safely, the Mathias allows easy and speedy access to it forks with the west/north branches and a variety of options for journeying farther in the hinterland up valley. The valley is broad and contains no true gorges and is a spectacular gateway to the Canterbury Alps.
2. West Mathias
Constricted but not impassable, the West Mathias can be ascended from West Mathias Bivvy to reach Kea Pass and Westland. The route over the pass requires good navigation through some difficult country.
3. South Mathias
The steep and bouldery South Mathias is easier to access than the West Branch and leads to some rugged Main Divide Peaks. It’salso good hunting country.
4. Mathias Hut/Centennial Cabin
These two huts stand near the junction of the west and north branches of the Mathias and make good bases, or overnight stops, for exploring the upper valleys. Mathias Hut is owned by the NZDA and sleeps nine; it has a great outlook over the valley.
5. Evans Hut
Standing on a terrace at the mouth of Cattle Stream in the Rakaia Valley, Evans Hut is owned by the NZDA and sleeps six. If coming over Observation Col it is a good place for a night’s stay before heading up or down valley.
6. Observation Col
At 1816m, Observation Col, between the South Mathias and Cattle Stream, is a long steep ascent to make a crossing of the Ragged Range. The Col is straightforward but requires a big day for the crossing, usually 10-12hr.
7. Martius Col and glacier
Another alternative from Cattle Creek is to ascend its southern headwater to Martius Col, cross the Martius Glacier and descend to Whitcombe Pass on the Main Divide. From here the Whitcombe River can be followed to Hokitika Gorge or the Louper Stream can be descended to the Rakaia.
8. Whitcombe Pass
A must do route in any keen tramper’s log book, the classic Whitcombe Pass, though only 1239m, is a challenging and rugged multi-day traverse of the alps from east to west. Once again the fearsome Rakaia must be forded to access the pass.
9. Rakaia River
When in flood or high the Rakaia is a frightening sight to behold and some have made the error of attempting to ford it when still too high for safe passage – tragedy inevitably ensues. The south bank can be followed well into the headwaters without requiring a ford of the main river. Several huts are located on this bank, some of which are station huts and will require permission to use.
10. Poachers Pass
A rough tramping route across the Ragged Range, Poachers Pass (1618m) links the lower Mathias with the Rakaia via Hut and Jellicoe streams. These streams require low water levels and a lot of boulder-hopping as well as permission from Manuka Point Station.
11. Banfield Hut
A small attractive hut belonging to the Canterbury Mountaineering Club, the six-bunk Banfield Hut lies in scattered forest cover beneath the Arrowsmith Range with an outlook over the Rakaia Valley to the Ragged Range. It could be used as an overnight stop between the Ragged Range and the lower Rakaia.