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June 2023 Issue
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Granite formations on Mt Titiroa in Fiordland National Park. Photo: Shaun Barnett/Black Robin Photography

Some of the most remarkable landscapes in the country contain granite forms and features.

From Gertrude Saddle, we climbed slopes towards Barrier Knob in the Darran Mountains, and from the top looked upon Lake Adelaide, clasped among some of Fiordland’s higher mountains. Resting on the summit, I laid my hand over the coarse granite rock to feel its rough texture and sharp edges.

I remarked about this quality to my companion, mountain guide Phil Penney. “No wonder climbers like granite,” I said. “It’s so firm, solid and grippy compared with Weet-Bix like greywacke.”

“Yeah,” said Phil, “until it’s not. When granite’s bad, it’s really bad.”

Although the slope down to Adelaide Saddle wasn’t overly steep, the rock was loose and shattered. Not at all like the harder boulders above. We had to take care.

In comparison to sedimentary greywacke, granite is an igneous rock, forged slowly from magma in the Earth’s depths before being exposed by uplift and erosion. The slow formation gives granite its toughness and coarse-grained quality. The colour of granite varies – pink, white, grey or golden – according to the composition of its minerals.

But although famous for its hardness, no rock can suffer all the assaults that New Zealand weather can throw at it without disintegrating sometimes, and this weathering gives rock its myriad forms and shapes. 

From the golden-pink, iron-stained rock of Abel Tasman to the white, light-reflecting quality of that on Mt Titiroa or the red-grey coastal headlands of Rakiura, granite forms some of our most remarkable landscapes.

Here are five granite wonderlands to visit.

Anapai Bay, Abel Tasman National Park

While granite produces very poor soils, it makes some exquisite features in the country’s best-known coastal national park. It’s a tough call to nominate the best: Cleopatra’s Pool? Tokangawhā/Split Apple Rock?

The headlands of Separation Point? Cottage Loaf Rock? For my money the granite pillars of Anapai Bay, washed and shaped by high tides, are the pick. Anapai Bay and campsite are reached on the Coast Track, north of Tōtaranui, a part of the great walk that sees less traffic than its more southerly section.

Buckland Peaks, Paparoa Range

The Buckland Peaks are situated at the northern end of the rugged Paparoa Range, and a useful track climbs to them from farmland south of Westport. Buckland Peaks Hut (six bunks) occupies a high position near the bushline, from where trampers can explore the superb tops nearby with views to some of the precipitous peaks further south.

Lake Stream, Victoria Forest Park

The Victoria Range lies between the Paparoa Range and the mountains of Nelson Lakes National Park. Like the Paparoa Range summits, the mountaintops are dominated by granite. An excellent way to access these mountains is the track up Lake Stream, beginning from Rahu Saddle near Springs Junction.

Lake Stream Hut has two bunks and makes a good base from which to explore the surrounding peaks and their granite jumbles. With appropriate skills and weather, it’s possible to traverse the tops over Mt Blackadder to the Klondyke Valley.

Mt Titiroa, Fiordland National Park

Although considerably lower than its counterparts in the north of Fiordland, Mt Titiroa (1715m) is a place of exceptional landscapes. From a distance the mountain often appears snow-capped even when there is no snow at all – such is the peculiar reflective quality of its granite.

The summit is reached either from the south via the Borland River North Branch, or from the north via Lake Manapōuri, Hope Arm Hut and the Garnock Burn. Both routes involve some off-track navigation and take about three days return. The effort to get there is well rewarded, with all manner of granite pillars, tors, towers, eggs, boulders, stacks and curiously coarse sandy slopes.

West Ruggedy Beach, Rakiura National Park

Rakiura’s infamous North West Circuit Track abounds with impressive granite headlands and summits, but arguably those of West Ruggedy Beach are the finest. South of East Ruggedy Hut the track pushes through dunes to reach West Ruggedy, a long sweep of golden granite sands that culminate in the low but aptly named Ruggedy Mountains.