The Silver Peaks may be a small range but it’s provided weekend wilderness opportunities to generations of Dunedin trampers. Encroaching forestry blocks to the east and west mean the tramping area is not as extensive as it once was. A fine fight by the tramping fraternity in the 1980s led to the core of the range being exempt from forestry zoning, and that area was purchased by the Crown for a scenic reserve shortly after.
The range’s close proximity to Dunedin (you could reach Jubilee Hut from the Octagon in a solid day) and low altitude (767m at its highest) have led some people to under-estimate the conditions – both weather and topography – likely to be encountered. But there’s plenty of scope for one or two day trips, tracked and untracked, for the well prepared tramper.
1. Mountain Track Road
For most people, this will be their introduction to the Silver Peaks. As well as being the start of the main marked track to the tops and Jubilee Hut, being at 400m means your car has done a lot of the hard work for you. The last kilometre or so of road can be challenging.
2. Silver Peak
The highest point – at 767m – on the range, it provides extensive views with the northern sector of the range spread out before you. It’s also a good spot to sit and gaze at the eastern-most Central Otago ranges – the Lammerlaws and Lammermoors, the Rock and Pillars and the Kakanuis.
3. The Devil’s Staircase
Most parties visiting Jubilee Hut will go down or up this – probably both. Not as fearsome as it sounds, nevertheless it does climb 400m in around 1.5km. When coming up, it’s of some consolation to know that each ‘step’ of the Staircase is not quite as steep as the last.
4. Jubilee Hut
A finer example of the ‘build it and they will come’ attitude would be hard to find. Prior to the building of this hut in 2007 – a replacement for the Otago Tramping and Mountaineering Club’s original 56 year-old hut – overnight usage of the Silver Peaks had dropped to almost non-existent. Now, its 10 bunks are almost all occupied most weekends. Take your sleeping mat and or tent as there are several delightful campsites in the valley below.
5. Rocky Ridge
The central spine of the range, it takes its name from the array of impressive tors at the south end. There’s no marked track, although a bit of a ground trail is visible in places. It’s a good place to see karearea (NZ falcons). Those with sound navigational skills will be rewarded by the nicest ridge walk in the Peaks – but watch out for approaching easterly fog banks, which can confound even the experts.
6. ABC Cave
Not really a cave, but a good rock bivvy with a wooden platform floor. Named in the 60s by three rock-climbers named Alan, Bruce and Colin, there’s little to attract modern climbers to the schist but the cave provides an alternative to a crowded Jubilee Hut – although recent marking of the track between Jubilee and Yellow huts may lead to it becoming popular too.
7. Yellow Hut
This simple shelter is coming to the end of its useful life and has little appeal. However, buoyed by the success of Jubilee Hut and with funding from a trust set up in memory of a local outdoors enthusiast, DOC has plans for a new six bunk hut in the vicinity.
8. The Gap
The most prominent landmark on the range, visible from many vantage points.
9. South branch, Waikouaiti River
DOC has plans for a track down the river from Semple Road, providing a marked round trip to Yellow and Jubilee Huts. In the meantime, on a sunny summer’s day it provides a rewarding wander, although the best travel is often in the river itself.
10. Swampy Ridge Track
This marked track links the schist ridges of the Silver Peaks with the rounded volcanic hills of Swampy Summit and Flagstaff. These form Dunedin’s north-western skyline and so this track links in with several options to get from the city to the Silver Peaks.