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The Gateway, West Coast

Image of the March 2020 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
March 2020 Issue

Gateway to Westland

Crossing Whitcombe Pass appeals for two reasons.

Firstly, it’s a classic Main Divide pass separating the gravel plains of the Rakaia from Westland’s lush temperate rainforests; a journey through such contrasting terrain is simply exhilarating. Secondly, a rich history surrounds the place, like Whitcombe and Lauper’s epic 1863 journey down the wild Whitcombe Valley that ended in tragedy when Whitcombe drowned while crossing the flooded Taramakau River, or the first ascent of the redoubtable Mt Evans led by a young and ambitious Johnny Pascoe. 

In his book, Just where do you think you’ve been?, Paul Powell describes the Whitcombe Valley in an inescapably attractive way: ‘The delusion that travel in Westland was all flowers and fleecy clouds soon ended when the Whitcombe River became a water-misted gorge twisting down between rainforest and glaciated bluffs…the Whitcombe was blunt; it knew it was strong and it told you so.’ 

After crossing Whitcombe Pass, we savoured relaxed travel between the infant Whitcombe River and fields of Mt Cook buttercups. We were as yet unhindered by scrub and made the most of it, lying in the sun and gazing at the surrounding mountains, their high glaciers guarded by fearsome rock fortresses. 

Spilling height, we finally passed The Gateway, a geological curiosity of two prominent columnar rocks. The Gateway was not just a topographical feature on our map, but also lived up to its name. Once past it, we left spacious, mellow Canterbury behind and entered a world dominated by thick vegetation, awesome gorges and time-consuming slips. Powell’s portrayal of the Whitcombe rang true every inch of the way. 

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65.5km to Whitcombe Road end
Total Ascent
5-7 days. 2-3 days up the Rakaia to The Gateway; 3-4 days to Whitcombe Valley Road near Hokitika
From Double Hill Run Road up the Rakaia and Lauper Stream. Call Glenfalloch Station (03 318 5843) and Lake Heron Station (03 303 9014) for access
BV18, BW18, BW19

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