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Black Birch Track, Ferny Gair Conservation Area

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August 2023 Issue

This track near Blenheim offers stunning views over the lower Awatere Valley and to the North Island. There’s also a two-bunk bivvy to bag. By Chris Cookson

Initially, there’s an easement across a farm paddock. Permission is not required, but dogs must be on a leash across farmland.

A 4WD track leads to Black Birch Stream. After about 2km, a toilet and gate mark the beginning of Ferny Gair Conservation Area.

This easy family-friendly tramping and mountain bike track passes in and out of mānuka and kānuka scrub with grassy open patches and a few ups and downs.

After another kilometre, a short, steep side track climbs to the ridge leading to Blairich summit. The main track continues on the true left of Black Birch Stream.

From here, it’s tall kānuka forest until the end of the mountain bike section. The track is high above the stream with a few minor side streams to cross and some very muddy sections. Pīwakawaka frequently appear among the trees, and korimako can be heard but are rarely seen.

The mountain bike track ends about 8km in at a stream crossing with a small waterfall. The trail now becomes more a route than a formed track. It climbs steeply for about 450m over 1.5km through kānuka and patches of mountain beech, then levels off at around 830m altitude. Parts of the climb traverse fine, loose shingle with few stable footholds – the kānuka trunks provide welcome support. The remaining few hundred metres to the hut is mostly through prickly mingimingi, stunted mānuka and bare rock.

Black Birch Bivvy has two bunks and no fire; however, there are four mattresses, so two could sleep on the floor. The building has been extended and the new half is double glazed, so even without a fire the hut is cosy.

There are spectacular views east over the lower Awatere Valley, including the lights of Seddon, mountains in the North Island and glorious sunrises and sunsets. Remarkably, there is good cell phone coverage.

Retrace your steps to the car park or follow a route for a couple of kilometres to the 1504m Blairich summit then down a spur to the previously mentioned side track.

9.3km to bivouac
Total Ascent
4–5hr to bivouac
From the north side of Awatere Valley Road, 18km west of the intersection with SH1

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Black Birch Bivouac (gpx, 26 KB)

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