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Mt Dora tarns, Molesworth Recreation Reserve

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February 2020 Issue

Obscure tarn getaway

We had picked our route from Island Gully Hut to a tarn below the summit of Mt Dora almost at random. We could find little information about the area apart from there being sparse vegetation and a gentle, continuous climb up the valley with few obstacles. It seemed the perfect destination after a long period without much tramping.

At Island Gully Hut, we were immediately swallowed by chest-high tussock. After dropping down the first bank towards the Wairau River, we balanced on a narrow band between grassy swamps and an ankle-busting slope.

However, what the landscape lacked in variation, it more than made up for in ducks. At times it seemed like ducks were hiding behind every single blade of grass: it was like we’d stumbled across the world jamboree of waterfowl.

We stayed on the true right of the Wairau, dodging a relentless onslaught of potholes and duck ejecta. After two kilometres, we crossed one of the few obstacles along the way. Repeated crossings of the river in a narrowing valley was not attractive, so we decided to climb the spur protruding from the northern flanks below Pt1660 instead.

The next few hours were dominated by grass and hidden potholes. Close to the final fork of the Wairau, we climbed a surprisingly remote farm gate and surveyed the terrain ahead, which ended in the basin of a waterfall to the west, and required careful planning of the route across an overgrown glacial moraine on the true left. Traversing this area in low visibility would prove challenging, but today was sunny.

The upper Wairau River basin requires very basic route-finding to navigate the overgrown moraine. Photo: Dennis Radermacher

On the final climb towards the unnamed tarn below Mt Dora, the landscape became sparser. By the time we reached the tarns, the sun had already dipped behind the ragged peaks of Turk Ridge and the steep, south-facing basin was not receiving much warmth.

The tarns offered limited options for camping, but a grassy bank above the eastern shore had a few reasonably flat spots.

After setting the tent, we inspected the tarns and were quite happy to have packed a water filter. A million little nuggets of happiness made it clear how much our feathered friends enjoyed the spot.

The trip had taken almost twice as long as expected, courtesy of the pothole-ridden approach. It had not been difficult, but neither had it been a walk in the park.

After dinner and a short nap, we enjoyed a magic moment: a full moon was casting mountain-shaped shadows across the towering landscape all around us. Seeing the Milky Way span the roof of the valley like a sparkly blanket was rewarding enough after a rough day.

The next morning, on our trip back, we avoided the swampy areas below Island Gully Hut and found it much easier to walk on dry parts of the river bed and on the lower grassy banks. The few swampy areas were easily avoided.

Total Ascent
Easy / Moderate
5hr to tarn
From Hanmer Springs, take Jollies Pass Road, Tophouse Road and Wairau-Hanmer Springs Hydro Road to Island Gully Hut
BT24, BS24

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Mt Dora Tarn (gpx, )

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