At 1020m and located halfway between Cromwell and Queenstown, Mt Mason ticks all the boxes: it remains snow-free for much of the year, is seldom visited and a track right on the roadside leads a short, though steep, distance to the summit. From the tiny car park just off SH6, a stile takes you into a field where a short series of poles guides walkers alongside a narrow stream and towards the base of the mountain. The path, a narrow 4WD track, starts steeply, and at a gradient that remains more or less consistent for the duration of the walk. By the time the first zigzag is reached (and the next stile), the noise of SH6 dies away and, although we’d only climbed a few hundred metres, views towards the Kawarau River, Nevis Bluff and Horn Range could be appreciated.
The views are spectacular all the way. Skinks scarpered on the yellow grass at the side of the track and at one point we startled a herd of wild goats which bolted up the hillside, their long coats swaying gently beneath them.
There’s no clear path to the summit of Mt Mason from the Mt Rosa Track. Seeing the path dipping towards a saddle before zig-zagging up Mt Rosa itself, we followed the fenceline through the tussock, keeping the fence on our right.
From the main track, it is only a couple of minutes’ walk to the summit of Mt Mason, a rounded hummock covered in blonde tufts of tussock and clumps of golden speargrass. A cairn marks a stunning viewpoint, overlooking the Gibbston Valley, and Mt Rosa rises in the foreground to the immediate south-west. The trail leads over the summit and provides the opportunity to walk into the Remarkables Conservation Area. Behind the Gibbston Valley, the Richardson
Mountains can be seen in the distance, and to the north the Crown Range rises to meet the aeroplanes bringing in the hordes to Queenstown.
I love the natural quiet as much as any tramper, and I was pleased we didn’t meet a single soul on Mt Mason. However, this hill is just on the edge of the flightpath into Queenstown and, standing on the summit, the peace was disrupted more than once by the dull roar of a jet engine. But there’s something incredible about the scale of an A320 against the grandeur of the mountains that doesn’t ruin the experience of being in the hills.
And though I felt like I was on the smallest hummock, surrounded by many more magnificent mountains, I felt satisfied that Mt Mason was a worthy ‘top of something'.
- Elaine Dillon