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Steepface Hill, Hakatere Conservation Park

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October 2023 Issue

This walk is great for those who like to gain height quickly for epic views and bag a decent-sized hill while doing so. By Edward Hathway

Terrible Gully is an inauspicious place to start, but there’s a vehicle track on a public easement at first. Before long there’s a right turn onto a narrower poled route through matagouri, which might be overgrown in places. At the boundary of the conservation area the troublesome matagouri closes ranks, which means exploring to find the least painful way through to open ground. 

Once in the conservation park, the track heads due south straight up the hill. It’s unpleasantly steep at first, through scrub, but the gradient soon eases to just ‘very steep’ as you make your way to the spur and the minor peak at Pt1488m. These are grassy slopes, and the views behind reveal the full length of Terrible Gully, an impressively jagged watercourse that has earned its name: in early 2018, Cyclone Gita turned this stream into a torrent of rocks. In the distance is the Rakaia River, the peaks of the Canterbury foothills and Ka Tiritiri o te Moana / the Southern Alps. 

From Pt1488m there’s a brief reprieve for a few hundred metres, then one last climb of 300m through coarse scree to reach the summit ridge.  

Once on the tops, turn due south for around 100m to reach the summit of Steepface Hill (1876m). 

From the summit are views west and south over some of the highest peaks in the Canterbury foothills, including Mt Hutt (2185m), which is a further 6km walk south along the tops. On a clear day the Canterbury Plains and the Port Hills can be seen, Lake Coleridge peeks out behind Peak Hill, and beyond the lake is a jumble of lumpy topography backed by high peaks in the Craigieburn Range. The Rakaia River is dominant, though. It’s visible from its confluence with the Wilberforce River at Mt Algidus, and runs beneath Steepface Hill and across the plains to the sea.    

After such a steep climb the descent could be dreaded, but it’s not too bad. There are continual views of the Rakaia River, and afternoon light accentuates its braided channels. The initial descent through the scree can be unstable in places and requires careful footing, but once through this section it’s fairly straightforward, and good progress can be made as you descend 1000m in just 2km.

There’s nowhere to hide from the wind on this trip, so beware the nor’westers, and you’ll need avalanche awareness if there’s substantial snow cover. 

8.8km return
Total Ascent
7–8hr return
Double Hill Run Road where it crosses Terrible Gully, at the northern end of the Mount Hutt Range

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