The Canterbury high country is best in autumn when the red tones add to the space, beauty and grandeur of the Alps and foothills. With a good forecast, cold, clear nights, vast starry skies and crisp days make for ideal tramping conditions. With low, albeit cold, river levels, it’s also the perfect time to walk the meandering river circuit between Redcliffe and Turtons saddles.
Being able to negotiate the tight gorge sections along the southern-most part of the unmarked route is only possible in low river flows. This, in fact, is the allure of the tramp – a great, bare, treeless landscape, dominated by peaks up to 2000m through which the tortuous river-route winds – sometimes on tracks and 4WD trails, other times in and out of the river, forging your own way through. Adding to the charm and yesteryear feel, each night is spent in a restored musterers hut.
Beginning on the south bank of the Rakaia River, a marked easement heads into Glenrock Stream where a poled route (part of the Te Araroa Trail) leads to the summit of Turtons Saddle, 1100m. This high point of the journey is worth the steady uphill grind as it has a grand view and a spacious location among tussock-covered ridges. The landscape is unrelentingly empty; a good point to keep in mind should you come during windy or cold conditions as other than the huts, there is no shelter.
Below the saddle is A Frame Hut and later Comyns Hut, a larger shelter with a grand outlook onto the mountains. South of Comyns, the TA trail heads west while the unmarked route travels into the small gorges of the Ashburton River North Branch where the river is constricted. This section is slow and exciting with a few short wades and the occasional scramble until Cookies Point is gained and the Swift River junction.
Travel is then again in the riverbed, but now much easier, up to Tribulation Hut and finally over Redcliffe Saddle track to the road.