Copland Track is a corker
The trip to Welcome Flat Hut along the Copland Track is a bucket list walk for any Kiwi tramper: it’s a quintessential South Westland valley, with natural thermal pools by the hut.
Yes, flooding and landslide risks can bring about track closures. It’s the crossing of Rough Creek, near the start of the walk that can cause problems. There is a bridge, but that requires a 45-minute detour so people risk the crossing, according to DOC. There’s also an active landslide further up valley that heavy rain could trigger so, after a certain level of rainfall, DOC simply locks the entrance gate. Otherwise, all gnarly stream crossings are bridged and a new bridge over McPhee Stream is expected to be completed for this summer. So, check the weather forecast before you go.
At first, the walk meanders up the wider Karangarua Valley. Look for chamois grazing on the river flats. Some sections follow an easy, former pack trail. These are remnants from the early 1900s when the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts started the development of a West Coast to The Hermitage walking and climbing route to encourage tourism.
Obviously no campervans in those days.
The landscape changes as the track turns into the steeper Copland. From here, the river’s milky-hued glacial torrent pounds over giant, shiny schist rocks on its way to join the slower-flowing Karangarua River. In parts, there’s some easy boulder-hopping alongside the river.
Blanketing the valley sides, all the way to the upper rocky bastions of the Sierra and Copland Ranges, is southern rata forest. Underfoot, and as the track steadily gains altitude, the forest is tangled and varied; mixed broadleaf and podocarps giving way to fuchsia, dracophyllum, olearia and kaikawaka.
There’s a feeling of history walking here; today’s visitors following the hallowed footsteps of explorer Charlie Douglas, climber Freda Du Faur, the Graham brothers’ mountain guides, and the much earlier steps of Makaawhio ancestor, Hinetamatea, who led her sons over the pass named for her, Noti Hinetamatea. Later called the Copland Pass, this was a popular alpine crossing until the 1990s, when severe erosion rendered it dangerous for all but highly experienced climbers
About halfway to Welcome Flat is Architect Hut, a tiny two-bunker tucked away on a small clearing just up from the river. The flat makes a fine picnic spot. Beyond Architect Creek the track climbs gradually in the forest then steepens after Open Creek. Across Shiels Creek bridge there’s a short zigzag to the highest point of the track, after this a gentle descent leads to Welcome Flat Hut.
The somewhat grand-looking hut, two-storied with solar panels, sits now in a safer location than when it was near buried by an avalanche in 1987. There’s even a little upmarket option here, as in the Sierra Room, formerly the hut warden’s quarters, which can be exclusively booked. It sleeps up to four and comes with gas cooker, potbelly stove and wetback shower (though the stove needs to be well cranked up to get the water hot).
But who needs a hot shower when natural thermal pools are on your doorstep, and you can soak outdoors looking up to the drama of the Sierra Range and Mt Sefton beyond. Signs asking to not use soap or shampoo in the pools are obvious. Also, freshwater from a bubbling, ochre-coloured spring constantly washes through, via channels chiselled by the resident hut warden to maintain the perfect water temperature. Yes, there can be a touch of ‘scummy weed’, there’s a tap by the hut to wash it away.
All up it’s a grand overnight trip. Alternatively, stay a second night and spend a day exploring further up valley to Douglas Rock Hut.
- Total Ascent
- Easy / Moderate
- Welcome Flat Hut ($20, 31 bunks)
- Karangarua Valley car park on SH6, 26km south of Fox Glacier
- BX14, BX15