Where to go to get the best views of the Southern Alps/Ka Tiritiri o Te Moana.
I had a surprise on a recent trip to the tops of the southern Paparoa Range, on the Croesus Track. When I’d last walked the track 25 years ago, low mist prevented any views, so I was staggered to learn what an outstanding panorama these low mountains offer. Set well back from the Main Divide, they provide a vantage point that for sheer breadth is simply unbeatable. Here are three places that will leave you staggering, too.
1. Mt Somers, Hakatere Conservation Park
The remnant of an old volcano, Mt Somers lies some 65km east of the Main Divide, but remains close enough for the Southern Alps to still seem mighty. Trampers can reach the summit on a day-trip on the Mt Somers Summit Track, or as part of a two-to-three day trip on the Mount Somers Track. The summit viewing platform offers a fine vista of the Arrowsmith Range, Mt D’Archiac and Aoraki/Mt Cook.
2. Ces Clark Hut and the Croesus Track, West Coast
The Croesus Track traverses the southern Paparoa Range between the small villages of Blackball and Barrytown. The beautifully graded track begins from the Smoke-ho car park near Blackball, and deftly wends its way up-valley, with a gradient no greater than about eight degrees.
An old gold-mining route dating back to the 19th century, the track was reopened in the 1980s by Forest Service ranger Ces Clark. Sadly, he died before seeing the project completed, but a comfortable and exceptionally well-designed hut now commemorates his work. It has excellent views of the northern Southern Alps, from Nelson Lakes as far south as Mts Alexander and Rolleston. However, a 40-minute walk beyond the hut leads to even better views, which stretch far south of Aoraki/Mt Cook.
3. Okarito Trig, Westland National Park
Okarito Trig provides an opportunity to view the Southern Alps from near the coast, and with a foreground of unbroken forest, stretching all the way to the highest peaks. Mt Adams, Elie de Beaumont, the Minarets, Lendenfeld, Tasman, Aoraki/Mt Cook and Sefton lie in a great array of alpine finery, all sufficiently well defined to recognise. Begin from Okarito township on the Three Mile Pack Track, and follow this for 10-15 minutes until a signpost indicates the well-graded climb to the trig. Allow about 1.5 hours return.