Motatapu Alpine Track

From Wanaka we first followed the Glendhu Bay Track around the lake, and then the Motatapu Alpine Track lead us through the mountains towards Queenstown.

The Glendhu Bay Track

A long day of 26km walking awaited us, with our legs still a bit tired from our late night adventure up on Roy's Peak. The first part of today's journey went around Lake Wanaka on the Glendhu Bay Track. Before we could get started with that, we had to walk back into town to replace our knife that we had somehow lost the day before.

So after we had settled that affair and it was already almost 10 in the morning, we started on the Glendhu Bay Track. We shortly thought about hitching that section, but in the end were really glad we didn't do that - the track leads to some really nice views across Lake Wanaka, and comes by some really nice little bays and beaches. The trail ends at Glendhu Bay Holiday Park, where we contemplated for a moment if we had a day to spare and maybe just make this a short day after all. We decided against it and continued along the access road and onto the Motatapu Alpine Track.

First leg of the Motatapu Track towards Fernburn Hut

The beginning of the Motatapu Alpine Track started across grassy fields on a well formed track. This part at least was flat, easy walking and we were in a good mood. We climbed through two little livestock-gates and then the track continued into the forest and started to climb. While at first it had been very easy to walk, it now got more strenous. The trail turned steeper and a lot of bushes in the way made it harder to move forward. We realized that the 500 meters of ascending scheduled for the day would be harder than we thought. Winding it's way up and down through little ravines for what seemed like hours, the trail then led onto a little saddle, from where we could finally see the hut. Of course, to get there we had to first climb down into a little valley with a creek and then back up on the other side. New Zealand and the DOC never purposely make it easy for you.

Normally the trail shouldn't have been too tiring, but we did feel the climb up to Roy's Peak in our legs, and of course the 15km we had already walked to the Trail head from Wanaka. Nevertheless we ended up passing two other couples on the way to the hut - which ended up being why we even got bunks in the hut. A whole bunch of other people arrived shortly after us, and some of them ended up having to set up their tents or sleeping on the floor - even though we all squeezed together on the bunks so we could accommodate more hikers.

Fernburn Hut to Roses Hut

The second day on the Motatapu Alpine Track began with an ascent to Jack Halls Saddle, which we managed a lot faster than expected, despite the steep and overgrown track. Here the trail really showed it's beauty. It is pretty wild and overgrown which makes it feel very remote. From Jack Halls Saddle it was quite a descent down to Highland Creek Hut. It was only around 10am by the time we arrived, which forced us to make a hard decision: either stay at the hut and make this a Nero-Day or continue - over two more saddles like the first one, and that trail section being described as "the most demanding part of the Motatapu Alpine Track" in the Te Araroa Trail Notes. Over a small cereal bar snack we decided to go for it anyways.

And oh did I regret that decision as I was huffing and puffing up to saddle number two. The trail got very steep and even though the trail was mostly free of bushes now, we were walking through tussock land again. We worked our way up, walked along a ridge and enjoyed amazing views into the valleys. The view absolutely made up for the physically demanding hike. As did the weird array of objects on the saddle. On a pole there was a pair of very old hiking boots, a pair of diving goggles and bikini briefs. Why on earth would anyone carry all those things up the mountains? We enjoyed a short break, pondering that question, before continuing our hike.

Afterwards the trail lead downhill again, and with aching knees we made our way into the valley, only to steeply climb up the final ascent of the day on the other side. While it had been windy on the last saddle, it wasn't anymore, and the sun grew hotter with every passing minute. There was no shade  or option to get out of the sun an we were sweating out all the water we managed to drink. But we fought our way up and were greeted with a magnificent view - and the sight of the hut, tiny but visible down at the end of the valley below.

Just one last descent and we would be able to finally rest our poor knees! So we slowly crept down the mountain side and then through a field of high grass to the hut. It was almost empty, so we chose our bunks, dropped our things and them just sat on the veranda, reveling in the feeling of having to do nothing at all but enjoy the rest we deserved after a day like that.

Somehow this section of the trail, with all its climbs and descents, reminded us a lot of the ups and downs in the Richmond Ranges - a section which now felt like it was forever ago.

Roses Hut to Arrowtown

The third and final day of the Motatapu Track started with yet another saddle - but what is one saddle compared to the three of the day before? - and then had a completely new trail experience for us. The way to Macetown , a historic mining town which now consisted only of three derelict buildings, could either be walked on a sidle above the river, or by following the riverbed of the Arrow River. After trying the sidle for the first few hundred meters and being annoyed by the steep ups and downs and especially the bushwacking, we used the next possible option to get down to the river valley.

Today we walked together with Felix and Johannes, our German trail mates, and together we started our walk in the riverbed. It meant crossing the river virtually every few minutes, and sometimes walking in the river for a few hundred meters until the bank provided a good path again.

The icy water shocked our feet every time we stepped into the river, but it also was very refreshing, so we enjoyed the experience.

In several places the river formed deep pools which Tim and I decided to use for a short swim. Felix and Johannes passed on the option and left us on our own - maybe a smart decision as the water was freezing cold. Both of us enjoyed that refreshing swim for only a really short dip, before crawling out of the river with chattering teeth.

We met back up with the others when arriving in historic Macetown, where all of the TA hikers that spent the night at Rose's Hut somehow ended up at roughly the same time. So we had a nice group picnic before heading on our way across "Big Hill" to finally get to Arrowtown, where some of us would spend the night, and some would take the bus to get to Queenstown.

The trail to Arrowtown across Big Hill is almost 16 kilometers to walk and another ascent of about 600m height. On the way we passed a lot of bushes with not quite yet ripe berries - it would have been a feast to be here in just a few weeks time. We fought our way up to big hill through tussocks and heigh grass, following the marker poles because the trail was basically impossible to see. Finally up there we were glad to be done with climbing for the day. 

Walking down to Arrowtown proved to be quite a bit easier. The trail wasn't too steep in most places but rather good to walk instead. We enjoyed the company of the other hikers and had some good chats. When we finally arrived in the cute little tourist town we went to the closest shop and bought a 2 liter pack of ice cream that we shared between the two of us as well as Johannes and Felix.

The we made our way to the local Holiday Park, where we pitched our tent for the night.

Further information about the track:

If you're up to walk the Motatapu Alpine Track, which we really recommend even though it is quite demanding, check out the following websites with info on the trail:

DOC info website about the Motatapu Alpine Track

Te Ararao trail website about the section Motatapu Alpine Track

Great overview of the Motatapu Track on


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