Via Avalanche Peak Track (up) and Scott’s Track (down)
How to get there
Short Outline of Hike
- Distance: 9.2km (round trip)
- Duration (the time I tracked doing it): 5.5h including a summit Mate break that lasted about 1h
- Elevation gain and loss on way back: a little over 1000m each
- Arthur’s Pass village sits at 780m in Arthur’s Pass village
- Avalanche Peak reaches 1833m
- The Avalanche Peak Track starts behind Arthur’s Pass visitor center and is marked by yellow markers all the way up
- For the way down we took Scott’s Track which is marked by orange markers
- Link to information on trek provided by DOC (Department of Conservation NZ)
Following is my personal grading of the hike including some key points. If you have no idea what the SB scale, have a quick look here.
The overall grade regarding difficulty is SB-4. The grade is made up of the following categories:
Category A – General – SB-7.5
- Distance: 9.2km round trip, duration: 5.5h, elevation gain/loss: 1000m one direction
- For each trek that is a distance of 4.6km with an elevation gain of 1000m
- downhill may be a bit heavy on knees due to steepness
Category B – Terrain – SB-7
Going up Avalanche Peak Track you start out with nice forest ground occasionally covered by big tree roots. These can get slippery when it is wet. We had a really nice day with soft clouds and sunshine. The roots go from small to big, too, so basically you need your eyes on the trek while walking a majority of the time to avoid accidents and injuries. The closer you get to the bushline the more rocks you have on the track. Some trek parts may require use of hands to climb over rocks. The last few hundred meters you walk along a ridge line. You have the same for the way down but the other way around. On the Scott’s Track there is a part through a field which isn’t as steep compared to the rest of the track.
Category C – Weather – SB-1
We’ve had the most beautiful weather, almost no clouds and sunshine. When there were clouds they were thin and fluffy. It started out with a cold morning, warmed up during the day once the sun got higher. There wasn’t any rain prior to our hike either, so ground, tree roots and rocks were dry. Other than on the summit we also had no wind. Make sure to pack sun screen and hat for protection as there won’t be any natural protection once you go above the bushline.
Category D – Special Conditions – SB-1.5
Since it’s only a day hike, we only packed a day pack with water, snacks and mate equipment. With regards to the lucky weather conditions no special clothing was required. Altitude did not play a role. Some parts of the track may require use of hands to keep it safe. Experienced hikers can walk the track just fine but if you are lacking experience it is better to keep it safe and use hands when it gets a bit steeper. No special gear needed.
Category E – Individual Conditions – SB-3
I was in good physical condition, fit, healthy, had an early and good night’s sleep at the campground before. Nice breaky and coffee in the morning. We combined a toilet stop with a coffee beforehand because I forgot the coffee maker at home 😛 Snacks were packed well, enjoyed nice Mate break at top. We were a bit slower than usual on the way down because Darryn had problems with his bad ankle on the way down. Old injuries can become an issue on very steep terrain.
The Story behind the hike
Arthur’s Pass National Park is one of my favorite locations in the South Island of New Zealand. Coming from Christchurch and taking the SH 73 you will find yourself driving along a picturesque landscape. Once you leave the Canterbury Plains behind, you pass the crazy boulders of Castle Hill, just to arrive within the first mountain bits of the Southern Alps.
My tip is to arrive the day before and sleep in or close to Arthur’s Pass village. We camped at Klondyke Corner which is roughly a 10 mins drive away from the village and therefore the start of the treks. It’s a DOC campground which means you pay a small fee for using it. A kitchen area and toilets are provided. If you are using these kind of campgrounds, make sure to bring some cash with you. It works on trust, meaning you put money in a box. This one cost $8 when we slept there.
We, as in Darryn and I, did the hike in early March 2020 with fall about to start. The weather conditions were in our favors which made this hike quite a relaxing walk. I do have to warn you though. DOC set up signs at the beginning of both treks making sure people are aware of the dangers. A lot of people underestimate the difficulty, start too late in the day or with bad fitness and little experience. They then find themselves getting lost in the dark or similar worst case scenarios. Avalanche Peak didn’t get its name for no reasons. That said, there is risk of avalanches.
Pack enough food and water. Put on and pack the right clothes. Be mindful of weather. Watch your steps. Be careful. And you’re good to go 🙂
As mentioned before we walked Avalanche Peak Track up and Scott’s Track down. We parked the car in the car park for the Devil’s Punchbowl waterfall. You can do this as a round trip or just go the same trek up and down. I would say, both are of the same difficulty and about equally as steep. Even though going down the Scott’s Track felt a bit more relaxing for my knees than I’d imagine Avalanche Peak Track to be. But that is just interpretation and no real experience. As a reference, DOC also recommends going up Avalanche Peak Track and coming down Scott’s Track.
I consider this a fairly easy hike for the level of fitness and experience I was on by that time. But I’d say that it definitely requires a certain level of both of those to give you full enjoyment. It is also one where I had to stop to enjoy views because my eyes were on the trek for most of the time. The underground changes from forest ground and tree roots to rocky once you cross the bushline. One of the reasons why I think that with rain on the same or even previous day the hike becomes far more challenging.
I should mention that steep hikes are my favorite kind. This is definitely one. So, if you don’t like steep walks, this one isn’t for you. Or you get ready for a challenge because the views are well worth it 🙂 You will come along some nice bits where you can make use of your hands to climb up higher rocky parts. For the ones using poles, you should pack them. If you’re used to them, they will be of good help on the way down. This is a non-pole-user speaking though 🙂
The whole trek is well-marked. The start of the Avalanche Peak Track is just behind the Arthur’s Pass Visitor center. You will come by a memorial made up by a hiking boot. As you can see on the picture above the memorial is accompanied by some actual boots left behind.
As reference, we started Avalanche Peak Track around 9am and left the end of the Scott’s Track around 2:30pm. We arrived at the top around 11:30am and enjoyed a nice and long Mate break with astonishing views for about an hour before we headed back down.
You pass a few waterfalls on the way up. On the way down the Scott’s Track you will be rewarded with awesome views of the Devil’s Punchbowl waterfall on the other side of the highway. If you have time, have a stop there afterwards. It’s just a small walk from the parking lot.
The last few hundred meters to the actual summit of Avalanche Peak are along a really nice mountain ridge. If you have issues with fear of heights or falling this part may be a bit of a challenge. But there is enough rocks to hold on to make you feel safer and the path is wide enough. With barely any clouds we got to take in some mesmerizing views of the Alps. It made the summit Mate all the more enjoyable 🙂 No matter how warm it might be, take an extra long sleeve top or a windbreaker jacket with you. It was a bit windy when we were up there.
On the way down Darryn started to have some issues with his ankle which is why we went a bit slower. The path is quite steep. So, if you are recovering from knee, leg or foot injuries you should reconsider doing this trek. It is physically demanding. Even old injuries might kick in again.
All in all, this is a nice and playful hike for experienced hikers. The views are awesome. One can enjoy some calm minutes on the summit if the weather is right. Beats Netflix without even trying 😉 If you’re more of an inexperienced hiker, have an early morning start, be well prepared and take it easy.