"You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you" - Isaiah 55:12

10 November 2015

Cameron Hut, Hakatere Conservation Park - 30-31 October 2015

Cameron Hut...in a word, WOW! This has to be one of the most spectacular locations for a hut, tucked away at the head of a valley deep in the Canterbury high country.

The tramp up the valley to Cameron Hut had been high on my priority list for some time, and the desire to visit was only fueled further by an August trip up Staces Hill (see here), which gave views onto the Arrowsmith Range at the head of the Cameron Valley.
In order to minimise the possibility of a large climbing party being at the hut, we planned a Friday-Saturday trip, which worked well for me as it meant I still had a day with the family over the weekend.

Friday dawned fine, any lingering showers from the previous day when it had snowed were long gone, and it promised to be a glorious, albeit cold, day in the mountains. As we drove through Mt Somers and on towards Lake Heron, it became apparent that Thursday's snow had certainly not fallen in this area, allaying any fears of a difficult walk through snow up the Cameron.

We left the car at 11am and, after signing the intentions book, set off along a 4WD track towards the Cameron River bed. A locked gate bars vehicle access, the lower valley is private land although walking access is allowed without the need for permission. After passing under a small stand of trees, the vehicle track led out into the river bed. It became a little vague along here, but was quite followable and so long as you don't cross the river then you can't really go wrong.

After about 20 minutes the vehicle track ended, and we moved up onto the grassy bank. This was to be our fare for much of the next couple of hours, as the route picked its way along the true right bank through copious matagouri pockets. The Canterbury Mountaineering Club (CMC) are to be commended for their work through here, as without it the route would leave most trampers torn to bits on the matagouri, or forced to wade in the river to avoid the bushes. While not a track, there's a well worn foot trail in most sections of the valley, although it got a bit vague further up.
After a pleasant 90 minutes wandering alongside the river we found a beaut lunch spot on the river bank, eating with the sounds of the river in our ears, truly blessed to be in the mountains on what was actually a rather warm day.

After lunch it was more of the same, with a few rocky sections thrown in for a change underfoot, but for the most part it was simple travel along the river. After about 2 and a half hours we spied Highland Home on the opposite bank. This is a private, locked hut belonging to Lake Heron Station so we didn't bother getting our feet wet to check it out.
Onwards we went, the views of the peaks ahead keeping our motivation high, although the tops were slowly becoming shrouded in cloud.
Another hour further on and we reached the Lochiel Stream confluence, which marks the start of the gorge in the Cameron River, and it was time for a short, sharp climb up onto a high terrace to avoid the gorge. In low flows, the gorge is negotiable, but means wet feet and probably the odd tangle with more matagouri, so we chose the more trodden route up onto the terrace.

After a rest and a snack we were ready for the climb. It wasn't a big climb, heading straight up a small spur for 80m altitude gain before it led out along the terrace at an easier gradient for another 70m height gain. From here we sidled along the terrace, gently descending until we were past the gorge and on the lip of the terrace overlooking the upper flats in the Cameron. The light along this section was truly magical, with dappled sunlight kissing the tussocks while cloud at the valley head created a somewhat mysterious picture, with glimpses of snow and rock showing through in places.
From the lip of the terrace, we descended steeply down a patchy, loose slope, emerging out onto another section of expansive grassy flats.

We meandered along here, at times losing the foot trail in the tussocks. Again, there was no danger of ever being lost, but it was much easier going when on the trail. Marker poles were sparse between the top of the gorge and Spean Stream, a few more would prove useful as there was not enough rocks in the grasses to build cairns.
We picked up marker poles as we got closer to Spean Stream, and route from there on was quite well marked and cairned.

Once across Spean Stream, we started to climb along the lumpy moraines that dot the upper valley. It was a bit of a grind on weary legs that were by now looking forward to reaching the hut. There were a few minor obstacles in our way - a short climb up a rocky gully being the most notable - before we reached a welcome marker pole indicating we turn right to head over a final moraine wall to reach the hut. A final climb through blocky moraine and there it was: Cameron Hut.

Cameron Hut was first built by the CMC in 1952, using materials carried in on the backs of its' members - that's some feat!! It was rebuilt in 1982 using the more traditional method of pre-fabbing and dropping it in by helicopter for assembly on-site.
The hut is well appointed, with 9 bunks, a good sized stainless steel benchtop and sink, water tank, toilet nearby, solar lighting, and a mountain radio. There's also plenty of reading material.
One of its' finest features has to be the purple door!

We enjoyed a quiet evening, with the hut to ourselves, wiling away the time taking photos of the area, then eating dinner and reading, before hunkering down in our bags for the night.

We were greeted the next morning with one of the most spectacular sights I've woken to in the mountains. The cloud of the night before had cleared, revealing the Arrowsmith Range in all its majesty. The first rays of sun were painting the tops of the peaks with gold, and adding to the scene was the sight of the moon setting behind Couloir Peak.
From her bunk, Janey could see all this, and quickly alerted Kay and I as to what awaited us outside so we scrambled for cameras and out we went to capture the beauty around us.

With early morning photos and breakfast behind us, we set off up the Carriageway, the obvious lateral moraine leading up behind the hut. The Carriageway provides access to the South Cameron Glacier, and from there Mt Arrowsmith, but that was far beyond us, we were merely interested in getting a better look at the Cameron Glacier.
As we set off towards it, we heard the call of a lone kea and spent a few moments watching its' flight.

It was easy enough the get up onto the Carriageway, although we joined it a little too early, meaning we had a traverse along the narrow, and in places loose, crest of the moraine wall. While not dangerous, and actually quite fun, it made for slightly slower progress than we would have made had we stayed alongside and joined further up which, as we discovered, is the usual route - we just missed a few cairns along the way!
Partway along the wall we spied what we believed to be a rock wren but, being a tiny and rather elusive bird, we couldn't identify it for certain.

As we climbed along the moraine wall the views became ever more expansive as we stood seemingly at the foot of the wall of rock, snow, and ice that is the Arrowsmith Range. I was keen for an even better view of it all, so headed on up the scree slope further, climbing to a point looking over a gully at around 1640m.
The view was breathtaking. In front of me rose the striking rock and snow faces of Couloir Peak (2642m) and The Twins (2564m), while along the ridge lay the Tower-Upham-Jagged massif, below which ran the Cameron Glacier. Having read in my (numerous) guidebooks of these peaks and the routes on them (which are beyond my skills currently), it was fantastic to stand and pick out features and lines.
It would have been fun, had there been time, to scramble further along, perhaps even getting a glimpse of Mt Arrowsmith, but that will have to wait for another trip. It's a truly spectacular area, one which requires an extra day or maybe two to explore its' wonders.

The trip out was straightforward. We chose to stay in the river bed instead of the grassy flats in the upper valley below Spean Stream, which proved a good choice and made for much easier going.
The day warmed quickly, and it was hot work up and over the high terrace. A light breeze gave us occasional comfort, but it was all too fleeting!
Surprisingly, our time out down the valley was only 15 minutes faster than going up. However much of the valley is quite flat, meaning travel is at much the same speed either direction, and perhaps our 90 minutes and 350m height gain up the Carriageway had slowed us a little. It mattered little, I for one savoured every moment, and relish the thought of a return visit.

Striking out up the 4WD track at the entrance to the Cameron Valley

Tantalising views draw us on

Alongside the attractive Cameron River

Leaving the river gravels for the grassy bank

Alongside the Cameron, with Wild Mans Hill (1856m) rising ahead of us

Crossing a rocky section as we work our way up the valley

Pleasant spot for lunch

Round the corner and we're met with this view - the Arrowsmith Range

Plenty of photo stops on this trip

Cameron River

Highland Home, a private, locked hut

More rock, but much nicer than the abundant matagouri that thrives here

Kay and Janey on the rocks

Approaching the gorge, with the high terrace above it

The saddle (Pt 1432m on the map) north of Wild Mans Hill - a good route over to the South Ashburton River

Looking up Lochiel Stream

Pointing the way up the spur

Hard to go wrong with markers like this!

Janey and Kay tramping along the low terrace, tiny figures beneath Wild Mans Hill

Climbing the steep spur up onto the high terrace

View back down the Cameron from the top of the spur

Looking into Lochiel Stream from the top of the spur

The spectacular head of the Cameron Valley

Starting our gradual descent along the terrace. The route crosses the rocks on the left then climbs towards the knob beyond it before dropping steeply over the lip

Janey and Kay above the Cameron gorge

Descending back down to the upper flats

Steep descent, and a bit loose...and plenty of spaniards in the tussocks

Nearing Spean Stream - into the lump stuff from here on

Sunlight on scree

Climbing along our first lump

Nearing the hut...we think!

Waterfall spilling over bluffs

The ridge to The Marquee (left), and Pt 1654m (right)

Peg Col (2004m) - a good side trip, or route to the Rakaia

Approaching the turn off to Cameron Hut, the route leads over the scrubby moraine

Up through the blocky moraine

First sighting...shortly followed by whoops of joy

Cameron Hut in its stark, barren location amongst the moraine

Up the steps to that purple door!

Cameron Hut with The Carriageway in the rear

The Carriageway

Looking down the valley from the top of the moraine near the hut

Cameron Hut and surrounds, from the top of the moraine pile

Cameron Hut

The author at Cameron Hut

The team at Cameron Hut

Inside Cameron Hut

Cameron Hut at night, illuminated by its' solar lights

What a start to the day! - Sunrise and moonset over Couloir Peak (2642m, left) and The Twins (2564m, centre)

First light on Tent Peak (2448m)

First sun hits the tops in the direction of East Horn

A wider view

Heading up The Carriageway

On the crest of the moraine wall, Couloir and The Twins ahead

Me on the crest of the moraine

Janey finding easier ground

Near vertical wall of rock on the East Horn side of the moraine

My view as I carried on up the scree slope, with The Carriageway below

Cameron Glacier, viewed from around 1640m above The Carriageway

Couloir Peak (left of centre). The classic route climbs the couloir bisecting the rock face

The Twins - routes generally follow the obvious snow/ice lines

Tower (2696m), Upham (2705m), and Jagged (2706m) Peaks

Cameron Glacier

Descending The Carriageway to Cameron Hut, the small speck in the moraines

Cameron Hut and the Arrowsmith Range

Setting out down the valley - it's warm!

Upper Cameron Valley

Kay in the upper Cameron, backed by the Arrowsmiths

Negotiating a rocky gully on our way down

Travel in the river bed proved a good choice

Climbing back up onto the high terrace

Looking down into the gorge - negotiable in low flow if you don't mind wet feet and the odd tangle with matagouri

Crossing the hot, exposed high terrace

Janey at the top of the spur before taking the plunge

Down through the grasses

Regrouping at the bottom of the spur before the long march out

Alongside the Cameron

A lot of heat radiating off the rock, but the sound and sight of the river provided some comfort

Kay and Janey negotiating a rough section

Safely down...I nearly stumbled into the river while watching them!

Kay and the Cameron River

One last quick stop before we leave the valley

At last! - Mt Arrowsmith (2781m) reveals herself as we hit the 4WD trail

Crown Copyright - Land Information NZ

Access: Head to Mt Somers village, then take Ashburton Gorge Rd to the Hakatere junction. Turn north and drive up to, and around Lake Heron following the road until you reach a gravel pit (marked on the map). From here, a vehicle track heads off to the left to the entrance of the Cameron Valley. Park cars here, and sign the intentions book so the landowner knows who's on their land (the lower valley is not conservation land).

Time: Car park to Cameron Hut 6hr 15mins

Map: BW18 Whitcombe Pass, BW19 Taylors Camp, BX19 Hakatere

Hut: Cameron Hut (9 bunks, owned by the CMC, $5 per night for non-members, NOTE: the DOC track sign at the car park indicates that Cameron Hut is free - this is WRONG!)
        Highland Home (private, locked, owned by Lake Heron Station)


  1. What a great report! Thank you so much... I think I will give this route a crack on my next visit home. I was just walking with mum up the lower reaches of the river from the carpark this morning, but the going proved a bit tough for her (she is 71 after all)... Thanks and keep up the excellent work

  2. I like the look of this too. Thanks for your thorough write up. Sounds like a good tramp for my Everest Base Camp preparation.

  3. Very helpful, thank you. I'm heading up there this weekend and your information and photos is/are just what I was looking for.

  4. Helpful route info which we will put to good use this Autumn.