Thousand Acre Plateau Track

A less well known track, which is the match of any of the Great Walks, Thousand Acre Plateau Track passes through a quite unique part of Kahurangi National Park at the top of the South Island. It’s a ~44km out and back walk starting about half an hour from Murchison, suitable for people looking for something more adventurous and challenging than the Great Walks, and is best attempted in dry weather unless you enjoy getting very wet and muddy feet. The huts are tiny (8 bunk, 2 bunk and 4 bunk along the track) so best take a tent, and there are some great camping spots.

The trip nearly got off to bad start when we drove up Matiri Valley Road looking for a car park, only to find a cone and closed off road. Thinking we’d missed the car park we drove back 3km along the gravel road to somewhere wide enough to park the car. We were about to start when a guy on a quad bike came by, and when asked it turned out they’d closed the road to move stock but had now finished. Which was a great relief, and it was a beautiful drive up to the car park.

A hydroelectric power scheme is being built in the valley which has made the first section of the track super easy (if with a few hills). The 4WD road makes for dull but fast walking, and an opportunity to enjoy the scenery. Follow the recently installed signs rather than the track on topomaps as they differ.

It didn’t take much more than an hour to reach the attractively situated Lake Matiri Hut, though the outside bench could have done with being placed six feet closer to the hut to really enjoy the views. It’s an eight bunk hut, already home to a family of four, but the six of us had plenty of space to spend the night. The sandflies were pretty thick here, and the black swans below could be heard honking away.

There were lovely views of Lake Matiri below, though it’s too far away to easily visit for a swim unfortunately.

It was a pleasant start walking along the track further the next morning, reaching a junction right to the Wangapeka Track via the Matiri Valley Track (quite overgrown apparently), or left up to Thousand Acre Plateau.

Up it certainly was, with a 750m climb, very steep at the start and end, and more gradual in the middle sections. There were plenty of tree roots, a weka, moss, and a handful of views on the way.

A few hours later it was quite a sight coming out onto the plateau nearly 1,000m above sea level, with an epic expansive of tussock and some interesting formations in the distance. The pointiest of these in the middle of the photo below, The Needle, was the goal to reach by the end of what would be a rather long day.

It was up and over a tussock covered hill to reach Poor Pete’s Hut for lunch. This is a tidy two bunk hut, though with three mattresses, and a nice camping area large enough for a couple of tents, which we would stay at on our return.

From here it was a long, hot afternoon crossing the plateau under the full force of New Zealand sun, stronger than almost anywhere else relative to the temperature due to the thinner ozone protection. The views were quite spectacular though.

It had been unusually dry for several weeks so many tarns had completely dried out.

A few photogenic ones remained though.

After a few hours of undulating terrain in the heat it was a relief to reach a section of bush, though it was pretty muddy even in a dry period. The destination of The Needle was getting closer, and to the right of it was The Haystack, and impressive mound of green and grey.

We reached the four bunk Larrikin Creek Hut by the end of the afternoon. There an enthusiastic couple told us of a campsite by the tarns below The Needle so we headed up another hillside.

The views from the top were quite magnificent.

As were the tarns.

We camped on a flat gravel area a little way away, on a warm and near windless summers evening, bliss.

The morning brought new views of the landscape and a totally blue sky day, stunning but very hot, and there was almost no shade around.

After breakfast we headed up toward The Needle. This is a steep climb however you do it. We went up the bushy section to the left in this photo, while people who came after us went straight up the dry creek bed, even steeper and riskier in my view, if quicker and easier in some ways. My theory is to avoid situations with potentially large falls, particularly where the rock is prone to breaking, which this would in your hand.

The views were huge and got ever better the higher we climbed.

There were many colourful flowers around, along with some very spiky plants which made me regret not wearing my gaiters for this section. Reaching a saddle below The Needle we could see Mt Misery at the edge of the plateau. It would have been a great place to visit had we had more time but we needed to retrace our steps across the plateau that afternoon.

The Needle gets progressively steeper toward the summit so we got as close (about 20m) from it as I felt comfortable, enjoyed the views, and then returned much faster down the hill back to the campsite for lunch.

It was all blue skies and impressive scenery on the return down the hill to Larrikin Creek Hut.

Not far beyond the hut is one of the larger and more sheltered creeks which had just enough water in it to make an excellent place for a quick dip to cool down, about 20m beyond where the track crosses it.

This was much needed before a long, very hot afternoon returning across the plateau to Poor Pete’s Hut.

There we had dinner with the couple who gave us the camping advice at Larrikin Creek Hut, who had had plenty of adventures and were impressively fit for their age, after hiking on average five days a week for the past fifteen months all around New Zealand. We saw them again the next day at lunch time, ran into the family of four a few times on the track, and saw three others while we were close to The Needle, but otherwise the track was devoid of trampers over a beautiful weekend at the end of January 2022.

The next morning we headed back down 750m to Lake Matiri hut, slow work at the start due to the steepness, faster in the middle, and quite painful on the knees on the final long steep section.

We thought the final stretch along the 4WD track would be easy, but it was more uphill than remembered and offered very little shade from the scorching sun.

It was a relief to return to the car, and have a dip in the Matiri River close to the car park. In usual conditions I suspect that this would be a bad idea given strong currents, but in low flow it was warm and very refreshing!

Author: jontycrane

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