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Mt. Richmond
From Rocks Hut to Mt. Fell (left in the clouds), Johnson Peak and Mt. Richmond (right of centre)
Country: New Zealand
Location: Richmond Forest Park, south of Nelson at the top of the South Island.
Accommodation: Nelson has hotels, motels, backpackers and a Youth Hostel.
Transport: Airport in Nelson, taxis out to road end.
Maps: Parkmap Richmond Forest (1:100,000); Topomaps O27 - Nelson, O28 - Wairau (1:50,000)
Trip Dates: 27 December 1999 to 3rd January 2000.
Introduction

Nelson city is tucked into Tasman Bay at the top of the South Island. Many people pass through this pleasant town-sized city on their way to either Abel Tasman National Park, Kahurangi National Park (both to the west) or south to Nelson Lakes National Park. However Nelson is right next to a grand tramping area - the Mt. Richmond Forest Park. While this is "merely" a forest park, it has many great features including one of the more beautiful rivers in New Zealand (the Pelorus), good huts and many high peaks, e.g. Red Hill (1790m), Mt. Richmond (1756m) and the shapely Mt. Fishtail (1641m). An added bonus is that it is less crowded than the national parks.

The Pelorus River Circuit climbs from the suburbs of Nelson to Rocks Hut high above the green-clad Pelorus River. The track then drops down to the river and heads upriver for a couple of days, returning to the hut through tussock meadows on a gentle ridge.

Access into the park is very easy from Nelson where a street on the outskirts leads onto the Dun Mountain Walkway that wanders along the trackbed of New Zealand's first railway (built in 1862). This line was originally built to extract copper ore from Dun Mountain but the quantities proved insufficient. It then serviced chrome mines up in the hills whose ore was shipped to the Lanchester cotton mills in England. The American Civil War cut the supply of cotton to the mills, closing them and bringing a premature end to the mining operations a few years (1866) after commencement. The legacy is an easily graded track through the Nelson water catchment area to the borders of the Richmond Forest Park.

Dun Mountain gains its name from yellowish-brown colour of the rock dunite (discovered on and called after the mountain) which primarily consists of the igneous mineral olivine. Olivine is normally a pale green but weathering changes it to yellowish-brown (dun). Dunite degrades easily to serpentine, a greenish black mineral that often includes veins of asbestos and is closely related to nephrite jade. As this transition occurs, metals such as chrome, copper and platinum in the olivine separate out forming veins of oxides and sulphides. The poisonous nature of these minerals has lead to a barren area known as the Nelson Mineral Belt.

If you look at the trip dates above then you will notice that I spent 8 days on this 5-6 day walk. The reason for this was that the first and last day were half-days (to and from Third House shelter) and I had a rest day at Roebuck Hut to enjoy the scenery.

Nelson to Rocks Hut

From the splendid landmark of Nelson's cathedral, drive east to intercept Brook Street and turn south. In a little over 2 kilometres, there is the first access point to the Dun Mountain Walkway. A rough dirt road departs on the left (just east of Sugar Loaf hill). One hundred metres up this "road", a track heads up the slopes to meet and follow a line of electricity pylons. The Dun Mountain Walkway is joined next to a pylon at a hairpin bend on the dirt road. It may be possible to drive up to this hairpin bend. The wide walkway heads south through a pine plantation for a kilometre. Native bush is entered at a junction on Bullock Spur and left a kilometre later after crossing Cummins Creek. A further kilometre of uninspiring walking brings a major junction on Cummins Spur marked by enormous signs.

The usual access point is a further kilometre along the narrow tarmac road. Here a good stile gives access to a forestry road - bypassing a locked gate. The forestry road wanders through young bush and climbs gently to a clearing. To your left is a side-track to Bullock Spur. However we continue straight ahead for an unrelenting climb up the vehicle track up to the major junction on Cummins Spur. This takes a little under an hour.

A third access point is through the motor camp where Brook Street comes to an end at a reservoir. A rough bush track heads off to the left of the reservoir to a tough but shorter climb to the the Cummins Spur junction (about an hour). I would recommend this route only if you are carrying a light pack. If you are doing a day-trip (e.g. to Third House shelter) then there is a more scenic but even harder route that starts by crossing over the reservoir dam to the right. A nice track skirts above the reservoir before passing a fork in about 10 minutes (the fork off to the right climbs up to a nice viewpoint). It then crosses the feeder stream to the reservoir (imaginatively called The Brook) and clambers up to the remains of another dam. This is crossed and you jump down onto the stream bed. In another 50 metres the stream bed makes a sharp turn where a rough, tough and steep track heads straight up Cummins Spur. The waterfall further up the stream may be worth a side-trip if you have time. Allow 30 minutes to get to the base of Cummins Spur and at least another hour to the junction with the Dun Mountain Walkway.

The Cummins Spur junction is also where a vehicle track comes down the spur from Fringe Hill - yet another access point to the walkway.

Take the lower track to the south to continue along the walkway. It is an easy hour long stroll along the old railway bed to the grassy clearing containing Third House shelter. The shelter is a sturdy double-sided structure with a wall dividing the old hut in two and the fireplace shared between the halves. There is a plaque on the chimney that names the shelter as Atmore Memorial Hut. While staying overnight at the shelter is officially forbidden, this is not enforced. Note that there is a watertank but the gutter feeding it has so many holes that it rarely contains much water.

Return back to the walkway at the top of the grass clearing. The track is now a bit narrower and overgrown since it is no longer used by vehicles but it still follows the bed of the old railway. In 15 minutes a saddle (Junction Saddle) is reached where an alternative route heads into the bush to hike over Wooded Peak (rejoining the walkway at Windy Point). A bush route from Fringed Hill also meets the walkway here. Neither route is heavily used and so both are lightly padded and a bit overgrown. In another 20 minutes the track passes an old mine entrance to the left and becomes rougher. There are few signs of the old railway other than a couple of cuttings around the corners of spurs, the second of which has collapsed making the track rise a few metres up the right-hand side of the cutting. The roughest part of the track is a scramble over a pair of rocky outcrops as you near Coads Creek. The first one is easy but the last outcrop has a vertical, almost 3 metre high face. The best idea is to toss your pack up onto the top and then scramble up using some cracks and a wire on the left of the face. I think that the 2 outcrops must have formed the supports for a bridge (long since gone).

Mt Claude (in mineral belt) and Blue Knob
South to Mt. Claude (which is in the mineral belt) and Blue Knob.

As you approach Coady Creek about 1.25 hours from Third House, the bush begins to turn into scrub with stunted, low trees. The creek is a good place to refill your waterbottles. The track quickly becomes a rocky path through low shrubs beyond the creek as the desolate terrain of the mineral belt is entered. The separation between the normal verdant bush and the desolate mineral belt growth is obvious when you look south to Blue Knob (green with trees) separated by a low col from the dingy brown of Mt. Claude.

Windy Point is reached 10 minutes from Coady Creek with a junction with the route over Wooded Peak. This exposed point is good for views to the west. The track now traverses slopes of weathered scree and is mostly good walking with Dun Mountain looming ever larger as you near Coppermine Saddle. The saddle is reached after about 30 minutes and is a good place for a rest with great views, especially down into the Maitai Valley and its cute dam. Another 20 minutes climbing through stunted, twisted trees (a result of the fierce winds across the saddle) follows. After you cross a small creek, the track heads steeply up bare rock - sometimes indistinctly - to Dun Saddle at a height of 982m. The total time from Brook Street should be about 5.5 hours. You have now entered the Mt. Richmond Forest Park and the fact is marked with a multitude of signs on the saddle. If you have time and the weather is kind then there is a great side-trip to the top of Dun Mountain, taking under an hour:

Drop your packs at the saddle and head east along a thinly padded track. The first 15 minutes are spent on a steepish climb of 100m but the gradient is easier afterwards as the track climbs the ridgeline to Dun Mountain Hut (really a shelter). The summit of Dun Mountain is about 10 minutes further from the hut up a moderate slope. There are great views to the east along Pelorus River with Pelorus Sound pointing the way to the open sea. Northwards there is the sweeping expanse of Tasman Bay with a glimpse of Nelson along the shoreline. To the west are the rolling hills dropping to the plains behind Nelson. The highlight is the view to the south where the massive Richmond Range shows its serrated tops to the best advantage.

The track falls sharply down from Dun Saddle for the first 200 metres and then enters stunted bush. Less than a kilometre from the saddle, a large bare mound is climbed over and then more solid bush is travelled through for the next 30 minutes to Rocks Hut (about 60 minutes from the saddle). The first view of the hut suggests a barn with its blank walls. However on walking up steps to a generous porch, the large windows overlooking a great view south to Mt. Richmond are revealed. A family of weka (small brown flightless birds) frequent the bush next to the hut and are often seen. There is a side track departing the hut clearing for a 10 minute walk to a lookout on the ridge above.

Rocks Hut to Roebuck Hut

The direction that you travel the loop from Rocks Hut depends on the weather. If it is raining heavily then I suggest that you reverse the loop as described here. The reason is that Rocks Creek is prone to flooding and has no bridge across it. Hopefully the weather will clear and the creek subside if you head off to Browning Hut first.

The track departs the hut clearing through a gap just before the hut and in a few metres meets a junction. The track to Browning Hut goes off to your right while we go straight ahead and down. The track heads steadily downward through a mixture of rata and beech forest. At first it is very clear on the ground but it soon becomes more lightly padded. The steady drop brings a junction in 2 hours (there is a bit of a viewpoint about 20 minutes before the junction). The track upriver is signposted to Roebuck Hut (3 hours over 5 kilometres away) but a diversion to Middy Hut is recommended.

Continue straight ahead, down towards the river for another 10 minutes until the gradient lessens and the track heads along a spur above Middy Creek. A swingbridge across the Pelorus River is reached after a further drop at the end of the spur. The hut is in a grassy clearing about 100 metres downriver via a narrow path along a vertical hillside. A good place for a lunch break and to refill your water bottles with sweet river water. However the swarms of sandflies along the riverbank may restrict your visit to the hut clearing. Return the same way to the junction (45 minutes for the diversion).

The reason that the signpost has the track stretching for 3 hours over only 5 kilometres is that the track is not a riverside stroll. Rather it is a thin goat track perched well above the river and traversing across steep slopes. The first half kilometre is fairly easy with a gentle climb and descent into a minor unnamed creek. The climb out from the creek rises to a disconcerting little saddle where you actually head straight away from the river. The drop down to Rocks Creek is a bit cruel but quickly over. The track actually heads down stream for a bit (contrary to the map), sidling over steep slopes and a nasty wee slip. The wide expanse of gravel in the creek bed is a good spot for a break.

Cross Rocks Creek at the second side-stream between 2 pairs of orange markers (a few metres down from where the track emerges). There is a rugged climb over the end of a ridge to the next major unnamed creek. Note that when I passed along here there was a large tree across the track needing a great deal of effort to get around. The creek is just short of halfway to the hut and the climb up from it features a rocky scramble over wet rocks at the top of a small cliff. A wire rope makes this a bit safer. After this the track is straight forward with no great surprises for the next 1.5 kilometres.

A small creek signals the approaching Roebuck Creek (about 200 metres away) and the first high swingbridge to the other side. If you look down to the junction with the river when crossing the swingbridge then Roebuck Hut can be glimpsed on a high river terrace on the far side of the river. The track ducks down an eroded gully to the riverside and then upriver to climb up to the junction with the track to Browning Hut. The swingbridge across the Pelorus is a little further upriver. A short bluffy section then leads back downriver to the hut. At the back of the hut is a track (now unmaintained) that climbs up to Conical Knob and then heads south along the extremely tough ridge towards Mt. Richmond, reaching another hut in 8-9 hours for a fit party in good weather.

Roebuck Hut to Browning Hut

This day is quite easy. The steepish climb at the start of the day leads to an enjoyable sidle to Totara Saddle at the head of Roebuck Creek and a short descent to the hut. In fact a fit party can forget about Browning Hut and head straight up back up to Rocks Hut. This turns an easy 5 hour day into a harder 9-10 hour day.

Start by retracing your tracks back along the river bluffs to the bridge across the Pelorus River and up to the track junction passed the previous day. This heads steeply up the ridge between the river and Roebuck Creek. The slope relents a little after you get a bit above the river but there is still about 300m to climb over the half kilometre to the knob at point 493m. The reward is some fine stands of large trees as the track heads further along the ridge and some flat patches to catch your breath in. The track turns to head directly west on the knob.

Over the next 2 kilometres from the knob the track climbs again easily up to the 600m contour and then begins to sidle along the ridge slopes above Roebuck Creek. The general trend is to continue to climb, however the highest point reached is just over 700m. A couple of slips and glimpses through the trees reveal the fine ridge on the other side of the creek. This is the route for tomorrow and the tussock meadows below point 906m can be appreciated as you near Totara Saddle.

The track drops down into the moist ground below Totara Saddle and then climbs shortly to the saddle itself. There is a well-signposted junction with the track up Rocks Ridge a little further down the track. It is quite possible to get to this point in 4 hours from Roebuck Hut. Unfortunately the track becomes steep, eroded and muddy for the next 200 metres as it drops into the valley of Browning Stream. Conditions improve after the stream is met. The map implies that the track goes right by the hut but the hut is actually a few metres across a stream at a grassy clearing on the track with enormous signs. The stream is the water source for Browning Hut. One advantage of approaching from the saddle is the chance to inspect the stream and notice little details like the rotting possum carcass on the track just before the hut - you may be sure I got my water from further upstream!

Browning Hut to Rocks Hut and out to Nelson

Yet another easy day - a bit longer than yesterday but with easier climbs. I had the misfortune to met with the worst weather of my trip. The heavy overnight rain had stopped but the cloud was looming around the hut and only got thicker as I ascended.

Return to the junction at Totara Saddle about 45 minutes from the hut. The track then heads north up a narrow ridge to reach point 822m after a kilometre (140m climbed). There is a turn to the NE and gentle climbing to the edge of the first tussock meadow in about 200 metres. The track is marked by cairns in the meadows. These are quite frequent and especially handy when you can see only about 20 metres as I found.

Dun Mountain
Dun Mountain

The tussock ends when you enter bush again at point 906m, 1.5 kilometres from point 822m. A sharp descent to a saddle leads to the "steepest" climb of the day - 150m over 400 metres to the highest summit of the day at 1031m. From there to a junction (about half an hour before the hut), the track strolls for a couple of hours over various bumps. It can become very wet after heavy rain or in the rain that I found myself but the water tends to flow along the track rather than forming mud.

The junction is with a track that goes out to a viewpoint near The Rocks (which the ridge and hut are named after). It is also in this area that the first of the awkward streams has to be crossed. Normally the streams here are just ankle deep but after the heavy overnight rains I was faced with overflowing streams. One I had to throw my pack over first and then take a flying leap. Nearing another stream, the track was overtaken with fast boot-deep water before a turbulent junction that had to be avoided by bush-bashing a few metres upstream. Luckily the hut is quite near so you need not fear wet boots that much.

The return to Nelson can be by the same route as the approach but there are a couple of alternatives.

The first alternative branches off at Dun Saddle where a track heads north above the valley of the Maitai River. It only takes a couple of hours to get down to the Maitai Dam (3 hours from the hut) so it is the closest road end but you will need to arrange a lift into Nelson from the dam. If you do have transport at the dam then there is a longer, more interesting route over Dun Mountain that takes 5-6 hours. Follow the above description to the summit of Dun Mountain and then continue north-east along the poled route. This drops down to a saddle and then enters bush for a climb up to Little Twin (1143m). The track then descends to a broad saddle containing the Dew Lakes (small mountain tarns). About 100 metres before the lakes a path branches off down a ridge to arrive at Maitai Dam in 2 hours.

The second alternative leaves from Third House Shelter and adds about an hour to the day. Rather than continuing along the walkway, take a thinner but clear track descending west from the shelter through good bush. A ridge is followed over a couple of bumps, up to a high point of 873m and then 500 metres further to a junction with the Barnicoat Walkway. Turn north over Jenkins Hill (775m) and along a ridge with scrubby slopes to the left and greener bush to your right. The walkway emerges on Brook Street just above the motor camp.

Summary
From To Posted
Time
1
My
Time
2
Comments
Nelson Third House shelter 180 240 Don't climb up the steep track from the reservoir with a heavy pack!
Third House shelter Dun Saddle 150 230 Easy gradient, good views.
Dun Saddle Dun Mountain 60 100 Interesting climb to a great viewpoint.
Dun Saddle Rocks Hut 60 80 Easy.
Rocks Hut Junction 120 180 Nice descent.
Junction Middy Hut 45 105 First view of Pelorus River. Sandflies!
Junction Roebuck Hut 180 330 Tougher than I thought it would be.
Roebuck Hut Point 493m 60 90 An unrelenting 300m climb.
Point 493m Browning Hut 240 240 Lots of sidling onto pretty headwaters.
Browning Hut Rocks Hut 300 360 Nice little climb onto a ridge with great views possible.
Rocks Hut Nelson 360 420 A bit easier on the way out despite the gale force, bitterly cold wind and constant drizzle.

1 Time in books or hut notices (minutes).
2 My time includes lunch, stops and my very slow pace (minutes).


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