Arthur's Pass: Three Passes route

The eastern starting point is at the road bridge over the Waimamakariri River, beside SH 73, 10 km east of Arthur's Pass village.

Time: 4 - 5 days

Getting there

The eastern starting point is at the road bridge over the Waimamakariri River, beside SH 73, 10 km east of Arthur's Pass village.

On the western side, access to either the Arahura or Styx river track-ends is via Lake Kaniere Road, inland from Hokitika.


SH 73 to Carrington Hut
Time: 4 - 5 hr 

Carrington Hut - Park Morpeth Hut
Time: 9 hr

Carrington Hut to Harman Pass
: 3 hr

From the hut follow the track to the riverbed of White River. As you walk upstream, look for a place to cross White River to get to Taipoiti River on the opposite bank. If there is a need to use Clough Cableway because of high river levels we advise against continuing the route as you will experience further serious problems with other rivers along the route.

If there is snow up the Taipoiti, the route will be difficult. During winter and spring, avalanches can funnel into the gorge over the cliffs.

Climb and scramble up through the steep gorge, crossing from side to side, where necessary. At the top of the gorge, waterfalls tumble over impassable cliffs. Pass these waterfalls. The poled route to Harman Pass starts here, beside a small stream.

Once out of the Taipoiti gorge you can see the main Taipoiti branches into two streams, each running down a deep gully. A well-worn cairned and poled trail crosses the true left branch relatively soon, then climbs upwards, well above the true right gully. As the second stream becomes smaller and more open, cross it. A short walk and you are at the top of Harman Pass. (If you are walking down from Harman Pass, enter the Taipoiti well to its true left to avoid the bluffs and waterfalls).

Harman Pass to Whitehorn Pass
Time: 2 hr

Whitehorn Pass is obvious on a clear day.

The route should not be attempted in poor visibility.

Harman Pass is a junction point for trampers taking the marked route down Mary Creek to Julia Hut. Be sure you take the marked route to Ariels Tarns.

From Harman Pass, a poled route ascends to the first of Ariels Tarns by sidling on the tussock and rocky shelves well above the small gorge of Mary Creek. Pass the tarns and continue to follow the poled route past a small rock hump and onto piles of rock before reaching permanent ice/snow. The poled route stops here; make your own way up the valley to the pass. Near the top of Whitehorn Pass, head right to reach a cairn and marker on the saddle. The permanent ice field of Whitehorn Pass may have crevasses, especially in late summer. If the snow is deep consider turning back.

Whitehorn Pass to Park Morpeth Hut
: 4 - 5 hr

The steep drop off Whitehorn Pass is prone to avalanches.

A worn route zigzags down the screes from the true left of the pass—this is the best route down through the bluffed flanks of the pass. Take care not to dislodge loose rocks onto those below you. Once near the valley floor, travel along the true left of upper Cronin Stream. Terraces may offer better travel. Lower down find a suitable place to cross to the true right.

Just before the river drops into a deep gorge, look for orange markers (part way up the scree slope edge) or a large cairn on a large rock at the bottom of a scree slope. Sidle across the scree at the level of the cairned rock to pick up the worn trail to the hut. Poles and cairns mark the ground trail. It crosses a side creek and scrubby spur before dropping onto a boggy grass terrace with small tarns. Skirt the terrace to the left and drop towards the confluence of Cronin Stream and Wilberforce River. By going around the tarns you avoid damaging the delicate bog vegetation.

Your first view of Park Morpeth Hut (eight bunks) is of its radio aerial. The hut radio is linked to the Mountain Radio Service. The Canterbury Mountaineering Club built the hut in memory of James Park and John Morpeth who died while tramping from Lake Kaniere to the Wilberforce Valley in January 1929.

Park Morpeth Hut to Harman Hut
Time: 5 hr

Park Morpeth to Browning Pass/Noti Raureka
: 2 hr

This is the steepest section of the Three Passes trip. From Park Morpeth Hut walk up the true left of Wilberforce River. Ford the Wilberforce after it joins with Hall Creek opposite Clough Memorial.

Start up the zigzag track to Browning Pass/Noti Raureka. The zigzags were part of a track started in the late1860s. John Pascoe warned in his 1938 route guide "it is inexpedient to follow the track to its illogical conclusion in the bluffs near the Hamer Falls, lest you join the shades of the miners who built the track.”

From the top of the zigzag, before it disappears into the bluffs, climb the obvious scree. In summer there is a worn trail visible. Just before you reach the summit the scree narrows and the climb is at its steepest. You can either continue carefully up the rock and tussock to the left of the scree, or climb to the centre of the scree. If there is snow on this section (winter and early spring) it is essential that all members of the party can self-arrest. A cornice at the top or ice conditions can dramatically increase this section’s difficulty. Once on the pass relax, the steepest section is over.

For those attempting the trip from west to east, warning —the eastern face of Browning Pass/Noti Raureka is very steep. A route down is not defined. Extreme care must be taken when descending.

Browning Pass/Noki Raureka to Harman Creek Hut
Time: 3 hr

From the pass a well-formed track runs round the west side of Lake Browning/Whakarewa and over gentle boggy uplands.

A poled route descends into Arahura River. Look for the track on the true right of Arahura River then look for a good place to cross the Arahura to reach it. It is important to find the right crossing to the true right of the Arahura because further downstream there are high waterfalls, bluffs and thick scrub on the true left bank.

Once you cross the river, sidle along the track. There are three avalanche chutes to cross, so take care in winter and early summer. The track ends at a side creek with steep gravel banks, close to the Arahura. Drop to the riverbed. Travel down the river on whichever side is easiest (generally the true left).

Look for a large cairn on the true left twenty metres downstream of a large rocky side-stream. From here continue downstream for 100 metres (the track is marked by cairns). When you get to a small open side-stream, follow it upstream for 100 metres to pick up the wide grassy track. Do not miss this turn off. Harman Hut (six bunks) is twenty minutes away.

Harman Hut to road end
Time: 7 - 9 hr
Harman Hut to Grassy Flat Hut
Time: 3 - 4 hr

From Harman Hut drop through the bush to the swing bridge and follow the old benched track high above Arahura River. The turn off to the boggy Styx Saddle is signposted and marked by large stakes.

Once across the saddle, the track begins again at the bush edge following the true right of Styx River. The track is wet and boggy, with damp mosses and lichen on the rocks.
Look for the impressive twisted rātā trees.

Cross the river about five minutes after the track emerges from the bush onto Grassy Flat. The hut is in the middle of the flats on the true left of Styx River. It is a modern hut with 10 mattresses on sleeping benches.

Grassy Flats Hut to Lake Kaniere Road
Time: 4 - 5 hr

From the hut, head downstream and re-cross Styx River. The track begins on the true right just below the prominent toetoe (native pampas grass) flat.

Though much of the track to the road end is good going, bits of it are slippery underfoot and eroded by slips. In places travel is along the riverbed. Where the track has eroded, it is necessary to scramble up and down low—but steep—riverside terraces to get from track to riverbed and back to the track again.

Watch out for blue duck/whio, New Zealand’s unique duck. Report any sightings of this rare bird to the Department of Conservation. Also watch out for ongaonga, a painful giant stinging nettle that grows in sunny places along the track. From above Harman Hut to the road end (via Styx Saddle) DOC runs a stoat trapping project. Trapping stoats protects whio and ensures a better chance of breeding success. Please do not disturb the stoat traps.

Nearer the road, the track emerges onto farm land. Pass under high shingle cliffs to a farm track leading to the very quiet main road by Lake Kaniere.

Alternative routes
Follow Arahura River instead of the Styx, and Taipo River instead of the Waimakariri (see route guide 3 for the route from Harman Pass down the Taipo River).


Plan and prepare

This classic summer tramp crosses Harman Pass, Whitehorn Pass and Browning Pass/Noti Raureka. It gives experienced trampers the excitement, variety and contrast of a transalpine route.

This route requires several major river crossings, has some extremely steep sections, and all-year snow on Whitehorn Pass. You need to take an ice-axe and crampons and know how to use them. Browning Pass/Noti Raureka is very steep and can be icy.

This route passes through several known avalanche paths. During heavy snow conditions, we advise visitors not to travel this route unless sufficiently equipped and experienced to assess the conditions and choose a safe path through avalanche terrain.

•Experience: Suitable for well-equipped and experienced back-country trampers only. Alpine experience and equipment essential.
•NZTopomap50: Otira BV20, Kaniere BV19
•Best season: Mid to late summer

Safety on Arthur's Pass routes

•Allow adequate time. Note the times given for each section are guides only.
•Check snow and weather conditions. Mountain weather forecasts are available from the Arthur's Pass Visitor Centre.
•Know your ability. Arthur's Pass National Park is mountain country. Navigational skills and ability to judge weather and river conditions are essential. Be prepared to turn back if conditions are not safe.
•Never travel alone. This route is difficult.
•Tell someone where you are going. You can fill in a Search and Rescue action card at the Visitor Centre. This must be cancelled on your return.
•Take a map and compass. Topomaps for the area are available to buy or hire from the Arthur's Pass Visitor Centre.
•Cross rivers safely. Take care with river crossings especially after heavy rain. If in doubt, wait it out.
•Note: True right and true left refers to the sides of the valley when looking downstream.

What to expect on a route:

•Challenging day or multi-day tramping/hiking
•Track unformed and natural, rough, muddy or very steep
•Suitable for people with above average fitness. High level backcountry skills and experience, including navigation and survival skills required
•Complete self sufficiency required
•Track has markers, poles or rock cairns. Expect unbridged stream and river crossings
•Sturdy tramping/hiking boots required