Te Araroa - Motatapu Alpine Track

Te Araroa - Motatapu Alpine Track

It wasn’t until I finished the Motatapu that I learned it was considered one of the hardest marked tracks in New Zealand. If I had known prior I probably wouldn’t have taken my girlfriend with me.

Stay Cool Bucket Hat

Definitely not to be confused with the Motatapu Valley, the Motatapu Track has you summiting 4-5 separate peaks/saddles and unlike Richmond you aren’t connecting them via ridge-lines. You’ll need to summit, descend back to the altitude you started at, then do that 4 more times. 

The track technically starts at Macetown but getting there isn’t easy. An abandoned gold mining town, now restored and managed by DOC, Macetown is only accessible by walking, cycling or 4WD car, and not a ‘drop the kids at Auckland Grammar' 2025 Range Rover 4WD either. Assuming you’re walking there you’ll need to take a tent as there is no hut at Macetown and camping inside the old buildings is a strict ‘nah fam’.

Macetown road

There's 2 tracks you can take to get to Macetown; one involves summiting your first peak the other is walking the 4WD road. My partner, Ish, and I started up Big Hill (that's its name, not some lame joke) but this was the first time Ish realised she had bit off a tad more than she could chew, so we came back down via another track and walked the 4WD road. I don’t think I would recommend one over another; I enjoyed the ease of the road and the scenery was still incredible, but if you're keen; summiting Big Hill is apparently well worth it.

Climbing Big Hill in Arrowtown

Motatapu track

Track down to the Macetown road

Macetown Road

Sun setting over the Macetown road

Ish crossing a river on the Macetown road

After crossing a few small rivers we reached some obviously man made mounds, I have no idea what they were there for but 1km down the track we spotted the rebuild that is now Macetown. Ish on the brink of tears, her knees were not happy with the afternoon's walk, I dragged her through town and camped down by the river. There is a camp spot just past the town but access to water would have been annoying so if you are staying there just keep following the road and there's a decent spot near the river. Make sure you take the time to read the information posted up around Macetown and wander around the village, it’s like a portal into the past seeing rebuilds of brick and mortar cabins and their remains. DOC have done a great job with their info boards providing more immersion into the experience.

Macetown, Otago. Gold Mining town

Sun rising over Macetown

Camping at Macetown

The next morning I cooked Ish breakfast and coffee and tried to get her excited for the walk. “It’s only 10kms today!” I said “Yesterday we did 17 so today should be way easier.” 

What I neglected to inform her about was that we were about to sidle along Arrow River, which involves a fair bit of steep up and down, then summit Rose’s Saddle.

Ish relaxing on the Motatapu Alpine Track

Arrow River

My backpack on the Motatapu Alpine Track

There is an option to follow Arrow River during low flows but this involves a lot of bush bashing through matagouri; which is not a pleasant plant. While I’m on the subject, South Island tussock land is filled with uncomfortable and annoying plants; these little fucks cause my shins a lot of damage.

After about 5kms of Arrow River we started the steep ascent of Rose’s Saddle, be sure to check behind you because the Arrow River valley is incredibly scenic. 

Arrow River Valley + my legs

I mean I could keep telling you about which sections of the track are scenic but  from the climb up Rose’s Saddle onwards every step provides you with jaw dropping scenery. Every saddle you summit paints a landscape just as picturesque as the last and describing them with words should be reserved for the likes of Stephen King or J.R.R Tolkien. So with that in mind I’ll let my photography do the talking.

Climbing Roses Saddle

View down Arrow River from Roses Saddle

Ridge-lines leading up Roses Saddle

My Garmin

Ish and Ernest Stickleton

Hey look it's Ernest Stickleton, remember him from Mavora Walkway?. He's the real MVP of the Motatapu.

Motatapu Valley from the top of Roses Saddle

From the top of the saddle you can see Rose’s Hut nestled in the valley below and descending the saddle towards it is much gentler than the climb. However… with Ish’s knees playing up our descent was slowed to 1km per hour, which is not speedy at all. Now this is that part where I get to look like the hero running ahead to drop my gear off then running back to carry her bags for her! Unfortunately it made no difference and her knees were just as bad so my heroism was for nothing.

Roses Hut

Roses Hut at sunset

The Milky way over Roses Hut

Congratulations, if you’re sitting pretty enjoying hot tea in Rose’s Hut that means you just finished the first climb on the Motatapu and tomorrow you get to do that 2 more times! This is without a doubt the hardest part of the track but it’s also the most incredibly beautiful section, so make the most of those highs and push on through those lows because it’s well worth it, trust me! Moving at Ish’s snail pace meant I had plenty of time to stop and take pictures, so please enjoy.

merino sheep

Motatapu Alpine Track

Lake Wanaka Motatapu Alpine Track

That lake you can see waaaaaaay off down the end of the valley is Lake Wanaka. "Wow looks so close" I hear you say, well its 3 days away so have some patience.

Motatapu Alpine Track

Motatapu Alpine Track

Motatapu Alpine Track

Motatapu Alpine Track

We started to descend down the first saddle and the mood got dark with Ish seriously considering changing her relationship status as her knees got worse and worse.

Fortunately for her there was more climbing to do and a loving boyfriend to document her suffering!

Motatapu Alpine Track

Motatapu Alpine Track

Motatapu Alpine Track

Motatapu Alpine Track

Don’t get too excited when you’re coming down from thr 2nd ridge-line to Highland Creek hut because the track gets technical, throwing you up and down tributary foothills, you’ll get a decent view of the hut with 2 more valleys to cross before you arrive. In an attempt to get Ish to move along I would usually tell her how close we were to each Hut and would get more excited the closer we got. This time however I didn’t know about the extra sprinkle of valleys to climb, so as we crested a hill and spotted the extra valleys between us and the hut; Ish let out a frustrated “What the fuck Ross!”. If this hut had a dog house attached that would have been my bunk for the night.

Highland Creek Hut Motatapu Alpine Track

Highland Creek Hut

If you have the time and fitness you could skip Highland Creek Hut and go straight for Fern Burn but this does involve another massive climb, we met a lot of people choosing to do this so it seems to be the popular way of doing the track. Even at Ish’s painstaking tortoise speed tramping we managed to smash the final climb and reach Fern Burn Hut early in the afternoon the next day so it could be worth staying at Highland Creek, skip Fern Burn, and head straight down to Glendhu Bay.

Motatapu Alpine Track

Motatapu Alpine Track

Fern Burn hut of the Motatapu Alpine Track

Fern Burn Hut

Yoga at Fern Burn Hut

Sunset view from Fern Burn Hut

Coffe + Sunrise at Fern Burn Hut

Thoughts on this tree we spotted heading down to Glendhu bay?

Motatapu Alpine Track

Whichever way you choose to tackle the Motatapu Track you’re in for a tough but rewarding adventure. Every way you turn you’ll get a view straight out of a Bob Ross painting, which turns into excitement pushing you on to see what breathtaking scenery you’ll see over the next ridge-line.

Camping at Glendhu Bay

Glendhu Bay

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