This route is one of the real highlights of Te Araroa —particularly so when the weather conditions are favourable and allow unbridled views across the Mackenzie. Coupled with the yesteryear charm of the musterer huts en route, this is a magnificent New Zealand experience.
From the carpark, markers will guide the way to Bush Stream. From there it is a case of following the stream, either up or adjacent to it, crossing where needed. This is an unmarked route. Take particular care getting around (or over) Sawtooth Bluff and especially after rainfall or during the snow melt and when the river is high.
The track passes Crooked Spur Hut then ascends behind Crooked Spur before coming down across Packhorse and Sweeps Streams and to Stone Hut. Continuing alongside Bush Stream, the track proceeds to Royal Hut named after a fleeting 1970 helicopter visit by Prince Charles and Princess Anne.
After Royal Hut a five-kilometre climb, steep in places, takes walkers to Stag Saddle—at 1925 metres the highest point on the entire Te Araroa route. At Stag Saddle the option exists in good weather to climb to the west onto the ridge and descend down that, taking in the stunning panoramic views. Towards the end of the ridge, a 4WD track crosses the ridge and heads down to Camp Stream; follow that to Camp Stream Hut.
The ridge route should not be attempted in poor weather as the route is unmarked and prone to cloud/fog in bad weather. If the weather is poor, or for unconfident navigators, stick to the poled route down the valley.
From Camp Stream Hut there is a short, steep crossing of Coal River. There’s an earlier exit option down the Roundhill Skifield road, otherwise the route will follow the base of the Two Thumb Range before being guided by Boundary Stream out to Lilybank Road.
When planning to walk this route, the strong recommendation is to do it north to south—and if possible plan do it in good weather—so as to take advantage of the scenic descent overlooking Lake Tekapo. A comfortable three-day journey would be to plan stays at Stone Hut and Camp Stream Hut, though faster walkers could look to make it a two-day walk staying at Royal Hut.
The Te Araroa website has details of transport operators who can assist in taking walkers to/from the trailheads.