Weekend Tramps

Mt Owen in Kahurangi National Park deserves a three-day weekend in order to fully explore the various nooks and cran­nies this complex massif has to offer. It is the marble moun­tain par excellence—the original Ordovician limestone which formed 500 million years ago has been metamorphosed through intense pressure and temperature into a recrystallised marble. More recently, icecaps smothered these marble up­lands, their radiating glaciers putting the finishing touches on what is today considered a fairly unusual landscape.

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At 1875 m, Mt Owen is the highest peak in the area with views to match its lofty status across some very undeveloped and suitably rugged landscapes. The mountain can be ap­proached both from the north and south. The routes up from the south—either via Sunrise Peak, Bulmer Creek or the Fyfe River—are all rewarding trips, although harder and longer.

The track along the dry Blue Creek is wonderfully varied, with mountain neinei dominating the scene, its unusual cande­labra shape and ‘pineapple’ flowerheads being easily recognis­able. Also along the track are fine examples of the rough-leaved tree daisy and some particularly impressive speargrasses that should be given a wide berth. This rich array of subalpine vege­tation contrasts with bare rocky crags rising steeply overhead.

It would be a pity to hurry through this remarkable landscape, so it is well worth giving yourself an extra day or two to fully explore the various ridges and basins and the bizarrely sculpted limestone outcrops that abound across this plateau.

Above tarns, the cairned track weaves through a fascinating array of rough marble formations, water-worn flutings, vertical-sided crevasses and weird rock towers. A worthwhile side trip from here drops down the southern aspect of the mountain. This valley provides access to New Zealand’s longest cave net­work, the Bulmer System, which extends under Mt Owen for about 40 km and is the domain of serious speleologists.

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