Arthur’s Pass National Park, 2 days
A trip the Main Divide over Waimakariri Col is one of those must-do tramps on many people’s checklist. The gravel slog up the ‘Waimak’ perhaps puts some parties off this weekend excursion, but it shouldn’t, as the terrain is varied and interesting, and there is a very special little hut in which to spend a cosy night. If combined with an ascent of Mt Philistine on the second day, this tramp frequently requires the use of crampons and ice axes. However, if you do not have these skills you can descend the Rolleston River instead to reach the main highway north of Arthur’s Pass. This tramp would merit a ‘hard’ grade, as there are considerable stretches of steep sidling on scree.
Although the terrain underfoot can appear monotonous, take time to appreciate the mosses, cushion plants and small shrubs that survive out on these often windswept river flats. The grander picture, however, is always dramatic, with peaks rising up on both sides of the valley. Rich green forests decorate their lower slopes and huge scree slides smother the upper reaches of these typical Arthur’s Pass mountains.
The area around the Waimakariri Falls hut is worth exploring. The stream above is fringed with clusters of buttercups in November and December, and a cautious scramble above the gloomy depths of the chasm directly downstream reveals the erosive power of water as it plunges 80 m over this fault lip.
Back down the valley, Mt Murchison (at 2408 m the highest peak in the park) dominates the southern skyline, while the route up to Waimakariri Col is clearly obvious up-valley.
The Philistine–Rolleston Ridge is a spectacular place to be on a clear summer’s morning, but should be avoided in bad weather or poor visibility. It takes an hour or so along this delightfully airy ridgetop to reach the large bulk of 1967-m Mt Philistine, which dominates the view northwards. The final section involves some straightforward scrambling on the western side to the panoramic summit.