A Hike into New Zealand’s Southern Alps

Copland Track

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Capturing both the diversity and untamed nature of New Zealand’s countryside, there are few multi-day hikes in the world that can compete with the splendour of the Glacier Region’s Copland Track. From within earshot of the wild waters of the Tasman Sea to the natural hot springs and wilderness hut of Westland Tai Poutini National Park, the trail leads adventure seekers through a landscape of verdant forest, spilling rivers and snowy mountains.

The trailhead of the Copland Track can be found 26 kilometres south of Fox Glacier just off State Highway 6 on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Driven on by the region’s notorious sandflies, trampers quickly forget the road as the ground begins to ascend with glacier-scarred boulders and the earthy aromas of moss-blanketed trees.

Welcome Flat natural hot springs - Copeland Track
Welcome Flat natural hot springs

Continuing onwards beyond the foothills of the Karangarua Range, the path climbs across landslide areas and avalanche zones before descending into a thick forest of fern, ribbonwood, wineberry and the occasional fuchsia. Narrow suspension bridges link one steep gorge wall to the next and, whilst the Department of Conservation (DOC) maintain the paths, windfall trees often breach the way, making scrambling over the trunks a frequent, yet undoubtedly amusing, occurrence.

Following a series of orange markers, the trail fords several rivers, inflicting frozen toes upon its crossers, before climbing to Architect Creek. Blessed with a range of tree species – most notably southern rata, mountain totara and pakaka – the rich vegetation of the area allows wildlife to thrive; from the weka, a flightless bird endemic to New Zealand, to chamois, deer and the muscular tahr, a relative of the wild goat. Eventually, and with fading light, the track levels onto Welcome Flat, an open valley floor of natural hot pools and low-lying shrub, where a 31-bunk hut and campsite presents weary legs with a chance to rest.Most of those who make the journey up to the flats spend the evening soaking their bodies in the natural hot springs as they gaze up at the night’s sky, banked to the south by the jagged peaks of the Sierras and to the north by the ridgeback crests of Navigator Range. Be it rain or shine, it’s a triumphant way to mark the adventure before retiring to the warmth of the hut’s log burner, or, for those more intrepid, the comforting walls of a tent.

The Copland Track can be hiked all year round. During summer, The Southern Rata trees explode with crimson flowers, blushing the forest canopies, whilst the winter months are often subjected to impressive bouts of precipitation that paint the landscape white with snow. DOC recommends that only well-equipped, experienced trampers should attempt the trail, and in the case of particularly poor weather conditions when rivers are swollen, the route should not be attempted at all. It takes most hikers the best part of a day to climb the 18 kilometres up to Welcome Flat Hut, and overnight rucksacks filled with sleeping gear, food, water and warm clothes can make progress slow, an important factor to consider when preparing for the trip.

A suspension bridge on the Copeland Track
A suspension bridge on the Copeland Track

Combining wildlife with spectacular scenery, the Copland Track is ideal for proficient, adventure-loving trekkers eager to escape the crowds. On foot and immersed in nature, the Copeland Track is an immensely satisfying way to experience the majesty of New Zealand’s backcountry.

Article By Daniel Graham

Cotswald Outdoor