THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO HIKING NEW ZEALAND'S
Adventure seekers looking for a challenging trek that’s well and truly off the South Island tourist route, you must conquer the Blue Mountain’s Track. A hike known to locals, visited by few tourists. That’s because the terrain is rugged, not maintained and in parts, treacherous – not the kind of walk promoted to mainstream tourists.
As the saying goes, ‘Anything worth doing is never easy’, and the Blue Mountain’s Track definitely fits that bill and won’t disappoint. The 14kilometre trek spanning from Black Gully to Whisky Gully with a rise of 1,019 metres (3,280 ft) offers spectacular 360 degree views of the West Otago region, waterfall, creeks, and a journey through native rainforest and bush. If you’re lucky you may spot wild deer, wood pigeons, warblers, and other native wildlife living on the mountain.
reaching the top
Regardless of which end you begin, you’ll face a steep hike up through the gully to the mountain top. For the moderately fit, if you don’t stop along the way, expect a 2hr climb. Taking photos at regular intervals took me longer to reach the ridge.
I started my hike at Black Gully. The light shining through the forest on the way up was beautiful. The ground under foot was firm and the climb was relatively easy.
However, having completed the entire walk, I recommend starting at Whisky Gully. Reason being, the Whisky Gully setting is ultra-steep rainforest. The ground consists of moist clay covered in soft leaves and can be slippery under foot. Walking up would be safer than coming down, when every single step poses a threat of slipping. There are fallen rocks and logs over the track in parts, large tree roots to step onto and over. Tackling these hurdles is easier when your legs are fresh.
Off the beaten track
Looking up at the mountain from the base, it appears a graceful walk across the top, don’t be deceived – it’s not! Waist-high thick tussock coats majority of the mountain. The track has patches of mud shin deep and there’s no shelter from the intense New Zealand sun. Crossing the top of the Blue Mountain is a challenge in itself which took me approximately 4hrs to get from the top of one gully to the other. The track is well marked but the ground cover largely hid the walking path. I often found myself forging my own way toward the next orange reference point.
There are a number of rock formations at intervals along the top which I used for photo opportunities.
It’s advisable to wear long pants or gaiters. The native plant life on top of the mountain is unkind to bare skin. I wore shorts and paid the price, my legs felt raw by the time I finished. A hat, plenty of water and sunscreen is a must.
Ignore the signs
At the beginning of the track at each end are Department of Conservation signs indicating the length of time to allow for the hike. They both claim it’s 6hrs from car park to car park. Typically, throughout New Zealand, signs like these are generous. Not so for the Blue Mountain Track. If you're a super fit adventure racer you'll knock it over in under 5hrs. If you’re of moderate fitness and a photography enthusiast like me, bank on 8-9hrs.
There is phone reception at the foot of the mountain and at the top but not in the gullies. The most difficult terrain to negotiate is in the gullies where there’s no phone reception so it’s advisable to trek in numbers, not alone. Seasonal deer hunting is permitted on the mountain so wear bright clothing and don’t deviate from the marked route. Definitely check the weather conditions before setting out. There is often a cloud cover that sweeps across the mountain known as The Tapanui/Beaumont Express. Termed express because it moves fast engulfing the mountain in heavy cloud. If you see it moving in, you need to get yourself off the mountain because you’ll struggle to see where you’re walking. Quality hiking shoes or boots with good tread are highly recommended and gators or long pants will help to protect your legs from the harsh shrubs.
Safety beacons are available for hire from the Tapanui Information Centre and Library. This centre is open Monday to Friday during business hours. You'll need to pay a $50 deposit to get a beacon and book it in advance by calling +64 3 204 8306.
Where to Stay
If you’re planning on tackling the Blue Mountain track, the closest township to Whisky Gully is Tapanui. There is an assortment of accommodation available including a motel, bed and breakfasts, homestays and it’s motorhome friendly. Check out the accommodation page for options.