I’d had Black Hill (2067m) in mind for spring, with longer days and maybe a bit of snow left to enhance the look of these bare hills. But needing a plan B one mid-winter weekend, I decided to take a chance on this long walk in the snow. And what a walk it was. The views for the middle half were just spectacular, featuring the Rakaia River and more distant tributaries, the Wilberforce and Mathias Rivers, and countless snowy high peaks in all directions. Some of the best views I’ve seen in the Canterbury Foothills.
You certainly earn your views, with about 1850m change in elevation over 24km, and for me, the upper 50% of the walk was through snow. When passing over Donald Hill this slowed me down so much I thought I wouldn’t make it to the summit. But luckily the snow thinned out a bit at higher elevations, and I made the summit in roughly 6 hours. After soaking in the epic views I set off down a different route to the Te Araraoa trail near where it meets Ensor Stream, through sometimes icy and sometimes knee deep snow.
The snow quickly took a toll on my legs, and I cramped up regularly for much of the walk. But it was spectacular almost all the way, so no complaints from me. (And I’d watched Touching the Void a couple of weeks earlier, and so, you know, it wasn’t that bad.) Track notes at the end. For an easier walk consider going as far as Donald Hill, or even just Turtons Saddle.
Black Hill Circuit: The Scenery
Video from on my way up when the views were already epic:
Video from the summit:
You start on Double Hill Run Road at Glenrock Stream, taking the Te Araroa along the stream over an easement and into the conservation area. Continue as far as Turton’s Saddle. From there it’s off track over Donald Hill and up to the north-east ridge of Black Hill to the summit. I found crossing Donald Hill to be very tiring, stepping holes in the snow amongst uneven tussock grass. Of course it will all depend on snow conditions.
You could return the same way, but an alternative route is to drop down to the Te Araroa near where it meets Ensor Stream. (The snow was thigh deep in places on my way down, and I’m glad I didn’t try to climb up this way). Then return along the track to the start.
It took me about 11 hours with breaks and photos, so 9.5-10 hours of walking. Returning along the Te Araroa in darkness was fine, (I did the last hour in just moonlight!), but don’t forget to look for the orange tipped poles where the route follows / crosses Glenrock Stream a couple of times.
Michal from Hiking is Good also did this route and estimated 10 hours. He did it in April so you can see the scenery without snow. There’s more info on this route and many others in Hakatere Conservation Park on this DOC brochure.
A final word on safety. If you are doing this in winter or early spring, note that the slopes of Black Hill are fairly steep in places and ‘high alpine’ towards the top. Depending on snow conditions you may well need your ice axe and crampons, and check the avalanche forecast. I expect I took a risk descending those NW facing slopes in the afternoon, with loose wet avalanches a possibility (although there were no particular warning signs). But I don’t want to ruin your fun. Just know what your doing 🙂