Cameron Hut Route, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ

Walk up the Cameron Valley and spend the night at Cameron Hut in a spectacular alpine setting under the towering Arrowsmith Range.

Cameron Hut Route, Hakatere Conservation Park

Famous for its distinctive purple door, and of course it’s wild alpine setting, Cameron Hut makes for a great 2-3 day trip. We stayed two nights and I fit in a solo climb of The Marquee (2412m), extending my sense of adventure significantly. But even if you visit only the hut you’ll be agog at peaks in the Arrowsmith Range towering above you, as you cook dinner surrounded by lumps and ridges of glacial moraine. It’s a special location.

For sure the walk in is quite long at 16km one-way, and the marked route a bit rough and overgrown in places. But you walk headlong toward the Arrowsmith Range, visible for most of the walk. They get closer as you work your way up the valley with the glacial-fed Cameron River always a presence. You won’t get those same views on the way back, (except over your shoulder), but familiarity with the route will speed things up a bit. And mountains lining the valley are an impressive presence themselves. 

Cameron Hut is comfortable but basic, and costs $10 per person per night, payable to the Canterbury Mountaineering Club. See more in my  track notes at the end.  

Cameron Hut Route: The Scenery

Day 1: Walking up the valley

I haven’t included many photos until further up the valley. You get an impression what the valley looks like from my first photo, and a couple I’ve included on the way back (day 3). You see bits of the Arrowsmith Range for most of the walk up, if not always as much as in the photo below. Note that I actually took a few of these photos as we walked out on day 3, but if the view is up the valley then they are included here. 

Cameron Hut Route, Hakatere Conservation Park
Pictures of this route that I’d seen online never gave me the impression you see the Arrowsmith Range for almost the whole walk, but you do, and it’s very nice. You can therefore measure your progress by how close the mountains look.
Cameron Hut Route, Hakatere Conservation Park
These weeds looking like a carefully landscaped garden.
Cameron Hut Route, Hakatere Conservation Park
The final approach to the head of the valley. The hut is behind those the lumpy vegetated area on the left. The Marquee, which I climbed the next day, is on the right. You can see the scree slope, then three peaks on the ridge.
Cameron Hut Route, Hakatere Conservation Park
I was happy with this wide sweeping panorama taken on the river bed. (Although I’ve subsequently noticed a few panorama glitches; hey ho.)

Cameron Hut Route, Hakatere Conservation Park

Cameron Hut Route, Hakatere Conservation Park
Soft light.

Cameron Hut Route, Hakatere Conservation Park

 

Cameron Hut Route, Hakatere Conservation Park

Cameron Hut Route, Hakatere Conservation Park
Some examples of flora and fauna from the route.
Cameron Hut Route, Hakatere Conservation Park
Getting there.
Cameron Hut Route, Hakatere Conservation Park
Scale!
Cameron Hut Route, Hakatere Conservation Park
An oblique angle on the hut to fit in my favourite of the background mountains.
Cameron Hut Route, Hakatere Conservation Park
Cameron Hut with Mt Arrowsmith behind. I don’t think you can see the summit from here though.
Cameron Hut Route, Hakatere Conservation Park
We went for a short walk to visit that ramp and get a closer look at the mountains and moraine. Couldn’t see anything of the glacier, or at least not the ice.
Cameron Hut Route, Hakatere Conservation Park
Evening views from up on that ramp we visited.

Day 2

I climbed The Marquee, but took a few photos in the valley early that morning.  

Cameron Hut Route, Hakatere Conservation Park
Cameron Hut at sunrise.
Cameron Hut Route, Hakatere Conservation Park
Sunrise panorama with many of the high peaks in the Arrowsmith Range. The hut is on the left.

Slow pan of the area …

Cameron Hut Route, Hakatere Conservation Park
There were dinosaurs about.
Cameron Hut Route, Hakatere Conservation Park
I counted six kea around me as I walked towards the Cameron River, on my way to The Marquee. They were regular visitors over the two nights we were there.
Cameron Hut Route, Hakatere Conservation Park
A juvenile kea apparently.

Day 3: Walking out

We walked back down the valley on day 3, and although you don’t get views of the Arrowsmiths, there are still tall mountains lining the valley, and the Cameron River is nice. 

Cameron Hut Route, Hakatere Conservation Park
The route climbs up away from the Cameron River just once, or twice if you take the high road as you approach the hut.
Cameron Hut Route, Hakatere Conservation Park
Descending back down to the river.
Cameron Hut Route, Hakatere Conservation Park
Views of Sugarloaf signalled we were nearing the end of the walk. Pretty tired by now.

Track Notes

Cameron Hut Route, Hakatere Conservation Park
The route was marked with cairns or poles all the way, if only sporadically sometimes. It could be rough, overgrown and boggy, but never too difficult. There two possible routes towards the end, the high route marked with occasional cairns and also on the topo map, and the riverbed route that was poled.

Walking up the valley will likely take you a bit longer than walking down, and probably longer than DOC’s estimate of 6 hours. We took maybe 7+ on the way up, and just under 6 on the way back. I know of people who have got a bit lost and taken longer than that.

The route is sometimes overgrown, rough, and boggy, but there is no river crossing, so you just keep heading up the valley on the true right of the river (right looking downstream). You might get spiked by matagouri and speargrass on the way, but if you are ever facing a wall of vegetation you have probably gone the wrong way. Back track and you should find an easier way to proceed, sometimes nect to the river or on the rocky river bed.  

It’s mostly flat with just one decent climb away from the river. Overall though there is a roughly 700m change in elevation over 16km.  

Nearing the head of the valley

As you approach the head of the valley and pass Spean Stream you have the option of following some cairns up a bit for the high route. This is through tall tussock grass and speargrass, so is slow progress for a while, but you maintain good views of the area. The other option is to follow poles along the river, going left at the fork. The two routes join near the hut. I thought this would be obvious but another tramper who stayed on our first night got lost following this route and this delayed him a good hour or so. Perhaps he didn’t consult a map. Anyway, we took the high route there and back, which is the one currently marked on the topo map. 

Cameron Hut

Cameron Hut is owned by Canterbury Mountaineering Club but is open to the public. In 2024 it costs $10 per person per night for non members. You can’t book a spot – it’s first in first served. There is flat ground near the hut so you could camp also, although I noticed it was pretty windy at that spot, even windier than up on The Marquee, 1100m above. The hut is tied down with four metal cables, suggesting it would otherwise blow away! Also, the hut is not heated, so beware in winter. More info on the DOC site, and you can pay on the CMC website.    

The walk starts near Lake Heron, at the end of a rough vehicle track. It’s described as a 4wd track but is fairly tame I thought. 

Author: Edward Hathway

I'm a clinical psychologist and keen hiker.

2 thoughts on “Cameron Hut Route, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ”

  1. Those weeds are woolly mullein. The stalks are reputed to be good drills for firestarting. The leaves are not good for butt-wipes as they have microscopic prickles.

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