Most of my favourite walks involve climbing a named peak for epic views. But an always worthy alternative is to visit a cluster of mountain tarns, and the Kelly Range has some real beauties. There are excellent views along the way, and continuing on a bit past the tarns to point 1363m will top it all off with big views of Tara Tama and the Taipo Valley.
You can choose your own route along the tops and around the tarns, choosing various knolls and ridges for the best vantage points. See my track notes at the end for the approximate route I took. You can also climb Kelly Hill from Carroll Hut, and with extra daylight and some fitness you could do both. See my post for Kelly Hill here.
Kelly Range Tarns: The Scenery
From the car park climb up the Carroll Hut Track, using your hands in some sections to climb up roots and rocks. There’s one bit where you have to climb up a muddy ‘wall’ that some may find difficult. There are some slippery foot holds on the left and a tree trunk plus vegetation you can use to haul yourself up. On the way down I slipped but landed well enough. This section is the crux of the walk and should be fine if there are two of you and you are used to some scrambling.
You emerge from the forest into bush, then eventually into tussock just before Carroll Hut. After this you can choose your own route to walk along the Kelly Range Tops to the tarns and on to point 1363m for more great views. My phone map had the dotted route in a different spot to what is marked above, but I suspect the map I’ve used here is correct. I didn’t see any markers until I reached the tarns, where I joined the official route for a while. This provided a good view of three of the tarns, so I recommend going this way on the way out.
This will take about 5-8 hours depending on fitness and how long you spend exploring the tops and taking photos. There’s more than a thousand metres of ascent and descent, but the walking is quite easy once on the tops. Overall at the harder end of moderate.
There’s some info on Carroll Hut and the Carroll Hut Track on the DOC website. They estimate 3 hours to Carroll Hut but I think this is pretty slow, and probably more accurate for those with heavy packs. (I did it in ~1 hour 40 mins).