Mt Harper and Cairn Hill Circuit, Hakatere Conservation Park NZ
Great views on this circuit visiting Mt Harper (1829m), Cairn Hill (1589m) and Lake Emma in Hakatere Conservation Park.
I first visited Mt Harper / Mahaanui (1829m) in winter, not longer after coming to live in NZ. I very much enjoyed that walk and wanted to visit the Harper Range again. This time I decided on a circuit, climbing Mt Harper from Balmacaan Stream, then returning via Cairn Hill (1589m) and Lake Emma. You get excellent views of the Rangitata River, Ben McLeod Range, Ashburton Lakes area (including Lake Emma of course), and big mountains like Mt Taylor to the north east.
Track notes are at the end. It was cloudy on my way up and so I didn’t get many views until on my way to Cairn Hill. So have a look at my original post on Mt Harper for views from that peak (in winter).
Mt Harper and Cairn Hill Circuit: The Scenery
I walked anti-clockwise, at first following the track to Lake Emma, then turning west onto the unmarked track to Balmacaan Saddle. This was washed out in one place but you can walk on the rocky stream bed. I left the track shortly after crossing a large rocky stream, passing through a clearing in the matagouri, then following animal tracks through the rest of the scrub up onto a grassy spur, which leads straight to the summit of Mt Harper.
From Mt Harper you walk along a ridge to Cairn Hill, and if you want to see the small tarn then continue on to point 1571m. Travel is mostly easy, with just a bit of scrambling early on. From Cairn Hill you can descend via a couple of spurs to Denny Stream. Staying to the right of a small stream leads to a fence line and clearing in the matagouri. You can see that in the Google map below (at least in 2023)…
Cross Denny Stream and follow the fence line to near Lake Emma. It’s then a pleasant walk along the lake, then across grassy and swampy plains back to Lake Camp. I would allocate 8-9 hours for this route.
There’s information on the Mount Harper / Mahaanui hunting block on the DOC site.