Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury NZ

Really spectacular views the whole way up Mt Oakden (1633m), including braided river valleys, Lake Coleridge & mountains galore. A real classic.

Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury

I got quite excited when first reading about this somewhat challenging tramp up Mt Oakden (1633m), and it did not disappoint. The mountain’s position at the foot of the braided Wilberforce River provides epic views straight up this valley, and these were a real highlight for me. Added to this are excellent views up the Harper Valley, of the Rakaia River, Lake Coleridge, and countless peaks in the Southern Alps. Do it on a clear day for maximum effect.

The whole of Mt Oakden is on private land and there’s no track. The lower slopes are steep and ascending them requires a bit of scrambling through light scrub. No problem for a reasonably experienced tramper, but perhaps not good for a newbie. See my track notes at the end for more info.

Mt Oakden ascent: The Scenery

Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
The views of the Wilberforce Valley from early on in the walk. You know a walk is going to be good when the views are like this at the bottom of the mountain.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
I think this shot accurately represents the terrain on the lower slopes. Definitely scrambling required, but we are definitely not mountain climbers so manageable for any experienced tramper.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
Scree slopes off the north western ridge.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
The Wilberforce Valley
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
Sophia posing for me in front of the Wilberforce Valley. These views were a definite highlight of the walk.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
A panorama of Lake Coleridge and the Harper Valley. Mt Cotton centre.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
Enjoying the views down the Wilberforce Valley.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
A steep climb up though scree towards the twin summits.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
Sophia backed by the Harper Valley.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
Steep scree slopes higher up.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
The Wilberforce Valley from on the twin summit plateau of Mt Oakden.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
A big panorama of the Wilberforce Valley flanked by the Rolleston and Cascade Ranges on the left, and the Birdwood Range on the right.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
Bright green alpine plant. Possibly a kind of vegetable sheep?
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
Sophia (bottom centre) crosses the fault scarp to access the high summit.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
The Birdwood Range viewed from the fault scarp that splits the mountain in two.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
Lumpy tussock grass near the summit.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
Sophia doing one of her signature poses on the summit of Mt Oakden 1633m.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
A big panorama looking north-west from the summit of Mt Oakden (1633m). From left to right and background to foreground, the Arrowsmith Range, Rakaia and Mathias Valleys, Ragged Range, Rolleston Range front and centre, and Wilberforce Valley.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
Sophia admiring the view over Lake Coleridge.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
Looking roughly west from the summit.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
The Rolleston Range, left, and the Wilberforce Valley.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
A panorama looking roughly east. The low summit obscuring part of Lake Coleridge.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
Panorama of the Arrowsmith and Ragged Ranges, with the Rakaia and Mathias Valleys in the foreground.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
I liked this confluence of bulky ridges and peaks. A contact on Instragram identified the back peak as Mt Evans (2620m). It looks like quite a challenging climb. One for next time 😉

This next video is a little glary but you can see the 360 degree views from the summit:

Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
Sophia near the summit with the Birdwood Range in the background.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
Looking down the Harper Valley over lumpy tussock grass.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
We decided to descend towards the fault scarp down these slopes, only to realise they were super slippery mud, perhaps due to snow melt. At least as slippery as snow, maybe moreso.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
Mt Oakden’s low summit.

Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury

Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
Sophia backed by Gargarus, 1655m. This mountain can also be climbed in a day trip.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
Looking at Gargarus (right) and the Birdwood Range from the edge of the summit plateau.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
On the edge of the summit plateau, with Gargarus to the right, and the Birdwood Range to the left.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
The Wilberforce River and Birdwood Range.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
Descending steep scree slopes, with views of the Wilberforce Valley the whole way.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
Looking up the Harper Valley.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
Sophia looking towards the Birdwood Range. There’s a circuit walk possible over those peaks to the right, called The Spurs.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
Mt Olympus and Mt Ida.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
An atmospheric shot of the Wilberforce Valley as we descended. (A change in lighting necessitated a bunch more shots on the way down, obviously.)
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
A fabulous cluster of Spaniards here. Best admired from afar.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
My last shot of the Wilberforce Valley as we descended. There was so much glare from the sun that I had to put my finger in the top left of the frame and edit that out later. A trick I learned from the internet.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
Gargarus, Mount Olympus and Mt Ida. I liked the long shadows from the trees in the paddocks.
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
Views of Gargarus and the Birdwood Range from the start, were we had coffee and scones before the long drive back to Christchurch (not forgetting to drop off the key and sign out at Lake Coleridge Station).
Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
Coffee and scones before we left. Protected from the southerly winds by our car, as we had been by the mountain on our way up and down.


Track Notes

Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
The route is on private land the whole way, and there’s no track, but navigation is fairy obvious. The hardest parts are sometimes scrambling up the steep lower slopes through a bit of scrub (not much), and it was slow going higher up on scree.

I learned of this route from the book Canterbury Foothills A Walking and Tramping Guide, and I know others have chosen this route also.

The walk is off track on private land. As of August 2020 you can contact Lake Coleridge Station on (03) 318 5123 for permission to access the mountain. We filled out an intentions form and picked up a key so we could get through a deer gate and park our car inside the station boundary. You can see that exact spot in the Google map below. I suspect that in mid-spring you may not be able to access the land due to lambing, but you can always ask.

From the start head over to a fenced paddock containing greener plants. Pass through a gate and then follow the fence line west until near point 681. You then head pretty much straight up the mountain, joining the ridge that runs from point 681 through point 1173m and on to the twin summit plateau. (I actually made a tiny cairn at the spot I thought was best on our descent, and this was a bit before point point 681, but have a look and see where the scrub is thinnest).

It’s then an easy walk to the high summit, and if you had time you could easily fit in the low summit too (although we didn’t). You can return the same way, and I’ve seen online that others have descended more directly down the eastern face, but I’m not sure about the scrub situation down there.

I found having walking poles to be very useful, including using just one for stability on the steep descent down the lower sections of the mountain. You may well need ice axe and crampons in winter, (others have said so), however in the mild winter of 2020 when we did it there wasn’t even snow on the summit, (a few patches), so we didn’t need anything.

Author: Edward Hathway

I'm a clinical psychologist and keen hiker.

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