Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy, Arthur’s Pass National Park, West Coast NZ

Stay overnight in Pfeifer Bivvy, and get exceptional views from the summit of nearby Mt Pfeifer (1704m), on the West Coast side of Arthur’s Pass National Park.

Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy, Arthur's Pass

Billed as a lesser visited site, the increasingly popular Pfeifer Bivvy and Mt Pfeifer offer exceptional views deep into Arthur’s Pass National Park. Only the very fit would manage this in a day, so for most it will be quite a hard slog with full pack to stay in the hut or camp nearby. A side trip to summit Mt Pfeifer is well worth it. You’re likely to summit the mountain later in the day, or else early the next, and so the 360 degree views will be enhance by the angled light. Enjoy 🙂

The first half of the route up is hard going as you follow the rocky Paratu Stream bed to Waharoa Saddle, but a track maintained by volunteers gets you above the bushline from there and travel gets much easier. Route notes at the end.  

Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy: The Scenery

Day 1

Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy, Arthur's Pass
The route starts on the Morrison Footbridge over the Otira River where it meets the Deception River.
Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy, Arthur's Pass
A nice section of Paratu Stream. It was quite weedy in places, including spikey gorse, and a new kind of spikey plant for me, marsh thistle. Quite painful on exposed skin so long sleeves and pants would be good.
Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy, Arthur's Pass
Mossy boulders were nice to look at but dangerous to walk on. Thankfully there were only a few shorter sections of these.
Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy, Arthur's Pass
There was precious little shade on this walk, but there were a few nice sections.
Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy, Arthur's Pass
Waharoa Saddle: you can see the transition from darker forest to the bushes, shrubs and grasses of the subalpine zone.
Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy, Arthur's Pass
Miscellaneous stuff here. There were a lot of pools and tarns dotted all over the place. That orange mushroom was well above the bushline. And various West Coast plants like dracophyllum.
Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy, Arthur's Pass
Above the bushline.
Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy, Arthur's Pass
Views of Deception Valley were a highlight. You get these from the ridge either side of point 1364m. You can cut across and miss this bit out but I recommend taking the ridge at least in one direction.
Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy, Arthur's Pass
Views from the saddle between 1580m and 1592m.
Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy, Arthur's Pass
Sophia crosses a blocky scree slope.
Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy, Arthur's Pass
A close up on Mt Pfeifer. There’s a route pretty much straight up coming from the left (from the hut).
Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy, Arthur's Pass
Early evening light.
Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy, Arthur's Pass
Views roughly south from 1580m. Loved the deep channels cut by Whaiti Stream.
Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy, Arthur's Pass
A wider angle on those views from 1580m.
Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy, Arthur's Pass
A kea takes off from point 1580m. You can see the hut and toilet above the left wing.
Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy, Arthur's Pass
The ridge to Mt Pfeifer. We certainly didn’t take this route.
Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy, Arthur's Pass
I took this shot from the hut, so this is your view. We descended from the top right just off picture.

Day 2

Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy, Arthur's Pass
Sunrise on Mt Alexander and Mt Howe.

Summit views here…

Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy, Arthur's Pass
Views from the summit of Mt Pfeifer (1704m). Mt Franklin (2145m) is prominent on the left, and a distant Mt Rolleston can be seen on the right.
Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy, Arthur's Pass
Looking up the Taramakau River with Lake Kaurapataka and the Otehake River in the midground.
Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy, Arthur's Pass
Worsley Pass down there.
Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy, Arthur's Pass
Mt Alexander (1958m) on the right, and I realised later Kellys Hill on the left, which we’ve climbed before.
Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy, Arthur's Pass
Sophia arriving at the summit. She took a different route up than me, but it was a bit steep and we descended back down the more direct route.
Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy, Arthur's Pass
Panorama SW from the summit.
Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy, Arthur's Pass
A panorama north.

360 degree views from the summit…

A couple from on our way back…

Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy, Arthur's Pass
Sophia looks at Mt Alexander on our way back.
Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy, Arthur's Pass
Looking down Paratu Stream.

Route Notes

Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy, Arthur's Pass
The route starts on the Goat Pass Route, then cuts across farmland to Paratu Stream. This is all signposted by DOC. You then follow the stream bed, or walk besides it, until the saddle. From there a track gets you above the bushline and the rest is open travel on the tops. There’s a couple of ways to get to the summit of Mt Pfeifer, both involving some scrambling.

The Start

Notes from 2023 and earlier indicate the first part of this route follows the Te Araroa for a while, but this has now changed. From the Morrison Footbridge over the Otira River, DOC signage directs you at first along the Goat Pass route. After 10-15 minutes more signage takes you left across farmland to meet Paratu Stream. 

Paratu Stream

We were uncertain about the route forward thinking there may be a track through the forest besides the stream. But the route is pretty much straight up or besides the rocky stream bed, occasionally following tape on trees to bypass obstacles like boulders or small cascades. You’ll have to cross the stream a few times on the lower sections and will very probably get wet feet. 

There are two points you must look out for. Firstly, at the 560m contour the route leaves the stream to the left (true right) and heads up what will likely be a dry tributary. This will be mossy and slippery for a while, but soon widens and dries off. After quite a long time on this mostly dry and still rocky stream bed you will reach a spot at roughly the 840m contour where the stream bed turns into a rocky scree slope of sorts. The route keeps right (true left) along a much narrower and shaded water course. Both these turn offs have a marker or cairn of some sort but would be easy to miss if you weren’t concentrating. 

Before too long you will arrive at Waharoa Saddle, where the views begin. There are limited spots here to camp, but there are better options I think above the bushline. The climb from the saddle is steep and might require grabbing branches to haul yourself up.

Above the Bushline

Travel gets easier above the bushline. Make your way up to and along the ridge over 1364m. The route becomes rockier as you ascend to about 1500m. From here you can drop down into a wide basin and cross this by following a line between 1300-1400m or so, and curl around to arrive pretty directly at the hut. We took this route on the way back, but on the way there stayed higher to arrive at the saddle between 1592m and 1580m, where there are good views north. From there you can pass by 1580m, climbing that if you like for even better views, then drop down to Pfeifer Bivvy from there. 

Pfeifer Bivvy

The two person hut is neat and comfortable, but has a reputation for sometimes being damp and mouldy. Perhaps some of these issues have been addressed because we found it fine, in summer at least. There are tarns and a stream very nearby so plenty of water. There are also a couple of spots to pitch a tent.

Mt Pfeifer Summit

We climbed Mt Pfeifer from the hut. This is an easy walk up through tussock until quite near the rocky summit. There are at least a couple of ways up here, but I suggest heading straight up through some loose rock, with bits of grass and better rock, to arrive directly at the summit cairn. You could head a bit to the right (west) up a grassy chute, as Sophia did, then head back east, climbing solid looking rock to the summit. She thought the grassy route was a bit steep. 

Alternative return option

See this Wilderness Magazine article for a description of an alternative return route to the north. Hiking is Good also did it – see his report here. This sounded long and a bit complicated and we were happy to go back via the stream.

You can park in a large layby besides SH73. There’s a port-a-loo at the start which was pretty handy. For the TA walkers I guess, but at my age you don’t pass up an opportunity to go to the toilet 🙂   

The walk to the hut is estimated to take 4-6 hours, but you’d be zooming to do it in 4. You can get up and down Mt Pfeifer from the hut in under two hours. There’s roughly 1600m+ change in elevation to visit the hut and climb Mt Pfeifer.  

Author: Edward Hathway

I'm a clinical psychologist and keen hiker.

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