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
Summit views here…
360 degree views from the summit…
A couple from on our way back…
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.
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.
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.