Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ

Really excellent views over the braided Rakaia River and countless mountains on this big ascent up Steepface Hill (1876m) in Hakatere Conservation Park.

Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ

Since moving to Canterbury (NZ) in Autumn 2020 I’d had my eyes on Mt Hutt (2185m), the high point of a prominent mountain range bordering the Rakaia River. This would be a big walk with limited winter daylight hours, so a good plan B was to first climb a peak at the northern end of this range, Steepface Hill (1876m): a 1500m vertical climb over just four kilometres, and the only ridge on the route up is mostly flat. It’s all in the name! It’s not all about the steepness though, because the views of the Rakaia River and countless surrounding peaks were just fabulous. Also very cool was Terrible Gully at the start, a rather jagged waterway cut out of the hillside.

Definitely worth the effort if you don’t mind a very steep climb off-track. Track notes at the end.

Steepface Hill ascent: The Scenery

Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
The Rakaia River at the start.
Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
Cabbage trees lining Terrible Gully as it flows into the Rakaia River.
Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
Terrible Gully. After big storms this can become a river of rocks.

Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ

Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
Terrible Gully running into the Rakaia River.
Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
I liked these sharp cuttings in the banks of Terrible Gully.

Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ

Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
Sophia ascending steeply up the first big hillside: about 1000 vertical metres.
Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
The Rakaia River, and in the background the Big Ben Range.
Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
Great views of the Rakaia River for much of this walk. Lake Coleridge at the back almost makes an appearance as you climb higher.
Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
Most of the hard work is done by this point, although the last push for the summit is steep on loose rocks/scree.
Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
A fairly epic panorama of the Rakaia River Valley.
Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
A change of lighting as we got higher up the mountain with a little high cloud cover.
Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
The view from point 1488m. The summit to the right.

Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ

Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
The last ascent to the summit.
Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
I liked this aesthetic of rocks and snow, with the braided Rakaia River in the mid ground.
Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
Climbing steeply up the last section to the summit. Slow going at times.
Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
Steepface Hill: There’s a 1500m ascent over 4km, with the one ridge being fairly flat. The lower slopes were very steep but the grass and tussock were a bit easier than this section of scree. We tried to stick to the snow where there was any.
Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
Almost at the summit.
Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
Looking down from the summit. The Rakaia River can be seen meandering its way over the Canterbury Plains to the sea.

Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ

Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
Sophia on the summit.
Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
Me on the summit. Lake Coleridge at the back.
Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
Sophia looking towards Mt Hutt (2185m).
Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
We walked on past the summit a few metres to get some more views.
Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
Views south-west from just a bit past the summit.
Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
A snowy valley.
Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
Sophia on the summit of Steepface Hill (1876m).
Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
Leaving the summit. Lake Coleridge there in the mid ground.
Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
Our way down.

Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ

Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
Walking along the flattish ridge with the Big Ben Range in the background.
Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
Red hill centre left, and Blue Hill far left. The Torlesse Range including Castle Hill Peak to the right.
Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
Afternoon light was accentuating the braids of the Rakaia River.
Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
Sophia descending the ridge at bottom. Red Hill on the right, and Peaks in the Craigieburn Range to the left.
Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
On our way down.
Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
The Rakaia River shining in the sun.
Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
Looking back up Terrible Gully to the crest of the Mount Hutt Range. The Steepface Hill summit off picture to the left.
Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
Blue Hill
Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
I took this shot of cliffs lining the Rakaia River on the drive out. My phone did a good job considering I needed to use digital zoom to get this close. (My camera had run out of battery and I couldn’t be bothered changing it).


Track Notes

Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park
Starts on a vehicle track through private land. From the Hakatere Conservation Park boundary you need to push through some spiky Matagouri bushes for maybe 10 metres. It’s then straight up for roughly a thousand vertical metres, through grassland at first, then tussock grass with patches of scree. Once you reach the spur the incline eases, until you hit the final steep ascent through scree, and on the day we did it, shallow snow.

The route starts on a vehicle track through private land. From the Hakatere Conservation Park boundary you need to push through some spiky Matagouri bushes for maybe ten metres. It’s then straight up for roughly a thousand  vertical metres, through grassland at first, then tussock grass with patches of scree. Once you reach the spur the incline eases, until you hit the final steep ascent through scree, and on the day we did it, shallow snow. May take 6 to 8 hours depending on how determined you are to make progress on the way up.

I’d read that the winds here can get pretty dangerous, so best opt for a calm-ish day. The slopes are pretty steep so you should check for avalanche risk in winter. No such problem on the day did it however, and in fact we could have done with a bit more snow up top to aid with traction on the final push for the summit.

Author: Edward Hathway

I'm a clinical psychologist and keen hiker.

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